Sunday, January 31, 2016
I Hate Boats
A Short Tale on the River
by: Adam Gottfried
This is a short story I wrote for a context to win a chance to appear in Paizo's magazine. I did not win. But my loss is your incredible gain! The characters are from our regular Pathfinder game.
With one final gut-wrenching roar Mordock violently heaved the remains of his morning meal from the dubious safety of his stomach into the green water of the Sellen River, passing by the flat-bottomed riverboat. The half-orc looked gray under his greenish, oddly scaly skin as he slumped to a sitting position against the wall, using his haversack to prop himself up.
“I hate boats,” he growled to no one in particular. His friend and long time traveling companion, the archer Riley Savage, sat down next to him.
“Mordock Sunblade,” he said, shaking his head. “I have seen you stand stalwart in the face of horrific demons, cleave living statues in twain, beat goblins to death with a net full of corpses, and run screaming away from the death of your best friend--”
“Technically you did not see that,” Mordock was pressing his thumb and forefinger against his throbbing temples with one clawed hand but managed to hold up a finger in Riley's direction. “On account of that you were dead at the time.”
“Yet somehow a simple riverboat has laid you to waste.”
“And I rectified the whole death situation at any rate,” Mordock continued.
Riley punched Mordock, none too gently on the bicep. The half-orc turned dragon-man barely registered the blow. “Gods forbid your enemies find out.”
“Also hard to do,” Mordock continued, and paused for a juicy sounding belch. “As most of them are dead as well.” He started rummaging in his pack.
“What are you looking for?” Riley asked, somewhat incredulous.
“Sarenrae's blessings,” Mordock retorted entirely without jest. Riley just rolled his eyes.
“Do you remember,” the human continued, pulling an arrow out of his quiver and testing the arrowhead for sharpness, “at Diamond City?”
“Which part?” came Mordock's muffled reply. His entire left arm and a good portion of his head were buried in his haversack as he pawed through the goods.
“You know, you're supposed to be able to call the name of what you want and it will be right on top when you reach for it with those things,” Riley informed him.
“Mine does not do that,” Mordock replied tersely.
Mordock pulled his head out of the haversack and gave Riley a glower that could have wilted stalagmites. “Mine does not do that.” He continued his rifling.
“This might be the obvious question but… why not?” Riley asked after a moment.
“What’s all this about Diamond City?” Mordock's muffled voice came back.
“You kept whacking that demon with your axe and he just kept coming,” Riley continued, spinning the arrow idly in his palm.
“Mmm,” was the muffled reply. “Oh here… no, that is not it.”
“Seriously, what is wrong with your haversack?” Riley asked again.
Mordock pulled his head out again and this time the glower could have melted adamantine. “If you must know,” he said through gritted pointed teeth. “I thought I was getting a good bargain on it.”
Riley looked blankly back at him. “Where did you get it?”
Mordock mumbled something and went back to digging. “What about the demon?”
“I put arrow after arrow in him and he kept coming. Devlin kept ducking in and out of shadows wearing it down, Hells, Jynai even shot it with a ballistae and it still kept coming.”
“Aha!” Mordock came back out of his pack and flopped against the bulkhead, a handful of sunflower seeds clutched in his palm. He offered some to Riley. “Sarenrae's blessings?”
Riley waved the seeds away. “How is that Sarenrae's blessings?” he asked as Mordock tossed five or six of the seeds into his maw.
“Sunflower seeds? She's the Dawnflower? Goddess of the sun? Do you not pay attention to anything Thailyn says?” Mordock asked, inadvertently expectorating several shell-bits in the process.
Riley scowled over at their paladin friend Thailyn who stood in the bow, gazing toward, though not at, the rising sun. “As little as possible.”
Mordock snorted a laugh that might have been a grunt (or possibly the other way around). Casually he tossed several seeds over the side. When Riley looked at him questioningly, he shrugged.
“Sailor's trick. They throw a coin or something valuable over the side to appease the sea.”
“We're not at sea. And how do you know this as you hate boats so much?” Riely mused.
“I read books,” Mordock replied with a wide grin that put Riley in mind of a rather toothy sahuagin he ran across in his earlier adventures. Then Mordock burped again and looked green under his scaly skin.
“Perhaps eating when you're seasick isn't such a great idea.”
Mordock replied by swallowing his gorge and shooting Riley another grin, this one a bit more feeble. “We are not at sea.”
Riley rolled his eyes and pretended to check the line of his arrow. It was true, of course, he had crafted it himself, but he liked to have something to do with his hands while otherwise idle.
“And Jynai shot AT the demon, but she missed. Damn near took my head off. Do not know whose bright idea it was to put her on the siege engine, let alone think she ought to fire it anywhere near friendlies.” Mordock murmured, keeping his voice low.
“I heard that,” the oracle named Jynai called from the stern of the boat.
“You were meant to!” Mordock called back though clearly she was not. Riley smirked. Mordock viewed Jynai, by all rights an incredibly beautiful aasimar, as a little sister. Despite the fact that she was several decades Mordock's elder.
“But you do recall this demon,” Riley confirmed.
Mordock blinked and focused on him again. “Aye,” he replied. “What of him?”
“When he came at you… with those huge talons and giant dripping teeth… after slaughtering all those other soldiers, and the blood and ichor all over his nearly gelatinous skin-”
“Stop painting me a portrait and get to the point!” Mordock snarled, his face a tad greener.
“Were you scared?” Riley finished, his face implacable.
“What?” Mordock asked, taken somewhat aback.
“Were you scared?” Riley asked again, emphasizing each word.
Mordock stared at his friend's face for a long moment.
“You are gods damned right I was scared,” Mordock growled back, his confusion at the question adding an edge to his voice. “I would be bloody mad if I were not!”
“But… wet yourself scared?”
Mordock looked at Riley as if HE were mad. “What are you on about?”
“No,” Mordock replied, guardedly. “The only time I was even close to 'wetting myself scared' was the monster in the temple under Carrion Hill.”
“Aha!” A strong, tenebrous voice broke through their conversation. The slim, robed figure of the elven wizard Penrod seemed to materialize before them as he leapt from his spot, previously unnoticed by Mordock. He pointed a long bony finger at Riley. “I told you he wet himself at Carrion Hill! That is one platinum piece you owe me sir!”
Grumbling, Riley produced the coin and slapped it grudgingly in the elf's hand.
“You… you...” Mordock sputtered.
“I don't know what you're upset about,” Riley mumbled. “You lost me a platinum you big baby.”
“You were betting whether or not I WET myself in fear?” Mordock spluttered.
“Yes! I bet Penrod that you didn't, turns out you're just a big coward.”
“ANYONE WOULD HAVE WET THEMSELVES IF THEY HAD SEEN THAT THING!”
“I didn't!” Penrod murmured.
“Nor I,” called Thailyn.
“Or me,” said Jynai. Cleo and Devlin also chimed in the negative.
“None of you went toe-to-toe with it!” protested Mordock.
“Oh shut up and buy a new haversack, you big baby!” Riley snapped and shoved the arrow back in his quiver.
“Bah!” Mordock exploded to his feet in a huff, but teetered dangerously on the boat, fell to his knees against the bulkhead and sprayed bile and Sarenrae's blessings all over the brackish river water.
“I hate boats,” Mordock muttered.