Jin Brings the Songs
Jin Brings the Songs
by Geoff Bottone
SO, I BECAME A RAMBLING BARD
The little bar had closed for the night. Jin sat on the lip of the low, splintering stage and watched the waitstaff mop up the last of the spills and bang upturned chairs onto tabletops. He rubbed an eye with one hand while he hefted his share of the take in the other. It didn’t take much effort on his part—there weren’t that many coins. Either the local barflies didn’t like The Undyed Tunics song catalog, or people in Trebeldon were stingy with their tips.
Jin blinked and thought hard. Right. Trebeldon was the town from three days ago. Today’s gig was in…hmm… He couldn’t remember. He glanced around the bar’s low-ceilinged front room to see if any of the decorations nailed into the walls had any identifying markings.
Jin craned his neck to look up and behind him. Looming over him, shuffling from foot to foot and looking like he had just been dared to go down into a haunted basement, was Noel Basic, The Undyed Tunics sackbut and hurdy-gurdy player.
“Hey,” said Jin.
“Chad called a meeting. Usual place.”
The usual place was inside the covered and very cramped wagon that belonged to The Undyed Tunics. Jin settled himself on Chad’s lute case, the top of his head pressed up against the ceiling. He could hear Paradiddle—the group’s donkey and unofficial mascot—chewing loudly just outside the wagon. He hoped that the sounds of someone eating a full meal wouldn’t be too distracting.
“Things aren’t going well,” said Chad Wawa, the group’s lute and bodhran player and their self-appointed leader.
Jin and Noel agreed that they were not.
“I had a thought about that,” said Jin. “I think we need to diversify our repertoire.”
Noel and Chad looked at him, their faces curiously and worryingly non-expressive. They didn’t say anything. Jin didn’t think this was a particularly good sign, but decided to press on regardless.
“Look, we know two dozen songs that are popular in Greyport, right? But we’ve been traveling a lot farther south lately, and I don’t think the people here are into ‘big city’ music. So, I thought we could take the opportunity to either write some new stuff or do covers of local music. Do you remember those farmers from the other day? The ones that were singing that work song with the really. Good. Rhythm?”
Jin slapped his hand on his thigh to emphasize the beat.
“I bet if we worked that one up, put our own spin on it, that would play really well! Or, you know, we’re getting close to Copperforge, and I know that the gnomes there have some—”
“We’re kicking you out of the band,” said Chad.
Noel looked away, ashamed, as the weight of Chad’s words hit Jin right in the stomach. He felt sick. He swallowed hard, took a few shallow breaths, and tried to get his head around what Chad had just said.
“What?” he managed at last. Then, with some effort, he added, “Why?”
“Come on, you know why,” Noel said very quietly, while staring at a packed-away music stand.
“Look,” said Chad. “Noel and I, we’re classically trained musicians. We’ve got degrees in music from Bard College. We can play multiple instruments. We’ve—”
“I have a degree from Bard College, too.”
“Yeah.” Chad shook his head dismissively. “In ethnomusicology. Plus, all you can do is sing.”
“I’m a good singer!”
“You’re an adequate singer, at best,” said Chad, twirling one tip on his enormous mustache.
“Noel,” said Jin, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice.
When Noel just shook his head, Jin felt something crumble inside of him. He lifted himself off of the lute case and awkwardly crabwalked past his former bandmates to the back of the wagon.
“Fine,” he said, even though it wasn’t. “That’s fine.”
“Sorry it didn’t work out,” said Chad. “Good luck out there.”
Jin did not spare them a backward glance. He hopped off the back of the wagon, stretched, and paused briefly to say goodbye to Paradiddle. The donkey chuffed amiably when Jin gave her a final scritch behind her long ears.
“You weren’t the only jackass in this outfit,” he said, louder than he was expecting, “but you were the best one. Take care, girl.”
And with that, he set out down the road.
TAKE ME DOWN TO COPPERFORGE CITY
His share of coin from the last performance just about got Jin to Copperforge’s automatic gates. He was still mad, of course, but he was by now too hungry and tired to get terribly worked up about it. Besides, he had other, much more pressing, matters.
Jin said good morning to the guards at the gate and wandered into the city. He soon found a lively enough thoroughfare that linked a small marketplace to a cute little tavern called the Drunken Gearbox. Realizing that he didn’t have a hat to put out, he took off his shoes and arranged them artfully on the pavement in front of him. He figured any passersby would figure it out.
And then he began to sing. He went through every one of The Undyed Tunic’s limited catalog before launching into other songs that were, for a variety of reasons, personal favorites. Several people stopped to listen, a couple of passing dwarves sang along to Greedily and Deeply, Jin’s favorite drinking song, and just enough pocket change was tossed into his shoes to make the whole endeavor worth it.
Almost two hours later, his throat sore and aching for drink, Jin thanked the scattered people around him, did a quick bow, and retrieved his shoes. After a little sole searching, he realized he had scraped together enough coins to buy lunch.
It was a start!
He decided to steer clear of the Drunken Gearbox and go to a much smaller outdoor café featuring little kinetic sculptures that twirled merrily in the breeze. As Jin sat, his elderly gnomish waiter brought him a mineral water and a menu, then leaned in conspiratorially.
“Heard you singin’ over there. You’re pretty good.”
“Thanks very much,” said Jin.
“Don’t suppose you know Side of My Eye?” asked the waiter.
Jin blinked. “I’ve never heard of it.”
The waiter shook his head sadly. “Ah, not surprised. It’s an old gnomish song back from my day. Not too popular with the young—”
Jin interrupted the waiter by sliding his napkin across the little table. “I could always learn it, though. Would you mind writing it down for me? Maybe sing it once or twice so I can get the feel for it?”
The waiter glanced at the napkin, a twinkle in his eye.
“I could do that for you, sure!”
THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC
Jin’s career as a Copperforge street busker was progressing adequately.
He had several years of experience as a traveling musician already, which gave him a leg up in the profession that people starting out wouldn’t have had. For instance, he knew several creative accounting tricks to stretch the value of a gold coin, as well as several extra notches in his belt in preparation for market deflation. He also knew to look out for the musical notation, graffitied inconspicuously on street corners, gazebos, and in marketplaces that marked the territory of other wandering musical performers.
Jin did get hassled early on by the gnomstables, who waggled their autonightsticks and demanded to see his busking permit. He managed a convincing and impromptu “oblivious out-of-towner” performance that got him out of paying the fine that he couldn’t afford. He also familiarized himself with the gnomstables’ distinctive tall, domed, copper hats, so that he could spot them coming in the future.
He had built up a small cache of funds that allowed him to eat and pay rent at Momma Merrytoes’ Boarding House. She specialized in renting out to gnomish artificers, which meant the furniture was a bit on the small side for Jin’s comfort, but she also didn’t charge much.
Jin had also gotten a proper hat for tips, a tall ceramic mug so that he could wet his throat between songs, and, most importantly, a little notebook.
The notebook had been one of his first purchases, bought when he finally ran out of room on the now tattered and stained napkin he had gotten from the café. His conversation with the waiter had emboldened him, so much so that Jin had made it a habit to ask his listeners for new material.
People seemed baffled at first, and a little self-conscious, so Jin quickly hit upon the idea of turning it into a challenge. He’d called it, “Baffle the Busker,” and it went like this. Someone in the audience named a song. If Jin knew the song, he’d sing it. If he didn’t know the song, the person who named it had to sing it instead, but they’d get to keep any tips they earned while they sang.
The first few days, Jin took a serious hit to his income and got a cramped hand from frantically writing down lyrics first on the napkin and then in the notebook. He practiced the new songs every night in his tiny room, accompanied by the clanking of gears and the oddly well-timed explosions caused by his fellow lodgers, and, by the end of the week, was able to keep a lot more of his gross earnings.
It also helped with a couple of other things, too.
Jin had gotten a few… well, not repeat customers, exactly, but friends-of-friends. “You’re the bard that does the Dare-Me-a-Song,” they’d say, getting the gist right even as they had gotten the name wrong. Then the friend confidently requested the same song that their friend-of-a-friend had a day or two before, expecting to make some easy money.
Sometimes, Jin hadn’t learned the song as well as he would have liked, but that didn’t seem to bother the audience any. It sometimes did bother the new challenger, though, which led to accusations of cheating and shouting, which led to the sighting of familiar copper hats wading through the crowd like impractical shark’s fins.
The last thing, though, was the weirdest, and it was starting to happen more and more frequently. Once Jin had gone through a couple of Baffle the Busker challenges, some of the people in the audience wanted to get up and sing just because. Jin let them, of course, because being a good sport was always a good way to win people’s hearts and a small portion of the contents of their money pouches.
Except in very rare circumstances, these volunteer singers would get stage fright, or they would fumble the song halfway through, or they would realize that they knew the first line and the refrain before trying to fake their way through the rest of the song with determined humming. The audience tried to help, but usually they just wound up adding to the cacophony by shouting conflicting, but helpful, suggestions at the floundering singer.
“No, no, it’s Orrean, our land and e’en more land!”
“That’s the lyrics for Heal Me, Elaana!”
“No no, you’ve got it all wrong, it’s in F-flat major!”
“I think he’s trying to sing the Rookhaven variant, with the alternate third verse.”
“Well, he’s not…’You’re not from Rookhaven, are you?!’ Hey!”
It was at about this point that Jin would come racing to the rescue, flipping through his dogeared notebook and holding up the lyrics for the wayward singer. He always got a relieved and grateful smile in return.
Jin would think about these interactions almost every night, his knees bent over the edge of the bed, the sound of steam exhaust and pneumatic hammers resounding in his ears. He knew there was something more to this, but he didn’t know what.
SONG BOX HERO
The door of Aria’s Automated Acoustics whistled a jaunty little tune as Jin opened it and stepped inside. It took him a moment for his eyes to adjust from the bright daylight outside to the low, flickering gaslight inside. He blinked and took a deep breath, inhaling the fragrance of fresh varnish and machine oil, as shelves of artificed musical instruments slowly resolved out of the gloom.
“Hi, I’m Aria! Help you with somethin’?”
Jin directed his gaze to the side and slightly downward. A gnomish shopkeeper smiled up at him from beneath a tall pile of curly pink hair. Her out of control bouffant was only slightly reined in by the set of tinted goggles strapped across her forehead. She wore a dark apron embroidered with a bass clef.
Jin wasn’t quite sure how to begin, so he stalled with a smile of his own. “I like your apron!”
“Thanks. Bass clef. Get it? Because I’m closer to the ground.”
Jin chuckled appreciatively, before saying, “I like it. Um. Look, I’m not sure how to ask this, or where to start but, uh. I have a very specific, sort of musical instrument in mind.”
Aria beamed. “Well, you’re obviously in the right place. We specialize in instruments both artificed and unusual. I’m sure we’ve got what you’re looking for. You look like a strings man. Am I right? We’ve got an artificed, double necked lute that can accompany you on a variety of songs. Or how about this rebec over here? Practically plays itself! Had a customer who bought one for a haunted fun house a couple of years back. Terrified the kiddoes.”
“Well,” said Jin, before pausing to collect his thoughts. “I’m looking for an instrument. Well, sort of…”
The shopkeeper looked up at him with bright, unblinking eyes. Jin could see he had her attention.
He launched into a somewhat rambling and, he feared, confusing spiel about what exactly he was looking for. Holding out the notebook so that singers could reference the lyrics was a fine idea in theory. In practice, however, his notes were sometimes difficult to read, and had gotten increasingly blurry and tatty from use. What he wanted was something like signs, maybe, one for each song, and a music stand to put them on. That wasn’t a perfect solution, either, of course, because he was a street performer by trade and had to deal with the wind and weather messing with his props. Jin also explained how he needed something portable. Carrying a few signs and a music stand was one thing, but he had almost a hundred songs in his repertoire now, and that was too much pasteboard to move back and forth from Momma Merrytoes’.
While he expounded, Aria led Jin over to a long, narrow counter in the back of the store. Once there, she took a few sheets of blank song parchment from a rack, produced a quill, and started jotting down notes. By the time Jin had gotten to the point where he was certain he was rambling, Aria had filled one sheet of parchment with notes—both written and musical—and a crude illustration.
“Well,” Aria said, when Jin had come fumbling to a stop. “That’s quite an interesting little device you want there. A portable lyrics catalog. Hum! I’m rather surprised no one’s ever thought of anything like that before. Ingenious, really!”
“Really!” Aria grinned and went on. “Had some thoughts about that already, actually, while you were talking. There’s this new artificed musical instrument that they just got down at the Drunken Gearbox. It’s called ‘The Bard in the Box.’ I think Wizgille invented it. Well, to be fair, even if Wizgille didn’t invent it, everyone’s going to think she did by about noon tomorrow. The price of fame.
“Anyhow,” she said, indicating the boxy little sketch in the corner of her parchment. “Describing it in layman’s terms, the box has got a bunch of gizmos and doodads inside that play music notes whenever certain switches get flipped. To make a song, you have to make a brass drum about yea big, with protrusions on the sides where you want the notes to go. Then you pop it into the gears here and start it spinning. When a protrusion hits the proper switch, the box plays a note with the selected instrument.”
Jin blinked. “That’s amazing. And really complicated. Also, I don’t know if it’d be good for street performances.”
Aria fended off his worries with a shrug. “Nah, it’s pretty small, actually. About the size of a breadbox. I mean, depending on the type of bread we’re talking about, anyway. Now, the tricky part is doing the thing that you want, which is setting it up so that the singer can read the lyrics as the song plays. I could maybe… hm…”
She started drawing on the back of another piece of sheet music while mumbling to herself. “Aetheric resonance… some kind of crystal display? No, that’s too power intensive. Oh? Oh! Yeah, you could have a lyrics scroll that’s just the exact right size, with an area up top that’s geared at a 1:1 ratio with the… Oh, and there’d need to be some storage for the whole shebang and… Oh, yeah, that’d about do it!”
Aria lifted the parchment to just under Jin’s nose. The smell of the still-wet ink was very strong. The picture she had drawn looked like a box. On top, two bars held a scroll upright for easy reading. The box also had a pullout tray on the bottom that had little cubby holes on it.
“I don’t…” said Jin.
“So, it’d be a little bigger than a breadbox because you’d need storage for the scrolls. I figure… uh… twelve?” Aria gestured at the parchment as she talked. “Then there’s these bits here which, in layman’s terms, turn the scroll in time with the music, so that people can sing along.”
Jin watched as Aria made alterations, trying not to think about his mostly empty money pouch as hope and excitement swelled inside his chest.
“And we line the inside in faux drake skin, so that it’s waterproof. You can check the books over there to see the colors, but I’d recommend the sable and silver. It’s a classic for a reason.”
“Whatever’s cheapest,” said Jin, not even daring to glance at the sample book. “I’m… I’m sorry, I should have mentioned this before, but I’m kind of on a budget.”
Aria made a noise like exhaust forcibly expelled from a steam engine, and waggled a hand up at his face. “Oh, that! We can work out a reasonable payment plan, say six gold per month for twenty months. What’s most important is that I get to make this thing before anyone else thinks of it and put my name on it. Oh, my name! Yes, it should be carved in bas relief on a brass plate that’s screwed on the front! If you promise to display it during concerts and tell people all about my shop, I could maybe swing an even bigger discount.”
Jin squeezed the limp pouch in his pocket, feeling the outlines of the small handful of copper coins. Maybe the novelty would attract even more people. Maybe he could work something out with Momma Merrytoes’. Or take a second job at the Alchemical Test Kitchen. Or learn how to photosynthesize.
Even with all his misgivings, the optimistic fires stoked by Aria’s ebullience, and his own success with the people and tourists of Copperforge, won out.
“Let’s do it,” he said.
SING US A SONG, KARAOKE MAN!
It took a few days for Aria to build her first prototype, and a few weeks of testing, troubleshooting, and late-night singing sessions to work out the kinks. As summer slowly tumbled into autumn, Aria presented Jin with the newly christened Traveling Song-o-Fier 9001. It had the brass plate bearing her name, as well as adjustable carrying straps, a cover to protect the lyrics display mechanism and, as promised, a lining of faux drake skin.
“Oh, almost forgot,” said Aria, thrusting a smallish box into Jin’s hand. “These go with it.”
Jin unlatched and opened the lid and saw two large, glowing objects that looked not unlike turkey drumsticks laying in specially crafted recesses covered with blue velvet.
“These are… what are these?” said Jin.
“Another idea of mine! Let me power it up and you can give them a test.” Aria excitedly flipped a few switches in the Song-o-Fier. The box let out a squawk of protest.
“Now, pick up one of those thingies and talk at it.”
Jin scooped one of the drumsticks out of the box. He was surprised to hear the Song-o-Fier make whispering and clunking noises that matched his every movement. He held the drumstick up to his mouth and…
“No, no. Other way around.”
He turned the drumstick in his hands so that the larger end was near his mouth.
said the box, very loudly, and almost at the exact same time.
“Okay, that’s too loud!” Aria frantically flipped switches. “But you get what it does, right? I have to work out how loud it ought to be, but the theory is sound. Ha! I didn’t even mean that pun, but it works! Anyway, I made two of them so that you can sing duets with your customers, or whatever.”
“Oh wow,” said Jin, brightening. “That’s a really great idea!”
He looked down at Aria’s beaming face. “I just have one question, though.”
“Do I really… sound like that?”
After a few last minute bits of tinkering, The 9001 was ready for its first public appearance. Aria accompanied Jin to his favorite place–a statue of Wizgille in one of Copperforge’s public parks. She was there partially to provide technical support, but mostly to see how the crowd reacted to her new invention.
As a curious crowd of onlookers began to gather, Aria took a large, curving horn out of her bag and gently hammered it into place on top of the 9001.
“What’s that for?” said Jin, feeling the slow, creeping onset of stage fright. He had performed many times previously in Copperforge, and some of the faces in the crowd were ones he recognized, but that didn’t make the debut of his idea–and Aria’s invention–any less nervewracking.
“Right, so you know how we had trouble with the loudness? I think I figured it out. This horn will direct the sound, so you’re not blasting music all over the city. Also, I put in some spinny knobs to replace the flippy switches. That way, you can control the loudness instead of only getting to choose between off or VERY LOUD.”
A few people in the crowd giggled at Aria’s antics, but an expectant hush soon fell over them all as the gnome inventor presented Jin with the box containing the sound wands.
“Hi, everybody,” said Jin, as he fumbled the box open and took out one of the sound wands. The 9001 made that strange, clunky, whispering sound as he did so.
“We’re going to
TRY SOMETHING DIFFERE…”
The crowd rocked back on their heels, stunned. Jin cast a panicked look over at Aria, who twiddled various knobs.
“How ‘bout now?”
He gripped the song wand like a snake and said, “Try something different.”
Jin’s voice was still amplified, but at much more tolerable levels. Aria gave him a thumbs up.
“Ha ha, just seeing if you were… all awake? Ha. Anyway, moving on!”
He felt the stage fright falling away as the crowd chuckled and favored him with scattered applause.
“Some of you know me as Jin the Baffled Busker, but I bet all of you are wondering what this contraption is behind me. Well, this is what, I hope, will be a fun new form of musical entertainment that was invented right here in Copperforge by Aria, of Aria’s Automated Acoustics…”
He waved his hand over at a blushing Aria, who bowed so deeply that her goggles fell off of her head and onto the pavement.
“…You can find her shop on Flange Boulevard, between Sprague’s House of Spanners and Build-an-Otto Workshop! Now, how many of you folks know all the words of Throatie’s classic, The Mushrooms That I Used to Grow?”
A few hands went up. Jin pointedly ignored them, instead indicating a confused-looking troll standing at the back of the crowd. The troll did the typical, “Who? Me?” soundless pantomime before hesitantly making their way up to Jin.
“But I didn’t raise my hand,” said the troll, their expression nervous.
“That’s all right,” said Jin, who had already taken the second song wand out of the box. “With this new device, you’re not going to need to know the words! All you have to do is look over here!”
Jin gestured at the 9001, which Aria had already cued up with the appropriate tune. Covering the top of his song wand, Jin whispered to the now-very-nervous troll. “The scroll there has the lyrics. That’ll help you to sing along.”
“Oh,” said the troll, “in that case…”
Jin’s heart sank into his stomach as the troll thrust their song wand back into his hand. He was trying to think of something reassuring to say when the troll reached into their vest pocket and pulled out a pair of pince-nez, which they adroitly perched on the edge of their long nose. They offered Jin a toothy grin and gently took the song wand back.
“Ready!” said the troll.
Jin nodded to Aria, who flipped the activation switch on the 9001. Inside the device, the song drum turned, playing the introduction to the somewhat obscure melody. Jin and the troll hovered nearby, clutching their song wands as the first line of lyrics scrolled into view.
“Now and then I think of when we gathered morels…”
THE BOY IS BACK IN TOWN
The 9001 was a big hit–bigger than even Jin could have hoped for in his most feverish imaginings. By the time it had gotten too cold to comfortably perform in the streets of Copperforge, Jin had signed a contract to perform weekly at the Drunken Gearbox. His set was for three hours every Farnsday evening, and he made enough in salary and tips that he was able to pay Aria back for all her hard work.
Aria’s business saw a significant uptick, thanks to the brass plate on the 9001 and to Jin promoting her at the start of each of his performances. By the time spring rolled around, Aria had needed to hire two assistants to keep up with orders. She had also been offered a lucrative contract with the Copperforge Central Learning District to provide instruments for their music program. Jin hadn’t seen her much recently, as Aria was busy working on her first order of 2,000 autocrumhorns for the local schools.
By now, the winds were freshening and the last of the winter snows had finally melted, and Jin was once again feeling the itch in his feet that had made him take up the traveling musician gig in the first place. He put off traveling until the tail end of mud season, before saying goodbye to all of his friends, playing a farewell concert at the Gearbox, and giving the walls of his room at Mamma Merrytoes’ a few heartfelt, “see you later” thumps.
But before he could set out, Jin paid a final, “but only for now,” visit to Aria’s Automated Acoustics. After a lot of tearful goodbyes and hugs, Aria presented him with something she rather proudly, and excitedly, referred to as the, “Nine thousand and TWO!” It had, among other things, much more comfortable shoulder straps, a waist belt to better distribute its weight, a collapsible volume horn, and a slide out tray for a beer mug.
“I don’t know much about singing,” said Aria, “but I do know it’s a thirsty business. You’re going to need this!”
With his new Song-o-Fier on his shoulders, Jin made his way northward, spending one or two days in every town and village along the way. Some of the people he encountered had heard rumors of the man with an orchestra in a box, but quite a few hadn’t. He arranged for song nights at inns and taverns to introduce himself to the larger world and to unite people in the power of song.
He also took the time to reinstate his old “Baffle the Busker” routine, made copies of all the new songs he learned, and mailed them off to Aria along with his weekly letters. She promised him a whole new tray full of music by the time he wandered back Copperforge way.
It was early summer by the time Jin saw the Skyanvil Mountains looming in the distance, the great city of Greyport spreading out around their foothills. He hadn’t consciously been making his way to the city, but his feet–and some secret part of his soul–knew that Jin longed for something that only Greyport could provide.
Two days later, footsore, and with a song in his heart (as well as a couple dozen in the racks of the 9002), Jin made his way through the front door of the Red Dragon Inn. After an amiable conversation with the elderly wizard who seemed to be guarding the entrance, Jin was ushered into the presence of none other than Warthorn Redbeard, the inn’s proprietor. Warthorn was baffled by Jin’s sales pitch, at first. After a brief demonstration of the 9002’s capabilities, and Warthorn’s impassioned renditions of Smoke on the Harbor and Fire, Mages, Burn, Jin was given both a hearty handshake and a lucrative job.
“And that was our very own Olivia, with Money or Something, and Those Tips are Mine.” said Jin, as “the Wench” left the stage to thunderous applause.
Jin had been fine with performing in an unoccupied corner of the inn, but after his first performance, Warthorn insisted that it needed more. He called in some favors with a few dwarven carpenters he knew and had the little stage constructed in a day. Not satisfied with giving his new musical act a mere raised platform, Warthorn surreptitiously added more decorations to the stage with every passing week. Jin had to admit that he loved the bespoke stage more than he had loved any performing space he had previously encountered in his musical career.
“And I’m afraid that’s my time,” said Jin, to a chorus of good-natured boos. “But don’t you worry, I’ll be back soon, and we’ll be doing this all over again. Same inn time! Same inn stage!”
He took a bow to a friendly round of applause. Then, somewhere behind the bar, Olivia pulled a lever. High above, a metal plate slid over the spot lantern lighting up the stage, covering Jin in comforting semi-darkness.
While everyone else returned to their drinks, gambling games, passive-aggressive infighting, and conversations, Jin packed up the 9003. He stored away his music drums with their matching scrolls, collapsed and packed up the volume horn, and slotted the song wands into the carrier on the side of the Song-o-Fier.
He was just about to pick up a broom to give the stage a quick cleaning when two people approached him from out of the shadows.
Jin squinted for a moment before recognizing Chad Wawa’s ridiculously large and well-manicured mustache. Noel Basic stood just behind Chad, staring at his shoes in embarrassment.
“Hey, guys,” said Jin. “Long time no see.”
“Yeah,” said Noel, after an awkward pause. “It’s good to see you. I’m really glad you’re doing well for yourself.”
“Thanks,” said Jin. “I hope you’re doing well, too.”
“Not so–” Noel began, before Chad caught him in the ribs with a sharp elbow.
“Things are good, real good,” said Chad. “We’ve got a new project coming up that we think is going to be really great for us. Something that’s going to get The Undyed Tunics on the map, for sure.”
“Great,” said Jin, with little enthusiasm.
“The only trouble is that this project is going to need three musicians to make it work, and no matter how hard Noel and I try, we can’t find anyone who’s skilled enough and who would be a good fit for the team.”
Chad twisted up one of the corners of his mustache. “It’s lucky we were in town tonight, and randomly decided to swing by the old Dragon for a couple of ales. Didn’t realize you were here, or that you were performing. Glad to hear you’re still pursuing music. And it also seems like you’ve upped your game in the last year. You’re pretty good.”
Jin glanced at Noel, who took a brief vacation from looking terribly embarrassed to roll his eyes.
“Thanks,” said Jin.
“Of course,” said Chad. “Now, Noel and I have talked already, but we think that, considering your previous history with us and your recent growth, we could maybe take you on as a provisional member of The Undyed Tunics. You’d get a percentage of our take. Say 12% to start out, but increasing to 33% once you prove yourself and–”
“Prove myself?!” Jin laughed. “Are you serious? You threw me out of the band in the middle of a one-horse-and-one-riding-goat town and left me to fend for myself! I worked really hard over the last year to get where I am now, by doing what I love, by treating the audience with respect, and by learning as much music as I could. I took a chance on doing something new, something innovative, and found people who were willing to take a chance on me. It might not have worked out, and I don’t know what I would have done if that happened, but it did, and I’m playing every week at the Red Dragon Inn because of it.”
“Now, hold on,” said Chad.
“Then you come in here and have the audacity to tell me that you think I might just be good enough to play for scraps in the band you kicked me out of. And you have the nerve to not even deign to pay me what I’m worth while you plan on riding my coattails to fame?
“I was really upset when you told me I was dead weight and decided to cut me from the band, Chad,” said Jin. “But I’m not anymore. Now I realize that you were doing me a favor, because the only dead weight in your awful band is you.”
Without knowing why he did it, Jin pulled one of the song wands from the 9003 and dropped it defiantly at Chad’s feet.