(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Max was written by Joshua Cejka.)
The street was a little darker than she would like. Apparently, the city works department didn’t quite believe in replacing the burnt out street lights in this part of town. In the distance, over the river, the gleam of the lights shone over the Hallad Market. Tents, kiosks, stalls in muted colors sat where a grocery store parking lot had once been.
She wasn’t going that far. She could see her destination just at the bottom of the hill, the remains of the old human tavern still showing through all of the Dwarven ‘reconstruction’. She recognized it instantly. It was like he’d said. You couldn’t miss it. The sign with the three names. She read the one in English: The Middle Span.
“Hal A’Khar, stranger.” A gravelly voice called out. She didn’t see where it originated from at first, but that was because she was looking too far up. When she adjusted she spotted a little man…well…little was a bit of a misnomer really. He was a brick on legs, immaculately trimmed beard grinning up at her with deep set eyes covered over by equally groomed eyebrows. The smile seemed friendly enough though.
“Yar here to have a chat with Max, an’t yeh? He just called. He’s on his way. Said he just had to drop off at work for to do some paperwork. Makes yarsef at home.”
She looked around at the place. It was definitely different – A blend of nativist and hallad but with the idea of making both comfortable in spending their coin on drinks. Smoke curled through the air. And the spicy stink of Dwarven Liquors filled the air.
She found a spot at one of the bar tables and had a seat.
She didn’t have to wait long.
“Here he comes. You can always tell by the rumble.”
Kelly glanced out the window where a deep black full sized truck was pulling up to the curb. It was impossible to imagine one of these Hallad climbing out of such a thing but that’s exactly what happened. He’d opened a door into the flat bed, kicked open the tail gate and jumped off the edge. He couldn’t be more than three foot four.
The door swung open and where she’d gone right along the bar, he went left, climbing up on top of it. It took him a moment to walk along the little half wall near the bar tables but he spotted her and stopped, kicking something on the wall with his huge shoe. A piece of the wall opened up into a little bit of a chair near the table and he took a seat at it.
“I hear you wanted to chat with me. I’m Max. Max Carpenter. Folks around here call me Machschull though. It’s my Hallad name.”
Kelly smiled her greeting at him. “Max, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Kelly Blanchard. Thank you for meeting with me.” She took in her surroundings. “Quite an interesting place. I assume you visit here often?” She raised her brows.
Max raised two fingers in the air and waited a moment. The Hallad bartender from earlier appeared with a snifter of brandy roughly the size of his own head. He placed it on the table and disappeared as max pulled a raggedy looking cigar from his waistcoat pocket.
“Yar. Often enough. I stop by after work sometimes. My sister and her Rat Butt husband – who happens to be my partner – live right up the street. You can’t miss their place. It’s the one ‘at looks like a right proper Halladi home. Only with a smiley face in glass on the wall facing the street.”
Kelly nodded and watched as he put the cigar in his mouth. “So, what is it that you do?” She had an idea but wanted to hear it from him.
“You mean here on Earth or back home? Here on Earth i’m what they call a DE Tecktive. Sorta like a road guilder guard, but more thinking. Less beating. Less chasing. Back home I’m Karaggan of a Soldiers Guild troop. What I reckon you ‘d call a platoon. Ummm…sorry. Sergeant. That is. Karraggan is Sergeant.”
Ah, so he did know of his home. Kelly hadn’t been sure about that. She never knew what the characters knew, so she leaned forward, curious. “Tell me of your home. What’s the world called? What it like?”
Max took much more than a sip of his brandy and put his glass back down.
“Funny you should mention it. We call it Illivus. Dugan—that’s the department’s Mage Liaison (sort of a helper guy) says that it translates to Earth. Funny, innit? Both our worlds mean the same thing – dirt.
“Illivus an’t too different than Earth really. Smaller cities, I guess. Bigger walls. A lot more ‘at’s still wild than there is here. But we got’s all the wars and all that. And pesky humans that make trouble. Course…” He grins, raising up a corner of his perfectly groomed beard. “If they din’t there wouldn’t be much work for the Guild. And I do like to work.”
“But you’re here on Earth,” Kelly pointed out. “Can you go between the two worlds, or are you stuck here?” She furrowed her brows, puzzled.
“Stuck here so far. Why? You know a way to get back? Reckon the best heads of your world and mine are working on it, but it’s a bit hard when you don’t even know where it is. You know what it’s like when you look up into the sky and not even see a single star you recognize? That’s pretty much it. Big load of pit rat poop if you ask me, but you got to do the best with it you can.”
“Sorry to hear.” Kelly frowned as she sat back in her chair. “How long have you been here?”
He took another swig of the brandy, emptying it before chewing on the end of his cigar a bit. “Eight years so far. First three we spent in the camps. An’t no place for no one. But they let us out before we got too angry, I reckon. Coupla months after that I was working a beat. They needed folks like us to patrol folks like us. I reckon that was smart of them at least. Still…it’s a little hard to forgive your folks for those camps. They cast a long black shadow…” His eyes darken and go distant, lost in a memory he can’t not hold on to.
“I’m sorry.” Kelly decided not to linger on that topic, so she shifted in her seat and chose something else. “You said you’re a detective, right? How did you get that job?”
“Well… as I said, they needed folks like us—you call em Arrivist folks I guess—to patrol and police folks like us. So a bunch of us signed on. Didn’t know what else to do. Guilders got to guild, course it don’t work like it used to…Anyway. It weren’t long after that they promoted me to detective. Nate—that’s my partner and brother in law—say’s it’s too quick to hit the gold shield after just a few years, but you know everything works a little quick when it needs to. And I reckon it needed to. But we got lots of ‘Rivists in the force now, bunch of Kisht, a couple of Pookah, Picketts…We even got a Darrie now (you’d call them Elves) Her name’s Chance and if that don’t beat all, huh? All the other Darrie slip away from the camps in the middle of the night and yet we got one working on the force. Gold shield too. Course, she didn’t exactly give them much of a choice.”
Kelly chuckled at the sound of this. “How did that happen?” She leaned forward, folding her forearms on the table as she listened for the tale. “Sounds like a good story.”
He laughed a little. It sounded like sandpaper rubbing together. The dim light of the bar sparkled in his eyes.
“Yar. It was at that. I guess you could say she was sort of shoved on us. One minute me and Nate were just interviewing an Elder, Turtle – he was actually born here. On Earth if you can believe it. The last time all this crap happened. Guess it was a thousand or more years ago or some such. Anyway. We were trying to ID our vic. Not an easy thing to do. Darrie are as rare as a Kraal in a Pepper Mine. But we found em. And sure enough this Turtle says Chance is coming with us and she’s going to be a cop. Well…Nate didn’t know what to do about that but we brought her along. Oh Mothers tears that was funny. I got to watch it from the outside. Here’s this lil girl—only…you know Darrie. She an’t little at all. She’s…I think…600 years old? And this whole crew of your fancy suit wearing folk all trying to brow beat her. They clearly don’t know Darrie at all. She didn’t even blink. I mean…CIA, FBI, State Department all that and she just says ‘you want to talk with the Darrie at all? Well here I am. I’m it and this is the way it’s going to be, take it or leave it. Of course they took it. I mean, to them the Darrie are like…what you call em…Ninjas. They know they’re out there in the woods and such but they don’t know where or what they’ve got planned. So it was that or try and beat it out of her. And I know Darrie. That wouldn’t have gone so well for them. She didn’t even blink. I swear. And that’s a sight to see. Does a heart good to see it.”
Kelly laughed at this. “Wow, she sounds amazing. I’m glad she’s on your side. Now though, you mentioned Nate. Is he from your world or here?” She furrowed her brows perplexed as she watched Max’s face.
“Nate’s from here, much to his pity. Born just west of Milwaukee. Lived here all his life. I don’t reckon he ever really fit in. And then he had to go on and marry my little sosshah. I wouldn’t forgive him for it, but I reckon he’s a damned sight better than my own people would be. Funny how I’d be stone-pressed to find a single Hallad lad to suit her, but we pop through to Earth and find a human quicker than a Kroll in a thunderstorm. Mumma and Fahrgran would have my head on a platter if they knew. Specially Fahr. He hates humans. Never had one kind word to say about them. Guess it’s a good thing he got left behind, huh?”
“So your sister married a human from here? Interesting.” Kelly smiled as she sat back, and she gave a little shrug. “I guess we humans from Earth can be a ‘bit’ charming.” Then she focused on another topic. “So the cases you’re working on, are they cases where people from your world–or other worlds perhaps–are suspects? Or do you just handle any average case that you’re given?” She tilted her head curious.
“We an’t specific. ‘Course we got the new special task force on Arrivist Crime since that last one. But used to be we worked everything. Homicide. But me and Nate got called in mostly when it had a ‘Rivist angle to it. With the new Task Force it’s all official. And national. Milwaukee’s the only town that has a force specific to ‘Rivist issues so the feds call us in from time to time.”
“Very interesting,” Kelly mused with a nod. “So what has been your most difficult case yet?”
Max took another sip from the next drink that appeared in front of him. He nodded with an easy familiarity at a Hallad who walked through the door. She smiled back and shook her head before taking a seat nearby.
“That would be the last one. The one with the Darrie. Before that it was all your standard murder stuff. This one got us in deep. We had a Combat Mage on us, a group of dimwitted Nativist Rat Turds tried to kill my sister (which I didn’t take very fine too) The Mage College nonsense… and… then there was the Darrie themselves, all while hunting down The Stonemaiden’s Cup. OUR cup. The very one Relleschull crafted from tears. Never did find it, but… in a way… I reckon you could say it found us. Still… It would make me sleep better had we put down that combat mage. And we took some losses…” Max raised the snifter into the air and drained it off in one gulp as if in tribute to something. “But we came out a bit ahead I reckon.”
“Combat mage?” Kelly knitted her brows. “I’m assuming this has something to do with magic, and what’s the Stonemaiden’s Cup?”
He grinned at the lady cop a few seats over and got the grin back. It wasn’t hard to tell that they were somehow involved. “Mages specially trained in combat. I reckon they’re the ones most folks from Earth think of when they think mage – fireballs, lightning storms, all that. I tell you, they play hell on the battlefield and this one was a Shadow… that was his specialty, see. A mage version of what you call a ninja. Spies with magic. And we managed to get him. Course, he got away in the end with the help of your government… don’t print that. Could be a bit dangerous with all that happened. But we got the other one. Well… Chance did. One of the most lovely shots you ever saw with a rifle….”
“And the Stonemaiden’s Cup?”
He raised his eyebrows in surprise that she hadn’t heard of it. “The cup…well…Chance put it best. It’s a bit like your Holy Grail. One of the most holy artifacts ever to be forged by a Hallad. Relleschull…The Stonemaiden. The one the Kisht call the Princess of Cats. I’d let my sister Roxy tell you the story. It’s one of her favorites and she remembers every word of it as Mumma used to tell it—even if she’s still only half as good at the telling.
Kelly nodded. The combat mage sounded fierce while the Stonemaiden’s Cup was intriguing. “So…” She leaned forward, setting her elbow on the table and her chin in the palm of her hand as she furrowed her brows. “This Stonemaiden’s Cup is from your world, but it’s here on our world? How did that happen?”
“Well… we still an’t sure if it is to be honest. The Darrie say it might have come through the last time there was a… whatever you call it… a transfer? A big murp? But ‘course they an’t got no proof of it. And then there’s the one Roxy made for the Chapel of the Mother Mountain. But of course that an’t it neither. If it’s here, an’t been found yet. Probably for the best really. Funny how something that is supposed to bring peace would cause people to kill, but that’s exactly what happened. See, according to Turtle all this arrival stuff happened before. A couple of times throughout your history and ours. It an’t talked about at all in our history, but the Darrie know it. Hell, some of them lived it. Turtle says they had the cup when the last one happened and that’s how it came here. But again, no proof.”
“Very interesting.” She pulled back then tilted her head to a side. “So, are you all trying to locate this Cup or has your current case been closed?” She wasn’t sure she understood correctly.
“I an’t looking for it, that’s for sure. I figure if it is here, the Darrie will find it and that’s a good thing. Nar. This case is as closed as it’s going to get. I wouldn’t let that thing in the hands of anybody but the Darrie…and maybe Roxy. No one else could be trusted. Too much power. Too tempting to use it wrong. It’s lost and it’s best it just stays lost. We went as far as we could go chasing it. We found the one for the Chapel and that’s plenty good enough for everybody I think.”
“That’s understandable. Now, Roxy—that’s your sister, right?” Kelly watched him. “Tell me more about her.”
Max’s grin cracked his face in half. He started to laugh a little and the glimmer in his eyes was like firelight.
“Awww now ye done it, Miss.” The girl at the end of the bar cuts in. “You ask Machschull about his sister and you’re going to be hear a long time. You’d best let me tell you about her. I’m Max’s gal. Sasha if’n you’re curious.” She slid into the booth, shoving Max in the head until he nearly fell off his stool.
“Roxy is something special. She’s a master. If you don’t know what a Master is—among our people a Master creates things. Great things. Silversteel. That’s Roxy. And she’s an odd one. Good sort.”
“Good?” Max tried to interject but got another shove.
“A little flighty. She had a rough time on Illivus but she fits just right here. How’s that Machschull? I think I got all the points in without you blabbing on and on about how she used to get picked on and you had to watch over her all the time.”
Kelly laughed. She was surprised by Sasha, but she appreciated it. She had to grin. “Sounds like a typical brother who would say that! I would know. I had five of them.” She chuckled, wagging her head at the thought of her all her brothers, but then she focused on the topic at hand. “So, Max, we’re about finished here, but one last question–what’s your dream? Are you hoping to go back home? Or just be a good detective or what exactly? If you could accomplish anything, what would it be?”
Sasha looked at him carefully, scouring the side of his face as she gently smoothed out his beard where she’d messed it up.
He stared back into her eyes.
“I used to think I wanted to go back. I used to think that all the time. It’s what I wanted most of all if’n I can be honest. But the thing of it is, Sasha and me wouldn’t work out on Illivus. Different guilds. She’s Road Guilder, I’m Soldiers. Nate and Roxy wouldn’t work out neither and they was made for each other clear as torchlight on the river. So what do I want now? Well…Turtle says it’s just a dream to go back anyway. We will someday, but it an’t going to happen in my lifetime. So I guess I just want to make as good a home here as I can. Make a place for all of us and then, maybe, when we do go back we can show them all new ways to do it. A new way to live with each other we an’t known before. That would be good I guess. And that’s what The Stonemaidens Cup was all about after all, wasn’t it? So I guess that’ll do for an old Halladi Wardog like me.”
He raised his brandy. Sasha slung an arm around his massive shoulder and clinked her beer bottle into the snifter. Her eyes glimmered at him.
“Nice answer Thrasshah.” She said, putting her head on his shoulder.
“Very nice.” Kelly smiled as she observed the two. “Well, I must be going now.” She sighed as she rose to her feet. “My time here has come to an end. Thank you so much for your hospitality. It was wonderful meeting you and getting to know you.” Kelly bowed her head to them then gave them one final smile before leaving.
“You take care you write it just as he said it now.” Sasha called out after her. “We’re cops, you know. Don’t take too kind to inaccurate reporting and the like.”
There was a little cautious menace to her voice but Max gave her a shove and a smile. “It was nice talking to you, miss. You take care of yourself. Was the best chat I’ve had with a reporter, ever, so you got my vote.”
Kelly smiled. They might be cops, but they had no idea where she came from, but still, she nodded. She had no intention on changing anything they said. She preferred to keep it just the way it came, and she left with one final smile.
Joshua Cejka’s story, ‘The Stonemaiden’s Cup’, has no release date set for it yet, but be sure to follow him on social media for updates!