As I began to write Rocket Fox, I thought back to Black Mask and Pale Rider. I came to the realization that I’d need to do some updating on that tale as well. And that might very well extend a great deal of it. I had hummed and hawed about how to start it. One start would see the pair of elven gunslingers returning to their homeworld only to be arrested for misusing the gates between worlds. The ensuing trial would be a retelling of their entire time on Earth. The other idea would be much more tranquil, as the story would begin in Brockton during the festival, and at the urging of several children, Shani and Pania would tell the tale of the Civil War, and their wild ride between the Union and the Confederacy.
I decided to settle upon the latter, and came up with this to start it all off.
The Brockton Festival. A time of celebration in the town of Brockton. A two week long festival, celebrated twice a year in spring and once again as autumn arrives. It ushers in two very important rituals. The first in spring heralds the beginning of seeding and planting for the farmers in the district, and at the same time it says good-bye to the students of the Brockton Academy of the Arts, the prestigious school that elves from across the continent come to learn writing, painting, music and how to weave their magic with it properly. In the fall, it is the celebration of the harvest and welcoming the new students to the school. It’s said that centuries before the first elves to settle the town held a grand celebration, although much to the chagrin of the local farming area. But they opened their arms in friendship to the farmers to come celebrate with them. This action forged a feeling of peace at the time of the festival. It also is an honoured tradition that no fighting of any kind would be tolerated. To do so, would bring about a lifetime ban to those who took part in such debauchery.
On this day, the opening day of the festivities, most elves were just getting their first tastes of the different cultures and music that spanned the continent. There was the food brought in from the desert elves near Semerkhet. The stories and song from the elves of the Messewan Valley. The magical arts from the elves of the Mysterian Marshes. And the acts of strength and stamina from the hardy and tall elves of the Nordician Mountains. Travelers came from far and wide to partake in the festivities, some with performances of their own, others just merely to watch the different performances and partake in the food and drink.
One elf in particular was feeling more toward the latter. Pania Alow, a beautiful young elf of 325 had her moment on the stage, having once been a student of the Academy. At one time, she had marveled audiences with her song and dance on the stage. Today, however, she felt more at home mingling and being a part of the audience. This did not stop her family from having their own tent among all the dignitaries that set up camp on the grounds of the festival. It had become tradition for the Alows to have their own spot among the others who would set up camp. Her father, Karl, would chronicle the events for the local newspaper, while her mother, Titania would assist with the production of one of the main stage plays. Her brother, Mandrel would always tell tales to enrapture the ladies. And though she was still very, very young, Pania’s younger sister Pylia would hover near her mother, and help out where she could with the stage play.
As Pania walked past the tents and displays that lined the many pathways of the festival, she was joined by another elf. A tall, lanky woman, with jet black hair and tanned skin as though she spent a good deal of her life in the sun. A stark contrast to Pania’s own fair skin and blond hair. The woman was Shani Wennemein, and even though the pair had differences in gait, in dress and in fashion, one could tell they were friends and partners.
“Did ya hear?” Shani drawled slowly as she matched Pania’s pace. “The Muharane ‘re gonna have their sword dancin’ set up this afternoon. I hear tell they put on a skilled show.” She took an apple from her long coat pocket as they walked, slicing off a piece with a small dagger and fed some to a small wyrmling that perched on her shoulder. “I were gonna take thet in later. How ’bout you?”
“I did,” Pania replied with a smile, her voice soft and smooth. “I’d planned on takin’ in the performance later meself. Mayhap even speak to ’em an’ see if they’ll show me some o’ their stances.”
“They use scimitars, though,” Shani said as she sliced off another piece of apple and gobbled it down. “You use a rapier. Diff’rent kinda weapon.”
“True,” Pania replied with a nod. “But the principles o’ each stance can be translated, if done properly.” The pair continued to walk, discussing the different displays, vendors and shows that had been scheduled for the first day. All too much to take in at once, a good thing the festival was a two week affair. Eventually, their slow walk had brought them to the entrance of the Alow tent. They both continued to talk about the schedule of events as Pania pushed back the entrance flap to walk inside.
As they both entered the ornate tent, they stopped talking. Inside, which was quite large for it had to be to house five elves during this two week event, there sat several elven children. Pania did a quick head count. There had to be at least thirty that had taken seats here and there throughout the tent. In the middle of them all was Pania’s young sister Pylia, only a child herself. “Mother,” Pania called out as Pylia raced to meet her sister, grinning with glee as she hugged Pania’s leg.
From the back of the tent, an older elf, though still with her own grace and beauty appeared. Titania Alow, respected as one of the most acclaimed entertainers throughout Brytalonia, her performances were known far and wide. Her blond hair done up in curls, much like Pania’s own hair, though Titania’s manner of dress was different from her daughter’s, it was still elegant nonetheless. “Word has spread, my wee daughter, about the adventure the pair o’ ye took through the gates b’tween worlds.” She smiled a coy smile as she rested her hands on her hips. “An’ as everyone knows, that is a feat not done in over four hundred years.”
Pania nodded and smiled as she looked to the faces of all the children, all of whom were looking back with great anticipation. How could one turn aside such faces without them hearing a tale of adventure and triumph.
“Well, I guess I’ll see ya at the sword dancin’ later,” Shani said as she began to open the tent flap and let herself out. Her progress was halted, however, as she felt a firm grip on the sleeve of her long coat. She looked back, and took note that Pania had an iron grip on her arm. “Um…”
“It’s a point o’ fact that it were more ‘n me what went through the gates b’tween worlds,” Pania said as she looked to Shani with a coy smile that matched her own mother’s. “An’ any story worth it’s salt, an’ one as grand as this would need two ta tell it properly.” Shani just stared at Pania for a moment, finally sighing reluctantly and muttering a fine as she walked through the sea of children toward a long couch at one wall of the tent. As Shani took off her long coat and set her stetson on the couch, the children caught sight of a pair of the items that the two elves brought back with them from the other world. A pair of simple pistols, slung in their holsters and hanging low on Shani’s hips. As the lanky elf took her seat, the wyrmling crawled down to nestle himself comfortably in Shani’s lap.
Pania knelt down as she turned to her sister and spoke, signing with her hands as she did so. “Would you help mother an’ get some refreshments for everyone, please?” she asked with a pleasant smile. Pylia nodded and signed back before she ran off to the back of the tent. Pylia wasn’t deaf, if the truth be known. She just couldn’t speak. But the Alow family took it upon themselves to always sign whenever they spoke to her. Pania finally rose to her feet and removed the long cloak that hung at her shoulders. As she did there was a small peep that came from her collar, and a tired pixie walked onto Pania’s shoulder, stretching as though she’d just awakened from a long nap. “We have company, Verit,” Pania said to the pixie. Verit stopped and looked around, seeing all of the faces. For a moment she was caught off guard and slightly embarrassed, but eventually, she perched lightly on Pania’s shoulder and offered a wave to all in the tent.
Pania took a seat beside Shani, her own pistols now on display as well. She leaned forward just a bit and smiled to the children who looked back with anticipation of the story to come. “Well now, if it’s a story that ye want, it’s a story that ye will have. Another world, another place, diff’rent people an’ diff’rent situations. But in a way, familiar ta what we know.” She looked over to Shani as she spoke, the eyes of the children following as they looked over to the tall, lanky, elven gunslinger. “For me, it all began in a place called Chicago. But for Shani here, it all started in a place called Carrollton, Arkansas.” She looked back to the children with a smile. “We’ve all heard o’ stories ’bout sword an’ sorcery. Well, this one’s not much diff’rent. But instead o’ swords, this one is about six gun an’ sorcery.”