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PostPosted: Tue Jul 23, 2019 9:33 pm 
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After counting to one hundred, you take the blindfold off.

The room you're in is small and sparsely furnished -- just a table, and some chairs. The furniture looks new, but there's dust along the floor. The only light comes from a single railroad lamp. There are windows on one wall, but the shutters are all bolted.

As for where you are? Well, it could be almost anywhere. The rattler picked you up at the Dayko Central Station, but the windows in the stagecoach were all covered with black cloth. You rode for quite some time -- it's hard to tell, but you'd say hours -- but you know all too well that that doesn't mean a thing. The rattler never spoke, and you lost track of the turns. He could have doubled back -- you could be just blocks from the station. Or you could be ten miles north of nowhere, in a town without a name.

You do your best to listen, but hear no sounds that you can place.

The door suddenly swings open, and a woman steps inside. You'd have thought you'd hear her coming, but she moves without a sound.

Part of you doesn't quite believe that this is really her. But she takes off her tinted glasses, and any doubts you had are gone.

As she walks into the room, you can see her look around, and you have the uncanny realization that she's counting exits, judging distance. She notices you noticing, and shoots you a red-eyed wink. You do your very best to sit very, very still.

There's a perfectly good chair in the middle of the room. She takes off her broad-brimmed hat, but she makes no move to sit. Next to the chair there is a barrel doing service as a table; a bottle and a glass both sit atop the barrel head. The woman ignores the glass and takes a drink straight from the bottle. She pulls a face, checks the label, then shrugs and drinks again.

For a good, solid minute, she lets you stew in your own silence. Then she spins the chair around, and sits lightly, facing you. She folds her arms atop the chairback, and dares you to look back at her. For a long time, you avoid it. Then -- as if transfixed -- you meet her gaze.

The Red-Eyed Woman is staring right at you, with eyes the color of fresh blood. Something corkscrews down your spine, and, with a flinch, you break eye contact. Looking down now at the floor, you feel unpleasantly like you're drunk. And it's not a good drunk, either -- it's the kind of drunk that tricks you into saying things you won't remember, but will regret.

You risk a look back up, and you see the woman grinning. You get the sense you would not like to hold her gaze for very long.


"Sorry," Jackie DeCoeur says. "Force of habit."

Her grin turns up at the corner, and you see a flash of gold. She offers you the whiskey, but you wave the drink away.

"I'm going to level with you," she says, "I'm regretting this already." She takes another pull from the bottle, but if she's upset, it doesn't show. "It's nothing to do with you, mind -- I'm sure you're perfect company. But I don't socialize much these days, what with being dead and all."

She puts the bottle down, and puts her dark glasses back on. You exhale a breath you did not realize you were holding.

"Still," the woman says, "I owe a favor to an orc, and -- anyway -- we're here. He tells me you've got questions? Well now's your chance to ask 'em."

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 23, 2019 10:57 pm 
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The little fox whimpered without meaning to. His friend had told him that he needed to face his fears, but he still thought this was a little extreme.

He shifted slightly, and tried to look as close to the woman's eyes as he could without actually looking at them. He hoped she wouldn't notice, but he strongly suspected that she did.

"Um, okay. I had two questions in mind, but I guess I have a few more now. Uh, if that's okay!" He hurried to add. The woman didn't move, and the fox starting growing afraid that she was getting impatient. He further suspected that it would be a very bad thing if she did.

"Uh, okay, here goes. First," he paused as he caught her gaze directly, freezing him instantly. When he spoke again, he was barely aware of what he was saying. "First question, are you gonna shoot me? Second question, please don't shoot me! And third... um, will you teach me to shoot?"

The woman regarded him with what he assumed must have been an excellent poker faces. Human expressions were largely unreadable to him anyway.

"Before I answer those questions," Jackie DeCoeur said, "what's your other question?"

"Huh?"

The Red-Eyed Woman smiled, just slightly. "You're not hard to read. You've got one more question rolling around that head of yours. I want to hear it before I answer any of them."

The fox nodded slowly. "Alright," he said, then took a breath. "Here it is: If you were going to track down two people in the Waste, one of whom shot you and left you for dead, and get even, how would you do it?"

She stared at him for a long time. "What was your name again?"

The fox gulped. "Antine."

"Well, Antine, let's you and I have a little chat."


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 24, 2019 10:03 am 
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Ooo, that good! Mind if I steal your idea, Raven? Let's consider this a teaser for a possible story...

* * *

Sharaka kept her gaze just below the woman's eyes. Someone got instinctively unnerved when they were stared at just above their eyes, but with this particular individual, keeping her focus closer to the hands was more sensible. A part of Sharaka urged her to stare at the woman straight in the eye, maybe Stoking herself to power through the unpleasantness, to prove her resolve. Another part reminded her that bravado in front of unknown magic - she wasn't sure, but those eyes had a subtle weird smell to them - was the least thing she needed in this situation.

"Nice entrance," Sharaka began with a slight smirk, "but teatrality might be what I'm looking for. The legend goes, you put one past some pretty big guys some time ago, becoming one of the richest and more influential women around; not satisfied, a few years later you put a bigger one past just about everybody, straight up disappearing and becoming dead to the world. I need to pull off a similar trick to protect a bunch of people - other "Vash", if it matters."

"You talk a lot, but I heard no questions," the red-eyed woman had a strong smell of suspicion around her. "Let me start with the questions, then: where does that heavy shirt comes from? That's not Vash style, and it doesn't look like the latest Verkell fashion either. Not that I would know," she added with a glinting smile that looked a bit like a predator baring teeth.

Sharaka replied with an amused smile, cleaning some dirt from her padded jacket. "Ever heard about Starfolk?"

Silence fell like an executioner's axe. Sharaka's eyes narrowed to slits and took deep breaths: she had just stumbled in something big and very dangerous.

"That your first question?" The woman asked, her gaze almost burning on Sharaka, who was surprised to smell fear.

Sharaka shrugged and tried a genial smile, fighting not to let her tension show. "Nah, but now I know you'll understand when it comes from very far away."

The corner of the red-eyed woman's mouth twitched upwards ever so slightly. "You're not expecting that to be enough."

"Not really," Sharaka conceded, and sought refuge in audacity, "but you're not the one supposed to ask all the questions, right?" She flashed a playful smile. "So let me talk just a bit more, I swear it'll be interesting." Sharaka leaned forward, glancing at the woman's eyes for a split second to let the woman know she was serious. "There's a viashino tribe, somewhat far from here - well, from where I've been picked up. A few callous but powerful jackals want to drive them away from their land because they think there's a bunch of pretty rocks under their scaly asses, and I want them gone. The thing is, the tribe would be already turned into leatherwork if the jackals really knew what's down there. Both the tribe and me can fight alright, and I have a few tricks up my sleeve, but I'm not sure we can convince the jackals to leave and not return. Could kill a few of the jackal leaders, but I would most certainly die in the process." Sharaka tilted her head. "You're surely wondering why I'm doing this. Let's say I was ordered to leave my own tribe in grave danger and consider it dead. Let's say I was told to bring my tribe's story and lore - and with them a bunch of rather useful tricks - to every viashino tribe I found, so those tribes could be strengthened by our legacy and my tribe's memory wouldn't be snuffed completely. After saying all this, my question is: got any tips to pull that kind of trick off?"

Sharaka this time picked up the whiskey and took a swig from it. She then leaned back, bottle still in her hand. "You've got questions?" She said, imitating the woman's tone from earlier. "Well now's your chance to ask 'em."

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To anybody reading this, including my future selves: have a good life!

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Last edited by Huey Nomure on Sun Jul 28, 2019 11:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 28, 2019 10:47 pm 
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Antine

Jackie DeCoeur shrugged her shoulders. "Last one's easy," she said. "Hire a ridder."

Antine blinked. "I don't follow," he said.

Jackie shrugged again. "You want two people found, right? And then you want to get level with them? Easiest way's to hire a ridder. They find people for a living, and the getting-level bit you can add on for a fee." The Red-Eyed Woman leaned forward, and grinned. "But that's not what you were expecting me to say, was it?"

Antine tugged at his collar. "Not exactly," he admitted.

"Well, that's my advice," Jackie said, and winked. "Even though you're not going to take it."

She filled the glass and offered it to the fox, who declined, so she drank the drink herself.

"Revenge is like hooking, or dentistry," Jackie said, warming to her theme. "Better leave it to the pros. And, unless yours is a case in which appearances are more than usually deceiving, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you're new to this whole killing business."

Antine thought back to his experiences on the Wheel. "I can look out for myself," he said.

"No doubt," Jackie said, and then -- faster than Antine could blink -- she flipped the glass at him.

It was a simple, arcing toss -- she hadn't thrown the shot hard -- but it took Antine by surprise, and, for a moment, he panicked. His paw reached out to grab the glass at the same time that the rest of his body lurched instinctively out of the way, trying to dodge, and the result was that he bobbled the catch. He juggled the empty shot once, then twice, wobbling precariously on his chair, before he managed to corral it in.

Feeling moderately pleased with himself -- he had caught it, after all -- Antine looked back at the woman and smiled, only to have the smile wiped off his face when he saw she was pointing a revolver.

"Bang," the woman said.

Antine jumped, dropping the glass.

"Sorry," the woman said, holstering her gun. Then, standing up as Antine whimpered and shook, she walked across the room to retrieve the glass, which had rolled off into a corner. Wiping dust from the lip with her sleeve, she filled it almost to the brim, and pressed it into Antine's quivering paws. At first, he flinched at the contact, but the woman held him steady, until he could drink without spilling.

"Sorry," the woman said again. "I know that wasn't very nice, but I think I proved my point."

Antine nearly choked as he sipped. The liquor burnt like hell. "I think I preferred being shot."

"See, I knew I liked you," Jackie said, and -- ignoring the fox's protestations -- she refilled his glass.

"Still," Antine said, between fits of coughing. The whiskey tasted like kerosene -- just the smell was making his eyes water.

"Still," the woman said, "let's you and me assume that you're going to ignore my sage advice, and set off on this journey of retribution yourself. That fair?"

She inclined her head a bit to one side, and the fox seemed to nod without thinking. Then -- suddenly anxious -- he hastened to add: "Just hypothetically, of course."

"Of course," Jackie said. She took a long pull from the bottle, then sat back in her chair. "Alright, then, in that case, I've got three items for you -- hypothetically, of course." And she held three fingers up in the air. "Hypothetical number one: make friends. You probably think I'm joking, but that's the best thing you can do. You told me that there's two of them -- these people you want to find -- and, far as I can tell, there's only one of you. So already I don't like those odds. You need to change the math, and that means: make friends."

"With who?" Antine said.

"With everyone," Jackie said. "Anyone you can do a favor, you do a favor. Anyone you can scratch an itch, you scratch that itch. Start laying down markers, and lay as many down as you can. Be just as generous and big-hearted as you can be. Now, I'll warn you up front, nineteen out of every twenty of those people you help? They'll come to nothing. They'll pocket your big-hearted generosity, and they'll blow town on the next train. And that's okay -- it can't be helped. Most people are bastards, and I ought to know." She winked at him, and he shivered. "But, that one time out of twenty, when you make a real friend? Hold them close. A friend's better than a gun when you're out in the Waste. Most people don't know that, and that's why most people get dead."

"Make friends," Antine repeated, taking mental notes.

"A good place to start would be the post office," Jackie said. "You want to find someone? Forget the tin stars, forget the ale-pourers, forget all the land office clerks. Make friends with a postal nog, and you'll get more out of them than all the lawmen in the Waste. Who knows where people are? The postal nog does. And, if they don't, then they'll know the nog who does. And you've got a perfectly innocent reason for asking, too -- you just want to send some mail, and you've lost the address. Better yet, these people you're looking for? Send them a letter, only use the wrong stamps. When it comes to finding someone who doesn't want to be found, all the ridders in the Waste have nothing on a post office nog out to collect a couple of bits postage due."

"Thanks?" Antine said. He was about fifty percent sure the woman was joking.

"OK, hypothetical two," the woman said, counting on her fingers. "Hypothetical two: make a plan. It doesn't have to be a complicated plan -- your plan could be to walk up to these two, say 'hello,' and start shooting. Just because it's simple doesn't mean it's not a plan, and simplicity has its charms -- most people don't expect to get shot just by somebody saying 'hello.' But, if you've got to make a more complex plan, then that's OK, too. Either way, just do it."

"Make a plan," Antine said.

"That's right," Jackie said. "Then, once you've got your plan? I want you to figure out all the ways it'll go wrong. If it helps to make a map, make a map. If it helps to make a timetable, make a timetable. Sit down, plan it out to the very last detail, and then shoot it all to hell." She pointed at the fox. "I want you to put yourself in the other fox's shoes." Jackie raised an eyebrow. "What's her name?"

"Mea," Antine said, and felt himself flush. "Mea and Vam."

"Alright," Jackie said, "Mea and Vam. Put yourself in their shoes, and figure out all the ways they could bollox things up. Assume that every one of those things will happen, because something always goes to hell -- always -- and then make a second plan to cover every one of those contingencies. Then repeat the process all over. Figure out every way your contingency plan could go wrong -- and I mean I want you to really shoot it all to hell -- and then make a contingency plan for your contingency plan. And keep right on going until you've covered every angle you can think of."

Antine looked skeptical. "That sounds like a lot of work."

The woman nodded. "It is," she said. "But answer me this: last time you walked into a room without a plan for when your plan went wrong, how'd that turn out for you?"

Antine winced. "I got shot."

"I figured," Jackie said. "So make a plan. And that leads me to hypothetical three." She counted off the last finger. "Hypothetical three: execute the plan. When the time comes that you pick your spot, and you go to make your move, I don't want you thinking of it as getting even. I don't want you thinking of it as getting revenge. I want you thinking of it as executing the plan. That's what I want you saying to yourself: 'it's time to execute the plan.' That's all. Don't make it personal. Don't get your ego involved. Revenge's a messy business, because of course it's personal, but, the moment you start thinking about it in those terms, that's the moment you stop thinking straight. And the moment you stop thinking straight is the moment you start making mistakes." Jackie shook her head. "I'm good at thinking straight, Antine. I am good at planning ahead, and I am good at thinking straight, and even I have nearly got myself killed because I got mad." She looked him hard in the eye. "So, if you do this thing, you do it smart," she said. "You do it professional. You keep it cool. You execute the plan, and that's all it is. You follow me?"

"I think so," Antine said.

"Good," the woman said. "And, please, whatever you do, don't speechify at the end? There's no sense dragging things out, and it never sounds as good out loud as it did in your head. You got something to say to these people? Then keep it short. 'Hello, remember me?' oughta do. Then let the gun do the talking. You can speechify all you want at the funeral."

"Execute the plan," Antine said.

"That's the gist of it," Jackie said. "Make friends. Make a plan. Execute the plan. Red Jackie's three-step, DIY guide to revenge."

"Thanks?" Antine said.

"If you want to thank me," Jackie said, "hire a ridder."

"I'll think about it," Antine said.

"I hope you do," Jackie said. She finished the bottle, then held the same three fingers up, before counting them back down again. "As to your other queries, the answers are: 'probably not,' 'that's not a question,' and 'no,' in that order. But, if you really want to learn, then I know a centaur who will teach you."


* * *


Thank you Raven, and thank you, Huey! I wasn't expecting to get mini-stories in return from this prompt! :D

And, Huey, I will get to Sharaka soon!

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 29, 2019 1:26 am 
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I like Jackie's guide, especially the pragmatism in making friends; though there's the unsaid that, if you get close friends, you might get over revenge and do something constructive instead, which, in case of Antine, it's also part of Jackie's tip: don't do something you suck at when life is on the line.

The glass-flipping part is great, and highlights how unprepared Antine is for high-stakes action; to be honest, that was one of the reasons I made Sharaka pick up and keep the whiskey bottle - in other words, a hard projectile filled with flammable fluid - in addition to challenge some of Jackie's authority. Sharaka's not going to start anything, but she's not all that trusting either.

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To anybody reading this, including my future selves: have a good life!

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 29, 2019 11:15 am 
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@Orcish: There's a better than even chance that at some point, I write a story where a certain centaur is trying to teach Antine to shoot. :D

Unless somebody else beats me to it, of course. ;)

Anyway, thanks for writing this! I think you floated the idea of an interaction between Jackie and Antine a long time ago, and I've always thought that had a lot of narrative potential, so I'm glad to see that opinion vindicated here. Jackie is wonderful as always here, with her emphasis on planning and her reliance on dependable friends, and I love how mystified Antine is at the advice. Not exactly what you would expect from the Waste's most notorious bandit, but they are, in fact, the secret to Jackie's success.

And Antine is basically spot-on here, and it's really fun to watch. I think my favorite part of the whole story is Antine's small sense of satisfaction at successfully, if awkwardly, catching the shot glass. Antine very much strikes me, with his planeswalker life so far, as the type to celebrate small victories, what with rarely experiencing large ones. Seeing him choking down the whiskey at the Red-Eyed Woman's insistence is also really great.

I had to laugh at Jackie telling him not to speechify at the end. I mean, that's sort of what Jackie is known for. I remember a comment you made way back in, I think, "Stare Down the Basilisk?" that you love listening to Jackie talk, and by extension, Jackie sort of loves to listen to Jackie talking. Admittedly, Jackie is much more lucky than our little fox friend, and a lot more able to adjust to the situation, but I found it amusing that she of all people says not to talk a lot.

Thanks for writing, Orcish! This was a fun little conversation between two characters of whom I am very fond.

Thank you Raven, and thank you, Huey! I wasn't expecting to get mini-stories in return from this prompt! :D

What can I say? That's just the way my mind works!


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 01, 2019 4:51 pm 
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Sharaka

“Alright,” Jackie said after a long time. “I can do that.” She took the bottle back and shook it, checking the level. “But first, seeing as you came a powerful long way to see me,” and here she shot Sharaka a look, “I figure that means I got your attention. So first I’m going to tell you a story.”

Sharaka rolled her eyes. “Is it a long story?”

“No,” Jackie said. “It’s a short story.” She took a swig from the bottle. “It’s about this quickshot I used to know, robbing stages back east. Called himself ‘Two-Two,’ on account of that’s how fast he reckoned he could draw and get his shot off.” Jackie took another swig. “Now, Two-Two was a good shot – one of the best, in fact, and I’ve known a quite a few. Had this trick he used to pull in bars, where he’d order himself a drink, then – just as the barkeep was getting the bottle down off the shelf – old Two-Two’d say something like, ‘let me help you with that, my good man!’ Then he’d pull his pistol, and shoot the cork out of the bottle.” Jackie shook her head. “Now, I didn’t care for that. That was tacky. And, besides, you spill a lot of drinks that way, and spilling whiskey’s a crime.”

Jackie took a long sip from the bottle, then frowned. “Well, maybe not this whiskey,” she said. “But that’s beside the point.”

“What is the point?” Sharaka said, getting impatient.

“Point is,” Jackie said, “old Two-Two was good, and he knew it, and that’s fine in so far as it goes. I don’t put much stock in false modesty, and, when you’re good, you’re good, and there ain’t nothing wrong with you knowing it.” Again, she shook her head. “But Two-Two wasn’t good with just knowing. No, Two-Two was always looking to prove it, and that’s where he got into trouble.”

“Let me guess: now you’re going to tell me how?” Sharaka said. She reached out for the bottle, but Jackie ignored her and kept it.

“You see, Two-Two had this other stunt he liked to pull,” Jackie said. “Whenever he found a new joint, Two-Two would walk into the bar, slap a sawbok on the table, and say, ‘ten boks says I can outdraw any man alive!’” Now Jackie handed over the bottle, and, as Sharaka took it, Jackie added: “Two-Two was one of those sorts of men who reckon a woman can’t shoot.”

Sharaka hissed at that. She took a long drink, then turned her head upward and belched fire at the ceiling.

“My thoughts exactly,” Jackie said. “Anyway, one time, Two-Two walks into a bar I’m in, and he does this bit with the sawbok. This must’ve been twenty – hell, twenty-two? – years back, just when I was first making my name. Well, no one took Two-Two up on his offer. But someone must’ve tipped him that I was in the joint, and Two-Two must’ve known from around that I was pretty quick with a gun, because, next thing you know, there’s old Two-Two standing next to my table, sawbok in hand, saying straight at me, ‘ten boks says I can outdraw any man alive.’”

“And what did you say to him?” Sharaka said. Now she was interested, in spite of herself, which earned a bemused grin from Red Jackie.

“I said, ‘pass,’” the Red-Eyed Woman said.

“No,” Sharaka said.

“Sure,” Jackie said, and shrugged. “Old Two-Two was nothing to me. I didn’t care what he thought. And I don’t go around pulling on people for sawboks. I’m not a music hall act.” She shrugged again. “So I told him no.”

“And what did he say?”

“Two-Two didn’t like that,” Jackie said, and grinned. “So Two-Two slapped that sawbok on the table – knocked my drink over, too, I might add,” Jackie said, “which was not nice. Anyway, Two-Two slapped his money down on my table, and said, ‘ten boks says I can outdraw you.’”

“And what did you say?” The vash was leaning forward in her seat.

“I said, ‘pass,’” Jackie said. “Then I folded up the sawbok, put it in my pocket, and said, ‘thanks for paying for my drink you just spilled.’”

“I bet he didn’t like that,” Sharaka said.

“No, he did not,” Jackie said. “That was when Two-Two said to me, ‘I’m going to count to ten, and I bet you’re too yellow to draw.’”

“What did you do?”

“I helped him count ten,” Jackie said. “Just in case he didn’t know the numbers past two.”

“Did you draw?” Sharaka said.

“No,” Jackie said. “But when we got to ten, and old Two-Two went for his pistol, I beat him to his own gun, and I helped him pull the trigger just a mite before he meant.” The Red-Eyed Woman grinned. “And that was the night Two-Two shot his own foot off.”

Sharaka laughed, triggering another fiery belch.

“I think I better take that back,” Jackie said, reclaiming the bottle.

“Is it hard to rob stagecoaches with only one foot?” Sharaka said.

“It is,” Jackie said. “Two-Two got himself a nice wooden foot – he must’ve stashed plenty away over the years, which is more foresight than I’d’ve given him credit – but his stage-robbing days were over.” Jackie took a long drink, killing the bottle. “Last I saw Two-Two, he was working as a bank guard down south – sitting on a little stool, wearing a little tin star, tipping his hat to folk when they come in, saying insincere things like, ‘it’s good to see you today, madam.’” Jackie shook her head. “I never seen a man more miserable in his life.”

Sharaka looked surprised. “You went to see him?”

“Oh, I kept real good track of where Two-Two was working.” Jackie grinned. “You see, I used to rob the banks he was guarding.”

Sharaka snorted.

“Oh, yeah,” Jackie said. “I must’ve knocked over Two-Two’s bank maybe six, seven times?” She grew distant for a second, her mind vanished into memory. “I think it was seven. Anyway, those seven times I walked past Two-Two, and walked out with the cash, he never once drew his gun. Hells, he never got off his stool. As soon as Two-Two saw me coming, he just closed his eyes, and lowered his hat, like he was sleeping, or something, and, just as soon as I was gone, he blew town faster than a bat out of hell.” Jackie DeCoeur grinned. “See, I made a lot of money off Two-Two. Plus, I still got his sawbok.”

Sharaka leaned back and crossed her arms. “Is this where you tell me the moral to your story,” she said, “which will somehow apply to my life?” The defiant edge was still in her voice, but now it mixed with genuine curiosity.

“Full marks,” Jackie said. “I knew I liked you.” Learning forward in her seat, she took off her glasses. “Matter of fact, this story’s got two morals, and I want you to think about both.” She held up two fingers. “Moral one: don’t go around looking for fights. You’ll live longer that way.”

Sharaka bristled. “I’m not looking for fights,” she said, puffing out her chest. “It’s the fights that come looking for me.”

“Sure they do,” Jackie said. “And why do you think that is?”

“Because the multiverse is s***,” Sharaka said. “It’s cruel, and it’s s***, and if you stop fighting, you’re dead.”

“And you’re gonna fight,” Jackie said, “and you’re probably gonna win, but that doesn’t mean you don’t pick your spots.” She looked the vash hard in the eye. “You can take care of yourself. I’m giving you that. You’ve taken a punch, and you’re standing. You’re good, but so was Two-Two. You live long enough, trouble will come find you – you don’t got to go around looking for more.”

“I’m not looking for trouble,” Sharaka said, getting indignant.

Jackie laughed. “Have you looked in a mirror?” she said. “It’s in the way you move, the way you talk – the things you say, and how you say them. The message couldn’t be clearer if you were wearing a sandwich board that said: ‘Go on, then – take a swing.’” Jackie shook her head. “No, from the moment I walked in, you’ve been pushing at me, prodding me, practically daring me to take a poke. Now, I’m not gonna take a poke, because, first – angels help me – I like you, and, because, second – angels help me – I ain’t stupid. But you’ll run across plenty on this world and others who don’t have my self-control or my pleasant demeanor. And there’s no point going around provoking them all when all it takes is one dope with a gun and one lucky shot to put you down where you don’t get back up.”

Sharaka started to interrupt, but Jackie talked over the vash.

“I know, I know,” she said, holding a hand up, “I don’t know your life. But I been around, and I see what I see. You got a chip on your shoulder so big, it’s a wonder you can stand. And when I see that, do you think I don’t see me?”

That caught the vash off guard. Jackie DeCoeur lowered her hand.

“Look,” Jackie said, her voice growing quiet, “I spent my tender years getting the s*** kicked outta me – you think I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder, too? You take enough pastings for things that aren’t even your fault, you think I didn’t start swinging back at everything my arm could reach?” Jackie shook her head, and sighed. She put her glasses back on. “It took me a lot of black eyes and a lot of busted lips before I realized that, just because I had that chip, that didn’t mean I had to think with it all the time.” She looked hard at Sharaka. “I learned to pick my fights, ‘cause I had to. We wouldn’t be talking here, otherwise.”

They were both quiet for a long time.

“Anyway,” Jackie said, once the silence had grown overlong, “that’s moral number one: don’t go looking for fights. Take that chip of your shoulder, and stick it in your pocket. You won’t forget it’s there – no one ever does – but what you’re gonna do is you’re gonna keep it there ‘til you need it. Keep it in there, in your back pocket, until you’ve already got the winning hand. Then – and only then – when you’re the one choosing the time, and the place, and when the other fella’s already drawing dead, even if he don’t know it – that’s when you take that chip back out, and you push it to the middle of the table.” In the lamplight, Jackie’s tooth glinted. “That’s when you take that chip back out, and that’s when you make those sumbitches eat it.”

Silence again crept over the room. Jackie watched the viashino, to see if she was taking any of it. She didn’t look like she was in total agreement. But she also wasn’t arguing anymore.

“Alright,” Sharaka finally said, tilting her chin up defiantly, and crossing her arms. “What’s moral number two?”

“Moral number two is the fun part,” Jackie said. “Moral number two is this: make everyone else too scared to fight you.” The Red-Eyed Woman gestured down at her clothes. “Tell me,” she said, “why do you think I dress like this?”

“You look good in black?” Sharaka said, only about halfway sarcastic.

“That I do,” Jackie said, “and I’ll thank you for noticing.” She grinned. “But it’s more than that. Sure, I wear this get-up for a reason – it’s comfortable, it fits me, I can hide a weapon or ten, I can move around real easy – all those things, they matter, for sure.” She took off her black gambler’s hat, and spun the crown on one finger. “But I could get a different hat. I could get some different boots. I could wear red for a change, instead of black.” Jackie grinned. “I look good in red, too.”

“Then why don’t you?” Sharaka said.

Jackie replaced her hat.

“I’ve been wearing the same thing since before I met Two-Two because I want the world to know about the woman in black,” Jackie said. “I want the world to know about the Red-Eyed Woman, and I want them scared to death at the sight of this hat.” She tipped her finger to the brim. “I spent long, hard years making it so that, when people see me coming, they make the sign of the angels, and they get out of my way. They don’t dare pull on me, ‘cause they know that I’m quicker. They don’t dare try to cross me, ‘cause I’ll cross ‘em back, twice as hard. They give me what I want,” Jackie said, “‘cause they know I can take it if they don’t. And that makes it so I don’t have to work. That makes it so my work gets done for me. It took years and years of laying the groundwork, but I got most the world too scared to fight me. And every fight they don’t start is a fight that I win.”

“Like Two-Two,” Sharaka said. “And the banks.”

“Like Two-Two,” Jackie said. “And the banks.” She held out her hand like a gun. “Anyone with a pistol can stick up a bank, but there’s lots and lots can go wrong. I known a lot of good bandits who still ended up dead. But I didn’t have to worry about Two-Two on his stool, too afraid of pissing himself to even stand up, let alone try to draw down on me.” She put her pretend gun away. “After all,” Jackie said, “Two-Two tried that before, and it didn’t work out too good.”

Now Sharaka was sitting up slightly. “Make them afraid to fight,” she said.

Jackie nodded. “And then you don’t have to.” She stood up from her chair. “Those Jackals you were telling me about – the ones who are picking on vash – who’s at the head of their crew?”

“Petronax,” Sharaka spit. “He calls himself Petronax.”

“Alright,” Jackie said. “Petronax. I assume he’s one mean son-of-a-bitch?”

“You assume right,” Sharaka said, practically swallowing flame.

“Alright,” Jackie said. “That’s just fine.” She nodded. “You had the right idea, earlier, you know? About knocking off one of their leaders. And you were smart not to do it, too, when you figured your chances of getting back alive, and fell less than in love with the math. So here’s what you do.” She knelt down in front of the vash, so that their eyes were at a level. “You don’t go after Petronax. You let Petronax come to you.”

“How?” Sharaka said.

“Your people, they’ve got something he wants, correct?” Jackie said. Sharaka nodded her head. Jackie DeCoeur nodded back. “Good. So you let him know that they’ve got it. You let him come try to take it.”

“But—” Sharaka practically jumped out of her chair.

“—Hold up,” Jackie said, putting one hand gently – but firmly – on the viashino’s scaled shoulder. “I’m not saying you tell him the truth. I’m saying that you set him up.” She guided Sharaka back down to the chair. “You pick the time, you pick the place. You make him come to you.” The Red-Eyed Woman grinned. “And then you and your folk make it so that none of his gang ever want to come at you again.”

“Okay,” Sharaka said. “How?”

“That,” Jackie DeCoeur said, “is what you and I are going to figure out.”


* * *


I like Jackie's guide, especially the pragmatism in making friends; though there's the unsaid that, if you get close friends, you might get over revenge and do something constructive instead, which, in case of Antine, it's also part of Jackie's tip: don't do something you suck at when life is on the line.

Hah, yes, that's DEFINITELY part of it. I think Jackie's hoping that, if Antine gets out and makes some connections, he may find other things to occupy his time. :D


The glass-flipping part is great, and highlights how unprepared Antine is for high-stakes action; to be honest, that was one of the reasons I made Sharaka pick up and keep the whiskey bottle - in other words, a hard projectile filled with flammable fluid - in addition to challenge some of Jackie's authority. Sharaka's not going to start anything, but she's not all that trusting either.

I tried to have a little fun with this!

Thanks again, Huey, for the story!


@Orcish: There's a better than even chance that at some point, I write a story where a certain centaur is trying to teach Antine to shoot. :D

Unless somebody else beats me to it, of course. ;)

I was having fun imagining that, too!

I sort of figured that, while we know that Jackie does teach the kids to shoot, I don't think she's giving out lessons like candy. But I *also* don't think she wants Antine running around with a gun he can't use, and I *know* that she wants him to talk to a ridder, so it occurred to me that she would probably try to solve both these problems at one go. :D


Anyway, thanks for writing this! I think you floated the idea of an interaction between Jackie and Antine a long time ago, and I've always thought that had a lot of narrative potential, so I'm glad to see that opinion vindicated here.

Me, too! I had so much fun writing them together for M:EM High School, too!


Jackie is wonderful as always here, with her emphasis on planning and her reliance on dependable friends, and I love how mystified Antine is at the advice. Not exactly what you would expect from the Waste's most notorious bandit, but they are, in fact, the secret to Jackie's success.

And Antine is basically spot-on here, and it's really fun to watch. I think my favorite part of the whole story is Antine's small sense of satisfaction at successfully, if awkwardly, catching the shot glass. Antine very much strikes me, with his planeswalker life so far, as the type to celebrate small victories, what with rarely experiencing large ones. Seeing him choking down the whiskey at the Red-Eyed Woman's insistence is also really great.

I'm glad that Antine came out OK, here! I know that the whole premise is a little bit silly, so I figured I'd have a little fun with it, but I tried to keep at least within shouting distance of Antine's canon character.

I do like the moment where he drinks the drink, and realizes how foul it is. I could just imagine him coughing, and Jackie giving him a pat on the back. :D


I had to laugh at Jackie telling him not to speechify at the end. I mean, that's sort of what Jackie is known for. I remember a comment you made way back in, I think, "Stare Down the Basilisk?" that you love listening to Jackie talk, and by extension, Jackie sort of loves to listen to Jackie talking. Admittedly, Jackie is much more lucky than our little fox friend, and a lot more able to adjust to the situation, but I found it amusing that she of all people says not to talk a lot.

This is definitely a case of, "do as I say, not as I do." I think that, deep down, Jackie knows that monologuing at the bad guy maybe isn't the best idea, but she just can't quite help herself. (Or, to be fair, maybe I can't help myself. But I figured she's earned the right to enjoy a vice or two.)

Even at the risk of being a hypocrite, though, I figure she's going to try to steer Antine straight. ;)

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 01, 2019 7:27 pm 
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A pity that Two-Two didn't become a ballerina, instead! This is a nice little parable with the same great slanted, bandit morality to it that we see in a lot of Jakkard stories. There's an interesting contrast to Jackie's message here. She's basically saying, "don't pick fights" while at the same time saying, "make enough of a name for yourself that others won't either." I sort of feel that, especially as a bandit, those two bits of advice are at odds. At some point, you're going to need to take the initiative. Admittedly, after you ARE established, it becomes easier advice to follow. But, unless enough people are picking fights with you to begin with, you sort of can't get to that point. In that sense, Jackie had a sort of "advantage," in the sense that people were sort of naturally drawn to picking on her, and she either had the natural (supernatural?) aptitude for defending herself, or she developed it out of necessity. Not everyone trying to make a name of themselves would be so "lucky."

And, of course, there's a problem beyond Jackie's "most people will avoid messing with you" philosophy, which I refer to as the "Gunslinger's Syndrome" (although I have no idea if it's actually called that or not). Basically, it's that the better somebody is at something, the more others want to prove themselves against that person. It's like back in those old Westerns, where the fastest Gunslinger in the West (usually an aging vagabond who is just starting to lose their edge) is challenged by the young upstart who is convinced that they're faster than the fastest, and they're willing to risk everything to prove it. And while each upstart defeated grows the Gunslinger's legend, it also wears on them, and wears them down.

Of course, that's what makes Jackie's line about not caring about what Two-Two thought about her so important. Jackie, at that point, wasn't trying to impress anyone, or defend any sort of title. That, eventually, buys you a tidy little retirement property - all six feet of it. In some ways, it reminds me of the non-canon meeting between Jackie and Merritt, where Merritt, who knows he's the fastest, wants to test it against someone who, according to rumor, might be faster. There's no malice in it; he has no hatred or even dislike of the Red-Eyed Woman. He just needs to know. Fortunately for him, he manages to rein in his pride before it costs him a foot or worse.

Anyway, thanks for writing, Orcish! I enjoyed the interaction here.

@Orcish: There's a better than even chance that at some point, I write a story where a certain centaur is trying to teach Antine to shoot. :D

Unless somebody else beats me to it, of course. ;)

I was having fun imagining that, too!

I sort of figured that, while we know that Jackie does teach the kids to shoot, I don't think she's giving out lessons like candy. But I *also* don't think she wants Antine running around with a gun he can't use, and I *know* that she wants him to talk to a ridder, so it occurred to me that she would probably try to solve both these problems at one go. :D

You left a comment on some story - I forget which now - that it would be amusing to see Jackie teach Antine how to shoot sometime. That's where the reference came from, because the image amuses me a lot!

Anyway, thanks for writing this! I think you floated the idea of an interaction between Jackie and Antine a long time ago, and I've always thought that had a lot of narrative potential, so I'm glad to see that opinion vindicated here.

Me, too! I had so much fun writing them together for M:EM High School, too!

"Hands."

:D

Jackie is wonderful as always here, with her emphasis on planning and her reliance on dependable friends, and I love how mystified Antine is at the advice. Not exactly what you would expect from the Waste's most notorious bandit, but they are, in fact, the secret to Jackie's success.

And Antine is basically spot-on here, and it's really fun to watch. I think my favorite part of the whole story is Antine's small sense of satisfaction at successfully, if awkwardly, catching the shot glass. Antine very much strikes me, with his planeswalker life so far, as the type to celebrate small victories, what with rarely experiencing large ones. Seeing him choking down the whiskey at the Red-Eyed Woman's insistence is also really great.

I'm glad that Antine came out OK, here! I know that the whole premise is a little bit silly, so I figured I'd have a little fun with it, but I tried to keep at least within shouting distance of Antine's canon character.

I do like the moment where he drinks the drink, and realizes how foul it is. I could just imagine him coughing, and Jackie giving him a pat on the back. :D

Ruwin made a comment at the end of The War of the Wheel that has always stuck with me, which was basically that "Antine is too soft for the Multiverse." And I think that's largely true. There's a part of Antine that I think it very capable, and when he tells Jackie that he "can take care of [him]self," I believe him...conditionally. Because while he has survived things that not everyone could survive, he's been fairly lucky in how it's happened. I think he's a good person, especially as far as the overall morality of your average Jakkardian goes, and I'm pulling for him. But there's a naivety to Antine that can almost border on childish, and if I'm being honest, it's really fun to watch him as he good-naturedly stumbles through the life he has probably always over-simplified.

I had to laugh at Jackie telling him not to speechify at the end. I mean, that's sort of what Jackie is known for. I remember a comment you made way back in, I think, "Stare Down the Basilisk?" that you love listening to Jackie talk, and by extension, Jackie sort of loves to listen to Jackie talking. Admittedly, Jackie is much more lucky than our little fox friend, and a lot more able to adjust to the situation, but I found it amusing that she of all people says not to talk a lot.

This is definitely a case of, "do as I say, not as I do." I think that, deep down, Jackie knows that monologuing at the bad guy maybe isn't the best idea, but she just can't quite help herself. (Or, to be fair, maybe I can't help myself. But I figured she's earned the right to enjoy a vice or two.)

Even at the risk of being a hypocrite, though, I figure she's going to try to steer Antine straight. ;)

To be fair, trying to imagine Antine's speechification when he confronts Mea and Vam is a pretty funny image. Like most things, I don't see it going well for poor Antine!


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 03, 2019 2:37 pm 
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The ease with which you come up with great Jakk anecdotes amazes me. Sharaka's characterization is slightly spotty (her impatience at the start - she's the one who started talking the long road around the issue - and the flat "no" during Two-Two's tale in particular), though I admit I never thought about how a (half-)drunk Sharaka interacts. On the flip side, I made a naughty smile when Sharaka told Jackie looked good in black half-jokingly (I doubt it was intended, but in Sharaka's culture respect and sexual interest are rather closely related, and besides Sharaka is almost always DTF in every sense) and genuinely felt the moment where Sharaka shuts up even if she's not completely convinced - she has heard a similar lesson not too many years ago, probably... (I'll finish writing Sharaka's origins, I swear)

Also Sharaka has tried following Jackie's advice about fight deterrence at some point, but she doesn't seem to have the hang of it yet :D

Thanks for the response!

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2019 4:36 pm 
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After counting to one hundred, you take the blindfold off.

The room you're in is small and sparsely furnished -- just a table, and some chairs. The furniture looks new, but there's dust along the floor. The only light comes from a single railroad lamp. There are windows on one wall, but the shutters are all bolted.

As for where you are? Well, it could be almost anywhere. The rattler picked you up at the Dayko Central Station, but the windows in the stagecoach were all covered with black cloth. You rode for quite some time -- it's hard to tell, but you'd say hours -- but you know all too well that that doesn't mean a thing. The rattler never spoke, and you lost track of the turns. He could have doubled back -- you could be just blocks from the station. Or you could be ten miles north of nowhere, in a town without a name.

You do your best to listen, but hear no sounds that you can place.

The door suddenly swings open, and a woman steps inside. You'd have thought you'd hear her coming, but she moves without a sound.

Part of you doesn't quite believe that this is really her. But she takes off her tinted glasses, and any doubts you had are gone.

As she walks into the room, you can see her look around, and you have the uncanny realization that she's counting exits, judging distance. She notices you noticing, and shoots you a red-eyed wink. You do your very best to sit very, very still.

There's a perfectly good chair in the middle of the room. She takes off her broad-brimmed hat, but she makes no move to sit. Next to the chair there is a barrel doing service as a table; a bottle and a glass both sit atop the barrel head. The woman ignores the glass and takes a drink straight from the bottle. She pulls a face, checks the label, then shrugs and drinks again.

For a good, solid minute, she lets you stew in your own silence. Then she spins the chair around, and sits lightly, facing you. She folds her arms atop the chairback, and dares you to look back at her. For a long time, you avoid it. Then -- as if transfixed -- you meet her gaze.

The Red-Eyed Woman is staring right at you, with eyes the color of fresh blood. Something corkscrews down your spine, and, with a flinch, you break eye contact. Looking down now at the floor, you feel unpleasantly like you're drunk. And it's not a good drunk, either -- it's the kind of drunk that tricks you into saying things you won't remember, but will regret.

You risk a look back up, and you see the woman grinning. You get the sense you would not like to hold her gaze for very long.


"Sorry," Jackie DeCoeur says. "Force of habit."

Her grin turns up at the corner, and you see a flash of gold. She offers you the whiskey, but you wave the drink away.

"I'm going to level with you," she says, "I'm regretting this already." She takes another pull from the bottle, but if she's upset, it doesn't show. "It's nothing to do with you, mind -- I'm sure you're perfect company. But I don't socialize much these days, what with being dead and all."

She puts the bottle down, and puts her dark glasses back on. You exhale a breath you did not realize you were holding.

"Still," the woman says, "I owe a favor to an orc, and -- anyway -- we're here. He tells me you've got questions? Well now's your chance to ask 'em."

"Oh, ghostdamn it! It's you?"

Jackie flashed her smile. "Who were you expecting? Ol' Smokey?"

Orida scowled. "I have no **** idea who that is, but I sure as **** wasn't expecting you."

"I see you still have the same sunny disposition as the last time we met."

"**** that, I'm way more pissed off now than I was then."

Jackie cocked an eyebrow. "That so? I can't imagine what could piss off a paragon of serenity like you."

Orida narrowed her black eyes. "Try a bunch of little kids..." Jackie chuckled. "...poisoned," Orida finished.

Jackie's smile faded instantly. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about a piece of **** snake who poisoned a small town on this pla...this place I was living. Nearly killed a friend of mine. I've been tracking him ever since, and he's done it over and over. Last time it was a **** school well he poisoned! Anyway, I'm pretty sure he's here now."

Jackie sighed. "So if you didn't expect me, what exactly did you ask my friend?"

"I asked that damn orc how to track a snake to his hole, so I can cut off his mother **** ****-in-the-**** **** **** head."

"Wow, I'm not sure I've even heard all of those words before."

Orida grunted. "Point is, he said he didn't know, but he knew someone who did, then he made me jump through all these **** hoops to get here. And anyway...here we are."

"Here we are," Jackie said, thinking. She took a long swig from the bottle, then offered it to Orida. "Drink?"

Orida considered for a moment. "Is it good ****?"

Jackie shook her head. "It's not even within sniffing distance of 'good ****.'"

Orida took the bottle and sniffed, recoiling slightly. "Ah, **** it," she said, and too a long drink. She grimaced, and then looked back at Jackie. "So, how do you trap a snake in the Waste?"


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2019 4:46 pm 
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Heh, Orida is always fun to "read" :D And I'm pretty sure I know who her quarry is, though I wonder whether their first encounter was shown around here.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2019 5:34 pm 
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Heh, Orida is always fun to "read" :D

Yeah, she's a **** treat! :)

And I'm pretty sure I know who her quarry is, though I wonder whether their first encounter was shown around here.

No, Orida and Cyrryc Adda have never met in canon, though both of them have wound up on Dammerdall, and it is possible that they were there at the same time, so they certainly could meet.

They did have a non-canon interaction here.

Of course, Orida's meeting with Jackie was also non-canon, so we have a nice little non-canon canon here. :)


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