The Knight Errant

I didn’t leave to steal my first car immediately, although I was tempted. I was in the middle of Compton without any transport. Stealing a car in the neighborhood only to bring it back to the LSS shop seemed like a very bad idea. Besides, if I was going to steal a car I wanted a nice one. I had some ideas about where to go “shopping” that I’d try out later.

Instead I killed a bit of time at the Ball and Bean before setting up beside the taco shack at around eleven. It was still too early, but it gave me a chance to practice my Customer ID skill. Leveling it up had improved it, but I was pretty underwhelmed.

Customer Identification (F) Level 2/5
Every 55 seconds, determine with a 15% success rate if the person you are looking at is a likely customer for what you are selling.
Earned: $754/$1,500

Five seconds less cooldown and 5% more chance that it would actually do something. Not great, but better than nothing. I spammed it every time it came off cooldown and was pleasantly surprised to have it work on someone walking across the street. He was wearing dirty coveralls and looked like he was on his way to or from work. Either way, I dashed across the street and sold him a dime.

It was only when it got closer to lunch time and the lunch crowd started to arrive that things picked up at all. I sold, but it seemed like a bit less than I had the previous day. After the lunch rush I ordered food from Mr Lopez, the taco shop owner, and took stock. Another eleven grams sold, and one more positive activation of Customer ID. I liked that it was actually progressing, after seeming to want to take forever to level up.

Time flew by, and Manny showed up on time at around 4:30. He had Buddy with him, of course. He parked in the yard and the two of them came back.

“Hey Bro, how are sales?”

“Not great. Still have more than half the ounce,” I commented.

“Nah, that’s good, Bro. We sold most of it after sunset, remember? We’re good. Hold, let me get something for Buddy. We’re both hungry,” Manny said.

He went to the window and ordered a couple of burritos for himself and a bowl of raw meat for the dog. Buddy sat at his feet, watching the transaction closely.

A notion had been percolating all day, and when Manny came back I’d decided.

“Hey, Manny. Would you be okay if I left you here to sell on your own for a while? We’ll need to get Flattop to mark you as Allied, but after that?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess. Why, Bro?”

“I want to go and meet up with Old Pete and his gaming group. The last time he got me that tag skill, and I think he knows a lot. At the very least I might make us some new friends. That can’t hurt, right?”

“That old homeless guy that made you read the book? Really, Bro?”

I was pretty sure Manny was just fucking with me. “Yeah, him.”

“I can hold it down here, Bro. You know if you’re into old dudes, I’ve got an uncle that’s single. He’s pretty old.”

Now I was sure of it. “I’m good, man.”

“It’s because he’s Vietnamese, isn’t it? Pretty racist, Bro.”

Manny tried to keep a straight face, but it cracked nearly immediately and he burst out laughing. “Your face!”

“Yeah, yeah. Come on, let’s try to sell before Flattop gets back.”

I was worried about that, but Flattop returned less than thirty minutes later. I’d sold one more dime bag, and I grabbed his attention as he pulled into the yard. He came over shortly after. The three of us moved away from the taco shack to talk in private.

“Hey, Manny. I heard you want to learn to drive properly?”

“Yeah, Bro. Definitely.”

“Cool, we’ll get you sorted. What you need, Mack?”

“I’ve got somewhere else to be for the rest of the afternoon. I wanted you to get Manny marked Allied so I can leave him her by himself.”

“Shit, I was hoping to avoid that with you guys selling together,” Flattop grimaced.

I felt his pain. $1,000 wasn’t nothing. “Sorry.”

Flattop’s roll was a little thinner this time as he pulled the cash off.

“Carla took a big chunk for the kid. My daughter,” Flattop said when he saw us looking.

“You married, Bro?” Manny asked.

Flattop laughed. “Nah, I’d be a shitty husband. Not going to leave my kids wanting when I can afford to pay, though.”

Flattop paused and concentrated. The money disappearing in a flash of green flame was still as unnerving as the first time. Was it actually burning? Were we sacrificing it to a god, or the GM? Was it turning into mana to power the system’s magic? Who knew. Maybe Old Pete would. As a GM himself he’d certainly understand where my questions were coming from. I found myself eager to talk to him again.

When the process was complete I identified Manny again and was happy to see the Allied marker on him, even if I couldn’t see his name.

“You’re all set, Manny. You need a ride, Mack?”

I’d just been planning to take a taxi, but that worked too. “Yeah, sure.”

“Let’s go, then.”

Before leaving I handed my backpack with the weed in it to Manny. I wouldn’t need it at the library.

I said goodbye to Manny and Buddy and jumped in the Javelin with Flattop. The inside was nice. Low, comfortable bucket seats and a very raw, 70s muscle-car feel. I loved it.

We swiftly left the yard and Lyle Street behind.

“Where you going, Mack?”

“You know the Maywood Library?” I asked.

“You’re going to the library?” he said, and laughed. “I thought for sure you were going to meet a lady or something. Yeah, I know it.”

“No lady yet. Although my house mate’s girlfriend did offer to suck my dick for $50, so I’ve got that going for me.”

“What? No shit, you’re in the same house with a ho? Damn, Mack. Watch yourself.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “I’m going to fix that problem as soon as I can.”

“I bet. Just don’t get caught.”

Good advice, and I planned to follow it. My plans for Smokey were still pretty fuzzy, but I needed him gone. I was just not sure how I was going to do it.

Fifteen minutes later Flattop came to a stop in front of the Maywood library. Our conversation had been pretty light, both of us with our minds on our other troubles.

“Oh, I almost forgot. Here’s your share of my sales today,” I said, and handed Flattop a hundred dollar bill. The actual number was just under that, but fuck making change.

“Right on. See you tomorrow morning,” he said.

I climbed out and closed the long, orange door. The engine burbled as he pulled away sedately into traffic.

The outside of the library was as it had been the previous times. Sketchy types loitered around, but I wasn’t worried about them. The sunglasses hid my name, and if they tried to rob me it’d go poorly for them. A few of them looked my way, but no one approached or said anything.

Inside, it didn’t take me long to find Old Pete. He’d staked out one of the largest tables, a six-seater, and a pile of papers and notebooks were arranged in front of him. I could see that the top most was the hand-drawn map of a dungeon on graph paper. He was wearing a pear of reading glasses and peered up over them at me when I got close. With the long gray hair and beard it made him look like a wise wizard, a homeless Gandalf.

There was zero hesitation, he instantly recognized me, saw that I was hiding my name with the Sunshrouds and adapted. I was impressed.

“Welcome back. Have a seat,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said, and sat down.

“Did you get that tag skill you wanted?” he asked, returning to what he was doing. That seemed to be generating encounters.

“Yes, I did. It was very helpful.”

“Hiding your name is smart, but it won’t work forever. Hiding from your enemies just emboldens them.”

“Sure, but what are my options?”

“They are uncountable. Violence. Diplomacy. Cowardice. Heroism. So many choices.”

Just like a DM to say that. “Alright, so what are my good options?”

“I have no earthly idea. If you’ve come to me for advice, you’ve come at the wrong time. I need to finish preparing my session. If you will help me, then after the session I will be happy to listen to your problems and offer advice.”

“Help you? With what?” I asked. I had visions of another DM-driven quest, where I’d have to go out and gather something, or kill some of Old Pete’s enemies before he’d help me.

“Take this, and this,” Old Pete said, handing me a full binder and pushing a character into my hands.

“Study the character and the rules. You will be playing Cedric of Mintar this evening, a knight errant sent to bring the party to his father’s hold where they have a problem with monsters from the deep attacking their iron miners.”

I chuckled. My quest was to play an NPC in his campaign. I looked over the character sheet and there was an extensive section on the character’s background, his motivations and the secret he was hiding. Spoiler: they knew what the monsters were, an ancient family curse was rising to claim its due, etc.

“Alright, I’m in!”

The binder was the player’s handbook of Old Pete’s system, which was an intriguing mix of systems I’d never seen before. It wasn’t rigidly classed like D&D, but wasn’t all about skills either. It looked like it would be a lot of fun to play. I didn’t get the chance that night.

A woman I recognized from the first time I’d seen Old Pete strolled up to us and set her cloth bag down on the table. Her face was was heavily scarred, with many long lines in jagged patterns. She was a bigger girl, with ample assets she seemed happy to show the world. On her head a knit cap partially covered long and chaotic brown hair spilling out from underneath it.

She leaned down to kiss Old Pete on his cheek, and then straightened up to look me over.

“Circe”

“Who’s this?” she asked.

“Tonight, his name is Sir Cedric of Mintar. A bold knight errant dispatched to seek aid for his father’s hold.”

“Is that right? Then welcome, Cedric.”

She sat down and unloaded her cloth carrier, placing a handful of papers and a velvet dice bag in front of her.

“Oh that reminds me, I’ve got no dice,” I said.

“The Box!” Circe said, and cackled. That was the only way I could describe her laugh. She straight up cackled. Had she practiced that?

“Yes, you can choose what you like from the Box of Cursed Dice,” Pete said, and produced it from the bag at his feet.

I knew immediately what it was even before I saw what in it. Every long-term D&D group must have them. The box of dice that rolled so terribly that they were consigned to exile. Cursed dice.

“Come on, I have to use the cursed ones?”

“If you wanted to use uncursed dice, you should have brought some,” Pete replied evenly, setting the box down in the middle of the table.

The Box had once contained cigars, and was nearly full of dice of various colors. I picked a few D20s and gave some test rolls. Terrible. I continued to test, trying to find at least one good one. Like D&D, I’d need to roll a D20 to hit.

“There’s an event going on in the plaza outside today. A vegan market, or a chainsaw sculpture competition or something,” Circe said.

“Oh, why’s that?” Old Pete asked absently.

“There are a lot of Hipsters hanging around outside.”