News from Ashlora – May/2017

Welcome, welcome our 50th follower, DouglasWTSmith!

I’ve just finished updating all published scenes to the latest version. There are quite a number of changes in dialogues, word usage and other minor details. Rest assure, these are only quality of life changes and there’s no need to re-read these scenes going forwards (albeit if anyone do go back and read them, I can guarantee a much smoother read).

There’s one other change I’ll need to mention before I stop being so meta again; the scene posts are now tagged with “Scene” tag, allowing readers to quickly separate these posts from the monthly “Commentary” posts.

https://fujihita.wordpress.com/tag/scene/

https://fujihita.wordpress.com/tag/commentary/

Alright! Let’s get to the meat of this News from Ashlora issue: White Destiny, chapter 2.

THE PLOT THICKENS

There’s an unmistakable shift in narrative tone in chapter 2. It is darker and edgier than before. I expect no less from the backstory of the saddest being in Ashlora.

As stated in March’s commentary, the witch and the princess are the two antagonistic forces to overcome. They are explored in greater depth in this chapter. The witch receives more characterizations while the princess puts the “call to adventure” and her story arc to action.

Let’s talk about Eliot, the witch.

Eliot is an immortal. She is not bounded by the morality values of the mortal. Eighty years, a lifetime, to her, is a mere week plus Monday. Her backstory is plagued by “unwilling unions” and heart wrenching farewells (scene #5). There were, of course, lights of day in her dark background. But, given the context of telling a story that she would hate herself for, it is inevitable that the story the inventor got to hear was of grim, heretical and unsettling nature.

As for Lilia, the princess, the plot around her focuses on the classical idea of royal succession and the fight against determinism.

I can say, without being too spoilery, that her story is going to involve a lot of kinkiness, a lot of social class conflicts and a bit of gender discrimination. Leo, the inventor, is now signed up for a race to the princess’s heart, and what’s that other cold, hard and red thing around here? Right, the ruby throne.

The stakes for participation in this race have been made clear by the end of chapter 2 (scene #8). The inventor’s “insignificant” life is on the life. The rewards are the throne, the princess and her magical blood. Magical blood is a thing in Ashlora and if the price of the witch’s dead infants was of any indication, this will play a central role in both plot lines.

Where there are great rewards, there are even greater stakes. There’s a hint of a secession movement that keeps popping up here and there. There’s also this entire side plot involving the romance of Steve, the ironsmith and Katherine, the knight. And there’s still that dragon and the pet hydra he had at home.

I’m as clueless as any of you as to what will happen next. But, I can see delicious opportunities for a misunderstanding / love triangle plot just by the fact that the witch and the inventor are still living under the same roof, and the inventor has just gotten himself tangled in the princess’s love string.

WRITING TO THE STATISTICS

From the statistics I have on the scene containing the witch’s backstory, I can tell readers are not fond of dark humors. I’ll try to avoid going into details when it comes to this kind of things but I cannot promise there won’t be more disturbing revelations in the future. I’m writing about grey morality here and grey morality is disturbing by design.

I bring up the statistics. Since no one has ever commented on any of my posts, I can only guess the reader’s feedback from the percentage of the number of views and likes. As far as I can tell, people are okay with with some erotic elements (scene #7). I’ll keep them coming at the same level of attention until the stats indicate people want more or less of them.

This is pretty much what I’m doing with the little feedback you give me. I’ll tune my writing so that the desirable elements get more ink and the undesirable elements get skimmed down to Draft 1-tier one-line.

And that concludes this issue of News from Ashlora. Please drop some comments on what you like and dislike in my weekly releases. It’ll help, thanks.

Tree tower

So after 10 weeks, White Destiny’s weekly releases stopped. I took a week off to go on vacation and I never got down to writing the story again. Writer’s block happened and now I’m stuck writing filler short stories instead.

Anyhow, on my vacation, I finally decided to make a big purchase and bought a drawing pad home. Sort of like a special souvenir that will remind me of the trip every time I use it. I originally planned to surprise you guys with some illustrations of the novel, but I ran into some issues with drivers and pen pressure, and I ended up tossing that idea asides as well.

Today, I came back to the tablet and somehow made the pen driver works (hooray!). So, I just took a random photo lying around the reference folder and drew a sketch of it. Can anyone recognize where this photo is taken?

Treetower_sketch

 

Short story: “Swimming pool”, “Cicada”, “Airplane”

N.Jon woke up with a broken rib and a mouth full of sand. The sun was burning atop the cloudless blue sky. His throat felt dry, so dry that he could drink his own blood, had it still been flowing out from the seashell cuts on his limbs, to quench this thirst. He cried. He wept his own misery as he lay on that empty beach, wishing dehydration would take him out quicker.

Then, he picked himself up, shed a life jacket that seemed to weigh a thousand pound, and dragged his wet feet on the hot sand to the nearest shade.

Oh how he missed the luxuries of F.City! Air conditioners blew in every corridor from subway to high rise. The outdoor then seemed torturous and a shade, this shade, his former self would deem hell on Earth.

Every summer, his father would take him on a long road trip across the county to the less grey town in A.K. His father’s favorite spot was at a stone bench next to a crepe stand overlooking a large swimming pool where he said he had come every day in summer break to watch the girls in their swimsuits.

N.Jon came in and out of consciousness several times.

“Find a shade, stay out of direct sunlight.

Be patient on the hunt.

Be bold, be fearless.

And, more importantly, never relent.”

The words of his father echoed in his mind; funny how these were his most endearing memories and it took him an air crash, a day drifting in the ocean and the onset of dehydration to realize the fact. These were the words of a man who could spend summers in ambush with only a bottle of water and brought home the girl of his life.

These wandering, gibberish and chuckle-worthy thoughts ceased to creak in by sunset. What was left was depression, hopelessness and hunger.

In his first night, N.Jon walked for many miles under the silver moon. Past the sandy beaches and up the standing cliffs laid the vast dark ocean stretching to the horizons in all directions. His worst fear was confirmed; he survived and air crash only to be stranded on a deserted island. And all he got with him was a life jacket, a whistle and a few strands of seaweeds stuck in his hair.

On the day he consumed these seaweeds, he vomited and lost more water than the stagnated rain water he could find in pools formed by crevices in the rocks.

He sometimes wished he had gone down with the airplane.

There was no sign of any mammal but himself, no body of fresh water, no boiling hot volcano, and no convenient cave to speak of. But, there was a small patch of green shrubbery at the shoreline onto which he was washed, and also from which he hauled enough driftwood to build a camp fire. A tall rock wall shielded his back from the ocean wind, an overhang put a roof on his head, all he had to do was clearing the floor of debris and getting a fire going.

He could not start a fire.

His fingers blistered and swelled red like tomatoes. Flints, drills, bows; he tried them all but to no avail. No ember, no smoke, nothing.

He would try again, and again, and again for two more days. His strength was slipping away. He found it more and more painful to lie down and rest. His chest ached; it ached much worse than he could feel the day before. He could feel his own rib bone impaling his chest every time he inhaled. Adrenaline had long worn off. Exhaustion, thirst and hunger kicked in.

His second day sleeping on a deserted island, a life jacket, tinder and some driftwood were all that kept him above the sand. He slept at day and worked at night and in early morning. With a pointy wooden stick, he dug up small clams hiding beneath the sand and carved out oysters from rock faces during low tides. He left them on a flat boulder to dry under the sun for half a day, then washed them in a bowl-shaped driftwood bark of sea water.

Food and shelter asides, on this barren island, water preservation took the utmost highest priority.

In F.City, fresh water was in abundance and he would empty an entire water bottle on his hair in summer. Outdoor activities were never his favorite, but he was willing to; or more precisely, had to; make an exception for the girl next door, R.Lina. She was flamboyant and full of energy, and she was an unlikely owner of a bug collection.

That one summer, his father’s red pickup truck carried an extra passenger.

The road trip to A.K seemed twice as long outside of the cab. But halved to a half by a smile whose brilliance put that of the summer’s sun to shame. Waving a bug nest and a clear plastic pin as they were heading back to the motel, R.Lina spoke fondly about the emerald cicada she caught in the forest.

N.Jon had the same dream every day, seeing R.Lina chase after a colorful butterfly with a bug nest, listening to the reel of his father’s carbon fiber fishing rod, and wrinkling as sun glares caught his eyes through the forest’s canopy. He stood on the sideline as a silent observer, a prisoner in his own dream.

His health deteriorated. His sleep hours spilled over to night time. Three days, five days, one week; he could no longer tell for how long he had been stranded. The first time he broke into high fever, he was scared. For the first time in the real world, he could not move. He was a prisoner of his own body.

The end drew near.

Early morning on the day his fever was the highest, he was woken up by loud rumbles. In his eyes, he saw emerald cicadas, a swarm of emerald cicadas, singing in the sky, circling above him, and darkening the sun. A cold hand gently touched his forehead. Oh R.Lina, her bright smile faded…

It started to rain.

Digging his fingers in the sand, he crawled out of the shelter. Lying on his back and opening his mouth, he drank from the rain; and when he saw that more water was dripping down the edge of the overhang, he began to drink from the rock face directly.

The fever rapidly subsided as soon as there was water in his system, but the rain intensified.

The storm raged on for two days. Sea water flooded his camp in the middle of the night while he was still sleepy and feverish. The sky, the sea and the ground shared one uniformed color: pitch black. The horizon and the shoreline blurred by the rain. Thunder and lightning streaked the heaven; and, between the flashes he saw tidal waves two hundred feet high.

The waves thrashed the rock wall. Ferocious, unforgiving and relentless, they eroded the shoreline and claimed the beachfront for the goddess of sea.

N.Jon quickly realized he had been trapped between the old and the new shoreline. He had to make a break for the new shore before the gap grows wider. Putting on his life jacket, he prepared himself for the dive. He waited for another flash of lightning to show him the destination. The wind and the rain battered his exposed skins. His heart pounded harder in his chest. Adrenaline surged through his veins. And then…

Pzzt…

The flash came. He heard the reel of a fishing rod in his mind.

“Be bold, be fearless.”

His father whispered these words into his ears. In a split second, he saw his father with the brand new navy blue carbon fiber rod standing by his side, posing to cast the line.

Brrabroommm!

“And, more importantly, never relent.”

His father cast the line. He dived into the murky waves…

One stroke, two strokes, three strokes…

He began counting the number of strokes he made and surfaced to take a breath every third stroke. He had learned this from his father one summer, at the swimming pool where his parents first met. His eyes were sore. He could not see in the water without goggles. Worse, every six strokes he made, the torrent pushed him back by four.

Then, it happened. Debris in the water punctured his life jacket. He began to sink beneath the roaring waves, sinking closer and closer to Davy Jones’s locker every time.

“And, more importantly, never relent.”

His father’s voice continued to echo in his mind. Almost there! He was so close to shore, he could feel his feet touching the bottom before the torrent pushed him into the sea again.

He took a deep breath for one final home stretch.

But, he was immediately pulled under by an unseen whirlpool. His arms and legs tangled in a nylon nest. Calm, emerald currents rushed to his location. The raging black water became tranquil and crystal clear. The sun shone down from the surface and time seemed to have slowed down.

N.Jon saw R.Lina at the bottom, her chestnut hair fluttered in the water. Her brown eyes locked his eyes and he was reminded that he was in the river in A.K.

Her lips curled. These silent words, he understood so well.

This is retribution.

It was him who jumped into the river first. But it was the girl next door who left her body at the bottom of the river that summer. The bug nest that steered him to shallow waters became the trap that sealed her faith.

Brrabroommm!

A deafening thunderclap shattered the scene from his memories. The storm returned and so did the roaring tidal waves. But, there was a new glow of fire, a flickering yellow at the peak of the rock wall.

Thank to the light, N.Jon saw his left foot tangled in driftwood and like a yellow-fin tuna the block of wood dragged him away from shore with the speed of a javelin. Though he could see the danger, panic got the better of him and he was unable to shake free. There was nothing for him to grab on. He could barely stay afloat with a punctured life jacket.

Oh R.Lina, she got him good…

A heavy object fell from the cliff and made a splash ten feet away from him. Standing on the burning log starting to drift in parallel to him, his father shouted.

Take me, R.Lina. Leave my son alone!

There dark semicircles under his father’s eyes and untrimmed beard he had seen so frequently since the day R.Lina died. Both his father’s arms charred dark like coal and steam was coming out of his body. Those fierce eyes fixated on the block of wood that was dragging N.Jon to his watery grave.

The sixty-year old cracked a smile, gritted his teeth and leaped toward the block. The branch that was holding N.Jon’s feet snapped, his father’s body and the block vanished into the torrent. By the time the clouds cleared and the sun rose again, his fever had gone and his muscles were aching all over.

He lived off raw shellfish and rain water for another eighteen days before a patrol plane spotted his distress signal written in the sand and rescued him. He survived for a total of twenty three days on a deserted island without ever starting a fire. It took him two more months to be released from the hospital, during which he learned of the passing of his father.

They found his body in the swimming pool in A.K the night one of the strongest hurricane in history hit the west coast. His father’s carbon fiber fishing rod was struck by lightning. Both arms were burned to charcoal. The body suffered extensive third degree burn.

But his father was smiling. He was smiling in the end.

 

Project Sekai visual novels bundle

Okay, visual novels; Japanese counterpart of tale-tell games, packed with big eyes, otaku subcultures and typical Japanese fetishes. But wait, don’t close this tab yet. Take a look at this new bundle offer from HumbleBundle and Project Sekai. Take a look at the offering on “beat the average” tier. See the one in the middle?

https://www.humblebundle.com/sekai-project-bundle

Narcissu bundle.png

HOLY MOLLY! That is Narcissu 10th Anniversary Anthology Project!

THE GOLD STANDARD OF MODERN JAPANESE TEAR-JERKERS

Every time a sad story popped up with elements like sick girl, hospital, and death, it is inevitable that I would pay homage to Narcissu franchise. I have mentioned Narcissu in my seasonal anime review for two of the most memorable tear-jerkers in recent time: namely Plastic Memories and Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. I expect to continue doing so should such a show ever pop up again.

Why?

Simply put, I consider Narcissu as a franchise the absolute best of modern tear-jerkers.

It is vastly different from Clannad, Angel Beats! or the any of those critically acclaimed works from Key Visual Art’s in that it has little to no comedic moments. It sets the stage very clearly from the start, Plastic Memories did, that the purest and most beloved character in the story will perish. All joyful memories will turn bittersweet, not at the long last ending, but at the moment they are experienced.

These stories are dreadful, they are melancholic and depressing. But the message they carry is powerful: overcome losses and live everyday like it is the last.

In the case of Narcissu, it carries an even more powerful dilemma. The question to abandon or not to abandon loved ones in sickness; especially when they sincerely wish not to burden the living; is a question without a good answer.

But that is enough spoilers for now. The original Narcissu 1st & 2nd are available for free and it only takes a few hours (and a few boxes of tissues) to read. I believe the franchise will make the case for itself. I guarantee; after a few hours of beautiful soundtrack, gorgeous pastel graphic and deep storytelling; any sensible human being with a heart will realize the price tag of $12 for the entire Narcissu’s digital package is a disgusting steal.

Better yet! Ame no Marginal -Rain Marginal- (from the same author) is also in the bundle and it has a Narcissu Bonus Episode!

Narcissu Bonus Episode

Included in the game is a copy of Narcissu 1st, as well as a brand new VERY short bonus episode.
It’s very short, but hopefully is interesting for Narcissu fans.

I fell in love with this franchise when it was off Steam in 2011. I asked my Secret Santa in mangafox back in 2012 for a Setsumi signature + avatar set (which is the featured image, the header, of this post). I shipped the drama CD and the OST disk from Japan when it had only 11 tracks. I campaigned to greenlight this visual novel on Steam way back in 2013.

Am I a fan of Narcissu? Hell yes am I!

This bundle is an instant sold for me just for Narcissu Season Pass.

Beyond that, the rest of the offers are…cat girls, bunny girls, dog girls, magical girls, loli with the body of a mother, idols, beach episodes, micro skirts, maid etc. It is not missing any typical Japanese fetishes here except, maybe, shrine maidens and tentacles.

Yep, I won’t even touch those with a ten-feet pole. Just one Setsumi-chan and one Professor Croquette please!

KeePass for multi-page forms and shared domain accounts

I start using KeePass this week after watching a video on keyloggers from DEFCON and after I was made aware of how powerful AES encryption can be after watching a reverse engineering discussion on Wannacry attack last week by Computerphile.

Background asides, as soon as I start using KeePass, I run into two significant drawbacks with browser integration. After a while fiddling around the settings, I manage to make it works perfectly. Here’s the two issues I ran into and how I tackled them.

MULTI-PAGE LOGIN FORMS

The first one is multi-page login forms. Most email providers (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo) nowadays have this extra layer of security. Multi-page login forms ask the user to enter the username / email address in one page, click “Next” button, then enter the password in a different page. This method prevents simple bot scripts and notifies the user if they got the username wrong (no more guessing which one is wrong now).

Multi-page login is the bane of password managers like KeePass and LastPass. The traditional approach in KeePass is to open the window, select the entry and Ctrl+V manually. KeePass detects which field the pointer is selecting and fills in the blank accordingly. It is hardly convenient though.

Luckily, in KeePass, there’s a way to automate all this without any plug-in. The software allows custom Auto-type sequences and it supports quite a number of operations that allows the user to construct a complete pipeline. Simply go to Edit Entry menu, choose Auto-Type tab, tick “Override default sequence” and copy paste the script below:

{CLEARFIELD}{USERNAME}{ENTER}{DELAY 2000}{PASSWORD}{ENTER}

Save the entry and you’re done.

The next time you have to login Gmail, simply select the text field, press Ctrl + Alt +A and watch the magic happens. The script will clear the text field (if not empty), type your username, press enter, wait 2 seconds for the password page to load, type your password and then login. Everything is done automatically.

SHARED DOMAIN ACCOUNTS

Okay, that’s one neat thing. The next problem occurs when you have more than one email account. This is not a problem in LastPass but it is in KeePass. KeePass matches the title of your browser window. It does not read the URL in the address bar. If you look around, there’s plugin to show the URL in the window title but it is not exactly the most elegant solution out there.

KeePass has a neat entry selection window for forms that match multiple entries. While you cannot create two entries of the same title. You can create custom sequences that target the same window for different entries. Go to Auto-Type tab again, click Add button and select your login form window from the Target Window drop down list. If you can’t find the right window in the list, exit that menu, make sure the form is open and try the same steps again.

You can use this in combination with the other trick to make multiple accounts work for the same multi-page login service.

Keepass multi acc

White Destiny #10 (Rev 4)

Alexander D’Amore was a troublemaker and a murderer. Those who crossed him, if lucky, would be found in one of the mass graves outside Ironheart. And yet, he was never found guilty of such crimes; a combination of corruption, fear, and confusion kept him far from the chopping stone.

The only crimes he had been charged with were sex-related; these were the crimes he chose to be associated with, these were the proofs of a predator, these were his trophies. In the end, each indictment only served to bolster his oversized ego when no one could enforce the church’s rulings.

Then, there was the princess and the baron, who could, maybe, put an end to this charade once and for all. But they would never do that as long as they still got hold of the dagger’s handle. This was what the D’Amore family meant to the crown: loyalists who went outside the boundaries of the laws to enforce the Ruby Garden’s will.

Everyone who had taken a dip in politics knew as much.

Thomas Jeremy Clevandi owned the inventor nothing. At a mere glimpse of a troublesome discussion ahead, the merchant picked up his sleepy son, dropped some coins on the counter and stood up.

“Oh wow, if you look at the time, gentlemen. I really have to go now. See you!” he waved his hand and turned on his heel.

He sure made quick strides to the exit.

Not much was going on in the tavern when Alex took the empty seat next to Leo. Scattered around the tables were armed mercenaries, casually walking in and taking seats at every corner of the tavern. When Thomas pushed on the door, he ran the wooden frame into a man standing guard. Leo could see at least two sentries outside as they let the merchant and his son out.

What happened to the league of angry husbands and fathers was of anybody’s guess but no one was entering despite the rowdiness outside.

“Okay, listen, Alex,” the inventor sighed, “There are ten, eh, fifteen meatheads in here who can snap a neck or two perfectly fine. You don’t have to drag me into this.”

The count sneered, “Two hundreds of them wouldn’t match a mage. No, no, Leo. I need a mage to get rid of another mage. Lilia, Felacia, Graham are out of the question for obvious reasons. That leaves me with only one option, Leo. You know what it is…”

He wanted to call upon the witch’s assistance. She permitted only customers who had attained the highest membership tier to request a curse. That would be Father Felacia and Leonardo di Price.

Alex was not wrong. This was indeed a request only Leo could make.

“Sorry, it’s impossible,” the inventor shook his head. “I can’t help you with that. She is dead. You need a spirit whisperer, not me.”

The count burst into laughter, “That’s funny because I heard she was the only spirit whisperer we have in this half of the world,” he remarked, not hiding his sarcasm.

“Well then, you’re out of luck,” the inventor summed up. He too laughed at the dilemma.

Suddenly, Alex swept his arms across the counter bar, knocking everything down to the floor. His laughter disappeared and there was only fury in his eyes.

“Do you think I’m stupid? I know she is not dead!”

The enraged man slammed a stack of pamphlets on the counter bar and sank a dagger into it.

“This crap is clogging every sewer in West Rufus. Her broom returned last moon to dump another load after the rain at ten washed away the previous load.”

Leo glimpsed at the pamphlets and, within seconds, became dumbfounded. The witch reopened her occult shop. The pamphlet, written in barely legible handwritings, informed patrons of her return and the timing. A few of these pamphlets had a background sketch of a dragon’s head in a square, and decorative runes at the corners.

“That idiot…” the inventor grumbled.

She was selling tickets to the reopening ceremony; two-hundred and fifty pris a soul, the fifth purchase would be free. Also specified in five passages of small writings were: no membership discount, front row seats available to “best friend” membership tier and above, waiver of liabilities for collateral damage etc. and etc.

“What is this farce?” he uttered.

“The sort of farce that has your name on it!” Alex snapped.

He was right. Leo’s name was indeed written on the pamphlet. His title, “the inventor”, appeared on the list of “authorized vendors” written on the other side.

“Look, Alex, there seems to be a misunderstanding here,” the inventor tried to explain.

“Shut up. You’re stalling, aren’t you? I’ll make this very straightforward and simple. You, ask you-know-who, to curse the other you-know-who. If I don’t see that other you-know-who dead by dawn, your precious journals will go into the fire pit and your girl will go on a boat to the rim as a slave.”

“My what?”

“Three stacks of dirty papers and that amber-eyed girl from your workshop.”

“You broke into my workshop!?”

Leo grabbed the man in front of him by the collar. His blood was boiling. The angrier he was, the louder the count’s laughter became.

“Yes, yes, yes, Leo!” Alex exhilarated, “I took your treasure. I took your woman. I turned her into a swallow and kept her in a cage. What can you do about it?”

Leo’s eyes glanced at the dagger on the counter. His hands instinctively grabbed the handle and pointed the tip at Alex. Three mercenaries immediately stepped in. They removed the dagger from his hand and pinned his face against the wet counter.

“I’m going to kill you, bastard!”

“Get in the line, Leo!” the count retorted, taking a jab at Leo’s stomach.

The blow knocked air out of his lung, Leo could barely stay on his feet. Another blow, this time from behind, take him down. His face lay on top of fragments of glasses.

“Two punches. Really? You can only take two punches? How the hell someone as pathetic as you are can lay hands on a goddess. Get outta here, Leo. She’s mine!”

“So…that’s what…this is about eh?”

This bastard only wanted a reason to beat him up out of jealousy. He only wanted a reason to steal another man’s woman. He enjoyed this. He was infamous for this. Only an idiot would believe he had a rational reason. Only an idiot like Leo would believe the self-proclaim centaur-born dickhead would act better than a mindless beast.

Leo dragged himself up. Damn, this hurt. But, he must not be on his face. He must sit up at the very least.

And so he did. Cracking a sneer, he stared at the count in disgust and spoke:

“Take her! I don’t give a pris! But, don’t you dare lay a finger on my sketches! Touch my babies and I’ll blow your entire den up.”

Before Alex could utter a retort, one of his sentries flew in from the front door and landed on his back. Within seconds, swords were sheathed, axes raised, halberds turned and bows aimed at the tavern’s door.

A round metal shield barged in. All eyes fell on the hammer and pickaxe crest of Ironheart which was stained in fresh blood. The ironclad giants had to bow their heads to fit under the door frame. Two elite knights emerged in full plate mail. They cast their halberds aside and drew short swords from scabbards strapped to the waists.

“Alexander D’Amore, your fugitive life ends here. You are under arrest,” the red-head knight announced and slid down the cover of her helm.

Behind Katherine was Steve the Ironsmith, and the knight captain, Joshua, who smacked the hilt of his sword against his shield twice and declared the tavern a free-to-kill war zone. Following the captain’s ferocious war cry, the three of them leaped into action and swung their weapons at the armed mercenaries. Three of them versus fifteen mercenaries in a no-holds-barred battle to the death…

White Destiny #9 (Rev 4)

CHAPTER 3: DEATH IS IN THE SILK;

Alexander D’Amore was the first to be chosen as a suitor of Princess Lilia. Leonardo de Price was the second suitor. The third likely candidate, according to Sir Richard’s speculation, was Father Graham. The heiresses of Silverflow traditionally choose one candidate from each faction in the council. In the church of the spirits, the deacon was the only person young enough to be a suitor.

A few hours after he departed from the Ruby Garden castle, the inventor and his myriad of thoughts wandered into Brown’s Boulder tavern. The second period of lunar daylight began while he drank away self-doubts and this lingering sensation of a silk string in his grasp.

“Brown, refill!” he ordered, sliding an empty mug to the bartender behind the bar counter.

“This is an obscene amount of ale ye drank tonight. Heard Rick called ye in, what happened?” the bartender asked.

“Don’t remind me. I want to forget all about it. I mean, he thinks I possess carnal desire rivaling that of Alex!”

The master of trade, the merchant, coughed and spilled white wine all over the counter upon hearing Leo’s answer. The bartender threw a piece of cloth at the spillage in front of the merchant and uttered.

“Yer drunk, Leo. He did not say that. Pay for the ale and go home.”

Wiping his glass and then the counter clean of spilled wine, the merchant pointed his thumb at the inventor and said.

“Put the wine on his tab.”

“I’m serious. He said the princess told him just how vulgar I was to her. I was as bad as Alex, if not worse, she said. Am I that vulgar?” Leo asked.

“Yer not. Sometimes, but not always…”

“Not always? When am I that vulgar?” he pressed.

“Errr…see, princess called ye “vulgar lowlife” the other moon, nay?”

“That doesn’t mean I lust after her!”

After a loud gasp, the young boy who was napping next to the merchant perked right up. He casted his drowsy eyes around, confused.

It appeared the inventor’s loud response had woken up the merchant’s son. The merchant hissed, putting a finger on his lips, “Quiet, let him rest,” he shushed.

“Yer not wrong. Saying yer as bad as Alex was a tad too much. Ain’t anybody could be as bad as Alex…” the bartender shrugged.

“I know right? Seriously…what is she thinking?” Leo grumbled.

“I used to ask myself the same question. In pursuit of my wife, I took great interests in learning what’s in her head. And, I can tell you the cavern of her psyche makes Copperfang cavern look like an eight-year-old secret base,” the merchant remarked, passing the bartender the cloth soaked in wine.

Thomas Jeremy Clevandi had a wife and a son in Ironheart. His son was always seen accompanying him to markets and taverns. His wife, however, was never seen. He loved to talk about his wife but he avoided questions in regards to her whereabouts and identity.

Unlike the father, the boy spoke no words of his mysterious mother. He was mute and if the fact that he always cried when someone asked about his mother was of any indication, the woman who had stolen the heart of Thomas Jeremy Clevandi must have long departed from this world.

“There was this time when I visited a faraway tribe in the rim of the world. I met the chieftain, the shrewdest man I have ever encountered. He taught me a trick to figure out exactly what’s on the mind of any women. His five wives stood testify to his trick. If anything, it worked on my wife too.”

“What is this trick?” Leo asked.

“Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you,” said the guy who drank nothing but expensive wines.

“Alright, you can have my ale,” Leo handed him the ale mug.

“Price, don’t be such a cheap bastard. You’ll never get a good deal by saving a few pris on the formalities. Get me at least cider then we’ll talk.”

True. It was a minor expense to learn a trick that useful from the rim of the world. And so, the inventor made the order and the bartender delivered. The volume was less than if it had been ale but the amount of money he had to pay for the glass was the same.

Thomas rotated the glass of dark red cider slowly in his hand as he shared: “My wife loves this drink. These little snowflakes remind me of that winter night in Silver Gallop peninsula. That night, I was playing cards with the first mate on the bridge of our flagship when an iceberg—”

“Excuse me. I didn’t buy you a drink to reminisce the time you camp on an iceberg. Tell me now, what is the trick the chieftain taught you,” the inventor interrupted.

“Ah yes, the trick,” the merchant took a sip of the cider, following a brief contemplation. “Talk to her. Ask her. Grow a pair and ask, or turn into a woman and ask your own sissy mind,” he said.

Leo was not amused.

“I’m glad you’re entertained, Clevandi. The cider is on you and so is the wine,” Leo hissed.

Thomas snickered. This man did not need anyone pay for his bill. With the wealth he had amassed in his career as a merchant to the world’s rim, he could buy the entire tavern, possibly the entire neighborhood if he felt like doing so.

He leaned towards the inventor and gave him a nudge.

“Now, now, I do mean it. The only sure way to find out what a woman was thinking is ask. They are mysterious creatures; confusing and deceptive to everyone including themselves. While this is true for some men too, you will find that men are more…purposeful and rational, hence guessable and negotiable. Guessing won’t do for women, asking will. Do you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because asking means respecting and you don’t get enough respect as a woman in these parts of the world.”

“Sorry,” Leo raised his hand to interrupt, “I think we have a misunderstanding here. The princess likes the idea that I lusted after her. She likes the idea that I was disrespectful to her.”

Thomas paused for a moment. He uttered a quiet “What?” under his breath, and then resigned to the inevitable reaction:

“You know what? You’re drunk. That can’t possibly be true.”

“I am telling the truth!” Leo protested.

“There are only two kinds of men known to Lilia Silverflow: the baron and me. And I thought you were more virtuous than this. Heck, I thought you were on Rick’s team.”

“Alex, you cockroach! Where have you been?”

Approaching them from behind was Alexander D’Amore. There, patting on the inventor’s back and chuckling to himself was the charming lad who made himself the enemies of all men in Ironheart.

“Greetings, Leo, Thomas. I’m here to welcome the poor sap behind me in the line, the line to the executioner’s axe that is. But enough chit chat for now, I’ll get to the point. Leo…”

“Yes?”

“Get rid of the other guy or one of us will die. The baron told you whom she would pick. Get rid of him.”