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July 12, 2012
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Music Can Have a Great Influence on the Weak-Minded

I know bards who have literally sold their souls for fame and talent. It's not really even very hard to do in Cheliax, where devils and diabolists are found in every major city, and the red-robed priests of Asmodeus stand outside their smoky temples, promising all the wealth and power of Hell in exchange for something most mortals never use—in this life. But when I was a child, my family was invited to one of those temples for a high service, a reward for generous tithing, and I saw a gate open unto Hell and the suffering of the souls therein. I never missed a tithing again, but I decided then and there that my soul was remain wholly mine until my death. Maybe Pharasma will send me somewhere more pleasant than Hell. One can hope.

But the need to be famous, to sing a lead on Egorian's Opera Row, to draw crowds in Absalom and Oppara—that had always been my dream and drive. There was no instrument I did not easily master, no style I could not emulate. I learned Mwangi spirit chants, Ulfen skald sagas, and even Asmodean hymns with equal facility.

And in every hamlet in Cheliax was an aspiring bard every bit as talented as I. We Chelish are a gifted people, blessed by the gods with the passion of the Taldane, the ferocity of the Ulfen, and the legacy of the Azlanti.  So my competition was tough, and my parents, though rich, were no nobles, to attach to me a famous name. Not born to fame, unwilling to sell my soul for it, and with only as much talent as the next young prodigy, I had only my exceptional lust for success to carry me to the top of the crowd. And that meant taking big risks. I had to leave the cities, witness something exceptional, and return home with a song so amazing that other bards would sing it and thus increase my fame.

It's called Green Blood on a Black Rock, Golarion's most infamous fight to the death, where captured monsters flay each other alive on a tiny island for the amusement of pirates from the Shackles. The winner earns the right to swim away. I heard about it from one of my father's business associates, who paid a diviner to scry the last fight. He said it was more brutal than anything even the Asmodeans knew.

But only the pirates could take you there, and the masses could neither afford powerful divinations nor travel to see it firsthand. Loved by commoners everywhere are the blood-bards, who travel to the competition and return with tales of a blood- and spray-soaked deathmatch. I decided to join them. I took a poison smuggler's sloop to Ilizmagorti with no problem, but smugglers are more trustworthy than pirates. In the Assassin's Port I found a pirate brig sailing toward the competition with an ogre caged in its hold. It would be a poor contender, the pirates told me while they eyed my gear for resale value, but captains who brought no fighters at all were given poorer anchorages. They took my passage money, but I knew they planned to kill me as soon as we lost sight of land. So I sauntered over to the largest pirate, a scarred, muscled Ulfen warrior wearing two huge axes and little else. I buried my fear, looked into his eyes, and sang.

You can't learn the music of a dozen cultures without learning some of their magic along the way. In six seconds he was mine, but I let the song linger to make sure the compulsion was laid thoroughly in place. "What's your name, friend?" I asked in Polyglot. The pirates had been using it themselves, discussing their plans for me, but before, I had pretended not to understand.

"I call me Two-Axe, friend," he replied, a bit stiffly. The pirates were gaping. Two-Axe wasn't the sort to use the word "friend".

"Nice to meet you, Two-Axe." Trying to keep my palms from shaking, I reached out and deliberately shook his hand. His shake was firm and eager. I had him completely. "Now, Two-Axe, are these men you are working with your friends?" He shook his big head. "But I am?" He nodded. "And if anything were to happen to me on the way to Greenblood, or the way back to this port?"

"Two-Axe would kill whatever scum done it to you, friend."

"That makes me feel very safe, Two-Axe, thank you." I looked at the other pirates, most of whom were glaring. The captain looked pensive. Now was time for the big bluff. "Two-Axe, in a little while you're going to realize that this isn't how you normally think, and then you're going to realize that if you're thinking normally again, I probably have lost control of you, and that you should probably kill me for this." He looked confused, but I was speaking mostly for the benefit of the others. "But the command I've put in your head is very deep and very strong, and it will activate the moment anything dangerous happens to me at all. The very moment." I looked at the pirates, and they looked back at me—at me!—with fear.  It was working. I couldn't geas a cow to give milk, but I could suggest and charm, and these superstitious sailors didn't know the difference. With an arrogant hand gesture, I dismissed the spell, turned my back on Two-Axe, and swaggered over to the captain. "Since I know you didn't intend to take me anywhere, I'll pay double what we agreed for safe passage. A third now, a third at Greenblood, and a third when we get back to port."  He nodded.

Damn, I thought, as we sailed out of sight of Mediogalti Island, that conversation is going to make a killer first verse for my epic song.
FFM 2012 #10. 989 Words. Not a cheatey piece, because I felt like writing something. Definitely have a future plot for this, but it would add about another 1k words, so not really FFM material.

All the proper nouns here are from the Pathfinder Campaign Setting, but this is intended to stand alone. (As usual, please let me know if it does or doesn't.) Pathfinder's setting is unusually rich, mature, and diverse for a tabletop RPG (sorry, old-timers, but Faerun is just silly by comparison). So I guess this is fan-fictiony, although the characters aren't anything canon.

I hope you enjoy.

Oh, and weird word you might not have heard of but I didn't invent (and is not fictional):
"skald": [link]
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:iconhavetales-willtell:
HaveTales-WillTell Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2013  Professional Writer
A killer opening, indeed. :ahoy:
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:iconxlntwtch:
xlntwtch Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013   Writer
:iconcongratssignplz: on the DLD "Pick of the Day." I fav'd this a while back and maybe you'll see why. Thank you.
I'd fav it again if I could. (:
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:iconshadowedacolyte:
ShadowedAcolyte Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013
Thanks! For a spur-of-the-moment piece, the narrator did turn out to be a fun character.
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:iconxlntwtch:
xlntwtch Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013   Writer
You're welcome! For any piece, the narrator was fun. :)
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:icondailylitdeviations:
DailyLitDeviations Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013
Your wonderful literary work has been chosen to be featured by =DailyLitDeviations and has been selected as our "Pick of the Day". It is featured in a news article here: [link] and on our main page.

(Really, this time.^^;)
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:iconshadowedacolyte:
ShadowedAcolyte Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013
I am just as grateful as I was before. Thank you so much for all that you all do.
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