What Are The Odds?

A place for the stories that take place within Rhy'Din
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Anvil Crawler
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What Are The Odds?

Post by Anvil Crawler » Sat Oct 17, 2020 4:19 pm

((Author's Note: These are reposts from the old Red Dragon Inn forums that I saved on my computer and promptly forgot about, more or less, for the past eight years or so. I'm pretty much posting them as is, as a window into how I was writing back then and as a guidepost for how much I've improved, hopefully, since then. If they suck, well, I'd like to think I've gotten better as a writer since then. If you like them, well, I've got some thoughts on where things might go next...))

March 17, 2012
2:00 a.m.
Study Hall Bar & Grille


The up-lights went up, the music cut out, and one of the bouncers shouted his usual end-of-evening slogan. “Alright, everyone, time to go home!” Tonight, though, he hadn’t needed to shout. Most evenings, the din of conversations carried over when the lights came on and the music was turned off. There were alcoholics pleading with the bartender for one last drink, frat guys taking one last stab at convincing girls to go home with them, or drunks whooping it up loudly for no apparent reason. This evening, though, the bar was mostly empty. Except for the staff, there was a half-elf and a dwarf making out at the bar, and a quartet of short, stocky humans in khaki shorts, polo shirts, and baseball caps playing pool. Once the bouncer snorted and stared at the remaining customers for a few seconds, they quickly got the message. They paid their tabs, gathered up their things, and headed for the door. Having a seven-foot tall, heavily pierced and scarred minotaur as the head bouncer did wonders for keeping patrons in line.

Once everyone had left, every single barmaid, bartender, and bouncer looked to the night manager, eyes gleaming and smiles ready. He knew what question they were going to ask him, but he decided not to pre-emptively answer it, making them squirm as they rushed through clean-up for the next day’s opening. It was St. Patrick’s Day, but that didn’t mean nearly as much as it might have meant on Earth – or most Earths. The old pagan and agriculture holidays were the main attractions on RhyDin – Beltane, the summer solstice, and the Harvest Festival would be far busier than tomorrow. Add to that the fact that the RhyDin Arts and Sciences College was on spring break through the rest of the weekend, and it all added up to one question, just waiting to be asked…

“We doing after hours?” one of the waitresses asked, fixing pouty lips and big brown puppy dog eyes on the manager. There were murmurs of agreement and excitement from the rest of the staff. Their boss, however, looked skeptical.

“I don’t know…” He watched their faces fall into frowns and scowls, before looking back at his two bartenders. “You guys up for sticking around and slinging some more drinks?”

The shorter of the two bartenders spoke first, running his hands through medium-length brown hair. “Sure, if Rob’s cool with it.” He looked over to the other bartender, who was drying a glass. He set the glass down on the bar-top and flashed a thumbs up.

“It’s cool with me, dude, long as we can pour for ourselves,” Rob said.

“Well, then…” the manager dragged it out, enjoying watching his staff fidgeting. “Okay.” A loud cheer erupted, before he spoke up again. “But we have to keep it somewhat quiet. No music, not too much noise. Okay?” Some staff nodded, others murmured their agreement to his terms. The bartenders shifted from cleaning the bar to serving drinks, starting with themselves. The shorter bartender poured himself a pint of red lager, while Rob mixed up a vodka bomb in a highball glass. After fortifying themselves, the tenders went to work on serving their fellow staff members.

An hour or so later, after a few drinks, a comfortable buzz had settle over the staff. One of the bouncers and a couple of waitresses had gone home, since they were working again when the bar reopened later in the day, but the rest of the staff remained, sipping beers or slugging shots of tequila and whiskey while Rob tried to wheedle any indecisive orderers into trying one of his concoctions. A few brave souls tried Irish Car Bombs, Jäger Bombs (or the RhyDin equivalent, since Jägermeister was scarce), and Long Island Iced Teas, while others stuck to more comfortable drinks. After his first vodka bomb, Rob had settle into drinking draught Badsider, while his tending companion had stuck with his initial choice of red lager.

“Rob, can you make me something special?” The barmaid who had first broached the idea of an after-hour party leaned against the bar and fixed her chocolate eyes on him.

“Hi, Courtney. Liquid cocaine?” Rob rested an arm on the bar and leaned towards her.

“What’s that?”

“Well, here, it’s…” He grabbed a bottle of RhyDin’s Jägermeister equivalent, a bottle of cinnamon schnapps, and a bottle of high-proof rum. He poured equal parts into a shot glass, then pushed it her direction. “Enjoy.”

Courtney held the shot glass up, and Rob lifted his pint glass to clink against it, then took a long pull as she slammed the shot. She gasped and puckered as the drink hit her.

“Holy hell, Rob.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty much like that.”

“You owe me,” she said, her full lips pouting.

“Yeah, what?” Rob looked at her over the top of his glass as he brought it up for another sip.

“Tell me how you got here. To RhyDin, I mean.” It was a classic RhyDin ice breaker, and Rob had been in town just long enough to know that. He set his glass down with a grin, looked to make sure there wasn’t a line of employees waiting for drinks of their own, and began telling his tale.
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Anvil Crawler
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1,000,000 to 1

Post by Anvil Crawler » Sun Oct 18, 2020 5:56 pm

"Life is a gamble, at terrible odds - if it was a bet you wouldn't take it."
(Tom Stoppard)

“We drove out to the desert just to lie down beneath this bowl of stars”
(Counting Crows, “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”)


Las Vegas, Nevada
January 1, 2012


They drove out to the desert because they were tired of drinking, tired of gambling, and just about out of money. New Year’s Eve had passed into the New Year, and little had changed in the moment. Rob was a little bit richer, having won enough on a slots jackpot to make up for the money he’d lost and spent gambling and clubbing before. His best friend Dave had a cut on his head from running into a street sign on the drunk walk back to their hotel in the early morning hours. The other two friends who had joined them on the trip, California Dave (or Cali Dave) and Chad, hadn’t really changed at all overnight. In fact, Cali Dave was wearing the same clothes he had been wearing the other night – a light blue polo shirt, brown cargo shorts, and flip-flops. Chad had changed, but the difference between the heather gray Affliction t-shirt he had worn yesterday and the dark blue one he was wearing today was minimal.

The worst of their hangovers had come and gone, but there was still some residual queasiness that made them decide not to get hammered again that night. That, and they were pretty much broke anyways. The Daves and Chad had convinced Rob to buy a case of Bud Light with some of his winnings. With the beer safely stashed away in the trunk of their rented Ford Taurus, they made their way past the bright, gaudy lights of the casinos towards the north, up Veterans Memorial Highway. The blinding lights of the city gave way to the less flashy ones in the homes and on the streets of the towns north of Las Vegas until finally, they left civilization, with only the moon and a few dim stars to light their way.

About half an hour later, Rob pulled the car into the shoulder and stopped, and the four friends got out. After popping the trunk, Rob pulled the case of beer out and ripped it open, handing out cool bottles of beer to everyone as they walked a few steps out into the sand and sagebrush. They stood in a rough circle a few yards away from the car, and took in the near-silence of the desert. Out here, there was no electricity humming, no crowds of people laughing or talking, no airplanes roaring up and down the runways and into the skies. There was just the chirps of some insect or insects – Rob didn’t know if they had crickets or not in the desert here – and the rustling of sand, tumbleweed, maybe a snake or jackrabbit. Rob couldn’t see too far into the desert, so he put himself at ease by telling himself it was just the wind. Besides, they were close enough to the car if something nasty came out of the dunes – did they have coyotes out here, or mountain lions?

It was colder than they expected a desert to be, so after they finished their first beers, Cali Dave and Chad opened the front and back passenger-side doors and sat facing the desert, using the car as half-cover from the wind. Dave sat on the back bumper and smoked a cigar while he drank, and Rob draped himself over the hood of the car, hoping (futilely, as it turned out) that there was still some heat from the engine in the block. Now and then, a car flew past, kicking up gusts of mechanical wind that soon subsided, but save for the infrequent and fast-passing vehicles, they were alone.

“You ever see shit like this, Dave?” Rob called from the front.

“Yeah, dude. A lot.” Cali Dave responded.

“Not you, dumbass. Other Dave.”

“Nah, Rob,” the other Dave answered.

“It makes you kinda feel small, yeah?”

“Maybe you, bro,” Chad chimed in with a snicker.

“Ah, shut up, you jagoff,” Rob said, though he was laughing too. “You know what I mean. The stars and the sand and nobody else being around.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Dave replied.

“Pass me a beer,” Rob half-asked, and a fresh Bud Light bottle made its way through the chain from Dave to Cali Dave to Chad to Rob. He twisted the cap off and flicked it off into the nearby sand, then got off of the hood of the car. “We should toast. To a fucking awesome Vegas vacation – even if Cali Dave almost lost his shirt, Dave his head, and Chad his money. Happy fucking New Year’s, guys.” Rob walked over to where they were seated, on the passenger side of the car, and clinked his bottle against theirs. They all murmured agreement to what Rob had said.

“Now if yinz –” Rob put emphasis on the Pittsburghese slang, smirking as he watched the Daves grimace. “ – will excuse me, I gotta take a piss.” And with that, Rob walked away from the car, into the desert.

The wind seemed to have picked up since they had pulled off to the side of the road, sending debris, dust, and sand blowing into Rob’s legs. As he walked, the wind speed increased, turning from a mild nuisance to a slightly painful aggravation. Rob looked up at the sky, and the moon was gone, replaced instead by clouds. It was dark, so he couldn’t tell if they were rain clouds or not. He glanced over to where his buddies were hanging out, and they seemed to be looking at the sky as well. Then, he felt the first fat rain drop strike his skin, then another. And another and another and another, until the trickle of raindrops had become a shower.

“Hurry up, dude!” Cali Dave called from the car, before slamming the door shut. He heard two of the other doors close, and then the soft plink of rain on sand. He unzipped his pants, and was about to urinate, when he heard a loud rumbling sound overhead. It was louder than airplanes, louder than semis barreling down the highway, louder than he had ever heard thunder before. The smell of fresh rain and mud forming was soon overwhelmed by the acrid tang of ozone. Rob sniffed at the air, wrinkling his nose.

“Christ, that sm-“

The quip was cut off by a lightning bolt that struck Rob between the shoulder blades. There was a blinding flash of light, and when it disappeared, nearly as quickly as it had struck Rob, all that was left was a smoking pair of boat shoes.
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Anvil Crawler
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Re: What Are The Odds?

Post by Anvil Crawler » Mon Oct 19, 2020 11:15 pm

January 1/2, 2012
Star's End


It was a sleepy Sunday night in this sleepy neighborhood near the Star’s End Spaceport. There wasn’t much turnaround between the New Year’s Eve revelry that had happened the night before, and the beginning of a new work week the next day, so many of the working class families living in well-secured apartment buildings and townhouses had already gone to sleep. Those that hadn’t hid behind curtains and glass, with the glow of orange lighting the only signs of life within.

The neighborhood’s silence was shattered by a clap of thunder, a blast of lightning, and the sound of a body thudding to the asphalt. A bright flash of white-yellow light erupted from the newly deposited person on the street. It would be the last light anyone would see that day. As soon as that light faded, leaving only the unconscious form of a young, shoeless man, all electricity on the block shorted out. Porch lights, street lamps, and the lights inside the apartments and houses on the street all winked out at once. After a minute, a curious citizen stepped out of her apartment building and looked down the street, first left, then right. Another stepped out of his townhouse, looking in both directions as well, then waved to the woman from the apartment. Over the next five minutes, two dozen people – humans, elves, cyborgs, androids, and others – exited their homes and began talking with each other. In the dark, it took another two or three minutes before someone noticed the body lying in the middle of the road.

“Good God, that’s a person!” a man shouted out, pointing at Rob’s inert form. An elvish woman with one blue eye and a red cybernetic replacement rushed to the street, kneeling down and pressing fingers against his throat.

“He’s alive, Maker’s thanks. Anyone have phone service?”

“No,” another man said, snarling and jabbing at buttons on his cell phone. “Damn Nexus’s acting up again.”

“Then we’ll have to carry him to the hospital,” the elvish woman replied. “There’s one a couple blocks away. C’mon!” She began tugging at Rob’s arms, trying to pull him up, and one of the androids, with impossibly smooth skin and perfectly coiffed black hair, came over.

“I will handle this,” he said in a quiet, flat tone, and, with the elf’s help, draped Rob over his back into a fireman’s carry. “Follow me, ma’am?” It was equal parts confused question and insistent command, but the elvish woman went with him anyways, as the other residents milled about aimlessly.

***
After a five minute walk, the pair came across the hospital closest to the neighborhood. A towering edifice of glass and concrete, there was a circular driveway on the opposite side of the main entrance with ambulances parked along the curb. Halfway up the drive, an overhang covered an oversized sidewalk, where a handful of nurses and orderlies had snuck away for cigarettes. Upon seeing the android and elvish woman walking swiftly towards the emergency room carrying another person, the orderlies scattered, while one of the nurses ran out to them after flicking her cigarette away.

“Condition?” she asked, all business now as the trio headed for the automatic glass doors. The first set whooshed open, followed quickly by the second set, and they walked past rows of wheelchairs, brown loveseats and recliners for less-urgent patients and family members, and up to the intake desk.

“Alive,” the elf responded, in equally clipped tones. “Stable, I think? Breathing and beating, though shallow and slow.”

“Do you know what happened?”

“Sensors indicated a Nexus shift of some sort in the vicinity, followed by a complete failure of the power grid,” the android said, his voice showing no signs of strain from carrying a full-sized person. “Logic would suggest the person I am carrying is the result of this activity.”

The nurse shot a dirty look at the android. “I mean, with him,” she said, pointing at the man on his back. “How did he get hurt?”

The android’s eyes darted back and forth, and the irises rolled back so that only the whites were visible, then shifted again so that he looked marginally more human. “Unknown.”

“Yeah, I dunno,” the elf added.

“Well, we’ll figure it out.” The nurse gestured to a pair of orderlies, one of whom had been outside earlier and looked sheepishly at them. They gingerly helped Rob off of the android’s shoulders and onto a stretcher, then pushed through a pair of swinging doors towards an examination room. The nurse looked at Rob’s rescuers, nodding swiftly. “Thank you for your assistance…I’m assuming you don’t know who he is?”

“Unknown,” chirped the android.

“Yeah, again, I dunno,” the elf said, looking slightly annoyed at her companion.

“Did you want to give contact information, to check up on him?” the nurse asked them. Both shook their heads no, one more, well…robotically than the other.

“No, thanks,” the elvish woman said. “Just make sure he’s okay and gets help?”

“Of course,” the nurse replied. “That’s what we’re here for.”
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Re: What Are The Odds?

Post by Anvil Crawler » Tue Oct 20, 2020 10:34 pm

January 4, 2012
RhyDin Welcome Center


When Rob had finally recovered enough from his unexpected trip from Las Vegas to RhyDin, the hospital had given him a voucher to stay at the Red Dragon Inn for a night. They had also told him to head for the RhyDin Welcome Center as soon as possible. This was why he was currently standing in a line that rivaled ones he had stood in at his local DMV, with beings that couldn’t possibly be real.

With a note on his admission record that he was a brand new arrival to RhyDin, the hospital had been careful to only let humans – or those who could pass as humans – see him and treat him. They had tried to warn him that RhyDin was a place with all sorts of fantastic and amazing people, but there was a difference between being told there would be elves and dwarves and cat-eared folks walking the streets of a city, and then seeing those very same people, and a half-dozen other utterly impossible races and species standing in a bureaucratic line at the Welcome Center. He had also asked about how in the world he was supposed to get back to Pittsburgh, but they had told him that if he didn’t know how he’d gotten there, they sure as hell didn’t know either.

The Welcome Center was a slight improvement on the DMV, though they shared the same sense of a forced neutral environment. The walls were painted a plain white, and there were bench couches upholstered with beige and cream colored cushions, but they had also put large windows up in the front of the building to let in sunlight and a view of the city. Rob swore it was schizophrenic. Skyscrapers and modern concrete buildings stood shoulder-to-shoulder with wooden inns, the streets paved with bricks, cobblestones, and asphalt. Rob had plenty of time to ponder the surreality of it all before he was called up to the counter.

“You are a refugee, correct?” the woman on the other end of the counter asked. She was awfully similar to how the DMV clerks looked and acted, except for the silvery wings that stuck out of her back and flittered now and then. He stared at them, until the woman cleared her throat, causing Rob to blush.

“Sorry.”

“You are a refugee, correct?” she repeated the question in a more annoyed tone.

“Yes, yes I am.”

“Your name?”

“Orem Robert Pulk III,” he said quietly, before leaning over the counter with a smile that was equal parts charming and sheepish. “But can you please just put it down as Robert Pulk III?”

“Sure. Is Robert your first name and Pulk your surname?”

“What? What’s a surname?”

The woman sighed, and her wings fluttered faster. “Surname. Like a family name.” She saw his blank look, and sighed a little louder, speaking a little slower. “Last name?”

Recognition dawned in his eyes, and Rob nodded. “Yeah. Pulk’s my last name or surname or whatever you wanna call it.”

“Gender?”

“Male.”

The woman paused for about 30 seconds here, looking Rob up and down and scribbling on a piece of paper. Finally, she resumed her questioning. “Age?”

“Uh…I guess I’m 23?”

She lifted a thin eye-brow at him. “You guess.”

“Yeah, 23.”

“World of origin?”

“Uh…Earth?”

“Nice! Makes my job easier.” She checked a box off, while Rob gave her a funny look. “Never mind that. Do you have any magical, cybernetic, metahuman, or any other otherwise unexplained powers that would place your strength, agility, speed, intelligence, stamina, or other physical attributes beyond the average baseline for a RhyDin citizen?”

“Say what?”

The woman grumbled, as did a few people standing behind him in line. “Are you a superhero?”

Rob just laughed at the question, earning him a scowl. Meekly, he replied, “No.”

“Do you have any curses placed on you, or do you have any sort of deadly lethal reactions to relatively common things, such as sunlight, silver, crucifixes or other religious paraphernalia, running water, magic usage, technology, or any items not listed?”

“Umm…I’m allergic to shellfish?”

“I’ll make a note of that.” She scribbled something on the sheet, and then looked at him with a forced smile, her wings softly stirring up a breeze. “Is there anything else I should know about you?”

“I’m awesome?” That earned him another scowl.

“All right, I need you to step out of line and sit over there-“ She pointed at the couches near the front of the building. “You will be shortly called back up to get a picture taken for a photographic ID card. Shortly after, you will receive your card, which will be good for thirty days of discounted services at most RhyDin shops that serve the needs of new RhyDinians. You will also receive vouchers good for 60 days rent at the Red Dragon Inn, or another RhyDin Welcome Center-affiliated housing complex, if you so choose, 30 days of food from various Marketplace vendors, and a check for 250 silvers to spend how you like. I would recommend buying some new clothes.” She looked him up and down again, taking in the lightning burnt shirt and ill-fitting pants the hospital had given him to wear.

“Yeah. Sure.” Rob turned to step out of line, and then just as quickly turned back. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. Next!”
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Re: What Are The Odds?

Post by Anvil Crawler » Sun Oct 25, 2020 3:56 pm

March 17, 2012
3:30 a.m.
Roof, Study Hall Bar & Grille

“What? They ask you if you have powers?” Courtney giggled, louder than she would have sober, and half-flopped, half-leaned against Rob’s shoulder, placing a hand on his chest for support. He pretended not to notice how close she had gotten – or that there was booze on her breath.

“Yeah. Crazy, right?” He laughed and ruffled his own hair.

“Do you?”

“Have powers?” Rob stopped mid-ruffle, and looked down on her contemplatively. “Not really. Just – hmm. One sec.” He straightened up, forcing her to sit up on her own as well, and took off the black-banded digital watch on his wrist. He placed it in the palm of his left hand. “See how it’s running now? Watch.” He pointed at the watch with his right hand, and a thin spark of electricity jumped from his index finger to the watch. When Courtney looked at the watch again, it was dead. She didn’t seem impressed.

“That’s just static electricity. Anyone can do that.”

“Okay, but-“ He flipped the watch over so that he could see the back, unscrewed the battery case, and took out the tiny battery that normally powered the watch. He put the warm battery in his pocket, and then sent another spark at the watch. He turned it so that Courtney could see that it was running again, blinking 12:00 a.m. Her eyes goggled.

“You, you’re like…Zeus!”

“Nah, I’m not quite like that.”

Suddenly, she stood up and tugged at Rob’s arm, trying to force him to stand.

“Hey, hey, what’s the rush?” Rob asked, smirking. He strapped the watch back on quickly, even as Courtney tried to rush him towards the roof’s exit door.

“I’ve got…I’ve got a power too, you know.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, but – it only works at home. C’mon, I’ll show you.”

“Well…” He pretended to be ambivalent about the prospect of going to her house, and chuckled when she pouted, fixing big brown eyes on him. “Alright. Let’s go.” Finally, he let himself be pulled along by Courtney, through the door, down through the nearly empty bar, and outside.
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Re: What Are The Odds?

Post by Anvil Crawler » Sun Oct 25, 2020 4:29 pm

January 13, 2012
WestEnd


Rob was pretty sure he was in purgatory. At first, he thought he might have been in hell. The bureaucracy at the RhyDin Welcome Center, the meager trappings of the room he had rented with his refugee check, and the fact he had seen honest-to-God red-skinned and horned demons walking the streets like it was nothing at all led him to that conclusion. Then again, someone had given him money, food, a room, advice. The devils hadn’t stopped to jab him with pitchforks or pour boiling oil on him or cackle maniacally at him. They just went about their business – whatever that was. In fact, he had even seen an angel or two. Tall as basketball players, he couldn’t tell if they were men or women. Some of them even had feathery white wings. So it couldn’t be hell, but it sure as hell wasn’t heaven. That left purgatory.

Rob had forgotten most of what he had learned about purgatory in catechism and Sunday school. Unbaptized children went there, he thought, and good people who nonetheless weren’t Christian. Maybe he had to go through this because he had lapsed in the faith? He hadn’t remembered anything about feeling hungry or thirsty in purgatory, or needing money to buy things, but it wasn’t exactly like there was anybody on Earth who had gone there, come back, and written a book about it. All things considered, if this was purgatory, he was pretty lucky. The dragons that circled overhead like the vultures back home took some getting used to, but at least there were parts of the city that closely resembled his home. Buildings made of steel and concrete, roads paved with asphalt, and even people walking around with cell phones. They all mostly seemed content with their lot in the afterlife. Maybe they didn’t know they were dead? But if he knew he was dead… Rob shook his head vigorously, dismissing the thought.

No, today was not a day to ponder existentialism. Today, it was time to test a theory. Can I get drunk here? He had a few silver coins in his pocket – hopefully enough to pay his bar tab – and he was wandering aimlessly through streets of brick and cobblestone and concrete looking for a place that was run-down enough to be cheap without being so run-down as to be dangerous. Unfortunately for Rob, the city streets seemed to have a life of their own, and his random wanderings took him straight (or crooked, as the case may be) into the WestEnd.

He heard church bells clanging from the middle distance, and looked up to see if he could find the source. When the bells kept on ringing the hour, past 12 peals and onto a 13th, Rob blinked rapidly and then looked down at his watch. “13:65 p.m.,” it read, and that caused him to frown. Was his watch broken, or did time really run that differently here? He didn’t have much time to worry about his watch, though. When he looked up, there were two figures in black-hooded robes walking slowly towards him, glittering red eyes the only facial features he could see. They reached into the folds of their robes and retrieved curved knives, roughly the same length as a butcher’s knife. Sighing, Rob put up his hands. It looked like purgatory also had its fair share of petty crime.

“Coins’re in my front left pocket. Just take ‘em and go. No one needs get hurt.”

They didn’t respond. Instead, their slow walk turned into a sprint. Rob had just enough time to realize they weren’t planning on robbing him to get his hands down into a guard stance and start bouncing on the heels of his feet before they both stabbed at him, one high and one low. With some fancy footwork, he managed to evade the low attacker, but he mistimed his block on the high attacker and got cut across the right forearm. Rob cried out and grabbed his injured arm, but quickly let go when the assailants kept up their assault. Caught off guard, he could only defend at first, dodging and ducking his attackers’ furious stabs and slices. Still, he couldn’t avoid them all, and he found himself tiring from facing two defenders and from suffering additional knife wounds to his torso, thigh, and shoulder. Realizing he wasn’t going to win the fight, Rob tried to spin away and escape, but one of his opponents deftly stuck out a leg and tripped him, sending him tumbling into a puddle in a nearby narrow alleyway. Rob barely got his legs out of the way as they stabbed at his crawling form, but he had merely delayed the inevitable. The alley was a dead end.

Rob felt his back press against a brick wall. Blood dripped down his shoulder, forearm, and leg, staining his tattered clothes and puddles beneath him. The fight now over, the hooded figures slowed down to their original pace, still brandishing their knives, savoring the impending kill. Rob held up his right hand, his fingers coated in red, in a futile attempt to stop them from coming closer. In a few seconds, they would be on top of him, cutting through his weak defense and leaving him a bloody mess. He closed his eyes, hoping (but doubting) they would make it quick and painless.

He smelled the ozone first, and then heard the crackle and whine of energy humming in the air and stinging his fingertips. His eyes shot open, and he saw blue sparks jumping out of nowhere, across his fingers and into the palm of his hand. The attackers must have seen it too, because they stopped walked toward him. They turned to each other, seemingly confused, and then began running. They made it two steps toward Rob before a lightning burst shot out of his hand and struck them both, sending them writhing against the gravel. With spasmodic, herky-jerky motions, they dragged themselves to their feet, turned tail, and fled for the streets, falling once or twice as their limbs failed them. Only then did Rob let his hand fall limp at his side.

His last words, before unconsciousness blissfully swept him away, were short and sweet.

“What…the fuck?”
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Re: What Are The Odds?

Post by Anvil Crawler » Mon Oct 26, 2020 8:56 pm

January 14, 2012
WestEnd


“…damn fool kid.”

“Brenfa, I think he’s awake.”

“That he is. Welcome to the world of the living.” Brenfa, a middle-aged woman shaped something like a bowling ball and with a voice scraped with sandpaper, leaned into Rob’s face to examine him closely. On his back, in a bed with nothing but threadbare sheets and a quilt sewn together from scraps, Rob could not avoid her penetrating stare, nor her breath, which smelled strongly of garlic and some other spice he couldn’t quite identify. He turned his head to the side, and she turned it right back to face her. He was too weak to try it again.

“I’m not dead.” Those three words from Rob were riddled with surprise and confusion.

“Thanks to me.” Brenfa straightened up from her lean over Rob’s bed, and turned to snap her fingers at the adolescent freckle-faced boy who was her apprentice. “Daneld! Medical kit!” The boy scurried out of the room, and rushed back in with a first aid kit in hand. Brenfa took it from his outstretched hands, and then shooed him from the room.

She began checking Rob’s vital signs, pressing a cold stethoscope to his bare chest, fastening a blood pressure cuff to his arm and pumping away, and changing the dressing on the bandages crisscrossing his body. She hummed off key as she examined him from head to toe, stopping only to talk with him once. “I took the liberty of paying myself with coins from your pocket.”

“Uh…thanks?”

“You’re welcome.” She returned to her check-up, and then stepped away from Rob’s bed and left the room. She came back with a chipped mug, steam rising rapidly from the top. “Drink this.” Rob did as he was told, and very nearly spat the beverage back up. It tasted like grape Robutussin mixed with tree bark, with a healthy dash of cinnamon for good measure. He managed to choke it down, though a few drops dribbled onto his shirt and the sheets.

“Sorry,” Rob whispered, still searching for his voice after downing the vile medicine. Brenfa scowled in response.

“You should go to sleep now,” she said, in a voice that had suddenly shifted from raspy to honey-coated.

“I should…go to sleep now?” Rob repeated, feeling his mind going fuzzy. He was trying to figure out why she sounded so nice, but he was starting to feel tired…

“You should go to sleep now.”

Slightly confused, Rob felt exhaustion wash over him. He went to sleep quickly and quietly.

---

Rob woke up to the gentle swaying of a horse-drawn carriage, covered in the same patchwork quilt he had been sleeping in earlier. He glanced down, and realized he was still wearing his cut-up clothes from the assault, complete with blood stains. Pressed into his hands was a handwritten note, which he unfolded and read:
Paid carriage with rest of your coins. Try to stay out of WestEnd, unless you have a deathwish.
Brenfa
Rob sighed, leaning back and butting his head lightly against the carriage interior. He heard something sliding open in front of him, and then a voice addressed him. It was reedy and aged, and struggled to be heard over the horses and the ambient rumble of the city. Rob couldn’t really see anything through the mesh covering up the opened slat except glimpses of gray sky.

“Brenfa didn’t tell me where you live.”

“Oh. Uh…” Rob pulled out his wallet. Thankfully, Brenfa hadn’t taken everything he’d had on him. He flipped it open, pulled out his ID card from the Welcome Center, and pressed it against the slat. The street he lived on – his temporary housing while he got settled in – was named in some language he had never heard of. The carriage slowed down some, as the driver glanced back at Rob’s ID.

“150 Calen Malle’.” Apparently, the driver could read in that language. And speak it too – he didn’t struggle to pronounce either of the foreign words, and the reediness was replaced by something vaguely reminiscent of an Irish accent. “I’ll have you home shortly.”

“Thanks.” The driver closed the slat, and Rob sat in silence once more. He shut his eyes and sighed. He didn’t have the heart to tell the old man the truth. This wasn’t his home, and it never would be.
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Re: What Are The Odds?

Post by Anvil Crawler » Mon Oct 26, 2020 9:17 pm

January 16, 2012

Purgatory had the internet. Or some weird version of it, anyways. It sure as hell wasn’t the same as the internet in 21st century America. Where Rob was living currently, there was no home service, no cable modems piping Netflix to his laptop, no wireless access in every coffee shop and fast food restaurant, no 3G smartphone access to Wikipedia to settle bar bets. There wasn’t even anything like AOL. That didn’t mean the internet didn’t exist, of course. It just meant it existed in places that Rob would never have looked for it in Pittsburgh.

There were a couple of PC bangs in the marketplace, but Rob hadn’t bothered to try them out. He took one look at the computers inside – bulky beige monstrosities that looked like they belonged in a museum – and another look at the unfamiliar language that all the signs were written in, and decided against visiting. Luckily for Rob, Star’s End had plenty of cybercafés available to visit. Granted, some of them required data ports on the back of your neck or head, and others were just virtual reality rooms that were meant more for wish fulfillment than internet access. Still, there were plenty of other places that promised access to computers and the internet, with signs written in English – or Common, as they called it here apparently. One day, Rob bit the bullet and visited one.

Using the computers reminded him of how it felt to pull an all-nighter in college, when coffee and Ritalin mixed together after a day without sleep to make the world speed up and slow down without his control. He stared at the computer hard, trying not to blink, because he felt like if he did everything on screen would shift and change, like when he was on the edge of sleep, propped up only by stimulants and the desperate desire to write a five page paper by 10 the next morning. The cybercafé was primarily lit by red, orange, and green fluorescent tubes that traced the length of the walls, splashing color on the harsh computer monitor glow that flickered across the other customers’ faces. They didn’t have Windows PCs, or Macs even. The operating system was something completely new to him, a fever dream reflection of how computers worked on Earth. At least the keyboard had English keys, and there was a mouse beside it, or else he might have spent longer than five minutes trying to figure out what Dragon OS named its web browser.

When he finally found the browser (named Drake), he tried entering some of the web sites from back home. Google – 404. Wikipedia – 404. www.pitt.edu – 404. The bookmark bar was no help. It mostly consisted of information about Drake, RhyDin government web sites, and something called Tweeter, which looked like purgatory’s version of Twitter. He almost banged his head on the keyboard, before taking one last shot at a web site. Facebook – it took almost a minute for the page to load, but finally it did. He almost whooped and hollered, but he remembered where he was and entered his user name and password. After another minute, he got an error message. His stomach fell. After a minute of clunky searching in some search engine he had never heard of, he found his personal Facebook page.

They’d reported him dead. His acquaintances had written simple messages – “R.I.P. bro”, “We miss u”, “U will b missed”, and so forth on his wall. His sister had written “Ill miss u older bro”, and his mom had posted Psalm 23. His friends talked about toasting to him, pouring out 40s to him, knowing he was in heaven smiling down on them. They had changed his profile picture to one from his college graduation, wearing his cap and gown and holding his diploma in front of him. He felt his vision blur, and he found himself unable to read any more of the memorial messages.

Rob went back to the main Facebook page and registered a new account. His old one had been under the name he usually went by – Rob Pulk III – so he decided to use his full name this time, even though he didn’t like it. As soon as his account was made, he began searching for members of his family and his best friends, and wrote them messages. He had no way of knowing whether or not they would get delivered, or read, or believed, but he had no choice. He had to try to get ahold of them. The alternative was too painful for him to bear.
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Re: What Are The Odds?

Post by Anvil Crawler » Tue Oct 27, 2020 8:49 pm

To: Kim Pulk
From: Orem Robert Pulk III


Mom,

This isn’t some sick prank. I’m trying to think of what I can tell you to prove it’s not, but the only thing I can think of is you singing me “You Are My Sunshine” as a lullaby when I was a kid. And you and dad said if I was a girl you were going to name me Stefanie. Which you did eventually, with my younger sister. But you know that. You also said you called me Tangerine, when I hadn’t been born. I don’t know if that’s enough, I have to hope it is.

You probably think I’m dead, and you’re probably right. I think I might be dead too. But wherever I am, lots of people don’t think they’re dead here. It’s not heaven, it’s not hell, it’s probably purgatory. Or something else maybe. I guess if this message reaches you it’ll be later and I can tell you if I’ve learned anymore. People here call it RhyDin or Rhy’din or Rhydin, but I’ve never heard of it.

I guess I want you to know that…I’m still here? I guess that’s what this is. I’m still here, and hopefully you can get this and you’ll believe it’s me. I miss you mom. I miss home.

Rob

---

To: Stefanie Pulk
From: Orem Robert Pulk III


Stef,

Mom probably already told you, but I wanted you to hear from me to. I’m not sure what happened, but I think I’m in purgatory, or something like it. I might be dead, I might not, and I don’t know how to figure out for certain.

You can trust it’s me and not my fucked-up friends trying to prank you. Remember when we used to visit Grandma and Grandpa Yoder in Doylestown, and we’d swim in their pool and pretend your stuffed animals were in the Olympics? We’d pretend to be them and dive into the pool and give each other numbers for how we did. You used to get so pissed when I’d give you really low numbers for no good reason – because I was an asshole. LOL.

I just want you to know I miss you, and I want to talk to you even if I can’t actually be there anymore. I’m going to try to get back but I don’t how or if I even can. I miss you, and I hope you do well in school the rest of the way.

Rob

---

To: David Remelspach
From: Orem Robert Pulk III


Dude are you freaking the fuck out right now? :) This isn’t Cali Dave or Chad or one of those other assholes pranking you, bro. It’s me. Rob.

How do you know it’s me? Remember that time Freshmen year we went to that skeevy off-campus party and that chick with the greasy black hair and wings tattoo across her tits tried to hook up with you? I had to literally pull you off her, and we almost fought inside and outside that house, and we thought they called the cops on us. And we had to run back to the dorms carrying cases of I.C. under our arms like we were fucking doing the Heisman scared to fucking death they were gonna grab us for underage. You were so fucking pissed at me, but when Joe told us later that chick gave him crabs you were thankful.

I guess you might not believe me anyway cuz you’re hardcore Christian but I don’t think I’m dead, I don’t think I’m a ghost, I don’t think I’m in heaven or hell. I think I’m in purgatory, or something else like it. I want you to know that I’m doing ok. Like, it sucks that I’m not there with you bros but I’m trying to figure out how to get back if I’m not dead. And if I’m dead well at least I get to talk to you guys even if it’s just through FB.

Don’t worry about me. I’m ok, and I hope you’re okay. I love you, no homo.

Rob
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Re: What Are The Odds?

Post by Anvil Crawler » Wed Oct 28, 2020 11:27 pm

July 18, 2012

Spring bled swiftly into summer, and the summer was slowly sweating away. Life in RhyDin was a parody of life in Pittsburgh. Sometimes, it was light, like the times when he would be talking on his cell phone in the WestEnd and the call would cut out, replaced by bombastic opera or local AM radio shows. Sometimes, it was dark, like the day Study Hall Bar and Grille shut down because a vampire had left a bloodless body at the front door. Rob had been lucky enough to be on the late shift that day, and avoided having to see the pale corpse, but one of the other tenders told him about it with such a casual tone that Rob wondered if the man was psycho. Mostly, though, life in RhyDin was like life in Pittsburgh, looked at through a funhouse mirror, warped and stretched, but still recognizable.

As best he could, Rob settled into his new life in purgatory. He got e-mails from friends and family on occasion, although not everyone e-mailed him back, or believed that he was where he said he was. Reading the messages was bittersweet. He could talk to them, in some small way, but he could not see them, and sometimes reading those e-mails just made the loneliness feel worse. He hooked up with Courtney, but the pleasure and companionship didn’t extend much further than the shifts they worked, or the nights they spent together. They cut his hours at Study Hall when the summer break for students arrived, but the owner found him another part-time job as a bouncer at another bar he owned, and Rob scraped by. He had heard some RhyDin residents could travel back and forth between this realm and their home realm, and Rob had looked into it. Unfortunately, he didn’t really understand the science behind it, and the magical discussions about it made his head hurt. The easy solution was to pay someone to send him back, but he didn’t have nearly enough money to make that work. For now, he was stuck working, paying his bills, and trying to scrape together enough savings to maybe one day make that work. He settled into a routine, one that was similar to back home, with the occasional RhyDinian quirk to throw things off now and then.

One day, the relatively normal life that he had built for himself over the course of the past few months in RhyDin fell apart.
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Re: What Are The Odds?

Post by Anvil Crawler » Wed Oct 28, 2020 11:34 pm

August 1, 2012

To: David Remelspach
From: Orem Robert Pulk III


Somebody killed that fucking girl I was telling you about. Courtney. I go to work one day, and there’s all these cops – well, they call them the city guard or the guard or some such shit here. But there’s all these cops outside the Study Hall and they’ve got an alley nearby taped off. They talked to me, but I was off the night before and drinking at the Silver Mark, so they didn’t talk to me too long. The guy who was tending that night looked like he’d been hit by a two-by-four. Most of the barmaids were crying, mascara running everywhere. Everyone’s a fucking mess, and no one knows why it happened. But I guess people die here. Or can die.

They were all looking at me too. Should’ve known they’d figure out we were hooking up. Maybe they thought it was more? I don’t know what to tell them – I fucked her but I didn’t love her? Yeah, that’ll go over well. I don’t know what I looked like, but it must have been bad enough that they sent me home from work.

I didn’t love her, Dave, but I liked her and not just because we were having sex. She was a good person, and she didn’t deserve to be killed.

And she didn’t deserve to have the guard spend no time looking into who did it. No stories in the newspapers, nobody in the neighborhood talking about it, nothing. I asked Jake about it, and he said that’s just how it is here. People die like that all the time. That’s bullshit. That’s like that quote from that one history class, about the guy who didn’t speak up during the Holocaust when all those different groups of people were being taken away, and then they took him away because no one was left to speak up for him. I’m not going to let that happen. I’m going to find out who did this, even if it kills me. Again.
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Re: What Are The Odds?

Post by Anvil Crawler » Fri Oct 30, 2020 7:55 pm

August 31, 2012

Rob sat in the windowless, featureless interrogation room located inside the equally featureless concrete City Guard precinct building near the RhyDin Arts and Sciences College. He sat in a cheap chair made of faux wood and metal, on one side of a white laminate desk. On the other side of the desk, seated in a black office chair, sat Detective Stein. He sported a gray and white bushy mustache, gray rectangular glasses, and wispy gray hair that went white at the temples. He kept his fingers locked together when he asked Rob questions, and unlocked them when he picked up a pen to write down Rob’s answers on a yellow legal pad.

“So you don’t know anybody who had a grudge against her, or a reason to kill her?” the detective asked.

“No, I don’t. Just about everybody liked her.”

“Including you.”

Rob rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Including me. I told Detective Slashseer that I...had had sex with her. Why’re you asking me that again?”

“Just being thorough,” Detective Stein said, scribbling something down on paper.

“I don’t know why you’re asking me all these questions again. I already answered them before. I told you I was at the Silver Mark the night before. Didn’t you go down and check with them?”

“We can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.”

“C’mon. I didn’t do it. I got an alibi, the bartender saw me there that night, I walked straight home afterwards. I know my rights.”

Detective Stein leaned across the table. “Look, kid. This ain’t Earth. This ain’t your United States. I’ve seen enough of your kind come through here thinking they get a lawyer, that they got rights. Things work differently here.”

“Are you gonna arrest me, then? Arrest me or let me go - I’ve already told you twice what I told the other detective.”

The detective and Rob sat in silence, before the older man broke. With a sigh, he waved in the general direction of the door.

“I’m sorry, son. We just - well, we honestly don’t have any leads, and we’ve looked just about everywhere we can think.”

“It’s alright. I wanna catch the son of a bitch too.” Detective Stein got up and motioned for Rob to stand, before opening the door and holding it for him. Before Rob stepped through, he paused for a moment and looked the detective dead in the eye.

“So...you said the rules are different right?”

“I did...” A dubious look crossed Detective Stein’s face.

“Well...where I’m from, they don’t let people go to crime scenes until the cops are gone. I’ve been trying to pick up some things I left in Courtney’s apartment before...well...but everything’s still taped off and blocked off. You think you could tell them to let me in, just for a few minutes to grab my stuff?”

The detective looked Rob over in the doorway, studying him intently. Then, casually, he shrugged. “Sure. I’ll let them know you’ve got clearance. When did you want to go?

“This afternoon, if possible.”

“...I think we can make that work.” The detective smiled at Rob, and Rob smiled back, before he finally exited the interrogation room.
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Crime Scene

Post by Anvil Crawler » Fri Oct 30, 2020 8:01 pm

The city guard who had been assigned to Courtney’s apartment grunted over the intercom when Rob buzzed the apartment, before letting him come inside. Rob climbed up a dimly lit stairwell that smelled strongly of cigarette smoke and worse, before he found her apartment. He knocked on the door and a grey-mustached and portly man wearing a lopsided badge around his neck grunted again, before opening it. He gestured toward the interior of the apartment, then stepped outside and began lighting up a cigarette, leaving Rob all alone inside.

Courtney’s apartment was forever frozen in time. Either she had no friends and family in RhyDin, or the news of her death had been extremely slow to get out, or her friends and family lived outside the realm and hadn’t heard yet. No matter the scenario, it made Rob feel even sadder about what had happened. Had she died alone? Was he the closest thing she’d had to a friend?

There wasn’t much in the way of decoration. On one of the walls, Courtney had printed off photographs of her and what appeared to be her friends and stuck them in a frame. Most of the pictures were of people Rob didn’t recognize. There was one with the wait staff at Study Hall Bar and Grille. None of the pictures included Rob. Maybe he was just a fuck buddy.

The kitchen had been cleared out, with only spaghetti sauce splatters on the stove as evidence that anybody had ever cooked there. A small wooden table with four wooden chairs sat nearby, the tablecloth and placemats gathering dust. Rob began opening cabinets, the fridge, and the freezer. All empty. The guard must have found evidence there, or just chucked all the food out.

More dust covered the coffee table, light stand, and end table in the living room. Unopened mail fanned out haphazardly on the coffee table, but it all mostly looked like bills from where Rob was standing. None of the envelopes seemed to have handwriting on them. Next to the unopened mail, in a neater pile, sat opened letters and a couple of old issues of Nexus Weekly and RhyDin Wear Daily. He flipped through the already opened letters, but they were also bills. He set them down, brushing fingers against the glossy paper of the magazines, and went on to the next room.

A quick glance into the tiny bathroom revealed that it had already been thoroughly tidied up, so Rob went on to the last room left: Courtney’s bedroom. They had stripped the sheets off of her bed, but otherwise, it was almost like she hadn’t left. Rob opened and shut dresser drawers, but found nothing in them but clothing that she would never wear again. He opened the lone drawer on her nightstand, but there was only paper money inside. The closet was full of shoes, dresses, skirts, blouses, jackets, and other miscellaneous articles of clothing, but nothing that seemed like a clue. Desperate to find anything, Rob fell to his hands and knees and looked under the bed.

Jackpot. There was a fireproof lockbox – which he unfortunately didn’t have the key for – and a laptop computer. He plugged it into the wall, sat on the bed with the laptop, and booted it back up. After about 30 seconds, the desktop appeared, and Rob opened up the web browser and scanned through Courtney’s history. It was about what he expected to find: e-mail, Facebook, visits to the Gossip GangSTAR’s archives and fashion blogs. On a hunch, he loaded up Facebook.

Courtney had kept herself logged in. He went to her personal page, and saw a wall filled with her friends and family’s posts. R.I.P. Courtney. You will be missed. We <3 u. And on and on. Rob’s vision blurred, and he quickly clicked back to the main page. At the top left corner, he could see her pending friend requests, incoming messages, and activity on her wall. Curious, he opened up her messaging box.

---

To: Courtney Vreyland
From: Zoraida Rynn

U need to call the guard! If someones been following u around, thats stalking! Please b safe.

<3

Z

---

To: Zoraida Rynn
From: Courtney Vreyland

U know a lot about the city right? I pretend I do but I really dont go out much outside work/home.

I think some1 is following me. Like, when Im walking home from work I keep thinking I c some1 behind me but when I turn 2 look theyre gone. Its happened 3 times already and I dont kno wat 2 do.

Help?

C

---

Rob heard footsteps in the hall, and quickly unplugged the computer and pushed the screen down before shoving it underneath the bed. He rushed over to the dresser again, opened up the drawer that held t-shirts, and found one of his old University of Pittsburgh shirts buried at the bottom. He pulled it out and folded it over his arm, just as the guardsman returned to the apartment.

“Got what you need?” he asked, giving the t-shirt a once-over.

“Yeah,” Rob said in a quiet voice. “I got what I need.”
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