Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Change Yourself, Change the World: Chaser Blues

The faint red glow of the twilight sun cast Arkhosia in a ruddy shade to bring another day of life in the City of Dragons to an end. However as these final hours were drawing to a close the Dragon’s Den was only now opening its door for the rush of patrons and vagabonds crawling out from their holes and alleyways to celebrate, once again, another successful day spent staying alive in the slums of this mighty capital. Thin trails of smoke slipped through the cracks of the tavern’s weathered windowpanes as regulars shared stories of their turmoil or caught themselves deep in a reminiscing isolation with only a pale tan reflection staring back at them in their solace. It was by all accounts a normal day in this Arkhosian dive, save for the red haired human teen seen sitting alone near the back of the bar clad in nothing but a dingy white t-shirt that hung loosely from her shoulders and stretched down near her knees.

She was a peculiar sight among the middle-aged dragonborn who spewed soot into the air with their deep chuckles or the titanic orcs whose low, rumbling voices echoed throughout the frail tavern walls. Still, the regulars knew her as that poor unfortunate rookie who picked a fight with the wrong orc the previous evening and as such they paid her no mind so long as their loyal source of liquor didn’t seem bothered by her presence. The barkeep, Garmin, was well-aware of the human teen lingering in his business as he had used the young girl for free labor in return for a few cheap meals, an old shirt, and permission to sleep off her lingering wounds in his stockroom for a couple nights. By all accounts it was an exchange that favored the old, wily merchant, but it was one he would not have been bothered to offer if Cormag had not asked him to do it as a personal favor.

Canna leered into a small cup of ale she’d been nursing over the past hour and sighed. The roars of these half-dragons had turned the temperature of the bar into a sweltering lockbox and thus her brew was now a disgusting lukewarm mixture that she begrudgingly sipped on if only to help pass the time. She tugged at the collar of her makeshift gown as thick beads of sweat rolled down her face and neck to add more color to her grimy garb. Her fingers ran through her hair trying to pick out knots or any other annoying junk that had gotten caught in her tresses as she watched the door to the tavern with a wavering enthusiasm. She had no motivation holding her to any one location in Arkhosia, but intrigue alone kept her interested in hearing what the jovial cobalt dragonborn had to say. Her patience however, didn’t have as much of a desire to wait. She was already broke and no longer even had the shirt on her back to her name. Her sword had been likely stolen from her while she was unconscious, and worse than that she couldn’t understand half of the conversations going around her as hardy dragonborn laborers spoke in the powerful language of their ancestors. She expected that she would suffer hardships and setbacks as she tried to carve a place for herself in this city, but right now she felt like she was wasting her time on the promise of a stranger. She was just about ready to stand up and leave when the door swung open and the tavern erupted into a synchronized greeting.

“Cormag!” the drinkers shouted as the gigantic warrior strolled into the Dragon’s Den with a smile on his face and a sharpened fullblade clutched tightly in his right claw. He lowered his hands to settle the patrons and he sheathed his blade as he quickly called out an order to Garmin in a tongue Canna couldn’t comprehend. The violent vixen sunk back into her seat and took another unsatisfying swig of her beer as she watched the titanic cobalt merc stomp over to her table. He pulled back his chair before falling into it; the wood giving a yielding whine before settling beneath the dragonborn’s immense weight. Cormag smiled a toothy grin at the teen before reaching over and digging his talons into her hair and ruffling her already unruly mane with a laugh.

“Looks like you had quite the night there, child!” Cormag roared in his growling tone. Canna pulled her head out of his grasp with an irritated grimace acting as her only response. Cormag pulled his arm back before looking the teen over and realizing her ill-fitting and demeaning attire and throwing his head back in laughter. “You’re kidding me! That’s all he gave you!? Don’t tell me you don’t have anything else to wear underneath or did you really only come to Arkhosia with just the rags you were wearing last night!?”

A faint red tint appeared in the teen’s cheeks, but more telling was her fists which were quickly curling into balls. “Of course not. Did you see a travel bag? Besides, your bartender friend didn’t have a lot of clothes to fit a girl who’s literally half his size!” Cormag was caught in a fit of laughter; his right claw slamming into the table over and over again as his uproarious hysterics.

“So let me get this straight. You came all the way to Arkhosia with only the clothes on your back, and after one night you’re homeless, coinless, and as naked as the day your mother brought you into this world? Girl, you’re a riot!” Canna would probably have futilely swung a fist into the dragonborn’s jaw were it not for the tone Canna picked up in his mockery. She didn’t get the impression he was being condescending to her, but that rather that there was a mild respect laced in his laughter as though the teen’s sheer naivety was admirable. Cormag’s chuckling trailed to an end as Garmin subtly arrived on the scene with a fat, opaque, brown bottle labeled in foreign lettering. The cobalt colored dragonborn thanked the bartender in his ancient tongue before uncorking the bottle and holding it up to his nostrils. Cormag inhaled deeply, his head slowly leaning back as he became enraptured by the pleasurable scent, but Canna’s nose could only pick up on an overbearing stench of alcohol.

“What the hell is that?” Canna said, her curiosity now starting to get the better of her.

Cormag looked up from the bottle and towards the teen who was staring intently at his drink. “This?” Cormag responded, slightly confused at the inquiry. “It’s Dragonborn Whiskey. Nothing too fancy if that’s what you’re getting at.”

“Let me try some.” Canna sternly said as she bitterly chugged down the last of her lukewarm brew and pointed her empty cup to the dragonborn. Cormag chuckled and gave the teen a skeptical look that he hoped would shake her to a less naïve state of mind, but her defiant gaze didn’t back down. He shook his head, laughing lightly as he poured a mere thimble’s worth of the odorous liquor into her mug. “That’s all?” Canna replied as stared into the russet liquid with a perked eyebrow.

Cormag chuckled to himself, ever astonished by this human’s boldness. “Yeah it’s a only little for two reasons. First, I hate wasting liquor I pay for, and second, anymore would probably kill you.”

“Please.” Canna said as she lifted the flagon to her lips before shooting the dragonborn a challenging glare. “I haven’t met a drink strong enough that I couldn’t handle it.” With that daring proclamation she quaffed the shot only to immediately regret her decision. The undiluted alcohol assaulted her tastebuds sending them into a frenzy as her throat muscles convulsed in protest of ingesting the insidious concoction. She quickly spat out the paltry contents before doubling over to the floor, coughing and gagging as she tried to spit the remnants of the poison from her mouth. Several thin strands of saliva dripped from her lips as her eyes focused in the heinous amber puddle that lingered beneath her. The teen half expected the liquor to start burning through the floor like the acid she assumed it was, but once her senses returned to a controllable state of mind she could once again hear the dragon’s incessant laughter.

“Listen, girl, don’t you know anything about dragonborns? Since we breath fire our throats are at a much higher temperature meaning that when we burn most of the alcohol away when we drink your common brands. That’s why it’s called Dragonborn Whiskey! It’s proof is probably three times that of the swill you’re used to drinking!” Canna scowled as she wiped the hanging threads of saliva from her lips with the sleeve of her makeshift gown before returning to the chair with her head hung in embarrassment. She didn’t know what to expect when this dragonborn asked to speak with her, but since it happened she had only served to make herself look like a fool. Canna wanted to get enraged and release her tension with a fight but she couldn’t shake the feeling that this dragonborn wasn’t trying belittle her when her laughed at her naivety. It legitimately seemed like the cobalt mercenary was impressed with the violent vixen’s attitude which left Canna lost for how to proceed.

“You um…” she paused, fumbling for words, “… said you want—well you’d like to speak to me. Or that you wanted to talk. With me that is and—“

Cormag interrupted her with a smile on his face. “Calm down, girl! You act like you’ve never talked to another person before! Just settle down and let’s have a chat.” Cormag leaned his neck back and hung the bottle up to his lips; chugging the whiskey effortlessly as Canna watched on in utter astonishment. She knew the Dragonborn were strong, but the aura that Cormag gave off set him apart from every other warrior Canna come across up until this point. Even Garrius, the mighty orc brawler, seemed insignificant compared to this fighter’s presence. After a couple of seconds Cormag slammed the bottle onto the table with an echoing thud before momentarily basking in the flavor of his shoddy whiskey. “Ah…” he bellowed before wiping his chin and staring into the awe filled eyes of the rookie teen. “Okay, so I suppose better introductions are in order. My name’s Cormag Ragner, son of Grash Ragner. I’m a mercenary, and leader of Grash Company. Now I already know your name is Canna, but I’m very curious to know what would bring a young one like yourself all the way down south with nothing to your name but some rags and a pocket full of coin.”

Canna felt a tension in her chest she had never experience before. Normally she found her bitter attitude overwhelming, but before someone of such strength it was completely vacant. “M-my name is Canna Corbett…” Canna was utterly stunned by the sound of her voice when there wasn’t any aggression fueling it. It felt strange and wrong, and yet sounded oddly genuine. “I’m um from Southgate. I want to be a mercenary, so I decided to travel south to Arkhosia so that I could learn from the best.” Cormag sat back and grinned as he gently clutched his bottle of liquor in his massive talon.

“A mercenary? Why would you want to do that? It’s not a good line of work. The hours suck, the pay’s inconsistent, your coworkers are good-for-nothing freeloading thieves, and there’s not really much of a retirement plan involved.” He tilted back the neck of the whiskey bottle and enjoyed another hearty swig of his drink while he waited for the teen’s answer. However, it was to his amazement that she didn’t need time to contemplate this answer as he instantaneously replied.

“Because you get to be free.” It was such a short and simple statement, but one that left the veteran sellsword speechless as the teen’s amber lenses were no longer cased in an intimidated naivety, but rather a resolute passion that reminded Cormag of his own late father. The dragonborn set his drink back on the table as he examined the teen’s eyes looking for even a hint of insecurity, but it seemed this young girl had no doubt about this decision. Once again Cormag found himself shaking his head at her immaturity, but still feeling impressed that she possessed a willpower this absolute at such a young age.

“Freedom is nice, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot if you don’t decide to do something with it. What is there to do that you can’t do already?” Cormag didn’t know what to expect Canna’s answer to be, but he certainly didn’t expect to hear what he did.

“I’m going to go over the wall, defeat the Drow, and take our lands back.” Once again, Cormag studied her eyes looking for a subtle doubt buried behind bravado but found nothing. He couldn’t comprehend how a child could have such drive, but the renowned fighter had to recognize her fervor even if was raw and perhaps misguided.

“That’s a pretty daunting goal to be aiming for. To defeat the strongest army in the world you’d need to be one of the greatest warriors to ever take up the fight—not somebody losing to a shitfaced orc who wasn’t even good enough to stay in the military.” With a single statement Canna’s self-esteem deflated and her head hung in shame. Normally Canna was defiant and aggressive in the face of opposition, but in front of this dragonborn she felt so vulnerable and his every word was a decisive truth she couldn’t disregard. And still, beyond that, she couldn’t shake this feeling that he was supporting her in his criticism—that he said these critiques not to belittle, but rather to support. She felt like she was a child being scolded by her parent, but ever since Leon left her life Canna never hung her head in shame when her mother accused her of being wrong. Canna hadn’t yet realized the truth, but she already carried an immense respect for this dragonborn. “Then again, it takes someone with massive fangs to pick a fight with someone twice your size without backing down. Er… what’s the human version of that go? Having balls? I guess that doesn’t apply. Eh… I’m trying to say you’re tough.”

Cormag chuckled as his compliment fell to pieces, and even Canna let slip a small smirk to break her scowling streak. The teen lifted her head again and met the dragonborn’s vibrant golden eyes. It seemed strange to Canna that a massive dragonborn covered in battle scarred armor who had massive, muscular arms and sharp deadly claws would also have such a soft gaze. Her idea of strength always seemed so simple, but this mercenary complicated her perception in a way that made her start thinking of reevaluating her ideals. “So that orc from yesterday… was he in your mercenary group?”

“Who? Garrius?” Cormag seemed legitimately stunned by the question. “Nah. Grash Company doesn’t fit his kind. That chump doesn’t have the discipline necessary to fall in line with a commander which is what got him booted from the military. He does simple bodyguard work nowadays, then he takes his pittance of coin here to drink the cheapest piss Garmin has the heart to sell and mumble about how the world is unfair to him. There are a lot of fools like him in this place…” Cormag stopped and looked over the bar, mentally recalling the sad tale to every blushing face he surveyed. “At the Dragon’s Den, there aren’t a lot of success stories. Just a whole lot of wretched sacks of flesh and scales who begrudgingly put their lives on the line every day just so they can come here every evening and weep about how unfortunate they all are.”

“And you’re here too.” Canna replied leaving the dragonborn momentarily speechless before he started earnestly laughing at the remark.

“You’re right! Hate to admit it, but I’m not all that different from the other bums that come to this tavern looking to drink away their issues. Place like this doesn’t seem too fitting for a young girl with aspirations of changing the entire world.”Once again the bottle tipped upwards and its contents freely flowed down the dragonborn’s throat without resistance or pause.

“No, I like these places too. They feel… right.” Canna leaned back in her chair while letting her gaze drift to the missing contents of her mug. Cormag slammed his empty bottle onto the table before wiping his chin and giving a small, sympathetic grin to the teen. Canna’s hands slid up and down the mug; her palms slowly scanning over every minor imperfection while still being grateful for the feeling. “These places are full of people who feel incomplete and unfulfilled… I like it here. Like I belong.” Canna’s eyes had already become red and glossy as inebriation started taking over from the traces of the supremely potent liquor she partially ingested. Her gaze drifted back to the omnipresent smile of her uncle and the touching words he imparted onto her that day. “Thank you for being born into this world.” A premature tear was quickly removed from Canna’s eye as she realized what an awkward state she was in, and she scrambled to hide her vulnerability.

Cormag averted his gaze when he saw the teen’s eyes water to help protect her pride, but her statements struck the dragonborn in a peculiar manner. Identifying with broken down drunkards was not something a teenager should be doing. “Canna, do you have a family?”

“Yeah, I suppose.” Canna responded, nonchalantly fiddling with the rim of her mug. She gazed upwards to the see the quizzical expression of the dragonborn and realized that she would need to elaborate. “I don’t get along with my mom. She doesn’t get who I am and keeps trying to make me into her. She thinks being a housewife is the greatest accomplishment I will be able to make in my life just because it was the biggest one she made in hers.” Canna’s words stung with a drunken, adolescent bitterness. “My dad… he’s barely a fucking person. Doesn’t bother keeping his own opinions and only seems to care about what I do when it’s going to piss Mom off. Otherwise, I’m an afterthought. Got a kid brother who’s got a talent for magic, so my folks are only interested in cultivating his talents. And hey, I get it, he’s a fucking genius, but it sucks to know your parents only see you as a consistent disappointment. And more annoying than that is how they act like the only fucking person in the world who was actually interested in me as an individual was some kind of bad guy. Just fuck them. Fuck my condescending bitch of a mother and my do-nothing father.”

Cormag’s smile faded away and his eyes narrowed on the teen. His rumbling voice lost its hint of joviality as he asked a very serious question. “When you left… did you even tell them where you were going?”

“No.” Canna bluntly replied. “No reason to. Parents didn’t know I was sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to beg broken down old soldiers for sword lessons even though it happened for years, so why would this phase them? Shit, since I won’t be around to embarrass them they might not even know I’m gone.” Canna chuckled to herself, but Cormag could hear that latent depression in her voice. Cormag reached into his pockets and pulled out a grimy leather bag tied tightly closed with a thin length of silver string and threw it in front of the homeless teen. The coin purse hit the table with a loud clatter drawing Canna’s attention, but she stared at it in confusion. “What did you do that for?”

“It’s for you.” Cormag stoically responded. “You’ll need some money for clothes, food, and a place to stay, so just consider it—“

“No.” Canna quickly interrupted, her passionate, defiant eyes returning with a scowl. “I don’t want your charity. I didn’t come all the way here just to get some handout from an asshole who thinks he’s doing me a favor. I came here so I could become strong enough to go over the wall, and that’s not going to happen if you try to cast some safety net beneath me. I’m strong enough to survive this city, even if I have to sleep on the street and live off of scraps!” Canna’s aggressive body language had returned with tightly clenched fists, a curled upper lip, and her muscles tensed as if she were prepared to pounce at any moment. Cormag’s grin grew back before he burst out into laughter; snatching his purse up as he did so.

“Alright Canna, I hear ya! Well, then how about a job offer? I could always use something to help keep my men on their toes so how about I bring my boys in here every so often and you spar with them? That way you can get some experience fighting against trained soldiers, and my boys learn to not get lax. The pay won’t be all that great, but—“

“I’ll do it.” Canna eagerly replied, extending her hand.

“You don’t want to hear the whole deal?” Cormag asked, perking an eyebrow.

“I heard all I needed. You’re giving me permission to fight, and that’s all I needed. I’ll spar with your boys, show you what I can do, and before long you’ll be asking me to join your mercenary group.” To Canna, that idea wasn’t even slightly outlandish, and once again her bluntly naïve nature was pure entertainment to the Arkhosian native. He let out more uproarious laughter while clutching Canna’s hand with his own.

"Alright Canna Corbett, consider yourself employed by Grash Company!” Cormag’s hearty chuckles continued on throughout the night, and for Canna Corbett this was one more night spent sleeping above a safety net. However, she knew that starting tomorrow that security was going to be gone, and it would up to her to survive on the unforgiving streets of the Arkhosian slums.


Usually when I write or record something I end up hating the final product because I’m irrationally self-critical (it’s a Catholic thing). However I ended up pretty generally pretty satisfied with this piece, so perhaps I’m maturing as a critic and learning to love what I create. Or it sucks and I’m just learning to love the smell of my own shit. Regardless, I liked this piece, and I hope you guys do too (cheap comment plug).

The Dragon’s Den will be a big piece of Canna’s backstory as it is essentially functions as her home for this part of her life. A lot of memories, good and bad, happened within that shabby little dive, and as such Canna feels more comfortable inside of a tavern. It’s relatable to her—a sanctuary for her to feel grounded before she steps outside and only thinks of herself as an assassin with a holy agenda. Of course being surrounded by alcohol all the time has made her a bit of an addict, but it’s not as simple as “Canna is an alcoholic because Rollo T wants to drink on Sundays”. It’s not just liquor though. Bar fights, drugs, sex, tattoos, drinking songs… all of these are things Canna has encountered inside of the Dragon’s Den, and to her that’s as nostalgic as a home-cooked meal or her mother’s sweet lullabies. Hmm… that last one sounded kinda dirty…

I still have a little trouble not writing Cormag to be Scottish, but thankfully that habit seems to have been kicked for the most part. Writing for Cormag has made me rethink Canna’s attitude towards Black Jhaan for the better, and I’m looking forward to the next time the two of them share a scene together. Ultimately I’m more excited for what will happen should the party run into Cormag again as Peter’s already confirmed he’s alive, and their meeting might happen sooner than you think.

Probably the hardest hurdle I’ve tried to overcome in writing thus far is writing alcohol because there’s not a lot a whole lot of ways to say “whiskey” before you start repeating yourself. Sadly liquor works extremely well as a prop in these stories so it’s a challenge I’m going to have to live with.

Seems like that will be all for this entry, but a new one will be along soon enough. Will things get better for our young heroine? Will Cormag gain a Scottish accent? Will Garmin ever get his own spin-off series!? Tune in next time to find out! (spoilers: no, no, and no)

1 comment:

  1. Slatefield here once more.

    I noticed you like to call Canna a "vixen" when describing her sometimes. Do you mean that to reflect on her looks, her attitude, or a mix of both? I don't quite know why, but it's one of those descriptors that keeps catching my eye.

    Also, your allusion to Liam Neeson when picturing Cormag fit pretty well into how I imagined him, though not necessarily with the Irish accent. I do quite like Cormag's character regardless, though.

    Excellent post as always.