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Tales From the Borderland, Part Four

Padzhir
Agent Leonard was contemplating career suicide by going on this journey. He would be passed up for promotions, handed the assignments nobody wanted, perhaps even fired or forced to resign for his troubles some years later. The old grey men back at headquarters had decided that they weren’t going to cooperate with the Huntsmen Order, that if they wanted in, they would do things the FBI’s way. Would they buy the excuse? Maybe. One thing was clear, though. If he came back from all this with Zarrach still in action, no excuse would be enough.

Still, he felt he had to take it. What was the point of being a Fed if all he did was move up a career ladder? He could have gone into business if promotions and positions were all he cared for.

He sat on the side of the practice ring watching John practice with his weapon. The Padzhiri smith said it's name was Kasenithodoth- In the Padzhiri's Talleran tongue, "Changeling". The weapon's name was fitting in that aspect. It started as a three foot rod, which John could easily carry on his back, expanded to a six foot staff, and from there had all kinds of different forms.

Wactho Pepachek rode at the perimeter of the ring on his long-legged crab-like beast of burden, watching his client go through the various routines, testing the thing out. All well and good. If he wanted something to go wrong, it would be better for business if it happened here. Nothing like a bad case of death on the part of your client to scare off other potential customers. John's death would be particularly fatal to his business.

It was well known that he had made the Kasenithodoth for the Huntsmen. It had been Wactho's suggestion that the main configuration of the weapon be a staff. Blunt force was John's modus operandi in battle, and his speed made the dual defense and offense aspects of a staff a good choice.

John wasn't content with that, though. He had a difficult time just bashing things. So he made the young man what his friend Eddie Merrick would sarcastically call the Swiss-Army Staff. He could switch the ends of the staff to become more club-like, sprout blades from each side, turning it into a polearm. He could split it down the middle and make himself a pair of axes or maces. Ordinarily, Wactho would caution against that kind of complexity, and politely suggest the client make up his mind, but he sensed something else in John that made him reconsider.

John, Wactho decided, wanted to be something more than a thug.

The smith reflected that in many ways, John himself was a changeling- a child left in a world not it's own, replacing one lost or taken away. He had gained his name from the couple who adopted him. The world of his birth was unknown. No other Lobanhaki could be found among the Borderland worlds, though there were the occasional mentions in legends, and in the memory of the Elders. He was a mysterious legacy of the same event that had brought Morningstar and Jacob Riley's father to the forefront. He was a child of war, and some would say an embodiment of it in his strength, speed and skill.

John wanted something more than that, though. This time, when he came to Wactho, he asked for more than just the repair of the weapon. When the Padzhiri asked why he wanted those modifications. John just smiled and wisecracked something about needing that extra little edge. There would be nothing extra or little about it, Wactho grumbled. Inside, though, he was smiling. He would have never created the Changeling, the great Kasenithodoth, if he didn't have the taste for a challenge. Now came the moment of truth.

Leonard jumped when the mannequins stood up. He thought they were just suits of armor. There were at least twenty of them. John stood in the middle of the ring wearing light armor, his weapon sheathed, and some spikes lashed to his thigh. Leonard wondered what they were for.

He and the first dummy attacker found out quickly, as John swung his arm past his leg. Something snapped its head back, a sledgehammer ring echoing. Before the Agent could figure out what just happened another Dummy was knocked back, the same sound piercing the darkness. A third's arm was pinned to a nearby pillar. That's when the agent saw it: the spike stuck straight through through the limb. Another spike whipped into its forehead, burried itself in its armored skull .

The others rushed him, their weapons held high. John whipped the weapon out, and with a loud crack it snapped to full length. From there, it degenerated for the combat dummies. John's strength with the weapon was punishing, caving in skulls and chests, folding enemies in half, Snapping and bending limbs. He was quick, often engaging his enemies within arm's reach and attacking the next target while the last was still dropping. In one case, he even ran past his enemy and smashed his enemy with a stroke behind him. without even a glance back.

When all of them were presumably dead, John walked towards the center of the ring. Pillars opened up, and huge hulking shapes came out of it. John took the end of his staff, pressed a rune and twisted. Just as quickly as the staff had snapped to full length, it snapped into its new shape: The part he twisted became a long hilt, and the last three quarters became a broad, one-edged blade, a samurai sword on steroids.

The huge combat dummies were at least four times his size, but that didn't matter. The reaching arms became stumps, the massive chests were carved open, the heads were separated from bodies. The things were spare parts, soon enough. John snapped the Changeling back to a rod and replaced it in its sheath.

Wactho clapped and crowed with delight, and John nodded his approval. The pale, wide eyed dwarf rode his way over to John.

"As always, Captain Taylor, a fearsome sight to behold."
Agent Leonard agreed, though he knew the Padzhiri was likely buttering up his client.
"The balance is good, the edge sharp, and it shifts smoothly and quickly like you said."
"That's wonderful", Wactho said, "I hope we can do business again soon."
"As a matter of fact..."

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When he first entered through the gate, he assumed they were in a deep valley. It was only as they rose above the cloud that he saw: this was no valley, but an immense tunnel. Part of the tunnel roof was crystal, part of it rock, and every so often he would see a blindingly bright light embedded in the translucent ceiling. Some of what he had thought were just large buildings were in fact columns, supporting the frightening mass above them.

Lodfath Thichor, they call it, the City of the Great Delving, set in a chamber so large that the sides of it were lost in the mists even on the best of days. The Delving wasn't natural. It was the end result of over a thousand years of digging and mining. The huge city columns were what allowed this open underground space. That and god knows what genius on the part of the Padzhiri.

In the middle of all that was a lake, and in the midst of the lake were five of the city columns, and a subterannean city of skyscrapers around them, many of them thousands of feet tall, though they didn't extend to the roof. They glowed with a bluish diamond light, and the air was filled with ships, crafts and gliders.

Going through the gate, though, had been stranger than anything here. When he crossed the surface, He saw the great disk of the gate device. Two glowing trails curved towards around around the center where there seemed to be a bright, jagged tear pouring out energy. It looked uncomfortably like the rogue gate from Hamilton City. Then it occurred to him: it was the rogue gate. His mind raced- could the gate device be containing or channeling this tear in space and time?

He looked back. Two things caught his eye. First, everybody remaining beyon the threshold of the gate seemed to be frozen in time. Second, a darkness seemed to be creeping in from outside. As he approached the tear, another funny thing happened. The Gate itself seemed to expand, the tear in reality growing larger, more complex.

The darkness invaded the space of the gate. The darkness was so profound that he couldn't even see Langley anymore. The tear, though, had grown huge. If he squinted and strained his eyes, he felt he could see something through that gate. A city? It didn't matter. He reach out, touched the light. The tear wrapped around him.

He was standing in front of the gate on Padzhir, Langley at his side. Behind him, the entrance gate shimmered in the darkness. The darkness. It had been daylight on the other side. Was there a time difference? Thick clouds hit the ceiling he would see later.

The Padzhiri scuttled in on their crabby mounts, the legs of the crustacean transport tapping on the stone. They immediately subjected the team to a search. John told him ahead of time that recording devices, even so much as a sketch pad, would be confiscated immediately. They had been brought in on a business-related permit, which was less restrictive than a travel permit. The people sponsored the business-related permits were very picky about the matter. The could go to jail if clan secrets were revealed to outsiders, or if device manufacturing technology was found on their guests on the way out. Padzhiri who went out to Earth and the other Borderlands were trained in counterintelligence methods, and in how to destroy equipment before it fell into the wrong hands (that is, those not their own.)

It was later, after John's smashing performance with the Changeling, that John told him that Wactho wanted to see him. They entered one of the huge pillars and entered a tunnel, not unlike the ones he'd been through on the east coast in its shape and length.. The interior of the tunnel was lit by glowing stones. That wasn't the master-touch, though The roof was made of the same crystal that let in the light from the surface world. the result was a hypnotic play of light in the tunnel, not unlike what you might find in clear ocean waters, or in a swimming pool.

They found their way into the district. Heat shimmered above forges, heat-sink fins, and smelters. the air was filled with the roar of furnaces and the ring of hammers.

"The air still seems fresh.." Agent Leonard observed.
"Padzhiri have to be careful. The Lodfath is larger than Rhode Island, but it's still an enclosed space." John commented. Agent Leonard hung back a step or two as he processed that.
"That big?"
"Don't feel too bad. They're still trying to figure out microchips. They're amazed we've done as well without magic devices as we have. " John assured him.

The Pepachek Dualtho (or Clan Lodge) was about the size of a ranch house, maybe two stories from the looks of it. There were no windows, just an outer facing of carved rock, metal inlays, and gems with etched runes in them, not unlike those in John's weapon. These, though, ranged from fist sized to about the size of one's head. In addition to their being no windows, it seemed like the doors were absent, too.

John headed towards a side of the Dualtho, bordered by three unevenly spaced rune crystals. He took out his staff and touched the crystals rythmically in a short sequence. With the last, a section of the rock swung out, and John pulled Agent Leonard through.

They walked in, and found a bustling, multi-floored operation, with forges going, smiths hammering, and all kinds of mixtures and solutions bubbling in huge vats. The top two floors had been camouflage for a much more massive underground building. John negotiated the complex walkways and stairs of the area with ease. Agent Leonard barely kept up.

"You seem to know your way around." Leonard observed.
"I'm a Huntsmen officer. I get weapons for the rookies and trainees. Everybody's got their favorite Clan. This is mine, for obvious reasons." John said, ducking through pipes and valves.
"Are they all like this?"
"Of course they are. Even Lodfath Thichor. It's twice as deep as it is high. They like their enclosed areas."
Leonard laughed nervously."Really. Good thing I'm no longer claustrophobic."
"Wondering why I've got you here?" John asked.
"I suppose the naive answer would be you're giving me the grand tour."
"We're heading for the firing range."
"The what?"

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The guns hung on the wall, old blunderbuss looking things, and sleeker modern models. No machine guns, no semi-automatics, though. Everything was one-shot. He almost didn't notice Wactho standing there, preparing some sort of amulet. The four foot tall creature was almost unrecognizable standing there on his own two feet.

"Forgive me for not seeing things eye to eye here, good sir, but too much time on those Sechiya mounts makes my ass hurt." Wactho complained.

Wactho directed him to a target, then had him take his pistol, and shoot at the target. Agent Leonard took aim hit the head and heart of the dummy with every shot..

"Good job, Agent." John congratulated.

Wactho then moved him to the side. "Can you do the same on this target?"

Leonard was up for it He took aim, shot. Missed.

He frowned. He had aimed perfectly.

He shot. Again. Again. He fired several more rounds in succession. The bullets hit everything but the target. Wactho beckoned him, and Agent Leonard accompanied him to the target. Wactho took a ladder and stepped up to the target dummy's chest. He removed a cloth, and there it was.

"What is that?" Leonard asked.
"It's what's going to make Huntsmen of you all, sooner or later. That is a deflector, and it does just what it says. Nothing fancy. Faster it comes in, faster it gets shoved to the side. Within limits, of course"
"Interesting. I'm going to have to tell the folks in D.C. about this."
"They already know. This was for your benefit. You have to understand why John is doing what he's doing for you, Agent Leonard."
"What's that?"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Agent Leonard stood in front of the mirror in the armor. He wondered for a moment what his friends would think, seeing him like this. The armor they fitted him for was light, supplemented with modern composites in several places, including Kevlar in the plates. It was the look more than the feel that made him uneasy. Now they were going to fit him for the weapon.

As he walked out, He found Langley waiting, walking stick in hand. Langley didn't say much as they walked to the arsenal, and neither did he. When they got there, Wactho was discussing John's weapon with him.

"I'm surprise you're not mad with John here for breaking your handiwork." Langley expressed.
Wactho smiled. "Bah, how can I be mad with this one? He never accuses me of shoddy work, never gives a half-assed excuse. He just tells me it's broken, tells me how it happened. Rarely a boring explanation. They always ask me after he leaves, 'How did he do it this time?' This time I can tell them he faced down a Nocthiro Sky Wyrm. Pity he didn't kill it. He did manage to hobble the thing, though."

"Who did kill it, then?" Agent Leonard asked.
"Mikhale." John simply stated.
"The assassin?"
"There were certain things he was not prepared to see happen."

Like his brother's death? Agent Leonard wondered. The creature mentioned was one of those evil things it took a month to clean from the streets of the city. It belonged to Morningstar, though, and Morningstar was Mikhale's employer. The Agent filed this away for future reference and nodded.

"Things must have gotten pretty out of control for that to happen."
"Yeah. They sorta did. Things may get that way again, and you're going to have to be able to defend yourself. You're only human, so we'll have to get you something that's warded and enchanted itself."

Half of him disliked being called only human, but the other half felt the secret thril of the notion of an enchanted weapon He doubted he could get anything like the John's Changeling, but...

Then it occured to him.
"John, what kind of magic do you put through that staff?"
John smiled lopsidedly. "Same kind you'll put through your weapon."
"We're going to give you a basic sword and shield combo to start with," Wactho told him, "warded and spelled and everything. John or somebody in his crew will teach you the use of that, likely. After that, we'll go through other kinds of weapons, ranged and melee."

The shield they picked out was rounded, of medium size, nothing special in its look. The longsword they chose was more of a beauty. It gleamed in the lights of the arsenal, a silvery, rune inscribed blade with wavy lines of acidic etching along its surface. The hilt, though not ornate, had the same sort of writings on it. It fit in his hand like it was made for it.

Then they looked for his special weapon. They went through the flails and the Morning stars, but all sides quickly concluded that he would likely hit himself first with the business end before he became a threat to anybody else. They went through the swords, but Agent Leonard soon abandoned that. He sensed he had a reliable weapon there already. They tried out the axes, and quickly figured out that the Agent was no lumberjack. They were about to go for the spears and polearms when Wactho had a flash of inspiration. Clubs!

He took them up one by one. Some had spiky heads, some had rounded ones. some had blades sticking out. Then he found the one he liked best. This one had polished rocks set into the handle and the business end. Wactho smiled "A good choice, young human, go test it out on that rock."

It was a rock column set up in the midst of other pillars of metal and padding. Leonard swung. It hit with a satisfying smack, but then started to shiver. Cracks opened in the rock and spread. The ground thrummed with the vibration. Bam! The rock exploded.

"That's Thichuamdoch. The Growler! You like it?"
Leonard could only stand there, covered with rock dust, grinning.

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"That is what your Huntsmen friends would call your ringer weapon. It's powerful, so it will often cause more problems than it solves, but it's good to have in a fix." Wactho explained.
"So how did you figure that I'd go for a club?" Agent Leonard asked him.
"I remembered you were an American. You folks have a fondness for swinging around clubs for some reason."
"So I guess the Huntsmen are picking up the bill on this one." Leonard guessed.
"No, your friend with the red hair is." Wactho corrected.
"Langley" Leonard filled in.
"If that's what you call him." the Padzhiri conceded.
"You know, if folks up in my neck of the woods ever come to their senses, I think the bureau might want to do business with you." Leonard proposed.

A thin, sad smile came to Wactho's broad dwarven lips. "Folks up here would have to come to their senses first. As it is now, there's a reason why this is a sale to your friend rather than a gift to you. Our laws, inside the clan and out, forbid us to sell to you ordinary folks. We can't set up shops outside the caverns here, or work on devices outside."
"That's very unfortunate. This is good stuff."
"Aye. You've seen it in your world. Folks try and keep these things in one place. Somebody learns the secret, tells somebody else, and before you know it some Elder's knocking it off in a shop in Arnokedic. We already had one of our Dualtho-brothers from the Jwearna clan defect. More will do so later, as long as the foreigners can sell but we can't."
"Perhaps your government has a point. After the secrets are out, what kind of business would you have?"
"Ah, yes. Well, secrets are good in our line of work. But nobody ever said you had to maintain the same set of secrets forever. We should use the brains the gods gave us and make new devices with new techniques. That's what we should do!"
"Sounds good to me, Master Wactho. It will be nice doing business with you some day." Leonard agreed.

He knelt down, eye to eye with the Padzhiri weaponsmith, and shook his hand.

Tales from the Borderlands Omnibus

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at April 30, 2006 4:11 PM
Comments
Comment #144467

Stephen,

You do realize this is still Watchblog and you’re not posting on a Dungeons and Dragons blog, right?

Posted by: Duano at May 1, 2006 5:27 AM
Comment #144471

Reasons for posting a fantasy story on Watchblog (of all places):

1)Nobody said fiction was out of the question.

2)I enjoy writing fiction, especially this kind.

3)Politics all too often becomes about abstract rules and goals. With these stories, I can portray a fictional society (or community of such) and wrap the story around the issues that affect the character’s lives, to make the issues, and my stand on them more intuitive.

4)Fiction allows a certain level of detachment. Sometimes people have to be reminded of the consequences of certain kinds of policies and attitudes from a standpoint that doesn’t distract them with a threat to their sacred cows.

5)I’m trying to have a little fun here. Being too serious for too long can burn one out.

I’m still posting regular articles, as an examination of the archives will reveal. I haven’t gone around the bend here. I’m just taking politics from a different angle, that’s all.

If nobody likes it, I can understand. I’ve been writing this for a long time, but only for a short time has it seen an actual audience. I want people to like it, but if they don’t, that’s their audience’s prerogative, and it means I just have to improve my work.

So don’t worry. This writer did not take a wrong turn at Albequerque.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 1, 2006 7:44 AM
Comment #144579

Saying-
This pertains to the topic how?

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 1, 2006 2:50 PM
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