The stagecoach arrived at the small mining town of Eclipse. It was so named because two fortuitous events occurred twenty years ago. The first was the discovery of mithril by the famed prospector Magnus D. The second was the full solar eclipse that occurred that very same day and so the mine and the town were named in that inspiring moment. My name is Valakhor Bloodrose and this is the story of my time with the people of Eclipse. It was my publisher’s idea to come here and write about gunslingers, dance hall girls, and the savage ways of the frontier. The Civil War has ended, and our nation is on the mend. My job is to distract, inspire, and maybe even create the next generation of dreamer or writer. The three-day ride from the train station to Eclipse was my first real taste of the frontier.

My two companions sat across from me as silent as the moment they had boarded the stage and laid eyes upon me. I was used to people gawking at me. Whether it was my brilliant violet eyes or the six digits on either hand. My people were a dying race in a time when the world was growing so quickly. A new nation was being born and I was going to be a part of it. I endured the quiet and the constant barrage of being tossed about by the lack of what civilized folk would call a road. I was sore in places I didn’t think I could get sore. I let the couple disembark first and then left the coach and stood up straight and stretched. I felt my muscles ache and my spine stretch and pop. I retrieved my luggage from the rear of the stagecoach. I set it on the ground and then helped the driver retrieve the couple’s luggage as well. The driver passed me their pieces from the roof and I in turn handed it over to the husband. They thanked me once they had all their belongings. It was the first words they had spoken to me. I tipped my hat to the lady and gathered up my things.

I turned to face the wooden sidewalk and there standing before me a former slave. I knew he had escaped the South and a brush with a lynch mob. The scar on his neck was clear evidence of the trials he had faced to reach freedom.

“I am sorry for staring,” I said and his color paled.

“Me too,” he replied. “I’ve never seen anyone like you before.”

“My people are called Duskwalkers,” I shared smiling. “Can you direct me to the hotel?”

“Sure, follow me,” he said. “I am heading over that way. I work for Galen. He’s the owner and usually works the front desk.” He continued as we walked. “It has inside pipes.”

“Thank the gods,” I exclaimed. “I was hoping for a bath.”

“A hot bath if’n you want,” he suggested. “It has hot water. Much of the town has pipes. It’s one of the few good things that crazy bitch on the hill has done for us.”

“What crazy woman?” I asked, and he pointed to a steep hill beyond the town proper that was topped with a rather large stone and wood structure. “Nice house.”

“That’s her… what does she call it? Oh yeah, her laboratory… the mayor calls her our local mad scientist whatever that is.”

The young human opened the door and I stepped into the dark interior of the Hotel Umbra. Galen Nighthallow stood behind the front desk. He was dressed in dark slacks, a crisp white shirt and a matching dark vest. Being a gnome, he had the dark chestnut hair that many of his folk possessed. It was his bright blue eyes that really caught your attention though. He had an easy smile and welcomed me with a handshake and a kind word.

“Welcome to the Umbra Hotel Mr. Bloodrose. I hope you’ll have a pleasant stay with us.”

“I have heard that you have inside plumbing, is that true?”

“I bet you want a nice long bath after days on the road.”

“You read my mind.”

“Please sign the register and I’ll have Timothy take your bags to your room. Once you are settled you can have the bath for as long as you want. I will set out some towels and other necessities for you.”

Galen handed Timothy my room key. I handed the young human a few of my lighter bags and he guided me up to my room. In my telegram I had asked for his nicest room. I wanted to spoil myself a little while I was here. I already had an idea for my first interview. A story or even a series of stories about a mad scientist could be interesting to the folks back home. Timothy opened the door to my room and he set my bags next to the bed. I was surprised at the craftsmanship of the wooden frame of the bed. I looked around and the dresser had been made with equal skill.

“Henry made them,” Timothy explained noticing my hand caressing the wood.

“Who is Henry?”

“He is the town’s carpenter, but he calls himself a cabinet maker.”

“I am impressed. He could make some serious coin back east.” I said and handed the young man fifty cents. “Speaking of coin take care of yourself and don’t be a stranger.”

He left, and I sat on the bed testing the mattress. I let out a deep sigh of relief being able to stretch out after being confined for so long. I unpacked my bags and put away my clothes. I stripped down and dressed in a robe and slippers. I tore a small piece of paper from my notebook and as I left my room I slipped it in the upper most corner of the door. I carefully closed the door and locked it behind me. I made my way down to bathe. I heard running water and that guided me to the washroom. I opened the door and stared at the small tiled room which was dominated by the large wooden tub. The tub was nearly topped off and seated within a cute female dark elf. She crooked her finger at me and then pointed at the other end of the tub.

“Well, talk about hospitality,” I said closing the door behind me.

“I was sent by the head of the welcoming committee. The Lady Crimson sends her warmest regards. She would have come herself but prior commitments.”

I kicked off my slippers and untied the robe’s belt. The whore watched me intently and licked her lips in anticipation. I opened my robe and she gasped when she spied my semi hard cock. I set my robe next to the towels before slipping into the water. My body displaced some of the water which rushed over the top of the tub and down the drain just below us. The girl introduced herself as Selene and offered to wash my back. I turned away from her and she went to work. She was all business at first. Her movements were brisk as she scrubbed the dirt from my body. Selene began with my back, but she worked her way all over my body. I could feel her small but firm breasts pressing against my back at one point. Her lips close to my ear as she asked me about my travels and had I fought in the war.

“I fought for the north,” I admitted. “It was terrible. But then again all wars are the stuff of nightmare.”

“There aren’t many humans living in Eclipse,” she whispered. “Crimson has taken a few under her wing if you like that kind of thing. I guess you could them exotic, I suppose.

“I don’t fuck humans.” I said looking over my shoulder. “They are far too frail for my tastes.”

“But you have sampled one,” she purred in my ear. “May I?”

“May you what?” I asked as her hands slithered under the water.

“Can I wash your manhood good sir?”

“Let me stand up, I want to see how good a job you do.”

The whore lathered up the wash cloth as I stood and turned to face her. I was fully erect by this time. Her proximity and soft breath on my ear had done wonders. She whistled when she took in my full measure. She began with my balls and gingerly washed them as she brushed her cheek against my length. Her hands moved slowly, and I found myself shivering not just from the temperature but in anticipation. In human culture oral sex was a big no-no. However, elven men and women loved licking and sucking off their partners. Among my own people there were no stigmas when it came to sex. We were a jaded race. We lived extremely long lives barring acts of violence. We were immune to the effects of disease and highly resistant to many toxins that would and did kill others. I looked down as the whore took a tankard and filled it with water to rinse off my cock.

“Come to mama,” she said as she wrapped both hands around my erection. “How does that feel?”

“Good,” I gasped. “You have a delicate touch.”

“For a whore you mean.”

“That goes without saying.” I said, and she smiled.

“Wait until you are buried inside of me.” She fired back grinning broadly now. “I have a very talented pussy. I have been trained in the arts of the concubine. I am a skilled lover.”

Her hands moved a bit faster as she flickered her tongue over the tip. I was panting as I got close to a powerful climax for it had been a month since I had been with a female. I warned her I was close and let the head slip inside her mouth. She continued to double fist my erection and with a muffled cry I let loose down her throat. The whore swallowed eagerly and that is when the door opened, and a redheaded dark elf strode into the room. This must be the Lady Crimson that had been mentioned earlier. The redhead chastised the girl and she left the tub, dried off as quickly as she was able only to dress and flee.

“I heard one of your kind was in town.” Crimson said her voice soft but bordering on menace.

“Have I done you some wrong?” I asked as I sat down in the tub.

“You no but one of your breed did my family a great ill in the past. I won’t bar you from my girls but don’t expect a warm reception.”

“You whores have a way of sending mixed messages.” I said, and her demeanor went from disdain to withering in seconds flat. “I am not a whore. I am a madam. I run a business in town and don’t you forget it!”

“The miners are coming,” Selene called out from the open doorway. “It’s payday.”

“I have a business to run. Stay out of my way Duskwalker.”

“I guess an interview is out of the question. I am a writer by trade.” I said but she turned and strode out of the room with a flourish of subtle hand gestures. “Bitch.”

I added more hot water to the tub and reclined. I placed the washcloth over my eyes and relaxed. The mithril mine was one of the chief economic forces in town. I needed to find a way of sitting down and talking with the owner. I hoped to convince him to share some of his stories and insight for my readers. My thoughts returned to the madam. I wasn’t angry with her. My people tended to place themselves above the law. In the distant past we were rulers and god kings in the eyes of not just humans but the other races as well. In antiquity we were the law. Some of us didn’t like letting go of such power. Some of us still played at politics and bureaucracy. I was too old for that kind of shit. I liked a simpler life. I wanted to live in the present and taste the future of this ever-expanding country. My goal was to gather stories and share them with my readers.

The water cooled, and it was time to dry off and dress. I had a town to explore. I rose and dried off. I felt better than I had in days despite the rather rough encounter with the Lady Crimson. I reached my room and noticed the small piece of paper on the floor near the door. I examined the lock and saw that it hadn’t been tampered with or showed any signs of being picked. Someone had used a key to enter my room while I was in the bath. I unlocked the door and found my room occupied by two people. The first was a young attractive gnome girl hog tied on my bed. The other was my friend and confidant Russell Hawthorne. He must have been the one that caught the girl in my room and restrained her. Russell was a half-blood having a dark elf mother and a Sidhe father. Due to his mixed nature he wasn’t welcome by either clan. I had taken him in when he was young and now he served as friend and protector.

“Hello Russell,” I said in greeting. “Who is this?”

“I’ve seen her hanging around the whore house. She slipped in using a key and I watched her search your things. I caught her on the way out.”

“Thank you, Russell,” I said and then turned on the girl. “Who sent you? If you are honest I’ll let you go with no harm.”

“Lady Crimson sent me,” she said in her heavily accented English.

“I speak Gnomish, if that is easier for you.” I replied.

“Thank you, Sir,” she said rapidly in her native tongue. “She got wind of your arrival. It was the innkeeper that informed her. When you set your arrangements, and let slip that you were a Duskwalker the entire town soon knew.”

“What were you looking for?”

“Anything out of the ordinary.” She replied without hesitation. “I found nothing. Will you keep your promise? While I don’t mind a little light bondage my hands and feet are close to numb.”

“Release her Russell she has been honest.”

My companion released her and set her on her way once she could walk that is. The petite blonde hobbled out the door and returned to her mistress. Russell closed the door behind her and laughed. He pointed to the closet door and I walked over and opened it. There were two leather cases within, one was tall and slender while the other short and squat. I knew their contents and knew they had travelled well otherwise Russell would have said something. I closed the closet door and took up a spot on the bed. He handed me a small leather-bound notebook. I took it and read it contents. They were his observations of the people he felt were the most influential and interesting here in town. His notes were short and to the point. It was up to me to pry details from the people themselves. He had arrived a week earlier and spied them out and followed them. He had passed easily amongst a population that was equal parts elven, gnome, and orc. The only notable exception were the miners, most of them were goblins. They were ugly smelly creatures but clever and hard working.

“Pay day,” I muttered. “That is what she said.” I noticed Russell flinch and that’s when it really struck me. “Oh no… yikes.”

“Indeed,” Russell laughed. “They work hard for their money.”

“I am going to the saloon for a drink.”

Russell nodded and returned to the closet. He showed me the floor board he had prepared. He lifted it and one on either side of it. He slid the long case into it and behind it went the smaller. He returned the boards and checked them to make sure there was no sign of his tampering. With a nod we left and locked the door behind us. The Moon Shadow saloon was filled. One third of the males and females were townsfolk while the rest were goblins covered from head to foot in rock dust. Goblins are by their very nature a close-knit group. They rarely spoke anything but their own language and even then, were a foul-mouthed bunch. I had in times past used goblin sappers on the siege of a particularly nasty orcish castle in the old country. I had learned their foul speak and I occasionally found myself cursing in goblin when my ire was severely aroused. I kept this little secret to myself. I listened as the goblins rumbled and bristled at the current project of the crazy gnome lady as they called her. She was working on a steam powered digging machine. If she succeeded they would be out of work. They didn’t like this idea.

Short squat creatures with long thin limbs and possessing surprising strength and deviousness. That is how my father described goblins to me. It was accurate then as it was today. If you could earn their trust they were fast and loyal friends. If you got on their bad side god help you. I feared for the lady scientist and her mechanizations. She didn’t know the danger she was in. I would make it my priority to speak with her as soon as I could tomorrow. Until then I would enjoy the hospitality of the saloon and then to bed for a nice long sleep. I spent time putting names to faces thanks to Russell. When the town’s sheriff strode in I remarked on the gleam of his mithril firearms. He had matching revolvers with what I believed were ivory grips, but I learned later that they were in fact dragon bone. The tall Sidhe was an uncommon sight. The fact that he was a lawman bordered on the surreal. A majority of the Sidhe were a reclusive nomadic folk that followed the religious path of their twin saints Oberon and Titania. Yet here I was sitting and drinking with one.

“I bet many people compliment you about your firearms.” I said after a few beers.

“Honestly, most folk are fearful of bringing up that particular subject. I can see you want to ask so I’ll save you the effort. They are dwarf craft and forged by the clan of Durin. The gunsmith once lived in town but has since retreated into the mountain with most of his people. If you are here long enough, you’ll see the empty carts driven by female dwarves. They return to the mine laden with food and drink.”

“I’ve heard that mithril shipments have been hit pretty regularly.” I replied and he nodded.

“I have spoken with marshals about help tracking down the band of rogues responsible. I simply don’t have the manpower. The mayor is in arms since it casts the town in a bad light. If we can’t protect our shipments we appear weak and vulnerable. He is right.”

“I hope you find those bastards.”

It was shortly after the sheriff left my table that I returned to the hotel and slept. I am sure that anyone passing by my door when I laid down would have heard the huge sigh of relief. I stretched my limbs and savored the feeling of freedom. I dropped off immediately. I awoke the next morning and dressed with a song on my lips. I hadn’t slept that soundly in a week. Galen had a hot breakfast waiting for me. We sat together, and I commented on my visitor to my room watching his uncomfortable reaction. He was stammering and trying to offer apologies and promised it would never happen again. It was unwise to attract the ire of a Duskwalker in the best of situations and I reminded him of that little bit of advice.

“I swear no one will ever enter your room unless you invite them.” Galen promised, and I believed him.

“I am glad we could take care of this without the necessity for violence.”

“Me too.” He replied wiping the sweat from his brow. “More coffee?”

“Yes please. So, tell me Galen, what brought you to Eclipse?”

The gnome was thrilled to have my attention on more mundane things. He told me that a cousin of his informed him that a town was just starting out and what a great investment it would be. His cousin had been correct of course. Since he had purchased several plots of land the mayor had tried to buy him out. Galen was sure that the railroad would pass through the town. Why else would the mayor be so insistent and offer such sums for his land? If he was correct then property values would skyrocket once that happened. It would be transformative. I would have to speak with one of three people. The town and surrounding land was owned by Erick Redmond the mayor, Henry Wood the town’s carpenter and of course Magnus D the mine owner. Henry also happened to own the local logging company that his wife ran quite efficiently. Erick owned a majority of the town and rented to many of the business owners. Galen had been lucky and purchased a few plots of land within the town’s boundaries and several outside of it. But it was small compared to how much the others possessed.

My first stop of the morning would be meeting Henry Wood, Galen’s cousin. I stepped outside, and I felt the numerous stares as I walked down the street towards the carpenter’s shop. The smell of freshly baked bread derailed me. I stopped off as the sylvan elf brought out fresh loaves of bread as well as hot buns and rolls. I wasn’t hungry, but I bought three rolls because of the mouthwatering scent alone. I ate one on the way to the carpenter and saved the other two for lunch. Henry Wood was tall by gnomish standards and of average looks. His wealth was his greatest asset going for him. When I entered his shop, he was sitting at a small table I assumed he had carved himself. He was designing an elaborate headboard. I browsed his merchandise and I had to admit it, he was a talented sculptor. He put a lot of love and attention to every piece that he made. He never used nails in his creations they were all joined by either dovetailing or the use of cleverly hidden wooden pegs and glue.