Authors: Stephen W. Gee
, said Mazik, his contrarian nature rising within him.
I’ve learned to accept months where I make a lot and others where I don’t, and it’s not that bad. Security is overrated
Mazik kept thinking about it, kept thinking about it … and then he realized that Eilou was right. He knew the answer all along, he just needed to figure out
it was the answer. Only one felt right.
“Freedom,” said Mazik. He stopped and turned to Eilou. “I’d like to earn good money and I’d like to be doing work I’m interested in, but mostly what I want is freedom. I don’t want to have to drag my butt into the office for no good reason, I don’t want to have a boss who arbitrarily tells me what to do just because he feels like it, and I’d like to be able to slow down and not work when I want to, even if it means not making any money right then.” And Mazik stood up a little straighter, looking more optimistic and resolute than he had in a long time. “I don’t want to be treated like a child or a slave in exchange for wages. I want my freedom back.”
“Well, have you thought about doing freelance work, or starting your own business?”
“Uhm, a little,” said Mazik, as if he was revealing some deep, dark secret. He seemed to shrink back to his normal size. “I mean, a job where I had more flexibility or where there was actually a
to go into the office would be fine too, if it’s a good one. The problem is that I don’t know what kind of work I want to do, whether it’s with a company or not.”
Eilou scratched his chin. “Why don’t you just keep doing what you’re doing right now?”
Mazik blinked. “Huh?”
Eilou laughed. “Talk to people! I’ve got a job, right? And I was a bodyguard before this too. Why don’t you just talk to as many people as possible and see if anything they’ve done interests you?”
Mazik approached the thought cautiously. He felt like he was hearing something so obvious it had to be stupid, but he was having trouble thinking of why. “Well … I know all about my friends’ jobs, and my family too. There must be a lot of other options out there, though.”
“So go talk to those people!” said Eilou, smiling good-naturedly. “It’s not like you can just sit around thinking about it and somehow figure it out, right? So talk to anyone you can find. Customers, people in bars, businesses you just walk into off the street. You’re good at just walking up to someone and talking to them, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Mazik frowned, perplexed. “I … guess that’s true.” He thought about it some more. “I guess it’s kind of like a sale. Nothing much to lose by asking, and nothing at risk but a little embarrassment and pride.”
“Right-o,” said Eilou. “They can tell you to get the fuck out, but that’s about it. And I bet you’re used to that.”
Mazik inwardly sighed. “Isn’t that the truth
Eilou sank back into the cushions, a bit satisfied with himself. “So that’s what I’d do. Talk to a lot of people to narrow down what you want to do, then go straight to whoever is hiring for that job. Then all you have to do is sell yourself to them.”
Mazik got a mental image of himself in chains, but he ignored it. That was pretty much how he felt anyway.
“That’s … those are all really good ideas, actually,” said Mazik. He unlatched his product case. “Do you mind if I write all of this down?”
“By all means,” said Eilou.
Pencil in hand and pad of paper in front of him, Mazik began to scribble frantically. “So, is that how you decided to become an adventurer?”
“Starting with me, eh?” said Eilou, smiling slyly.
“No reason to wait,” said Mazik.
Eilou chuckled. “True. And to answer your question, no. I’ve told you that I was a bodyguard before, right?”
Mazik rapped his knuckles against his forehead. “That’s right, yeah. Sorry, been a rough week.”
“No problem,” said Eilou. “But yes, I sort of did just what I suggested, though I didn’t realize it at the time. When I was about to graduate from college, I went out and…”
After that, Eilou talked for a while.
“…there. It was fun for a while,” Eilou was saying, “but I didn’t get along very well with my charge, so after about a year I decided to look for something where I would have more control.”
Mazik’s ears perked up. He wrote faster.
The two of them talked like this for a while, about finding jobs, about old college stories, and more about Eilou’s time as a bodyguard and an adventurer. Mazik made no money the entire time, nor did Eilou, but it was hard to say that neither of them profited. Mazik knew he certainly had. By the time he stood up to leave, he was singing with energy; by the time he reached the front door, his steps were light and a smile came easily to his face; and by the time he stood out on the street in front of the guildhall, looking this way and that and deciding where to go next, he felt like he could almost fly. He had a pad full of notes and a brand new plan, and it felt great.
For the first time in a long time, Mazik was excited. He set off.
* * *
Mazik spent the next few days talking to everyone he could think of. He talked to friends and family members and other customers. He sought out old classmates and new friends, and walked into businesses he had never heard of before, with only a few honest questions to keep him from getting thrown out. More often than not he left with them answered, because people are nicer than you think, at least when they get to talk about something they know a lot about.
Later on, Mazik wondered what would have happened had he not talked to Eilou when he did. Would he have thrashed about helplessly and given up, never to talk to all the people who helped him crystallize the path he wanted to take?
Who knows. What Mazik knew was that the next few days were a whirlwind as he talked to anyone and everyone, each person teaching him about a job or giving him ideas for another one to look into next. His list narrowed down, then grew, then narrowed down, and grew, and then repeated that cycle a few more times until he had only a few left. He was getting close.
And through it all, an idea kept growing in the back of Mazik’s mind. He wouldn’t admit it, not yet. It was crazy, too foolish for anyone sane to consider, and too much of a long shot to have a snowball’s chance in hell of working. Yet still it was growing.
On the evening of the fourth day, Mazik picked up a newspaper and looked at the headline.
, his unconscious mind thought as he read the grisly details,
maybe there’s still a way
. A plan was beginning to form in his mind.
* * *
Gavi and Raedren stared.
strange,” said Raedren.
“I know, right? It’s absolutely bizarre,” said Gavi as she leaned over the bar, her feet coming off the ground as she craned to get a better look.
“It’s definitely irregular,” said Raedren.
“Was it like this the whole weekend?” asked Gavi. She squinted, trying to make out more detail.
“If so, I didn’t notice,” said Raedren.
“What’s going on?” asked Derana as she walked over carrying a tray of empty mugs.
Gavi and Raedren pointed. “That.”
Mazik looked up from his notebook, a weary look on his face. “Can I help you two?”
“Ahhh!” said Gavi. She ducked under the bar while Raedren hid behind his chair.
Derana, not sure what was going on, stepped around Gavi and began unloading her tray. “Would you like another drink, Mas Raeus?”
“Yes, that would be nice,” said Mazik as he returned his attention to his notepad. “Another of these please,” he said, rapping his pencil on the side of his mug.
“Coming right up,” said Derana.
Gavi and Raedren peered out of their hiding places. Mazik kept flipping through his notepad. Finally, the pair gave up the act and went back to normal.
“Okay, spill,” said Gavi as she leaned against the bar, more out of weariness than anything else.
“Spill what?” said Mazik, not looking up.
“Why are you being so … so
all of a sudden?” asked Gavi.
“And patient,” added Raedren.
“And not drinking to excess,” said Gavi.
“And not getting angry and hitting people,” said Raedren.
Mazik sighed. “You know, I’m not
“True,” said Gavi. “But you usually are.”
“It’s a 90 percent of the time kind of thing,” agreed Raedren.
Mazik shot them a look, and then tapped his notepad. “It’s nothing sinister. These are just some potential job ideas. I’m trying to narrow them down so I know what to focus on.”
“Oh, really?” said Gavi. She nodded at the notepad. “Mind if I take a look?”
“Uh, sure,” said Mazik. He flipped the notepad around and pushed it toward her. “Just this page though. Some of the other ones are personal stuff.”
“Sure,” said Gavi.
Raedren tried to read the page upside down, but stopped when he started to get dizzy. “So is this why you were gone all weekend?”
“Naw. I was just spending time with Kalenia,” said Mazik. “Though I did work on this some too.”
Gavi handed the notepad back to Mazik. “Very cool. So you think you’re getting close to a new job?” She couldn’t tell much from the notepad since almost everything was crossed out.
“Maybe,” said Mazik. “This is all preliminary work. I think I’m getting close to something, though.”
“Well, tell me if there’s anything I can do to help,” said Gavi.
“Me too,” said Raedren.
“Will do,” said Mazik. He went back to examining the notepad. “How about you two? Any new developments?”
“No good ones,” said Gavi tiredly. She felt like she had been on her feet all day—the fact that she had only been on her feet for half of the day really didn’t help. She sighed. “I’m beginning to think I’m just out of luck with my experience. Maybe I really do need to save up and go to college.”
“I dunno. I went to college and look where it landed me,” said Mazik sourly.
“I’m not looking for a job,” said Raedren. He was a little slow on the uptake tonight.
“You really should,” said Mazik. “I know you don’t like the one you have.”
“Eh. Pay’s good,” said Raedren, and then he slumped against the bar and began to hum.
“I guess,” said Mazik. “Also DRINK.”
“Right-o,” said Raedren, and then he finished his beer
Derana came back and set a beer in front of Mazik. “Here you go, Mas Raeus.”
“Thanks,” said Mazik, finishing off his other beer and handing her the empty mug. “Speaking of, please call me Mazik, or Maz. Rae is this thing over here,” he said, pointing.
“Yes, I would hate to be confused with you,” said Raedren as he tried to drink from his empty mug without lifting his head.
Derana squirmed cutely. “Are you sure? It seems so familiar….” She continued squirming, still cutely. “I mean, you’re Gavi’s friend, and a customer. It wouldn’t really be proper….”
Mazik gave her a look, and then shrugged. “Kil is fine too. I don’t mind going by my maiden name.”
Derana continued to squirm. “…I’ll think about it!” she said finally, and then she scurried away to check on her tables. This was also done cutely.
Mazik took a drink and turned to Raedren. “Anyway, I’d like to finish this tonight. Do you mind giving me a little peace and quiet for a bit? It should only take half an hour or so.”
Raedren looked around them. They were in the middle of a bar which, even on a comparatively relaxed Monday night, was so noisy it could have woken the dead, gotten them drunk, and then deposited them back in the ground again.
He turned back. “Yeah, sure. No problem.”
Time passed quickly while Mazik worked. It wasn’t long before the half-hour mark came and went, but Mazik kept on working, his body hunched over the notepad as he wracked his brain. He remained this way until the first fight of the night broke out.
Mazik glanced behind him. It looked like this was going to be a big one. Two tables were overturned, and everyone at them had boiled out into the middle of the room to exchange blows. It looked like there were five or six on each side, though Mazik was having trouble counting with all of the weaving and alcohol. What was certain was that they were all dressed in leather and chainmail, their clothes replete with buckles, pouches, bloodstains, and more nicks and scratches than a cutting board after a carrot-dicing competition. They were also armed to the gills, with at least three weapons each. That he could see.
Further down the bar, a scraggly-looking man with a wide grin rocked back in his seat, applauding. “This looks like it’ll be a good one! I got 5Mc
on the group with the red-haired chap!”
“Is that the one wit tha woman wit tha bum leg?” asked the short, wiry guy with long silky hair next to him.
“No, she’s on the other side,” said Scraggly
. “I mean the one with the guy who just got punched in the face.”
“Oh, okay.” Silky Hair watched as the man in question bellowed like a berserker, and then crumpled as a chair broke over his back. “I’ll take that bet.”
More people chimed in. One man stood up and began taking everyone’s bets.
Gavi set her tray down beside Mazik and sighed. Before she said anything Tielyr walked over with her club. “Thanks,” she said, taking it. “I swear, it’s every night.”
Gavi walked over and waved at the brawlers. “Excuse me everyone, I’m going to have to ask you all to lea—”
A bottle flew past Gavi’s head and shattered on the floor to Mazik’s left. Gavi lowered her arms and sighed. “This is why I hate adventurers.”
The thing about adventurers and bars is … well, there’s a saying that goes “If you want to find an adventurer, look in a bar”, which, unlike most popular sayings, is actually true. That’s because adventurers drink a
, as is befitting a group who regularly see horrors so terrible they don’t have the decency to wait until they’re asleep to haunt them. This has given rise to a system whereby even the rare adventurer who doesn’t drink will still go to a bar when they want work, because that’s where people go when they want to hire an adventurer. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy, only drunker.