Monday, July 22, 2013

Stories from the Gates of Camelot: Into the Ruins #1

Several years ago contributing writer Orcrist had a job with a browser gaming company called SnakeHead Games. During this time he helped them make their first Facebook game, as well as do some work on their existing browser games.  The Facebook game has sense been moved to a browser game (a whole blog could be written just about that experience - needless to say you don't need to send me any FB game invites). Now they've released the beta for a new game the Gates of Camelot.  As an aside to training to be the best knight you can be, there are all sorts of opportunities to write.  This has been wonderful opportunity for me to practice writing short story content and I thought I'd share some of the pieces that make the most sense outside of the game here on the blog.

To understand this piece it is important to know that every hour you are given the opportunity to "search the ruins." During this time you find money and random items.  The challenge for this particular piece of writing was to give a possible explanation for how the following items were left in the ruins and subsequently found by the intrepid knight Sir Ducksalot - who is in fact, a duck.  The items were: a small shield - improvised (described as a random bit of wood or branch which has been fashioned for use as a shield), a kinfe, an ale, and if applicable $2,508 silver. Get your tissues ready for the Tale of Cassandra (after the jump).

Not again,” Cassandra mumbled kicking a nearby stone. She just couldn’t believe her luck.  It’d done nothing but go from bad, horrid, to worse. Her step-father kicked her out, without so much as a care package from her mother. For the last month she’d been sleeping in the ruins after spending the day in town searching for respectable work in vain. It was only in the last few days that she’d been trying to find work in the pubs at night. With the smell of rain in the air, she had hoped to scavenge enough money for a room, of course now all she could smell was the ale and slop in her hair.

She was getting better at lightening the purses of passing men over a glass of ale, as long as they were buying.  She’d let them look into her rich brown eyes, and as soon as contact moved further south her hands shook free a few coins. She really hadn’t seen the barkeeper keeping an eye on her as she worked her way around the pub. “That’s quite enough of that he bellowed,” slamming his meaty fists into the bar sloshing an ale all over her. “We want none of your type in here!” At the same time the barmaid catching on, or maybe she’d tipped him off, the wench, flung the slop pail at her head.

Cassandra took flight clutching the last of the coins she’d managed to glean. She’d add this what, 300 silver to her stash when she made it back to the ruins.  It was barely raining, she could make it to her shelter before it got bad.  She kept a small stash near her room there. It wasn’t much of a room, just a bit of shelter in the stones, it stayed mostly dry and there was a compartment where she had her silver stash, 2,500 silver or so, her knife, and an emergency ale.  It seemed silly sometimes, but other than the now smelly clothes on her back and the 300 silver in her pocket, it was all she had in the world.

The silver had mostly been from here work in the pub at night, although there was some honest work washing and whatnot in there as well. She hoped she'd be able to get a enough equipment to get out of this horrible town and away from her stepfather, she never saw her mother any more. The knife was one she’d snagged while doing some guys laundry. He’d left it with his breeches and she cleaned it up and claimed it as her own. She had no way to hide it in her dress and she had no belt to strap it on with, so she only used it to keep the snakes away at night.  She daren't have a fire, it might attract bandits. Lastly there was her emergency ale. That was a story all it’s own.

Thinking about her ale sitting in the hiding hole in the ruins almost made her burst out laughing. The first night she’d tried life in the tavern. She chose the shady joint on the far end of town. It was a rough place and she’d never have gone in there in her old life, but she was starving. She’d only just found the knife so she’d carried it with her. She was so awkward and hungry she couldn’t even attract a lose pursed stranger. She sat by the fire twirling the blade and scouting the room. The barkeep either didn’t care that she was there or thought she was waiting for someone, so he left her alone. She watched as another girl worked the room, laughing with traveling knights and subtly tilting the tops of their purses into her hands.

Eventually the girl, who to Cassandra’s eyes was quite beautiful, came over to sit with her by the fire. She stowed her own purse where only the most foolish of nights would dare venture and brought two bottles of ale and set them on the table. “Don’t open it,” she whispered. Cassandra’s eyes darted from the bottle to the girl. She slumped into the chair across from Cassandra.

“I saw you watching me,” sad the strange girl, “but I know you don’t have any silver and I still had work to do.” The stranger placed her feet on the table in a most unladylike fashion, lifting her still capped ale to her lips and pretending to take a strong drink of ale.  Then she laughed. “You are quite the little mouse!” she gasped, “Thank you sister, for waiting for me” she nearly yelled, leaning into Cassandra for a hug. Cassandra stared. She thought about pushing the knife blade forward, but the stranger beckoned with a glint and in glancing quickly Cassandra could see that everyone was watching. She leaned forward and embraced the stranger.  “Make it look good, or we’ll both be hanged tonight” the other girl whispered into her ear.

After the embrace the pair was left alone, no eyes even drifted in their direction. “This place is good,” the bold girl commented turning a bit more to the fire. “You wouldn’t have to starve if you learned to work the room, you know?”

“Who are you?” Cassandra gasped, her eyes still wide with shock, her shoulders still trembling and the knife still clenched in her hand.

“Tonight, I am Violet, or maybe Vivan it was definitely something with a ‘V’ today.” laughed Violet. She had an amazing laugh, like bells chiming in the spring. It was enchanting and it did make some of the men notice them again. “Sorry,” Violet said, “We probably shouldn’t attract any attention.” She took another imaginary drink. “And you should put that knife away before you are tempted to use it and end up hurting the both of us,” she said with a cold, serious stare.

“I should have left by now,” Violet continued while Cassandra fumbled with hiding the knife in the folds of her dress, “but you caught my attention. I’ve seen you around town you know, all but begging in the streets.”

“ugh!” Cassandra choked in protest, but Violet just reached over and closed her jaw before continuing on.

“I don’t know your story, but I’m sure it’s not that different from anyone else. Look, you need to learn some things. First, get them to buy the food - she jerked her head at the men at the bar. Help yourself to a little of their silver when they buy you a drink, but don’t take much, and don’t get caught! Keep your head about you, drink some ale, but keep your wits. Most of all, never stick around.”

Cassandra gulped, but didn’t gasp anymore. She looked into Violet’s eyes, and there it was, the pain of going rough. She slowly realized that Violet was her saving angel, the best she was going to get anymore.

“Furthermore,” Violet barreled on, “You need a safe place to make a stash. Not a pub, not a public place. I’m not sure I’d even trust a room if you could get one. Just somewhere safe, that no one knows about. Keep that,” she pointed at the folds concealing the knife, “there. You don’t want to get caught with a weapon. You really don’t want to get caught at all. Don’t take too much, and keep moving. Never get a room in the pub you are working and never go back to their rooms, it’s just not safe. You probably shouldn’t trust anyone either, but I’m helping you, so maybe someone else might someday.”

Cassandra wanted to cry, but Violet just pointed to the ale. “Pretend to drink, love. Hide your fears and begin your fake life with a fake drink. That’s your emergency ale. You can keep it. Think about what you’ve learned, it’s not glamorous, but it’s better than starving, or not starving that way.” her eyes darted towards a pair of wenches on the stairs.

Cassandra’s eyes followed Violet’s gaze, she stared a little longer thinking about the life she’d been avoiding and the options Violet had just given her. “But where” she started to say, but as she looked across from her Violet was gone.  She glanced around the bar, but she couldn’t see her anywhere. The barkeeper began to scowl at her, she turned away and took a long sip from her capped emergency ale. Grasping the bottle in one hand and her knife in the other she walked out of the tavern.

All that wait for her in her stash in the ruins. The memory of Violet, the promise of better times, and the future she was slowly gleaning off of men in return for small talk.  She still begged the honest work during the day, but at night, she never was the one doing the buying. It was just tonight that it had all gone belly up, and slop down.

The rain began to pound harder and Cassandra was forced to duck into a different section of the ruins.  She found some water and rinsed the slop from her hair.  She was cold and we now, what did it matter.  When the storm lifted she’d make her way to her hole and she could hang out her outer garments there. She didn’t like this spot, there were too many knights snooping around, her hole was well hidden though, if a bit popular with the snakes.

Eventually, the rain did clear and Cassandra roused herself enough to make a dash to her safe place, her little room in the ruins. She’d take an imaginary sip from her emergency ale, and begin again tomorrow. Unfortunately, it was not to be. As she approached her room, she saw a duck in a fine hat and glistening armor. Cassandra hid behind column as the duck tilted the rock that hid her ale, her silver, and her knife.  The duck swept it all into a large case and mounted a magnificent horse, the likes of which she had never seen.

Cassandra knew it was gone, she turned and walked deeper into the ruins.

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