Characters Welcome: Stagger

Characters Welcome is proud to bring you Stagger, a fantasy hero from James Maxey’s latest adventure series. Stagger himself will be telling you the story of how he first met the woman he falls madly in love with. And really, who can resist a woman capable of tearing a man’s arm off?

Trouble has a way of finding Infidel. On her first night in town, a mercenary named Crusher gets a little too friendly with her in a bar and she rips his arm out of his socket. In the aftermath, Stagger introduces himself and offers to buy her a drink. It’s the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship….

Greetings, miss. I notice the rest of the clientele of the Black Swan are giving you wide berth at the moment, but I personally never liked Crusher. He was a bully and, as he demonstrated the second you came through the door, an incorrigible lecher. You hadn’t been at the bar five seconds before he had his paws on you. No fair-minded judge can blame you for ripping his arm off. He thought he was a lady-killer, but we all knew it was only a matter of time before some lady killed him.

People call me Stagger. Not my original name, of course. It’s a rule of Commonground that no one here reveals their old names. The whole economy here is built upon illicit activities. Many of the denizens of this port have nooses waiting for them if they venture back to more civilized lands. It’s the ultimate rudeness to ask someone why they’ve come here. Our motto is, what happens outside Commonground, stays outside Commonground.

So, while I’m curious as to how a slender sprite of a girl like yourself came to be strong enough to tear Crusher’s arm right out of the socket, I’ll refrain from asking. Still, I’m sure we could find some neutral topic of civil discussion. Since you’ve improved the atmosphere of this bar considerably by freeing us from Crusher’s trademark loutishness, I feel I should reward you by buying your drinks.

Don’t drink! Is that… is that even an option? How can… I mean… I mean, of course, it’s absolutely forbidden that I should ask how it is you don’t drink, but…

Oh. Hmm. I suppose that makes sense. If you have the strength to crush a man’s skull like an eggshell, I can certainly understand the importance of maintaining careful control. But, I fear that you’ll find very little else to drink in this port. You seem robust, but I assure you the local drinking water is unsuited for the guts of us longmen.

Longmen? That’s what the natives call us. The original inhabitants of this island are all pygmies. The dragon who lives in the volcano has destroyed every attempt by longmen to colonize this island, but he doesn’t mess with the pygmies. Probably for the same reason that men don’t hunt mice. Not enough meat to make it worth the effort.

Milk? Not a chance. Greatshadow—that’s the dragon—loves livestock. Cows have very brief life spans on this island. The lava pygmies do keep a few scrawny goats higher up in the mountains, but fresh milk never makes it to Commonground, only cheese.

If you wish to keep your wits about you but still slake your thirst, might I recommend a cider? You’d have to drink a gallon before you even feel a buzz.

Wonderful. Battle Ox! Bring the woman a bottle of your finest cider. Put it on my tab. Don’t give me that look. You know I’ll be paying my tab next week. I’ve ascertained the location of another lost temple and… what? Really? My tab’s gotten that sizable? Well, then, think of the percentages. Adding another bottle to that sum is the merest fraction of a percent.

Thank you. You’re the finest bartending minotaur in a hundred mile radius, and don’t let anyone ever tell you differently.

So, miss. I’m not so uncivil as to ask why you’ve come to town, but do you plan to reside for long in this area?

I see. I wish you only the best in your goals, but I must warn you the job options for attractive young women in a rude port such as this are rather unpromising.

No! Of course I’m not suggesting your only option is prostitution. And, yes, under ordinary circumstances, I agree, someone with the strength to rip off a man’s limb in one clean pluck could make a good living as a mercenary. But… I say this meaning no offense… you just don’t look the part.

I mean, if you take a look around, you’ll spot some of the most successful mercenaries in Commonground make this bar their home on their off hours. Crusher, boastful as he was, wasn’t among the truly elite ranks of swords for hire. See that brute over there? The guy who’s face is just one big mask of scars? They call him No-Face. He’s a big one, ain’t he? Being big is part of the game in the mercenary business. It’s not enough to be formidable. You’ve got to look intimidating.

Hah! You’re right. I’m certainly not capable of intimidating anyone. I spent my youth lifting books, not swords. Books and bottles.

Believe it or not, I was raised in a monastery. My father was a monk. Obviously, he had trouble with his vow of chastity. I’m told my mother was a prostitute. She dumped me at the monks’ doorstep the day I was born. It’s not a lot of fun growing in such a cloistered atmosphere. My one escape was books. One book in particular was my favorite: The Vanished Kingdom, by Judicious Merchant. Merchant came to Commonground to make his fortune in the pygmy slave trade, but wound up instead getting seduced by tales of lost cities hidden in the jungle. I used to dream of running away from the monastery and making my fortune as a grave looter. Did I say grave looter? I meant as an antiques acquisition expert.

As fate would have it, the other thing the monks taught me aside from how to read was how to drink. They had vineyards to produce sacramental wine. I’m not certain if the wine is actually sacred or not, but I know that drinking it made me feel like the Divine Author was smiling upon me. There was some… unpleasantness… when the monks discovered I was the thief tapping the casks in the dead of night. I was only twelve when I departed the monastery with a belly full of wine and the contents of the poor box lining my pockets. I jumped a ship heading to Commonground and never looked back.

Dreams, my dear girl, do come true in this wild and wonderful land. My scholarly skills make me the preeminent authority on the ruins that lay buried beneath the roots and vines around us. I’ve carted from this jungle fortunes enough to last a more prudent man ten lifetimes. Alas, the fortunes seldom last me long. As you may have gathered from the astronomical number discussed regarding my bar tab, I have a bad habit of shouting, “Drinks are on me!” whenever I have even a single moon in my pocket. I’m also, and I say this with all possible modestly, the absolute champion in this world of being unlucky at cards. There is no surer guarantee of someone else getting dealt four queens than for me to be dealt three aces.

But, even with my intemperance and poor luck, the real reason I can never hold onto my money is that I’m a sucker for any poor sap with a sob story. Catch me when I’ve been drinking, and I’ll give you the shirt off my back if you need it. Alas, as you may surmise, I didn’t come to be called Stagger by a reputation for frequent… or even occasional… sobriety.

So. You’re new in a strange and dangerous port. Penniless, from the looks of you. You need money and you need it fast. I know you came here thinking you’d make a living with a strong arm and a sharp sword. But, might I suggest that a shovel would be a better tool to translate your physical prowess into a fortune? I meant it when I told Battle Ox that I’ve learned the location of a lost temple. It’s on the most dangerous part of the island, the northern slope, where a single misstep can send you tumbling a mile down sheer cliffs into a violent sea. And if gravity doesn’t get you, there are lava pygmies who still hold some of the sites dug into the cliffs as sacred and protect them with poisoned darts. If you’re lucky enough to avoid the pygmies, the local fauna features three kinds of poisonous snakes and nine different species of spiders that can drop you dead in your tracks. And don’t forget, there’s a dragon.

Yeah, it’s dangerous. But, what of it? Everyone has a final page in the Great Book. I’d rather meet my end running from a tribe of angry pygmies than sick and worn out from age. And think of what we might accomplish! If we navigate all the dangers and become the first people to step foot into a lost temple in two thousand years we’re likely to find… well, usually, just a lot of dust and some broken pottery. But, sometimes, there’s gold, or jade, or dragon bones.

You interested? Of course, I don’t mind if you think it over, but, if I may be so bold, I think you’re being coy. You already know your answer. I can see it in your eyes… you have treasure fever. It’s a common ailment in these parts. The only cure is to risk life and limb on a grand adventure. Help me get to this temple, and we’ll split all the treasure fifty fifty.

That’s the spirit! Stick with me, my girl, and I’ll lead you to wonders beyond your wildest dreams.

Greatshadow is the primal dragon of fire, an elemental evil whose malign intelligence spies upon mankind through every candle flame, waiting to devour any careless victim he can claim.

The Church of the Book has assembled a team of twelve battle-hardened adventurers to slay the dragon once and for all. But tensions run high between the leaders of the team who view the mission as a holy duty and the super-powered mercenaries who add power to their ranks, who view the mission primarily as a chance to claim Greatshadow’s vast treasure trove. If the warriors fail to slay the beast, will they doom mankind to death by fire?

Greatshadow is the first book in an exciting new adventure series.

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