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The Conquering Heroes

I think my fiancé is trying to kill me. I wake up every morning and my skin is on fire and I have a queasy feeling radiating through me.

<Quit being a drama queen. She’s not trying to kill you. She’s just decided that the two of you should wait until marriage for certain things.>
<But she wants to wait SOO LONG! The wedding is planned for after we stop the Runelord’s plans.>

In the days since our unfortunate little adventure into the land of the dead, things have been fairly good. Aurora and I worked out the schism caused by our earlier words and we’re back to sharing a bed – the nightmares, you see – though we now have a chaperone. Aurora’s idea. Apparently if I had just gone for it earlier, the whole sex thing would have totally happened. But now that there was a wedding in sight, she wanted to wait.

Well, I’m a good Catholic boy, and everyone knows the most important part of a Catholic wedding is waiting until the baby is born. I kid! I kid! Essielle, please let God know I’m only joking, kay?

<It’s a little weird that we’re on a first name basis with our guardian angel.>
<Kira, I can name a dozen things that have happened to us that are weirder than that without even referencing our time dead.>
<Good point.>

I finally took time to discuss Geo’s work with him. Despite the fact that I really didn’t want to know, part of me thought I really ought to learn about it anyway. He had in fact made himself part woman and used his body to rapidly grow a clone of Lenn. And he had combined himself with an undead using fleshcrafting with the help of that Oenipion Fleshforger. As such, he was pretty much unkillable without certain conditions being met. I could shoot him in the face and he’d heal from it in anywhere from a few minutes to an hour.

He had done it so he could survive the “birth”. Because that’s soooo much smarter than just building a cloning vat. And no, as far as I know, no one’s done so before, but I defy you to find me evidence that someone has ever done what Geo did. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I also spent some time calibrating my power armor. There were a few points where it chafed a little and I needed to fix that. I also came to the conclusion that the VI I was using wasn’t powerful enough to fully control it. It could follow simple instructions, but I needed a more robust platform.

While I worked on that, Paulie stopped by. He was really interested in what I’d done. As I listed the features and the costs, he decided he didn’t need nearly that much. We hammered out the details and I promised I’d get to work building him a more bare-bones model. With magitech, that would be a lot easier than you’d think. Build first on a foundation of magic, then add in the tech. I was thinking electro-beams.

It took a few more days to gather all the treasure and finish scanning everything in the library. After that, Voidstrife forces had arrived, so we set up a new library liaison to work with the clockwork librarian. Construction crews were also brought in to renovate the fortress into a tourist destination for academics from all over the world. In a matter of months, the place would be bustling with scholars and support staff of all types. I still hadn’t gotten Chadwick behind me on the “luxury spa destination getaway” thing, but he’d come around.

Once we were satisfied that things were where they needed to be, we began the trip back to Magnimar. In truth, we could have teleported, but we had to get the carts and horses back. So we went by land for much of the trip, then took to the skies for the last half day or so, leaving a few people to bring in the horses.

It was early evening when we got back. Apparently someone had told the people we were coming. The streets were decorated with banners welcoming us back and the streets filled with throngs of people cheering our return. I couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass by. “Do a lap around the city!” I commanded over the radio. “VI, armor on.” Aurora gave me a questioning look. I grinned back. “Let’s put on an air show. Anyone want to join us?”

“Go. Have fun,” Geo said.

I tapped into the speakers on the helicopter and loaded up some AC/DC, then cast my flight spell. Aurora activated the magic in her armor since her wings wouldn’t be safe as we exited. I gently booped Aurora’s nose. “Tag. You’re it. Catch me if you can.” Then I fell out of the helicopter.

We played tag through the skies of Magnimar to the tune of “Shoot to Thrill”, which I would occasionally punctuate with sky effects from different spells I had prepared as well as spells my armor was capable of using. The lightning bolts, fireballs and even magic bursts of radiant light probably looked really cool from the ground. The lights on my suit streaking through the sky being chased by the lights of Aurora’s halo probably didn’t look too bad either.

Around the time “TNT” loaded up, someone on the ground began setting off their own fireworks – likely planned as part of our arrival – near the Lord Mayor’s estate. We looked over and saw that the helicopters had landed, so I let Aurora catch me. I switched the music remotely and we flew hand-in-hand through the fireworks to the tune of “I’m Gonna Fly” from Kiki’s Delivery Service – don’t judge me.

<Oh, I’m judging the hell out of you.>
<Hush, you.>

We did two tightening circles above the front of the manor where the Lord Mayor’s retinue was waiting for us. Every noble in the city had to be there. Apparently someone had called ahead. I dispelled the flight spells on us, allowing the residual magic to slow our descent to a few feet per second, or about the speed you’d reach jumping off a kitchen chair. We came in facing each other, my hands on her waist, hers around my neck. Her wings were flared out to help further slow us.

The crowd cheered the maneuver as we touched down. “A little service for the fans?” I whispered to Aurora.

“A little what?” she asked. Meh, close enough. I popped open my faceplate, slid my arm around her and dipped her back in a passionate kiss, drawing enthusiastic cheers from the onlookers.

What the hell? Was literally everyone in this city shipping us?

<You’re such a show off.>
<It’s only showing off if you don’t have enough style to make it look good.>
<You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes at you harder than I ever have before right now.>

Lord Mayor Grobaras greeted us with a well-rehearsed speech. I’m not going to bother writing it here, as it was exactly what you’d expect. Hail the conquering heroes, champions of our hearts, blah blah blah, yadda yadda. That sort of thing. Also, I may not have been paying all that much attention because even just by holding my hand, and standing comfortably close, Aurora can manage to get my full, nearly undivided attention.

Afterwards, rewards were dished out. Meaningless titles, for the most part. Useless aside from obligating us to further serve the city and – most importantly from the Lord Mayor’s perspective – they cost the city almost nothing to give. The only real benefit is that we were now capable of owning land and collecting rents on it, which I’m sure Chadwick and I could turn a profit on, not that I was really worried about it. Maybe I could have my portion pay out to a local orphanage or something. I have more than enough money at the moment.

Chadwick apparently bought a house in town, so Aurora and I stayed there while the others took up back at the inn we’d been staying at. The furnishings were nicer than what we’d seen at any inn, complete with a nice day bed for our chaperone, because of course.

Aurora and I debated – openly in love, we didn’t argue as such – over when to have the wedding. Aurora made the case for waiting until we’d saved the world. I wanted to teleport to Absalom and have my priest friend there perform the ceremony that day. Maybe the next day, at the latest.

Of course, when has the man ever had the choice? Apparently we were waiting so we could do it right. All I needed for it to be perfect is for her to be there. And maybe a chocolate cherry cake. I was putting my foot down on that one. If she’s picking the date and the rest of the details, I get to pick the cake, dammit.

I dunno. I really don’t care. I just want to get it over with before she realizes that a slightly high mileage wizard may not be the best choice at the dealership.

Since I had been given the timetable of “once we’d saved the world”, I spent my time focusing on going through the digital version of the library in order to see if I could find a way to speed that whole thing up. Even digitized and indexed, it was slow going.

It didn’t help that I was also working on a lot of other things. I was building Paulie’s new armor, “wiring up” the new shield stone to the Lord Mayor’s mansion, studying to find a way to make a body for Kira without resorting to Geo’s craziness, fabricating new furniture for Chadwick’s house – his stuff was good, but I could make memory foam, so I win – and hand crafting Aurora and my wedding bands.

Let me take a moment to talk about those. First of all, no diamonds. Worthless rocks with artificially inflated prices, those. Instead, I managed to find a couple really nice white sapphires, which I used a combination of lasers and magic – my only use of magic on the project beyond using magicite to make the metals – to hollow and inject with a few drops of a mixture of Aurora’s and my blood, enchanted to never coagulate, turning the white gems red. I then carved them into dual-heart shapes and polished them carefully.

Then I made the bands, which were each made of three interwoven strands, one of titanium to represent Earth, one of mithral to represent Golarion, and one of adamantine to represent the starry skies between them. I set the sapphires into the bands carefully and engraved the inside of the rings with our names.

I showed my work to Aurora and she was suitably impressed. “Now we can run off and find a secluded little chapel,” I joked.

She smiled and rolled her eyes playfully. “No, but those will be wonderful at our proper wedding.”

“Is it really that important?”

“It is,” she said. “I know you’re eager to bed me, and believe me, you’re not the only one that’s having trouble waiting, but it’s truly important, okay?”

“Fine,” I said, giving her a kiss just improper enough for our chaperone to smack me with that wooden stick she carries. I don’t know who gave her that stick. I don’t know who told her to hit ME with the stick. But I know that one day I will find out. And someone will rue that day. RUE, I SAY!

The next morning, Aurora got up before I did and went off with Lenn for more training. He was teaching her how to harness her rage by yelling at bugs. Hand to God, I’m not making that up. I went and watched once. He made a grasshopper explode by yelling at it. The other Lenn – I really need to figure out something less confusing to call him – came by not long after and asked me to forge a new weapon and some armor for him. He wanted an axe like the one Lenn uses and told me that anything in a mid-range armor would be fine.

As I worked on the axe, Kira decided to sass me. “You really haven’t figured it out?”

“Figured what out?”

“The wedding thing.”

I really hadn’t, so I told her so. “Please enlighten me, dear sister, font of all womanly knowledge,” I teased.

“Jackass. You’re more of a woman than I am. You’re just apparently too dumb to pay attention.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that I’m going to really enjoy one heck of a laugh at your expense later.”

Later that morning, Chadwick dropped by and asked me to copy the scanned library for him, which meant I had to make him his own computer and copy over the VI to run it. While I was at it, he had me copy over my music as well.

“Anything else?” I asked as he was preparing to head out and continue his work on the trade negotiations with the Lord Mayor. It was turning into more than just a favored status for the Voidstrife group, but into a true negotiation with my adopted brother negotiating on behalf of Absalom.

“Actually, yes. I was thinking of having one of the new servants stock the liquor cabinet. You want anything for when we celebrate this trade deal?”

“If you’re really that close to concluding it, then some high end brandy would be nice.” Brandy's a sophisticated drink for sophisticated people and I have an image to maintain. Now if I could just get some Sprite to mix with it.

“Done.” He turned to leave and stopped. “Wait! I almost forgot. There is one more thing I would find useful if you could make it for me?”

“What’s that?”

“You remember when you told me your world had devices that could record events as they unfolded. Do you think you could make me one?”

I considered it. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I could make a video camera. “Sure. Why?”

“Once the formal treaty is written up, I’d like to record the signing to show back home.”

That made a lot of sense. Being able to show the fruits of his labors would really raise the family’s standing. “I’m out of spells of the right level to pull it off. If it can wait until tomorrow, however, I’ll make it happen.”

He clapped me on the shoulder. “I knew I could count on you. I won’t need it for a few days at least, but don’t tarry too long. I’ll need you to teach me how to use it.”

With Aurora back sharing a bed, the nightmares were gone once more. Now that she knows she’s separate, Kira’s pretty sure she could consciously dispel the bad dreams. She can now sleep whenever she wants – which she does to give me privacy – and is not necessarily bound to sleeping when I do. She has to limit movement to keep from leaving me exhausted, but she can even take over the body when I’m sleeping.

The nightmares were gone, but the strange dreams were back. This one was set in some kind of secluded castle. In a cave.

“I can’t believe you got the dwarves to give you Castle Honnleath, sis,” my twin brother Cedwin was saying to me.

“That’s your doing, brother.”

“My doing? I didn’t even talk to the dwarves.”

His confusion amused me. “No, and thank the gods for that. What you did was more important. You killed and humiliated their enemy. Your… what would you call him? He’s dead, but I guess he’s still technically your father-in-law. Anyway, the dvergar hated him. He killed some of their lord’s kin who had been sheltering with him through a bad storm.”

“So they were grateful I killed him back? Grateful enough to give us a castle?”

“Not exactly. He was a well-known human purist. I may have told them that you killed him so you could take his only daughter and ‘taint’ his line’s human purity with a bit of elf blood. That insult to his entire lineage amused them enough to offer us this unused castle.”

“But that’s not what happened at all!”

“It may not have been the intention, but it did technically happen. Look it had lost us any support of the human lords already, so there was no harm in spinning it into a tale that helps us. We needed somewhere we could be safe from the humans.”

“I guess that’s fair enough. But it makes me look like the bad guy here.”

“Just by having the audacity to exist, we’re already the villains. Don’t worry about it. I would worry about your wife instead, were I you.”

“What’s wrong with my wife?”

“Well, based on your bride’s illness the last few weeks, I suspect that you’ve already ‘contaminated’ her father’s line.”


“I’m going to be an auntie, brother.”

“I have to go see her.”

“By all means,” I said. He hugged me and ran off. I ran my finger gently over the parchments on the table, feeling the texture of the ancient documents. There was a lot we could do with full maps of the dwarven tunnels. The humans would soon learn the folly of attacking us.

And when I found that wizard, I was going to cut out his liver and feed it to him if it was the last thing I did.

I woke up and discussed the dream with Kira. She confirmed that it was actually a memory, but was unwilling to tell me more. She seems to think it’s a good idea if I try to recall it on my own. Of course, while I’m awake, it’s all coming up blank. Maybe I just need to wait for it. Or maybe I take a page out of Katie’s handbook and find a way to put Kira in a half-Nelson until she spills the beans. Either’s good.

<You’re welcome to try.>
<I can build powered armor and giant robots.>
<Oh. Right. Still not telling.>

And that was it. For almost two weeks, nothing happened. I built things. I studied. Aurora trained. Chadwick made deals. Lenn taught noble ladies to make cakes. Geo worked with his weird cult friends. Other Lenn practiced with his new axe. Paulie… did Paulie things. I don’t know. I lost track. I’m sure that won’t come back to bite us in the ass later.

But for nearly two weeks, I didn’t have any moments where I feared for my life. I didn’t have to investigate anything horrifying. There were no ghosts, no monsters, no inbred hillbillies eating the flesh of the innocent. And we didn’t need to commit genocide once.

Yeah, I’m still thinking about that. Look, it’s not that I’m feeling guilty. It’s that I’m feeling guilty that I don’t feel guilty. I mean, I beat myself up over not realizing there was dissension in the ranks and not reaching out to those who could have been our allies. But I don’t at all feel guilty over killing all those giants. They were going to hurt others, and I put them down. Well, others did most of the heavy lifting. But you get what I mean.

S.L.A. Marshall did a study in World War Two that found that a rather high percentage of soldiers weren’t firing to hit their targets, just aiming in the general vicinity. It’s considered controversial nowadays, with many citing problems with the science, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Most people don’t have it in them to kill under any but the most extreme circumstances. Things like severe rage or fear are required.

Yet I can gun down hundreds to save thousands without batting an eye. Like they’re simple numbers. I wonder what that says about me. Am I some kind of psychopath? Shouldn’t I feel guilty?

I don’t have an answer. And I don’t think I have much motivation to really worry about it. Bad people died. Innocents lived. And I sleep well enough at night aside from the unrelated nightmares I get when I sleep alone.

Maybe I’ll just refrain from ever running for any public office bigger than a local school board. Just to be safe.

The end of my idyllic days was heralded by the mid-afternoon arrival of Chadwick. Apparently he needed my help with the negotiations. Yay. Trade agreements. My favorite. At least I could run through code permutations in my head to try to further improve my VIs while the boring discussions happened around me.

After the second day of tedium, my mind must have craved stimulation, because I had another dream. This one was weirder than many. The stars above were all out of alignment, looking familiar, but just different enough to be terribly wrong.

What was weirder is that I could see the stars even though the sun was out.

I was in a field of various daffodils, primulas, rosas foetida and sunflowers, but I didn’t smell the scent of any of those. I smelled a faint scent of lilac – likely from the real world proximity of Aurora to me – and hydrangeas. Samantha was nearby. I also caught the scent of the Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus – the daylily – a flower whose scent I noted as being present after a transformation into Kira has just ended.

I’ve had lucid dreams before, but this felt different. In a lucid dream, I could do things like gift myself with flight or teleport, but I couldn’t do that here. It was almost as if I was somewhere else entirely, but also in a dream.

I followed the scent of hydrangea and daylily, moving quietly to avoid detection. I’m not sure why I was being stealthy, but I had the feeling I should be. I even tip toed through a patch of tulipa tarda, though that might have just been for pun’s sake.

I crept up behind a kerria japonica hedge – bush? shrub? – and heard voices. “And he suspects nothing?” Samantha was asking.

“No, he’s too focused to realize what’s going on around him,” Kira replied.

“Excellent. I do hope you’ll tell me all about the look on his face when he finds out.”

“Oh, I will, but it might cost you,” Kira said. I knew that tone. That was the tone one uses when fishing for a kiss – or more. As curious as I was about what they were talking about, I wasn’t invading Kira’s privacy like that, so I noped right the heck out of there at all reasonable speed while maintaining as quiet a retreat as possible. On the way out, I ran across a troop of nightgaunts. I might have been in danger, but they seemed afraid of flowers for some reason. I decided not to try to figure out why.

<Hey! You heard us in the Dreamlands?>
<Considering what you were hiding from me, you have no room to be outraged. Also, “the Dreamlands”?>
<Oops. Extra special no comment.>
<I guess that explains the nightgaunts, at least.>
<I’ll talk to Samantha and ask her to make sure you aren’t pulled in too. You aren’t mad, are you?>
<Why would I be mad?>
<Because I’m dating your ex?>
<Why would I begrudge her happiness? As long as the two of you take things slow and do your best to make sure neither of you gets hurt, go for it.>
<Since when are you so mature?>
<I believe I learned it from a pony.>
<Ah, there it is.>

I woke up from the weird dream to see Aurora’s face inches from mine. Her eyes were open and, for lack of a better term, she looked hungry. Not literally hungry. We were both using rings that reduced need for sleep and eliminated need for food. Whoever had coined the term “man eater” had seen that look in my fiancé’s eyes.

“You okay?” I whispered.

“I don’t know if I can take it anymore.”

“Take what anymore.”

“The waiting. I don’t want to wait. I want to go throw out our chaperone and stop waiting.”

My heart skipped several beats. “If you don’t want to wait, then don’t. I’m suddenly extremely ready right now.”

She giggled. “I do love you, you know.” She kissed me a little too long and the chaperone hit me with a stick. I’ll be honest, the chaperone was a little too reminiscent of a nun for me to sass when she did that. Like any good Catholic boy, nuns terrify me.

I had a spell prepared. In an instant, the psycho nun could be unconscious. But I could tell Aurora was strangely relieved that she had intervened. “So, I’m guessing not today?”

Aurora sighed and nodded. It was clear she was just as frustrated as I was. “It’s important.”

“If you say so,” I said. “I’ll respect your wishes. Just call off the lady with the stick.”

The next day, Aurora had gone before I woke up. I decided to start doing more research, since it was too early to wake anyone. I thought I had a breakthrough in my investigation into placing Kira’s soul into a new body, but I was wrong. I’m pretty sure if I explore that line of research further, I could use it to create a spell to completely combine our souls – the opposite of what I’m trying to do, really – with the little side effect of maybe never being unable to untangle ourselves. On the plus side, it would probably give us an intense boost of power.

At least I was making progress there. I could tell you all about Karzoug’s war with Alaznist and a ton about the old empire, but it didn’t give me any hints on how to find and stop him. It was like a mental form of blue balls to go with the more real version I was getting from Aurora’s need to wait on the wedding.

I was so focused on my research that I forgot to go with Chadwick to the day’s negotiations. So he came and found me after they broke for lunch. “We’ve had a breakthrough. I need you there for the signing. Get cleaned up and put on something fancy.”

“How fancy we talking?”

“Remember that suit you wore to Mother’s birthday party last year?”

“You want me in a tuxedo?”

“We’ll be recording this.”

“Tuxedo it is. Black, white and purple okay?”

“Should be fine,” he replied. “Just hurry up.”

I gave him a look and then used magic to cleanse myself, change my clothes and even style my hair and trim my facial hair. “Good enough?”

“It’ll have to be. We don’t want to be late.” I thought I detected a smug satisfaction in his voice. I debated whether it was too late to strap on my holster, but decided it would create an ugly bulge in the otherwise perfectly fitted suit.

We arrived at the Lord Mayor’s mansion and servants ushered us through. It was obvious they expected us and had been impatiently awaiting our arrival. It was quickly apparent that they were ushering us out towards the large private garden. Why were we signing documents in the garden?

I tried to ask Chadwick, but he just hurried me along. Then I began to hear music. I recognized that music. “Chadwick…why are we signing documents in the garden?!” I was almost panicking, but I didn’t quite realize why.

He just grinned. “It was the best place.” That was a lie. He was lying! I was outraged. He signaled to the servant waiting at the door to the garden. The man rushed along. A few moments later and the music changed. It was clear that the orchestra had practiced this.

The song they were playing caused a memory to flash. I was back in that cabin where I had nursed Aurora back to health, humming the same tune – “Pastel Pure”, the opening to Marimite, in case you’re wondering – as she slept. She woke up with a small smile. “That’s a beautiful song.”

“I think that one day I’d like it played at my wedding,” I said, not really thinking about it.

“Tell me about weddings on Earth,” she said sleepily. So I did, giving her a bunch of variations, including the American standard, traditional Irish touches and even adding in details of my perfect wedding, including the aforementioned Pastel Pure as the song during the prelude before the processional. I then went into detail on the clothing worn, especially focusing on the bride’s dress…

Oh, crap. While describing the dress, I had made a joke that “Only virgin brides can wear a truly white dress, of course. Ladies who have soiled their purity have to wear a lesser shade of white.” It had been a joke. I thought it was a silly thing to worry about. But she must not have caught the joke.

She thought that I thought that it was important. That’s what the last few weeks had been about. She had been abstaining because she thought it was important to me. I couldn’t help but be moved by that. It was so silly of her, but she had done all that to make things as perfect as possible for me.

Well, the least I could do was to do my part flawlessly. I looked over to my right and there were several of my friends in their finest outfits, some in clothes I’m pretty sure they didn’t own before this. They’d even manage to make Geo’s tentacles look presentable. That was a minor miracle if I ever saw one.

Even Calais, my old friend, was there. I must have been really distracted to let them get all this done without hearing a word of it. He congratulated me and we all took our positions, marching in shortly after to stand at the altar, where a cleric of Shelyn stood to officiate.

I glanced over the crowd and saw so many familiar faces. Mother Voidstrife was there, seated next to Chadwick’s wife and child. Behind them sat numerous others from Absalom, including Calais’ uncle, several of my old bandmates and a couple of my former instructors. There were so many, it’s hard to name them all, honestly. I was surprised to see the Lord Mayor seated in the crowd, as he seemed a logical choice for escorting Aurora down the aisle.

The orchestra finished its song and, after a brief pause, began playing “What a Wonderful World”, signaling the start of the processional. It started out softly and reached a triumphant crescendo as Aurora walked in, escorted by Lenn – our older friend, not the one Geo made. It was a sight, the giant man bent slightly to allow my tiny Aurora to hold the crook of his arm. He walked with practiced patience, which in and of itself was amazing. And the sight of my bride was nearly enough to take my breath away. No, I mean it. My heart skipped a beat and I almost fainted.

She was wearing a dress so white it was nearly blinding, but also trimmed with green – I had mentioned that my mother’s wedding dress was, so she had done so as well, I suspect – and illuminated by a soft glow from her halo, which she had managed to project without producing her wings or metallic skin. “Heavenly” doesn’t even begin to describe the sight. I fear that I could write for years and never do justice to the vision of my beloved walking down that aisle.

She walked up and took her place at the altar. My knees went weak as she pulled up the veil. At that point, there’s a bit of a blur in my memory of events. I mean, I’ve seen the video, but I don’t remember doing much of it. We said our vows, exchanged rings and then came time for the kiss. That part I remember. It started out chaste – we were in public – but Aurora would have none of that. She spun me around and dipped me back, planting a kiss so hot that I’m surprised parts of my clothing didn’t spontaneously catch fire. And, true to what I described, a Taldan translation of a verse from the English version of “Sakura Kiss” was performed during the kiss.

And I would like to find a hand like yours to take mine,
And with one kiss we could stop time, and I'd fall in love with you.
Tomorrow's far away; let's place our hope in today.
Just you and me in a beautiful spring...and we'll always fall in love, again.

Why? Because I’m a dork. There was a reception – well, more of a ball, really – with every wealthy member of society present. Aurora and I danced our first to an orchestral version of “Eyes On Me” as everyone watched, but for me, there was no one else in the room but her. She had improved considerably. I suspect that her time training with Lenn hadn’t just been shouting at bugs.

We then danced with friends and family as traditional as well as some of the members of the local government hierarchy. And then came the most important part of the reception. The time dreaded and held in awed anticipation by all. Yes, that’s right. You know what I’m talking about.

That’s when we danced the Chicken Dance.

Yes, thanks to a joke made to someone who I didn’t think would remember anything, I have unleashed the Chicken Dance upon a second planet. One day, humanity will stand on trial for that. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.

Chadwick revealed that he was giving us his house in Magnimar as a wedding present. He also told us that he’d be returning to Absalom after the party and leaving us to make ourselves at home. We would be all alone. I almost felt giddy. That big house and just me and my amazingly beautiful – also beautifully amazing – wife. Well, okay, we had the servants that he’d hired – they were paid up for the next six months! – there as well. But they were good people and none of them would hit me with a stick for grabbing my wife’s splendid backside.

For a split second after he told me about the house, there was a part of me that wondered if Aurora would be cool with me putting up a couple Gurren Lagann wall scrolls in the living room. That part of me was quickly beaten into submission by the other parts that didn’t want it to screw up our wedding night.

After we had spent enough time dancing, feasting and socializing, Aurora and I boarded a pimped out carriage – thankfully, I hadn’t told her about the tin cans tradition – and made our way home. Kira put herself into a dream state to give us some privacy before we arrived. I carried my wife over the threshold – I think she said a prayer to Alsetta as we crossed – and up to our bedroom.

Alone at last, I was suddenly nervous. But Aurora had waited long enough. She kissed me ardently. After several minutes, she pulled away. “Do the magic thing and make our clothes go away,” she commanded. Luckily, I had that spell prepared in case of an emergency. Like if our chaperone had gotten herself locked in a closet somehow and we only had minutes to take advantage of it.

A few words and a flick of the wrist and we were both naked in the light of the moon streaming in from the skylight. In a strange reversal, now Aurora was blushing furiously. She looked very nervous. But now I was no longer unsure of myself.

I took her hand and led her to bed, where I made love to the most astonishing woman I’ve ever known. She made up for any inexperience with boundless enthusiasm. There’s something special about sex with someone you truly love that sets it far above sleeping with random others. It was honestly the best I’ve ever had. The earth moved.

No, really. There was an earthquake during… let’s just say the timing was beyond incredible. It was a three, maybe a four – more likely the former – on the Modified Mercalli Intensity scale. Aurora seemed startled. “Is that normal?” she asked, unsure about whether she was imagining the tremors.

I kissed her reassuringly. “I’m just going to call that the gods’ way of telling us they approve until I hear otherwise.”

“Should we go investigate?”

I shrugged. “We could. Or…” I said, kissing her neck and leaving the sentence hanging.

She moaned softly and wrapped her arms around me. “Definitely ‘Or…’,” she breathed hungrily.

It’s a damn good thing we have those magic rings that let us get by on only two hours of sleep, because it was a long night. In fact, we spent the next several days in bed. We probably would have stayed there longer, but Sheriff Hemlock arrived late one morning.

Apparently the earthquake had been a little stronger back in Sandpoint – a six or so on the MMI, hearing him tell it. And, of course, that was only the beginning of their problems. Because Sandpoint never has simple problems.

I guess I would have to wait to complain about our cake being lemon until later.

Chapter V starts officially in the next entry, which might take a short while as I've gotta focus on the rest of my move first.

There are unmarked spoilers ahead for the last couple posts. Be warned.

You know, reading through those last three again, and I'm not sure I'm happy with where I went with some of that stuff. I'm going to leave it because it's already been posted as well as GM approved, but still.

I'm just going to say it. Things went a little ridiculously Mary Sue in the Boneyard. I put it in because it's world building for a related story I want to write, but at the same time it really doesn't do anything for THIS story.

I am fine with making Earth out to be a place of great importance to the future of existence because of the experiments of a lone god, but I just think I went too far with the character's strength, as cool as the star thing was.

For the record, very little in the spirit world aside from the revelation of who Kira actually is will have much bearing on further events. There are a few smaller things, but nothing major. Don't want to spoil much of what roles are planned for things.

And, coincidentally, the two magic items they got out of it cost about the same as the two raise deads. Since the trap was triggered by fiat(note: Kyle handily beat the reflex DC and failed his save in order to Aid Another to help Aurora on hers, which she barely made, in case you're wondering), effectively no wealth was created or destroyed by this side adventure.

What I am happy with is the events of Aurora's section.

Kira's Commentary Ledger "The Dawn Will Come"

Let me first state, before I write anything, that this journal has been protected from reading by someone with the power of a god, so if you’re reading it, then either you’re meant to do so or will be punished later, I’m sure. Kyle, if you’ve found a way to read it, stop. You especially are not meant to read this. Stop or you might literally make the baby Jesus cry. I have that on good authority.

That out of the way, let me state that the reason I’ve started writing this is because there are details Kyle doesn’t know about. He believes that he tried his crazy plan, overtaxed himself and passed out. He believes that Samantha saved us. He’s wrong. He believes that because that is what he is meant to believe. They won’t be able to keep it from him if he dies again and spends enough time out of body to begin recalling past lives, but this was the accepted solution. Here’s what actually happened.

As you know if you’ve read his journal, we were backed into a corner. We had two options. Things played out as it has in forty seven of our past lives. I told my twin to run, intending to buy time and escape, or buy time with my death. Either way, I was good with it. Granted, I know now that if I died, she would have died too, but it wasn’t something I knew during any of those past lives. I knew now that I had to escape too, but I was confident that I could once Kyle was clear.

In those forty seven lives, I made that suggestion and my sister rejected it outright. Then she’d get that same look Kyle had now, that grim determination tinged with madness. It doesn’t take much to make my sibling jump right off the slippery slope. Give her an excuse, and she has always jumped right past what Kyle now calls “the Godzilla threshold” with almost childlike glee, unleashing insane, forbidden magic of some type or another. In forty six of those lives, we died HORRIBLY from what she attempted. Not because of what it was meant to solve, but because of what she herself did.

And during this point, he had access to insane levels of power, so I knew I wasn’t going to like what he had come up with. And I know how he thinks, so I knew the song he was humming was also not a good sign. It was a song associated with mornings and sunrises.

“Well, s$!#,” I said as I realized what he was doing. Without looking, I quickly dispatched a trio of daemons. I would have tried to stop him, but it was too late. He had created a truly massive amount of hydrogen in space above us and had already begun the process of swirling it together, moving his hands about in front of him as if manipulating a floating basketball. In fact, as he worked, an illusory representation of the matter he was manipulating formed in that space.

I managed to kill several dozen more daemons before the 100 mile wide star above us ignited into something akin to a red dwarf, though from accessing the stellar knowledge in Kyle’s brain, it seems it would still be 346 times too small to be a class M9V star, whatever the hell that means. All I know is it was so close that it dominated the sky and made everything around us extremely hot, though not unbearable, if only just.

Kyle let out an insane laugh. “THE SUN IS A MASS OF INCADESCENT GAS, A GIGANTIC NUCLEAR FURNACE!” Well that’s it. That’s game. We were going to die horribly.

He raked a finger across the illusory star in front of him and the larger star reacted. I could feel it rumbling as it underwent a star quake and unleashed a solar flare, which reached out through space and slammed into the roiling mass of daemons. Even frenzied, that gave the survivors pause.

“The sun gives HEAT, the sun gives LIGHT, the sunlight that we see! The sunlight comes from our own sun's atomic energy!” Kyle compressed the illusion, unleashing a coronal mass ejection – again, I’m not entirely sure what that means, but that seems right. All I know is it looked like a giant stellar shotgun blast into the daemons. And it was incredibly cool. At least if we were going to die, it was going to be the most metal death in history.

The effort of not just using a star as a weapon but from even holding that impossibility together in the first place was exhausting Kyle. Of the tens of thousands of daemons we’d faced, only a few dozen remained. It was time to get rid of the star. “Throw it away before you lose control of it!” I suggested.

And, to my incredible surprise, he actually listened. He Kamehamehaed the illusion away and the star shot off in a streak of light, becoming a tiny speck in the sky before exploding brilliantly. He fell right on his ass. “You get the rest. I’m just gonna sit here for a moment.”

The rest of the daemons broke and ran in terror at what had just happened. I turned my attention to berating my sibling. “Are you insane?! You could have gotten us both killed, along with everyone for hundreds of miles!”

“It could have been worse,” he said.

“It scares me that I know you actually mean that. You actually thought it through?”

“Well, I had considered creating a gun powered by a Schwartzchild Kugelblitz black hole that fires concentrated Hawking radiation at a power level of roughly 129 petawatts.” Was he kidding me? A black hole?! What the hell was wrong with him?!

“And it never occurred to you to make a hundred auto-turrets or something else also less insane?”

He gave me a look of amazement. “Auto-turrets! Of course! That would have been so much easier!” My brother, the idiot.

We soon found ourselves surrounded by dozens of psychopomps and armed aeons. Yes, I believed we were under arrest. No, I didn’t have the energy left to run. “What’s the meaning of this?!” a woman demanded. She was ashen-skinned with white hair and white eyes – it was really freaky! – and she was wearing a hooded robe and carrying an hourglass filled with red sand. And more than anything else, I should note that she was beyond angry at us.

“You’ll need to be more specific,” Kyle mouthed off. I cringed. The hell was wrong with him? “We’ve done so much today.”

A familiar radiant peal of laughter cut the tension before the woman reacted. I heard the sound of someone biting into an apple and turned to see Samantha reclining on a black cloud behind us, enjoying what looked like a pink lady, or maybe a gala. “Sleep,” she commanded Kyle. Even I could feel the strength of the words. If it had been directed at me, I don’t think I could have resisted the command.

“Good night,” he said. His eyes rolled back into his head and he passed out where he sat. It was rather funny.

“Who are you?” the white haired woman demanded angrily.

“Oh come now,” Samantha said. “Surely you recognize me, seeress! It has been so long since last we met, back when the stars were new. But it was such a memorable meeting I was sure you’d remember me.” She took another bite. “Your thoughtlessness wounds me, right here,” she said, her mouth full. She pointed at her chest.

The other woman, who I suspected was Pharasma, goddess of death and prophecy, took a long look at the golden haired Samantha. Her eyes went wide. I mean, really wide. I wasn’t aware gods could be scared. “That’s impossible!” she hissed. “We killed you!”

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,” Kyle muttered in his sleep. He then began singing the opening theme from “Haiyore! Nyaruko-san!”. Badly.

“What is he doing?” Samantha asked me, ignoring the angry and/or terrified goddess standing off to one side.

“I think he’s subconsciously comparing you to a moe anthropomorphization of the Nyarlothotep.”


“'Cute' might be the best translation. She was a character in an anime.”

She laughed. “The things you people come up with! That’s interestingly astute yet so horribly wrong. I’m totally telling him about that next time I run into him, though.” Nyarlothotep was real? F*&%. F~#! f~*% f+~#-ity f@+&.

Our hilarious little moment past us, we turned back to the seething and/or terrified goddess. It really made me wonder what Samantha was that she scared a goddess. Drawing on Kyle’s knowledge of Lovecraft, I’d suspect that she’s an Outer God. I doubt it would take a coalition of gods to take on a Great Old One, no matter how insanely dangerous they were to us mere mortals. And if that was the case, she was terrifying. And hot.

What? You don’t see me shaming your kinks. That said, don’t spread it around. Wouldn’t want my brother finding out I have the hots for his ex.

“Anyway, what he said. You can’t kill me. That’s why you cut me into a thousand pieces and scattered them through the cosmos. A lost paladin on a shantak found the largest piece and now neither of us exists anymore, existing as a rather interesting amalgamation of the two. Truth be told, I don’t even think I could recombine with the other pieces anymore.”

The goddesses Sarenrae and Desna suddenly showed up, along with several beings I think might have been empyreal lords. Apparently word of Kyle’s little show had gotten around. “What is going on here?!” the sun goddess demanded.

“This creature has assaulted my domain,” Pharasma accused, indicating Samantha.

“Don’t be silly,” Samantha replied. “I only just arrived. What was done was done by the hands of these two. I only came here to protect them from reprisal for their actions, which were only done in self-defense. In fact, I suggest, based on what I know of them, that their decision to stand and fight was only because teleporting away would have left a horde of frenzied daemons here to attack the residents of this area.”

“Creating a star might have been a little much,” I admitted sheepishly.

“But it was really cool!” Kyle protested, still asleep as far as I could tell.

“How the hell is he doing that?!” Samantha demanded with another laugh. I could only shrug. “Look, if you want me to leave, I will. But I do not trust the children of,” she said a word that made my head hurt, like something in me was preventing me from hearing it, “to your care. If I go, I take them and their angel with me.”

“What is your game?!” Pharasma demanded.

“No game,” Samantha said. “Just self-preservation. Or has the tide of chaos the creatures of Earth have caused robbed you of your vision? Yes, that’s it, isn’t it? You can’t see. Not since the Earthlings drove out the Fair Folk, leading to the ill-fated Wild Hunt that led to the death of the Great Hero’s ancestor that ultimately led to my return.” She was talking about revelations that came during the lead up to the battle of Valor’s Triumph! Earth had something to do with that? And it had affected a goddess’ ability to see the future?

“What are you talking about?”

“Let me show you.” Samantha was instantly in Pharasma’s face, hand on the goddess’ forehead. “SEE!” she commanded.


Samantha let her go and she slumped to her knees. “Unlike you, I’m tied to the material plane. You might be fine with it ending completely, but I rather prefer the idea that its destruction be temporary.”

Sarenrae had stepped in between them, concerned, but Pharasma put her hand on the other’s shoulder. “Its okay. It was just a vision.” She gave Samantha a look. “Who are the ‘Transcended’?”

Samantha shrugged. “The gods of the new universe. I showed you everything I’ve seen.”

“Then go. We will not bar your way. But do not return to this place.” I have no idea what had just happened, but if I’m interpreting what she just said correctly, then the god of destruction was going to stage a prison break and eventually attack Earth, where Earthlings were going to kill him using the power of THE BIG BANG.

Neat. That sounded like a fight I could really enjoy.

Samantha shrugged. “No promises on the not coming back if it amuses me.” She blew a kiss to Desna for some reason – no, I’m not jealous – and teleported us away. Now that I think about it, Desna never made any kind of move against her. The others had been hostile, but the butterfly woman had seemed merely curious.

We found ourselves in some kind of demiplane of non-Euclidean properties that would drive normal people mad. It didn’t seem to faze me. Essielle was still unconscious and Kyle was “Do do dooing” the tune “Popcorn” in his sleep for some reason.

Which meant that Samantha and I were more or less by ourselves. “Alone at last,” I said, sidling up next to her. My tone of voice spoke volumes.

She gave me a surprised look, then burst out laughing. “Have I mentioned how much I love you people? Statistically speaking, you should be insane right now. And it’s not just you! Nyarlothotep likes to visit your world and reveal the truth of the universe from time to time. So very few of you go mad! Everywhere else, the rate is 1% retaining sanity, or 2% for humans, with your flexible minds. But for some reason, you Earthlings retain your sanity almost a quarter of the time!”

“Should I take that as a rejection?”

“Take what as a what now?” Had she really been so amazed that I hadn’t gone crazy that she hadn’t noticed that I was hitting on her? Eh, screw it. I’m not a pansy like Kyle. Boldness! I planted one heck of a kiss on her. She kissed back for a moment then stopped me. “You know I can’t be with anyone because I can’t risk that even happy in my melding I wouldn’t take the chance to escape if I…wait, that’s not an issue! You’re also a girl!” Nice of her to notice, not that I really feel like one, since the vast majority of my lives have been otherwise.

She kissed me again, this time with abandon. After several very enjoyable minutes, we parted. I’m sure I was grinning like an idiot. “We can leave them asleep a bit longer, right?”

“Unfortunately, no. I’ve brought you both back in time as far as I dare and it’s time they wake up. There are things you have to see.” Back in time? What? “But before I do, there are a couple things I need to ask of you. First, don’t tell Kyle about what he did with the star. Believe it or not, I actually had the permission of your god to rescue you and he wanted me to make sure Kyle didn’t remember the extent of what he’s capable of. He thinks it will mess with Kyle’s decisions when revived.”

“That’s fine. What do I tell him?”

“He’ll remember trying and passing out. Tell him that I showed up after he fainted and took care of everything.” I could do that. “And leave out the involvement of all those gods and especially the prophecy. He doesn’t need to know.” I could do that too. I nodded. “And finally, tell him to work on getting you your own body.” Her tone made all sorts of promises I intended to hold her to one day.

She woke up Kyle first. He took a look around us and immediately began trying to figure out the math of our environment. “You know, I think, given a few weeks here, I could come up with a new system of math to express what’s going on here.” Samantha and I shared a laugh.

Essielle’s reaction was a bit more terrified. She was a celestial, so it didn’t affect her like it would a human, but I think the ramifications that she was in the realm of an Outer God really terrified her. I think only the fact that Kyle and I were calm kept her from freaking out long enough for Samantha to prove to her that she had been asked by God to come get us out of danger.

Which was weird. Then again, what hadn’t been weird since we’d died? Or in any of our lives, for that matter? We attract weird. Why would God sub-contract to an Outer God? Look, I don’t have any answers, just questions.

Samantha conjured up a screen. It was made of meat. Like, real zerg s!@+ here. “This is what you need to see.” She tapped the screen and we were watching as Kyle pushed Aurora out of the way. The screen was set to view things using the same kind of magic vision Kyle uses, so we got to see the crazy spellforms used.

I don’t know crap about magic. Kyle does, however. And he explained what we were seeing. Let me tell you, fam, it was effed up. Lyrie had attuned a curse to the Lamashtu malus, likely because she knew we had cleansed several shrines and really ticked off the evil goddess. It was like planting a bug, and was powered by the soul it was attached to. Kyle was impressed. Apparently it was pretty sophisticated magic.

The problem with it was that it had been meant for Aurora, not someone with as many lives as we have under our belts, so it got overcharged, hence the swarm. Making it for Aurora had really ticked Kyle off. And then we got to see her rant. Kyle got so angry that Samantha’s domain started melting around him.

Kyle asked Samantha if she could revive us. Essielle pointed out that it would be interference, which was against God’s rules. So Kyle pointed out that she’d only be answering the prayers invoked in the failed resurrection attempts. They settled on that being an acceptable justification. It was rather amusing to watch, if I’m being honest.

I talked Samantha into helping us make an entrance, by projecting a recording of my voice during the resurrection. She also did a thing to bind us together so that if we died again, the fact that two souls had to be brought back wouldn’t stop the spell from working anymore.

I’ll admit, the entrance was awesome. Kyle’s magitech armor worked extremely well and the gun he’d made for Aurora had been quite useful as well. Also, Samantha’s addition of the black tentacles was pretty great, too, though I’m not too enthusiastic about the sounds the zombies made when they got torn apart.

Now, let me talk about what Aurora wrote down about the events that happened. Yes, I’ve read her journal. Kyle may be too much of a gentleman to do so, but I’m not Kyle. I’ve always been overprotective of my sibling, and I’m not going to stop now just because I actually approve of the person he likes.

We human beings are not great at remembering things exactly as they happen, especially when emotion is involved. Aurora’s journal is a textbook example. The fight was well documented, though I don’t think Aurora quite understands just how amazing it was that she managed to learn how to channel her rage from Lenn and then turn it into a true blood rage. Kyle’s fairly certain that she’s going to get access to a limited supply of sorcery at some point as she continues to use anger to tap into her bloodline. That’s WAY beyond “You ever been so mad you hit a guy with a cactus?” or whatever your favorite version of that demotivational says.

No, her report on the battle was accurate, if lacking in certain perspectives and a bit spartan. What was inaccurate was what she wrote about the whole scene afterwards. I find it heartwarming that she actually remembers it all that way, but that’s not how it went down at all.

She did get on one knee. They did kiss. There was clapping. But it was far more like two awkward nerds on their first date than anything like how she wrote it. Look, at one point, she managed to headbutt him when going in for a kiss. It broke his nose. Paulie had to heal it. I’m not even joking. And they never would have had that second kiss if Chadwick hadn’t started a “KISS! KISS! KISS!” chant.

All in all, it was absolutely adorable. They were both just so nervous, it was like seeing Kyle back when he was still in high school. I just wish I had it on tape to play at their 25th anniversary party.

It has been two days and they’re finally getting over that ridiculously sweet nervousness they’ve had around each other. It probably would have gone by more quickly if they’d just bang and get it over with, but for some reason that hasn’t happened either. No, I don’t know why. I go into something of a nap state to give them privacy when they’re alone.

They did spend some time talking over their argument. Working from a place where their mutual love was out in the open, they finally managed to work it out. I’m really happy about that because the days leading up to our death had been really frustrating and annoying.

The day after we got back, an interesting bundle was brought to us by Magrim Emberaxe. Inside was a craftsman’s hammer and a stein, along with a note addressed to me, so we knew something was up.


I just wanted to thank you and your brother for the great time the other day. T and I really enjoyed the battle. If you ever find yourself up this way again, you’re always welcome at my bar. I even set you up a tab. The stein is from me. Once per day, feel free to enjoy the finest beer magic can conjure. It’s not quite as good as the real stuff, but it’s still pretty good. T sent the hammer for your brother. He was so impressed with that spear that he just felt the craftsmanship should be rewarded.

Speaking of the spear, we recovered it from the site of the other battle you had. That fight was some impressive work. T’s planning to give it to a worthy hero in his or her time of need. Hope that’s alright.

Anyway, thanks again for a great time and good luck on your adventure. We’re rooting for you.


Yeah, our life is weird. Like super, super weird. Yet, that said, I can’t imagine I’d have it any other way. I’m really glad I remember who I am now. Now Kyle and the others just need to finish analyzing that library so we can go kill that Runelord. Then my brother needs to make me a body. Maybe I can take the Runelord's body. He won't be needing it? Or would that turn Kyle into a girl again? Should I invest in one of those gender thingy belts before?

You know what? I'll just let Kyle figure it out.

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Misroi wrote:
I can think of no better way to show how Golarion's gender politics differs from our own than Aurora proposing to Kyle, and nobody thinks its weird.

Well, that's part of it. The other part is that most people there(or at least, anyone in charge) have been shipping the two of them for quite some time. Also, everything Kyle does is weird, so at this point, I doubt anyone would really notice one more thing out of the ordinary even if it was out of the ordinary. :P

It probably isn't. I can't imagine it would be considering what I know about Golarion. Just saying that if it were, it's just one more on the whole pile of weirdness. Hell, they could have done it on Earth with people who know him and I'm certain at least one person in the crowd's first thought would have involved the poor lighting or some other mundane triviality.


Kira has some stuff to add about the whole thing in her section.

Aurora's Observation Journal: “Steel Your Heart”

A fear like none I’ve ever known tore through me as I hit the ground and something exploded behind me. I got to my feet quickly and rushed to Kyle’s side. It looked bad. He had a shard of metal sticking through his abdomen. I was pretty sure it had severed his spine.

“Thank god,” he whispered to me as I fumbled with my belt pouch, desperately trying to find a healing potion. “You’re okay.” He was slipping away. I had to do something.

“No. No. No. No,” I kept repeating as I dropped the potion. It shattered on the stone floor. This wasn’t real. It wasn’t happening. This COULD NOT BE HAPPENING. I grabbed desperately for another potion, using every bit of my training to focus and open the potion without dropping it. I poured it into his mouth and looked expectantly at his wounds.

They weren’t closing. Why weren’t the wounds closing? This was the most powerful potion I had! It should be strong enough! I fought unsuccessfully to hold back my tears of frustration. This wasn’t reality. I would wake up any moment and then I would sit down and talk to Kyle. We would clear up this misunderstanding between us. He wouldn’t die thinking that I hated him. Why had we been fighting anyway? At that moment, I couldn’t even remember.

“PLEASE!” I screamed through a sob. “SOMEONE HELP!” I cradled his head to my chest. The tears I had been fighting to hold back came full force.

I don’t know how long I sat there, alternating between screaming for help and sobbing, when I finally heard the sound of several people running. I looked up and saw the blurry forms of Paulie and Geo. The two had been on patrol together nearby.

Geo gently pulled me away so Paulie could work. He removed the massive shard of metal from Kyle’s midsection and pulled out some diamond dust from his bag. He cast the spell to raise Kyle from the dead. The diamond dust swirled around and was consumed, but nothing happened. My heart felt like it was being torn in two.

“Does he not wish to be revived?” Geo asked.

“I don’t get that sense, brah. It’s like something is holding him back, somehow. Almost as if his soul has been weighted down. I think I just need more power. Let me try again, with more dust.” He poured all the dust he had remaining, enough for nearly two castings, on Kyle’s body. He then cast the spell again. I thought I saw the body stir, but then nothing.

I wailed. Geo hugged me. “We’ll take him to Magnimar. One of the clerics will have a spell strong enough to revive him. Whatever the cost, we’ll get him back,” he promised.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” a woman’s voice said before breaking into laughter.

My heart nearly stopped. “Lyrie,” Paulie said, in that strange deep voice he sometimes has. “What have you done?”

“Not what I intended. I had planned to come here and fill in that wizard,” she almost spat at the description of Kyle, “about what was happening to the girl. That’s why I keyed the trap for her. A pity. I was looking forward to watching his expression as he heard about how part of her soul fed the revival of my lord and then was met in the Boneyard by a pack of hungry daemons. And then, only when all hope was lost, I would have killed him. Oh well. At least I know his soul is being torn apart and devoured as we speak. And don’t worry, you’ll join him soon. My army of ghouls will see to that.” I heard the sudden sound of slavering undead.

In the place in my heart where fear and despair had lived but moments ago now burned a terrible fury. She had done this. She had hurt Kyle. For a moment, I considered letting the rage fill my entire being. I considered letting go and fighting as Lenn does, with complete abandon. I’m certain that if I had, I would definitely have slain her then and there, though at the cost of my own life. But years of training had taught me a better way.

I subdued the frenzy, took the heat from its flames and prevented it from raging like a wildfire. Then I focused it instead in a single place, imagining it becoming ice and hardening in my veins. My angelic blood reacted with the fury flowing through it and the bloodrage became not an inferno but a directed river I could harness. Without even willing it, my blood called forth my halo and wings. My skin became silver, leaving only my wings and eyes as outward signs of flesh.

I rose from my knees and drew my blade. With only the barest hints of anger at the edges of my voice, I calmly declared my intent. “Lyrie Akenja, in the name of the righteous, I hereby judge you. Your life is forfeit. Surrender now and I will make your death quick.”

“KILL THEM!” she shouted in alarm. Ghouls flooded the room. Six came within my reach and six fell before me. More appeared behind them. Lyrie cast a spell to block access to the room with a wall of stone. And for some reason, I began hearing whispers around the room, though I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. I suspected that they were a trick.

Another wave of ghouls rushed me and I cut them down. Geo was standing between Paulie and Kyle’s body and more of the dead. I began to be able to make out the whispers, as they were getting louder. It sounded like a woman’s voice. “- of the mind, key to life –“

I cut down a giant zombie and moved to attack Lyrie, but was cut short by a wall of magical force. “You really didn’t think I was stupid enough to let you get close to me, did you?” she asked with a smirk.

“- Soul of the lost, withdrawn – “

“If it’s the last thing I do, my blade will separate your head from your body like it should have done the day we met you,” I said softly.

“- Soul of the mind, key to life’s – “

“Strong words from a dead woman.”

“ – Soul of the lost, withdrawn from its – “

“This isn’t over.” Zombie wyverns flew down from above. I took to the air and engaged them. Paulie supported me with arrows where he could, more focused on the next wave of ghouls on the ground. I winged past two of them and focused on the largest, slamming into it and dragging my blade through its torso.

“- Let strength be granted – “ I was really starting to become curious as to the nature of the whispers, which were almost at a conversational level now. The only reason I couldn’t hear them all was the sound of the battle around me.

I dodged as another wyvern slashed at me, then countered with a swift cut to one of its wings. A roar erupted above me and I looked up just in time to catch sight of a zombie dragon as it breathed acid at me. I tried to dodge, but was unsuccessful. I slammed into the ground pretty hard, knocking the wind out of me and causing me to lose the focus of my blood rage. Every inch of my body ached from having held the rage so long. How exactly does Lenn do it? Is it just practice?

From where I lay, I got a good look at the dragon and was astounded by what I saw. The wounds still evident on the flying corpse were consistent with those taken by a black dragon I had heard about while we were in Sandpoint! That was Black Fang, the dragon that had been slain by the famous heretics, a trio whose very names were never to be spoken as decreed by the faiths of no fewer than four gods!

I stood weakly and Paulie healed my wounds, but I was still exhausted and we were still surrounded by ghouls. “All your big words,” Lyrie gloated. “And now you –“

She was interrupted as the repeating whispers became too loud to speak over. “Soul of the mind, key to life’s aether. Soul of the lost, withdrawn from its vessel. Let strength be granted that the world might –“

“WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!” Lyrie screeched. “Kill them and find its source!”

“Soul of the mind, key to life’s aether. Soul of the lost, withdrawn from its vessel. Let strength be granted that the world might be mended. That the world…“

“MIGHT. BE. MENDED!” Kyle shouted. My heart skipped several beats. I turned to look, but suddenly the whole room disappeared in a blast of white light. Zombies cried out in pain. Lyrie cursed. Paulie and Geo began working to take advantage of the situation. Lenn continued trying to tear down the wall from the other side. “VI, activate encounter suit. Fast equip mode,” I heard Kyle whisper.

“That’s impossible!” Lyrie roared. “You’re dead!”

Kyle ignored her. “When you have a bad day and your life is laggin’,” he sang. “It gets much better when you cap a dragon!” I heard the sound of gunfire, much louder and not quite as rapid as that put out by his usual gun. The dragon roared and, as I regained my sight, I watched it crash into the ground.

Kyle stood nearby in strange black armor with a purple glass faceplate. Hints of light were visible through the glass. In his hands was a much larger gun than I had seen before, but there was something off about how he held it, almost as if it had been made for smaller hands than his. “Oh,” I said softly, as I realized that he had made it for me.

He took aim at the nearest ghoul, held in place by a mass of crushing black tentacles. No, I’m not sure where the tentacles had come from. The only spell he’d cast had been his light pulse. It had been stronger than normal, but nonetheless, still that one spell only.

One squeeze of the trigger and the ghoul’s heady exploded in a shower of sparks and gore. He had even enchanted the gun for me. I was touched by the thoughtfulness. Even as we’d been arguing, he had spent time working on it.

Kyle and Paulie shot down the remaining wyverns and I helped Geo finish off the ghouls that hadn’t been grabbed by the tentacles. Those that had been grabbed met a much more gruesome end.

“This isn’t over!” Lyrie screeched before activating some kind of contingent teleportation to escape. She was right about that. I was going to kill her.

Just maybe not today. “VI, remove armor and go into defensive mode. Remove the stone wall blocking the entrance.” I turned to see Kyle standing behind me, his armor removing itself and taking the form of a machine man. “Aurora,” he said. “I’m so very sor-“ he didn’t finish the thought as I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him with all of my might.

I could feel tears streaming down my face as we eventually pulled away. “Thank you for being okay,” I whispered softly.

He reached out and wiped a tear from my cheek. “So all I had to do to get you to kiss me was get myself killed.” He let out a soft chuckle. “I shudder to think what I’m going to have to do to get you to marry me one day.”

I hit him on the shoulder for joking about that. “You don’t have to do anything,” I muttered. “Just say yes.”

He was silent for several moments. I looked up at him and his mouth was open in shock. “Aurora? Did you… Did you just propose to me?”

A flush spread up my face as I suddenly realized that, in my moment of relief, I had actually done so. Where the heck did that come from? No, I knew where it came from. No more hiding from my feelings. I laughed. “I believe I did.” I removed my helmet, dropped to one knee and took his hand, to do this as properly befit a knight. “Kyle O’Halloran. I love you and want to spend the rest of our lives together, and perhaps beyond. So, will you marry me?”

He gave me an appraising look. “I don’t know. I mean, you didn’t even get me a ring…”

He was teasing me! “I’ll buy you a ring, you ass!” The nerve of that jerk!

“Well, in that case, how could I possibly say no?” With one yank, he pulled me to my feet, slid his arm around me and gave me a passionate kiss. The warmth of my embarrassment in my face spread all over, becoming a different kind of warmth.

I think that kiss may have lasted until we passed out from lack of air, but we were interrupted by a voice somewhere behind me. “ABOUT TIME!” Lenn said approvingly. Suddenly realizing that we weren’t alone, I pulled back and turned around to see Lenn and dozens of soldiers standing in the entrance to the chamber. Chadwick was grinning like an idiot and began the round of applause.

In moments, the cavern was filled with the raucous cheers of almost everyone. I’ve never been so embarrassed. I thought I would explode. Kyle pulled my attention back to him. He gave me a look that told me that he planned to kiss me again. “Wait! How can we with so many people here?”

“What people?” he asked. “I don’t see anyone else here but you.” He kissed me again. How could I argue with that? I closed my eyes and returned the kiss, allowing the rest of the world to just melt away around me. All that existed was me, the man I loved and the happiness so powerful that nothing else mattered in that moment.

Shadows Fall and Hope Has Fled…

I don’t know what I expected. I mean, maybe I didn’t really expect the white light and tunnel. And I’m not sure I expected to find myself in a queue on a cloud at a literal set of pearly gates. But what I wasn’t expecting was a massive necropolis with a serious Dia De Los Muertos theme going on.

And while I had secretly hoped I would be woken in the realm of the dead by the singing of a beautiful woman, that too turned out just a bit different than I had expected.

My young love said to me, my mother won't mind
And my father won't slight you for your lack of kind
And she went away from me and this she did say:
It will not be long now till our wedding day.

She stepped away from me and she moved through the fair,
And fondly I watched her move here and move there;
And then she went homeward with one star awake,
As the swan in the evening moves over the lake.

The people were saying that no two were e’er wed,
But one had a sorrow that never was said,
And she smiled as she passed, with her goods and her gear,
And that was the last that I saw of my dear.

I dreamt it last night that my young love came in,
So softly she came that her feet made no din;
And she laid her hand on me and this she did say,
“It will not be long, love, till our wedding day.”

I’d first heard that song long ago, at a wake for my great grandmother. I had only been six at the time, so I didn’t get to stay up with the adults and do any of the heavy drinking, but I remember that song clearly. I had met her several times and had always like the crazy old woman. I remember bawling. The tune still brings a few tears to my eye.

As the song ended, I could feel myself start to stir and began to take notice of several things. The first was the scent of several flowers, including fragrant agrimony, marsh orchid and several others I could almost but not quite identify. I also noticed the feel of soft fabric on my right cheek and slightly damp grass beneath the rest of me. I felt a hand softly brush a loose strand of my hair aside.

A voice, the voice of the woman singing, whispered softly into my ear. “Time to wake up, dear brother. I don’t think the locals are very happy with your redecorating.”

I stirred. “What redecorating?” I murmured as I tried to rouse myself.

“Open your eyes, dear brother.”

I opened my eyes to see an alien sky above me. It almost looked like we were in a violet nebula or something. But strangely, the patch of sky directly above was clear and blue. So too it was with the ground around me. While the place we were in appeared to be some kind of Mayan or Incan temple in a jungle-like setting, the ground for maybe fifteen feet in any direction looked like it had been transplanted straight from an Irish meadow.

By the curious looks of those around us, I was guessing that this wasn’t exactly normal. Creatures of many types had flocked around us, trying to catch a glimpse. I recognized a few of the differing types of beings nearby. Some were angels of varying types, as well as their celestial kin, archons, agathions and azata. But there were other beings, not just celestials. Aeons, inevitables, proteans, Valkyries and even the occasional devil passed by, as if we were in the courtyard of some interplanar campus, or perhaps a park next to a courthouse.

Right. The Boneyard. The domain of Pharasma, goddess of death. That explained the psychopomps flittering all over, making everything look kinda like Tucson during All Souls Weekend.

I looked up at the woman cradling my head. To say she was beautiful is an understatement, but there was something more about her, a familial quality as well as a familiarity I was having trouble putting my finger on so soon after waking. It finally clicked. “Katie?” I asked, sitting up. It wasn’t quite right. Her hair was a bit different, much more red than my elder sister.

“You’re in the right neighborhood, dear brother, but at the wrong door,” she said, smiling sweetly.

I studied her features closely. She wasn’t Maggie or Molly. No she looked more like Katie, but there was something different. I almost couldn’t put my finger on it, but suddenly realized it. She looked a bit more like me, but in a good way. “…Kira?”

My twin sister threw her arms around my neck. “I’ve been waiting so very long to see you again,” she said, her voice thick with emotion.

I hugged her back. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting.” After several moments, I spoke up again. “So, going to give me the tour of this place?”

She gave me a look. “I just got here.”

“Where were you before?”

“I think I was with you, but it’s like I was half asleep.”

Well, that isn’t weird at all. “You should have said something.”

“I would have, but I don’t think I knew I was me. I thought I was you. Or something.”

That didn’t make any sense. Not unless… “Fleur.”

Her eyes went wide. “Yes! I remember that! That’s what you kept calling me.” Huh. So my crazy split personality wasn’t actually me being crazy. It was my dead twin sister’s soul living in my brain.

You know, when I see that written out, it doesn’t sound any less crazy than it did in my head. In fact, it seems even more crazy.

I looked around again. The crowd was growing. “Let’s get up and try to blend in while we figure out what’s going on around here.”

“Sure,” she said. She hopped up quickly, her green sundress barely even fluttering from the fluid motion. I considered lecturing on the poor fashion choice of combining a sundress with combat boots, but decided now wasn’t the time or place.

Not that I was dressed much better. I looked like the fashion result of a fusion dance between a BronyCon Starswirl the Bearded cosplayer and something out of Shadowrun. What I’m saying is that my goggles and bandolier clashed horribly with my starry robes. I really wanted to fix that.

I didn’t even have to focus. Just my desire manifested a change to my outfit. I found myself in my normal clothes, minus to the hat and coat. The shirt also changed to read “Don’t Fear the Reaper” above a picture of Ryuk from Deathnote, for some reason.

“Neat trick,” Kira said.

“No idea how I did it.”

Our attempt to hide ourselves in the crowd proved an abysmal failure. You wouldn’t think it would be difficult to hide a couple dead people in the land of the dead, but you’d be wrong. I mean, we clearly weren’t Outsiders, but we were far too well defined to be the quasi-incorporeal normal dead, which Golarion theology terms as “petitioners”. That meant we were either living planar travelers, or something else.

Of course, the daemon attacks didn’t help either.

Outsiders of all alignments can be found in the Boneyard, arguing for ownership of particular souls, but as I understand it, they mostly keep to their own sections, venturing to the edges to attend the courts that handle cases of souls that can be said to straddle a line. But that isn’t to say that none leave their domains to conduct business under the watchful eyes of the aeons and psychopomps that tend the realm.

Even then, daemons are mostly forbidden from leaving their section due to their hunger for souls. They do so from time to time, astradaemons especially, usually to plunder the River of Souls for a snack. Even then, it was beyond weird to find a distressingly insane derghodaemon deep in the inner sector of the realm like this, almost as though it was waiting for us. It certainly looked that way when it made a beeline for us.

I didn’t scream like a girl when it roared and began charging us. The angel that interceded must have just noticed the daemon on its own.

“Back, vile fiend!” the angel shouted, raising its longsword. The daemon was unfazed. Truth was, the daemon was much more powerful than the angel and there was nothing close enough that might help. Not unless I felt like making a pact with a devil.

“He’s losing!” Kira hissed. “We have to help!”

“I don’t disagree, but how?”

“That thing you did with your clothes, can you make a weapon?”

Now that was an interesting idea. Somehow I knew I could. “Any preferences?”

“Whatever! Just hurry!”

This was a dangerous foe. Not just anything would do. It had to be both strong and easy to wield. And it absolutely needed a bit of reach. There was only one type of weapon that fit the bill. I closed my eyes and focused my mind, just like when I Fabricated something. It needed dwarven craftsmanship. It had to be adamantine. But there was no adamantine around. And, being dead, I had no blood to sacrifice. But there was air, and water.

The air crackled as I tore the molecules of water apart with my mind. It then burned as I fused the hydrogen, again and again and again, into adamantine. The sounds of hammers striking metal sounded as the tip took shape, followed by the sounds of grinding as an edge was honed. The ground split and a tree grew. I sundered the darkwood and carved it into a shaft, perfectly shaped to my sister’s hands.

The tip attached itself to the haft, which grew around it, securing it in place. But that wasn’t enough. It needed magic. I wrought my will upon it. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of runes burned into the spear’s flesh. It would strike true, tearing the wind itself asunder as it passed. And what’s weirder is that I knew it had a name.

Kira grabbed the spear. “Gugnir?!” she exclaimed, either out of recognition of Odin’s spear or from reading my mind. Hey, maybe that’s a thing we can do. I don’t know. We didn’t have time to contemplate it further. The angel was in trouble.

I say “was”, because once Kira moved, it was over. She literally flash-stepped over to the daemon. She was a blur as she fought, dancing around the foe, striking multiple blows so quickly that I was certain only one had been made.

It seems that with a weapon in her hand, the daemon never stood a chance. Heck, I’m not even sure a nascent daemon-lord would have been able to go toe-to-toe with her. Not in a purely physical contest, anyway. That’s how fast she was.

“Stop!” someone shouted at us, once the fighting was done.

I knew that tone. I didn’t even have to look and see the stern faced psychopomp bearing down on us to realize the authorities were coming for us. I’ve been in that situation. Usually right after jumping out of a young woman’s window. So instinct took over. “Cheese it! It’s the fuzz!” I shouted. Because apparently I’m a character in West Side Story.

We took off running. We didn’t have a plan beyond fleeing. And, let’s be honest, I’m not the fastest person. But I had already discovered that I could quickly change my clothes. Frictionless was a change I could do. So I changed the soles of my boots and had Kira push me.

For the record, we went about fifty miles an hour. And in case you were wondering, yes, that’s faster than living humans should be able to run. But Kira wasn’t exactly a living human. So the rules don’t exactly apply.

Like I said before, we didn’t exactly have a plan. We were just running. We might have kept running, but someone yanked us inside a building as we passed as though we were in some kind of cartoon. And if we had been in bodies rather than some kind of corporeal-ish extraplanar entities, I’m pretty sure we’d have gotten whiplash.

A lean, semi-muscular man with brown hair and an amused smirk set us down just inside what appeared to be a tavern of sorts. It reminded me of the Hanged Man in Dragon Age 2, if I’m being honest. Also, for honesty’s sake, I must tell you that I did not in any way forget that my shoes were frictionless when he set me down. Which means I did not fall flat on my face. It also means that I didn’t scream in an undignified and hilarious manner. It also means that I didn’t have to wait until the laughter subsided to thank our rescuer.

“Don’t sweat it,” he told us. “Come, join us and have a drink. My treat. From what I hear, you kids have had a heck of a day.” We joined him and a grey-bearded dwarf at the only occupied table in the bar. I tried to introduce myself and the man shook his head. “We don’t stand much on formality here, even if T here is a bit of a stick in the mud sometimes.”

The dwarf drained his tankard. “Your bar, your rules,” he said sagely.

“That’s one of the most important rules,” the brown haired man said with a nod. “So, what kind of beer will you have?”

I gauged my surroundings carefully. I was pretty sure no one would make me a gin and tonic if I asked, and it didn’t look piratey, so rum was probably out. “I’m not a huge fan of beer,” I said. “You wouldn’t happen to have mead, would you? Or I could do a root beer, if beer it must be.”

He gave me a narrow-eyed, suspicious look. “You don’t like beer?”

I had been afraid of that. I was going to school in Colorado before I left, so I truly understood that some people take beer far too seriously. I would have to be careful how I played it. So I shrugged. “Life’s too short to acquire a taste for something when there are so many things to drink that I like already.”

The dwarf laughed. “Lad has a point.”

“Fair enough,” the man said with a chuckle. “How about you?” he asked my sister.

“Something dark and thick enough to stand a knife in,” she said. I must have given her a look, because she shrugged at me and said, “What? Just because you want something with a little umbrella in it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good beer.” That got another laugh.

I would have been offended, but I found myself seriously wondering if the little umbrella was actually an option and if I could get it with some pineapple slices. I decided not to ask. Best not to press my luck. “So, is it usual for newcomers to get attacked by a daemon?”

“Not that far from their section,” the dwarf said somberly as we awaited our drinks.

“It’s also not every day that someone creates a miniature sun and pulls a spear out of it. Neat trick. Some sort of extra-dimensional carrying space?” News apparently travels fast in the waiting room of the dead. Most waiting rooms I’d been in before only had old copies of Golf Digest for entertainment.

I shook my head. “Not exactly. I was just fusing atoms to make the metal I needed to fabricate the spear.”

“You crafted that?” the dwarf asked, surprised. “May I see it?” Kira and I exchanged a glance and she handed it over. He analyzed it with a crafter’s eye. I was suddenly very self-conscious. He let out a low whistle. “That’s pretty impressive. Never met a demi-god who could put out this kind of work. Though, in the future, I’d recommend just willing it into existence. No need to make a miniature star to get metal.” He gave me a knowing smile.

“I’m a what now? I think you’re mistaken. We’re normal humans aside from the fact that we’ve been sharing a body since we were born.”

The dwarf gave me a look of disbelief. “That can’t be right,” he said.

“No, it’s true,” Kira said after taking a drink of her disgusting looking beer. “It gets a little cramped in his body, but I didn’t want to leave him by himself when I died.” The way she said it was hilariously nonchalant.

“No, the body thing is a little weird, but not what I’m talking about. The normal human thing is what I’m talking about. There’s no way you two are normal.”

Kira gave an exaggerated pout. “That’s not a very nice thing to say.”

“I only mean it in the best possible way,” the man quickly corrected. “Your souls are far more developed than one would expect from someone your age.”

I started thinking about it. There were quite a few possibilities that I knew of. “Would spending a year in outer space with a woman fused with some kind of dark space entity affect the strength of one’s soul?”

“You did what now?”

I took a few minutes to explain the whole Samantha thing. The two exchanged glances before the dwarf answered. “That…probably wouldn’t explain everything, but it’s a place to start. She might have done something. Mind if I take a look?”

“Take a look at what, exactly?”

“Just looking for blessings from gods and godlings. Those persist after death and might explain it, if enough power has been expended on you.”

“I guess it couldn’t hurt to check.”

He created a small globe of light and gently tossed it at me. It hit me and exploded, almost like a water balloon, releasing a soft resonant glow all around me. Within the glowing light were a number of small snowflake-like structures. Kira joined both men as they looked them over.

“There are a bunch of different ones,” she said. She pointed at one in particular. “There are a few like this one, which look more elaborate than the rest.”

“Good eye,” the man said. “Those are the direct blessings of deities and other powerful beings, where they’ve taken personal notice. That one, for instance, appears to be the mark of a particularly powerful nymph.”

“Is that normal?” I asked. “I mean, do deities take personal notice of people very often?” After all, if I was special, I’d need to know so I could start a Tumblr when I got home.

“For normal people, it’s fairly rare. But if you’re an adventurer, it’s more uncommon to not get the notice of a few powerful beings.” Ah, okay. So nothing all that special. No more than any normal adventurer. “The nymph one’s fairly interesting though.” He gave me a wink that suggested that he had made up a rather lascivious reason for its existence.

Kira missed the look and continued on, unfazed. “How about this one?”

“This one’s a blessing from a member of a god’s clergy. There are dozens like it. It seems that your brother has made quite an impression on the priesthood of Shelyn.” Made sense. Ever since I’d come to Golarion, I’d found the patron goddess of love and the arts the easiest to work with, and I’d done my best to be generous. “There seems to be one acolyte of Shelyn in particular who prayed for you every day for almost five years.”

Oh. “I think I know the one.” I’m sure I looked guilty when I said it. Mostly I was feeling guilty wondering if she might have survived if I had gone with her when I had the chance.

“Seducing one of Shelyn’s acolytes? You dog.”

Kira laughed. “Sure, if you count looking like a sad, pathetic puppy as ‘seduction’.”


I sighed. “Yeah. I had just been dumped and was a bit disheartened by teleporting to Golarion instead of back home. I was desperately lonely and she felt bad for me.”

Kira thankfully changed the subject, pointing at another mark. “How about this one? It’s dark and foreboding.”

“Ooh, that’s a rough one. It’s a malus. Looks like you’ve personally pissed off someone. Let me see if I can see who.” He gently tinkered with it. The malus zapped him. “Yep, definitely Lamashtu.”

Kira actually laughed. “Cleanse a few shrines, kill a few priests and suddenly someone has to go holding grudges.” The rest of us couldn’t help but laugh along with her.

“What about these?” I asked, pointing to an odd looking snowflake. “They look different from the rest.”

The man examined it. “I’ve never seen one of these before. It’s a blessing from a priest, but it’s not for any god I recognize. T?”

The dwarf examined it and his eyes went wide. “Where did you say you were from again, kids?”

“Earth,” Kira said, taking another drink of her beer.

“We also call our planet Terra. It’s in the Sol system.”

The dwarf took a long swig of his beer. “You’re in the wrong place. Send for some of Pharasma’s people,” he told the man. “We need to make arrangements to send them to their correct afterlife as quickly as possible.”

Well that was interesting. Apparently our afterlife was segregated from the rest for some reason. I got the feeling that asking why would get me nowhere. Not that I had a chance. Suddenly, the mark from Lamashtu started flashing. “Uh, guys? What’s going on there?”

“It’s acting as a beacon. We’re going to be under attack any moment.” The dwarf grabbed a war hammer and prepared for battle. His friend pulled his rapier and tossed Kira her spear.

“You need armor,” I told my sister.

“I won’t argue with that. Hook me up!” I touched her shoulder and focused my will. As far as I knew, there were no limits other than that it had to be able to actually exist. In seconds, she was wearing a hi-tech hardsuit of ceramic plates – more than twice as strong as adamantine and about ten thousand times as expensive – on a mesh of carbon nanotubes and adamantine fibers woven together like human muscle tissues. All in all, it was very sci-fi looking. Maybe one day, this would be standard issue for human soldiers, but it would take some serious technological breakthroughs to make it affordable enough. “Holy crap!” she exclaimed.

“Enjoy it while it lasts. Even if they revive us, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to afford to make one of these back in the land of the living. Tap the nodule on your temple for the helmet.”

Kira did as I’d said and a helmet of ceramic plates unfolded, covering her head. “Promise me that you’ll make me another one of these one day.”

“I’ll do my best,” I promised. I then willed another suit into existence, covering myself. I then armed myself with a surprisingly light rail gun. God, I love having access to high tech alloys and ceramics again.

Dozens of daemons of many types burst into the establishment from multiple directions. The man was as fast as Kira, while the dwarf relied on strength and an iron will over speed. Kira and the man killed fourteen each. The dwarf slew eight. I managed to kill one.

In my defense, it’s really hard to fire a railgun into melee when you’re worried about hitting allies who move faster than the eye can track. I needed a weapon I wasn’t worried would pierce Kira’s armor. That wasn’t hard. I slung the railgun over my shoulder whipped up a couple highly enchanted Pizzicatos. Something that low caliber would have trouble breaching my specifically designed bullet defenses but would be useful if we encountered any more daemons.

As long as none of them were cyberdaemons. In that case, I’d need a rocket launcher.

“Strange that Lamashtu is sending daemons after you. You sure you didn’t piss off the Horsemen as well?”

“I might have started a society on a path towards better sanitation, which will result in a lot fewer deaths from disease. So, yeah, probably.”

“Really? That’s a shame. I kinda like the muck. Gives cities character.” I’m pretty sure the man was joking.

We made jokes as we stood guard, waiting for the arrival of the local authorities. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long. A few minutes later, a half dozen psychopomps and a number of aeons arrived, along with a dowdy-looking celestial woman in a gray business suit, glasses and sensible flats.

“What am I going to do with you two?” she asked, her voice very put upon. “I take my eyes off of you for a moment and you go disappearing on me.”

I stared in disbelief. “You’re the nun!” I accused. The ghost nun from that time I went back in time, if you’re having trouble remembering.

“Not exactly,” she said with a small smile.

“Greetings, honored guardian,” Kira said in the celestial tongue, bowing deeply. When did Kira learn celestial?

“Greetings, Gemini,” the angel responded warmly. “It is good to have found you both at last. Come, we have an embassy not far from here. You should be safer there while we sort all of this out.”

We followed her outside and boarded some kind of hi-tech celestial shuttle craft. The schizo nature of the tech in the afterlife was really screwing with me, not gonna lie. The seats were even made of rich, Corinthian leather. I couldn’t be sure if they were stuffed with eagle down, but I suspect there were no eagles under the floorboards. Which meant it was the economy model.

The shuttle took us to a building that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a framing shot of Earth on Star Trek. A number of azatas – bralanis, I think – dressed like Secret Service agents met us on the landing pad and escorted us inside. They were doing their very best to look serious, but small twitches on their lips made me suspect that they were constantly one mistake away from corpsing en masse and ruining the performance.

They led us into a rather spacious office, complete with a waterfall fountain in one corner and a desk made of aluminum and glass with some kind of celestial computer on it. The monitor appeared to be a holographic projection, as did the keyboard. I didn’t see a mouse, but I suspected that would be handled by using the monitor like some kind of touch screen.

“Neat,” Kira said what we were both thinking.

The celestial woman, Essielle, invited us to sit in the plush chairs in front of the desk and took her seat on the other side. “So, now that we’re safe, would you care to explain where exactly you’ve been?” She sat and listened quietly as we explained everything, stopping us only to ask clarifying questions. She seemed most concerned about Samantha’s involvement. “And you don’t know what kind of entity is sharing her body?”

“No. I suspect it’s one of those things so alien that we mortals might classify it as evil, but I’m not so sure that’s the case. Or maybe it is and being stuck with her really has mellowed it out.”

“Understood. We’ll have some agents look into it. But now that I have your stories, it’s time for us to begin discussing the big choice.”

“The big choice?”

Kira put her hand on my arm. “She wants us to decide whether we wish to reincarnate again or if we’re ready to pass on to Heaven.”

“We get a choice?”

“Free will and choice are God’s whole deal,” Kira said. “You really don’t remember?”

Essielle cleared her throat. “It usually takes longer than this to begin remembering past lives and this whole process. We can wait until you’re ready to decide if you want. Right now is just the point where we discuss things.”

“Okay, yeah, waiting would be good,” I said. “I have a ton of questions. First of all, why is Kira remembering more quickly than I?”

“We’re not sure. The two of you almost always remember at the same time. I suspect it’s because she’s technically been dead for years, so the death process is less of a transition for her. As a side note, we’ve been trying to figure out where she was for years. It never occurred to us she might have hitched a ride in your body.”

“Okay, that brings up another question. You’re talking as though we’ve been through this together multiple times. Is that normal? Do siblings usually get reborn into the same family? Also, how many times have we been through this?”

“Actually, no. You two are a very unique case. The truth is that you two existing as separate entities is some strange accident. During your first cycle, we only sent one new soul to be born. It caused a lot of commotion when two children resulted.” She laughed. “I thought they were going to fire me for messing up my paperwork and sending two souls, but then you two died and returned to us. Back then, it was very easy to tell that your souls had split. Now, after so many cycles, we’d have trouble telling if it weren’t for the secondary effects.”

“Secondary effects?”

“You can’t live without each other. It took us three stillbirths to realize that we couldn’t separate you. If one of you dies, both die. That’s why we were so concerned when one of you went missing but the other still lived. We thought your souls had recombined. Our best guess is that after so many cycles, recombining would give you enough combined life experience to evolve into something new.”

I could actually feel my sister’s shock. “Evolve? You’ve never mentioned that before.”

Essielle nodded. “It’s just a theory. No one does what we do. It’s one big experiment. The Lord wanted to see what you all would become if allowed to accumulate enough life experience. But, as Kira said, he’s also big on free will. He wasn’t going to force you.”

“So, do a lot of people take advantage of it?”

“Fewer than you’d think. Most people only go one or two extra cycles before deciding that life is too hard and messy to bear. In addition to the two of you, there are only eleven others who have gone at least ten cycles. Before you ask, the person with the most cycles is a bit past one hundred and the two of you are on your eighty-ninth cycle. There are three total with more than you.”

Something she said made a connection in my mind. “So, if you count us as a single entity, then that means that there are twelve total? And you called us ‘Gemini’, so…”

She laughed. “Somehow, I knew you’d catch that. Yes. Those of us in Heaven’s Bureaucracy have nicknamed each of you long timers after the signs of the zodiac. Capricorn is the oldest. Virgo and Pisces are the two behind him.”

“I doubt you remember yet, but we’ve actually met Capricorn and Aquarius before in the afterlife,” Kira added. “We ended up all dying at the same time during a battle back in the old Roman empire. Capricorn was the centurion I served under and Aquarius was our legion’s prefect.”

“I wasn’t aware women served as legionnaires,” I said without thinking.

“I never noticed any. I was a man during that cycle.”

“So it’s interchangeable?” I asked Essielle.

She made a “sorta” hand gesture. “For most people, they can choose before reincarnating. However, likely because of the whole ‘two halves of a single soul’ thing you two have going on, you have this weird yin-yang thing going on where you’re always opposite. There was even this one time that we put you two into the bodies of identical twins as an experiment, resulting in the first known birth of a boy and a girl who were nonetheless identical twins.”

“Monozygotic,” I corrected.


“Not identical, just born of the same egg. And I seem to recall reading that it has been documented where a pair of boy/girl twins was monozygotic due to an XXY zygote forming before the split.” They both gave me a look that told me that they were shocked that I knew that. I just ignored it. Look, I get bored on Wikipedia sometimes too, okay? “So, that brings me to another question.”

“I’m afraid to ask,” Essielle said.

I ignored that. “Does this all mean that when I got hit by the cursed belt, I somehow managed to make myself look like Kira’s past life?”

Kira literally laughed so hard she fell on the floor. Even Essielle is caught up in her mirth. I failed to see what was so funny. “Sorry,” the celestial said. “It’s just that you’re working from a false premise. You have indeed correctly realized that Fleur and her brother were past lives the two of you lived. You just mixed up who was who.”

Kira snorted. “That’s right! YOU were the French stripper!” She lost herself in laughter again.

“Not quite the right word, but effectively true,” Essielle admitted.

Well, at least I was hot. Rather than linger on the matter and question what exactly I had done for information to help the resistance, I changed the subject. “Okay, next question. How are things back home? How is our family?”

“I can’t elaborate much on the state of things back home, but as a kindness, I can tell you a bit about your family. Everyone misses you, of course. Maggie is still in college. Molly is an architect with a large firm. Kenneth is in law enforcement. Katie became a surgeon and has a job at a hospital in Tucson. And Major O’Halloran joined the marines shortly after you left. Your parents are still in their old jobs, though your mother has retired from the city council to focus on her career.”

It was good to hear that life went on back home. I was curious as to what she couldn’t tell me, but I understood there were rules. I also understood that if she left to go to the bathroom, I was hacking her computer to find out what was going on, since I got a feeling from her tone that it was something big.

“So, anything else interesting about our past lives?” I asked.

“Nothing you won’t remember soon enough. I am curious as to how your second time as a man has gone.”

What. “Second time?”

“Your very first incarnation, back when your people spoke in mostly grunts, was pretty disastrous. A rival tribe attacked, tried to kidnap your sister. She was doing well enough defending herself, but then you got hit with a rock and died, taking her with you. You were so traumatized that you refused to be a man again until it was culturally acceptable for your sister to protect you instead of the other way around.”

“Sorry I haven’t been much help on that front,” Kira said.

“It’s not your fault,” I said immediately, patting her shoulder reassuringly. She seemed happy at that response. “That said, that’s a pretty horrible ratio. Have we had many lives like that?”

“I can count on one hand the number of lives you two have had that didn’t end with one of you dying in a violent and often horrible fashion. It honestly beggars belief that the two of you keep choosing to reincarnate after what you’ve been through.”

“That bad, huh?”

“You were burnt at the stake once.”

“Like witches? Yeah, that’s pretty bad.”

Kira laughed. “To be fair, you actually were a witch on that one.”

It was getting a little frustrating that my sister was able to recall everything like that while I wasn’t able to get more than vague flashes from my last couple lives. “While we’re waiting,” Essielle said. “Mind if I do a scan? I need to see what you were up to while you were away from us so we can log it in the research notes.”

I suddenly started feeling like a lab rat. “Um, sure.” She pulled out a tricorder. “Lol, what.”

“God’s a Trekkie.”

“I knew it.” No I didn’t. But what the hell can you say to that? I guess it explained the building.

She scanned me. “Okay, so let’s see. Wow, that’s a lot of women.” I actually felt kinda embarrassed. “You know, he keeps this up, he might actually break your record.”

Kira scoffed. “Never happen. He’s in llluurrrvveeee.” Constantly getting ripped on by Kira would take some getting used to.

“It’s academic anyway, since you both died before he had a chance.”

“Don’t count us out yet,” I corrected. “One of our friends can raise the dead.”

That surprised her. “Necromancy?”

“Well, he probably has that somewhere too, but no. Standard revival.”

“Impressive. It also says here that you’re a wizard. That’s definitely going to be interesting if you make it home. In fact, you’ve joined a team of adventurers? It’s been forever since that was a thing on Earth. I suspect that’s all anyone back in Heaven will be able to talk about for a while.” Why did I get the feeling I had just signed myself up for being followed a twenty-four seven angelic camera crew? Or dedicated scrying. Whatever it is they do.

An aide came in, seeking Essielle’s attention. “I apologize, but there’s a matter needing your immediate attention.”

“Of course. You two, there’s a game console over there,” she indicated a section of the large office with a sofa and television. “Feel free to play some Smash Bros or whatever while you wait. I hope I won’t be gone too long.” As she was walking out the door, she stopped. “The computer is set to explode in the event of tampering. Please don’t force me to get a new one.” Dammit.

Nothing better to do, we actually did as we were told. Not normally my first inclination, but we had been told to play video games and it has been almost eleven years. It was quite fun, though it was obvious just from that one game that I had been gone for a while.

For instance, when the heck did they put Bayonetta in Smash? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I love Bayonetta. I just never saw that one coming. What’s next? Ubisoft taking a full year and some change between releases of Assassin’s Creed titles?

Pfft. That’ll never happen.

We played a few matches before we began noticing the sound of gunfire outside. We looked out a window and saw that the grounds were being overrun by daemons. “Well, s#@!,” Kira said.

Essielle rushed back into the office. “We have to get you to the shuttle and get out of here! We’re under attack!”

“I’m pretty sure they’re after us, or at least me,” I confessed. “No idea why, though.”

“Then it’s even more important that we get you out. Follow me!” She pulled out a freaking Desert Eagle and began leading us through the halls. I didn’t unnecessarily roll across doorways, because that would be fun but completely undignified. And I’m nothing if not dignified.

<Margin Note: Funny, but I’m fairly certain I saw you rolling like a dork.>
<Margin Note: Nope. Never happened.>

We fought our way through the halls, celestials of all types covering our escape. On the roof, it looked like a scene out of Starship Troopers. Frenzied daemons were scaling the walls on the piles of their brethren’s corpses.

We rushed to the shuttle and were in the air in seconds. As suspected, the daemon onslaught ended and followed us as we flew off. Fire teams continued doing what they could to thin out the swarm, but they were running into ammunition problems, forcing them to fall back on spell casting and melee weapons.

“What the hell is going on?!” Essielle demanded.

“I have only a few suspicions,” I said. “Nothing concrete. But it is somehow tied to a malus from Lamashtu.”

“That’s it, we’re having a word with her representatives here. Pilot, plot heading for the demonic sector.”

“Roger that,” a voice from up front shouted back.

“Now, let’s have a look at this malus and see if I can –“ she didn’t finish her sentence because we were struck by something outside. The shuttle spun out and crashed hard into the ground. When I managed to free myself from my restraints, I found Kira alive – in the most broad definition of the term imaginable – with minor injuries and Essielle alive but unconscious. The pilot didn’t survive impact.

Outside, Kira and I found nearly a hundred daemons closing in on us. I couldn’t help but laugh. “Just a perfect day,” I sang as I fired my railgun into the mass of enemies.

“Drink sangria in the park,” Kira sang back, stabbing the first enemies in range. ““And later on…”

“...when it gets dark…”

“We’ll go home.”

<Both> “Oh, it's such a perfect day!”
<Kyle> “I'm glad I spent it with you.”
<Kira> “Oh, such a perfect day.”
<Both> “You just keep me hanging on.
You just keep me hanging on!”

So it was, that the two of us – Kira and Kyle, Kyle and Kira, Gemini – sang as we slaughtered daemons by the dozens. When it was done, we twins stood victorious on a mound of corpses, as it perhaps was always meant to be.

But it seems that there was no end to the daemons that pursued us. In the distance, less than a minute away, was a swarm thousands – maybe tens of thousands – strong. F&%@ this day.

“Kyle, leave me the weapons and run,” Kira said. “I’ll buy you as much time as I can.”

“No,” I said, resolve filling me. Also, a lot of anger. “I will not leave you. We’ve been running all day. I’m tired of running. This ends here, one way or another.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Oh, but I am,” I said, the fear having been washed away and replaced with a combination of resolve and a darker emotion. I tossed her my railgun and both Pizzicatos. “Don’t take any risks, but buy me as much time as you can.” I focused, gathering my will, and began humming Morgenstimmung.

Note: Part 1 of 3. Next part will be from Aurora's perspective and will be up in about 15 minutes. The third part will likely take a few days.

GM_Beernorg wrote:
Can't wait to see what happens with Kyle...great stuff Poldaran!

Some big reveals coming up, relating to

among other things. The next section is a three parter, first Kyle's perspective, then Aurora's and finally an addendum from

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Sky-Blue Days

We were attacked almost immediately by a pair of frost giants –silly me, I forgot my Mjolnir back at the inn – who commanded a whole pack of animals. Of course, giants wouldn’t have any normal animals, so we weren’t talking about a bunch of dogs or even wolves. Nope, they had a dire bear and four mammoths. Yes, mammoths.

And, of course, silly me, I forgot my tribe of Neanderthals back at the inn.

“GIANTS!” Lenn roared beside me.

“GIANTS!” Lenn roared above me. Wait, what? I looked up to see that Geo had transformed once more into what we were alternatively calling ‘Old Lenn’ and ‘Lenn Classic’ and was now doing a fairly good impression of fast roping down from the helicopter. I hadn’t taught him about that technique, so either it was used on Golarion in some fashion or he was inventing it right then. Either way, pretty impressive.

And forget what I said about forgetting my tribe of Neanderthals.

The fighting, as it usually is, was quick and dirty. Lenn and Geo!Lenn worked well together, even more than Lenn and Geo did. Between that, a few grenades, Paulie firing from above and Aurora dive bombing a mammoth, it wasn’t too difficult of a fight.

Once we were sure the surface area was secure, we had the helicopters land and I radioed Squibbles. “Outer fortress secure. Begin moving remaining forces in. Pick up that shield stone on the way. We’ll be leaving Orik and his forces to secure the area while we continue inside.”

“Got it!” Squibbles said excitedly.

We headed into the Black Tower at the heart of the fortress. Inside, we were greeted by a rush of cool air. It felt pretty nice. Like glorious air conditioning. But, as they say, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. As we made our way inside, it became clearer that it was going to get colder. I pulled off that silly sihedron medallion and popped on a magical necklace like the one I’d worn through space with Samantha. It protected me from vacuum, so a little cool air shouldn’t be an issue.

As comfortable as I was, we would still have to move quickly. The enchantments I’d put on Aurora’s armor to make it more comfortable would offer her about as much protection as those suits scientists wear in Antarctica, but everyone else was stuck putting on what they had for basic winter gear.

In the center of the room, we found a trapdoor frozen shut. A bit of magical fire later, it was open and we found ourselves staring down a fifty foot shaft into darkness. I dropped a torch down and estimated that we were looking at a roughly eighty foot descent all in all based on the time it took to hit bottom.

Geo!Lenn jumped down, intending to slow his descent by pressing against the walls of the shaft as he fell. Unfortunately, he hadn’t noticed that the shaft was coated in ice. He shot down at nearly full speed and landed hard.

“I’m okay!” he shouted up at us. “But hurry down!”

Lenn dropped down after him, not bothering to slow his fall. Then Aurora went next, using her wings to land safely. I dropped down after, slowing my fall with a knife in the ice and relying on my boots to take care of the rest. Moments later, Paulie followed after us, sliding down on a rope.

Oh, right. We had rope. Oops.

I had been right about the cold. It was probably somewhere in the region of ten below zero – Fahrenheit because I’m American, of course – not that it bothered me at all. Magic is great sometimes. And again, if it’s good enough for use in outer space, it’ll probably at least be some help planetside.

I heard the enemy before I saw him. “The green light! The green light!” he kept repeating in Thassilonian as some kind of madness mantra. We got eyes on him quickly and I was not happy with what I was seeing.

Then again, I doubt anyone would be happy to see that they were trapped in a chamber with a flying Thassilonian mummy. Yes, flying. His legs were bound together, so how else was he supposed to get around?

He tried to hit us with a breath attack, some kind of necromantic poison gas. The others had to dodge away, but the gasses he was breathing were unable to reach me thanks to the magic of my necklace.

The real problem was the flight. Only Aurora could fly up and hit it, which became a problem when it hit her back and stunned her, sending her crashing to the ground. Paulie and I could shoot at it, but it seemed like it would take forever to do any real damage.

Once more, Paulie remembered we had rope, managed to hook it with several lines and we dragged it to the ground where Lenn beat it to death – death plus, maybe? – with his axe. It let out a horrible screech of terror as the big guy beat its face into a pulp.

We looked around a bit and found nothing of interest aside from the massive adamantine scroll case on the mummy’s back, so we took our prize and made our way through a door into a much warmer room beyond to get a better look at it.

In the light of Aurora’s halo, we could see that the case was sealed with a combination lock made of five spinning rings. If Geo had been Geo at the moment, I would have pulled apart a radio and rigged it into a listening device so he could safe crack it. But Geo!Lenn informed me that he didn’t have that kind of skill.

So we forced it open with a crowbar. Adamantine or no, the hinges were still vulnerable. We only destroyed three of the scrolls within. I could repair them later. Besides, what was undestroyed was more interesting.

First of all, there were five more scrolls. That was cool. Then there was a full set of nine scrolls attached to a single set of rods. Together, they were some kind of artifact. I know this because I was unable to destroy them after my first attempt at reading them.

Let me explain. I pulled it open and even as I did so, I felt it resist. Then, as I read the runes on the page – vaguely interesting information about monsters of Thassilon – I began hearing voices. Voices whispering madness.

And this time, it wasn’t Fleur.

<Margin Note: You will give in! You will teach wizards to make Chunky Monkey ice cream! OOOOOHHHHH!>
<Margin Note: Give in to Glorious Cherry Garcia Master Race.>
<Margin Note: Hate you.>

I know a cursed artifact when I see one. So I tried lighting it on fire. It burned, but was not consumed. Then the fire spontaneously went out. We came to a quick consensus that we would encase the whole thing in cement and throw it into the first volcano we found.

There was one more thing in the scroll case that really piqued my interest. It was an invitation to a library. Yeah, maybe I’m a bit of a nerd. Just a little. Don’t tell anyone. It was to be presented to some kind of “Clockwork Librarian” at the “Therassic Library”. I had heard that word before, Therassic. It was some order of monks in ancient Thassilon. It was entirely possible that this was their monastery and the library was nearby. One could hope.

The writ had another bit of interesting information. Apparently the library had bronze doors warded against intrusion and there was a password. The password was “Viosanxi”, the name of the library’s architect. Sounds like he was the kind of guy who uses “Password” for access to his bank account.

We fought our way past another giant and his pack of bears, making our way into what looked like living quarters. There wasn’t much of note there aside from a journal we found. It stuck out to us because it was written in Elven, but had obviously been written by a giant. Where a giant learned Elven, I don’t know. But it was.

Her name had been Conna, and she had been excited about our arrival. Apparently Mokmurian had killed her mate and taken over their tribe. She was hoping we’d help her overthrow him so her tribe could return to their proud traditions and beloved isolation.

At this point, you know how this story ends. We showed up and I’m pretty sure we had already killed her and most of her tribe. Using my mortars and helicopters. Crap.

Inside the room that seemed to be a larder, we found tons – literal tons! – of meat in the form of numerous skinned animals. In one corner was a barrel marked “Candy” in the language of giants. We opened it and found a bunch of eyeballs, and they weren’t all from game animals. One more thing to add to the burn pile later.

In the tunnels, we came across a kobold. She furiously attacked us and came up against the brutal attacks of two Lenns, then fled. Now, I’ve heard stories of adventurers attacking kobold dens. There’s a particularly legendary man, missing both legs and an arm if the tales are to be believed, who described a horrific encounter while trying to deal with a group of kobold bandits. His name was Tucker or something, I think.

Anyway, I knew we couldn’t let her escape and I had a plan. I spotted something very interesting around her neck. “Lenns! Hold back! Paulie! Light her on fire!”

“YEEEEEEE!” the tiefling screeched happily, unleashing a fireball. I used magic to hit her with burning conjured snapdragon as well. I’m not sure which attack did the work, but it doesn’t matter. What killed her was the multiple fireballs from her magical necklace as one of our spells set off all the beads.

Lenn enjoyed the show and laughed loudly. It was infectious and we all joined in. It was pretty great. During the mirth, I looked over at Aurora. Our eyes met and she frowned and turned away. So much for the mood of levity.

We continued onward and found ourselves first against a pair of mentally enslaved dragons. I managed to free one of them, and it flew off. We found it shortly afterward, fighting against a pair of lion bodied lamias in a makeshift temple to Lamashtu, because of course there was a temple to Lamashtu in there somewhere. We murdered them and decided we’d have Magrim come in to cleanse the temple later and continued onward, deeper into the tunnels.

We came across some kind of statue. From a distance, I thought it looked like a golem, but when Lenn and Geo!Lenn approached, nothing happened, so we continued on. However, when I passed, it moved. But it didn’t attack until Aurora stepped forward. I suspect it had been ordered to attack any non-giants that passed. Lenn and Geo!Lenn passed as giants by its reasoning – not that I’d ever tell them that – and I had been tall enough to make it hesitate for a moment, but Aurora had certainly set off its attack.

Like most of our foes thus far, it fell to a combination of LENN SMASH and PAULIE BURN. The sound of the fight attracted the attention of some kind of headless ogre and its zombie ogre minions. Don’t ask me to explain how the headless ogre heard the fighting. I don’t know. Vibrations in its feet or something?

Lenn was still a bit worn out from the last fight, so Aurora took the lead on this one. Her lightning fast strikes were akin to a lawnmower against zombie flesh, making short work of the headless ogre while the rest of us supported her.

Tiny, but fierce indeed.

Having caught his breath, Lenn took the lead when the Forgefiend – a ten foot tall barrel shaped fiend from the Plane of Earth(the dirt, not the planet) that eats metal ores and occasionally armor and weapons – attacked. No idea how Mokmurian had bound it, but it didn’t matter. It looked like a weird giant, so Lenn beat it to death. He really was in his element here, his element being “hitting big things with an axe”.

Beyond the forgefiend was a massive cauldron. “A runeslave cauldron,” Paulie said in his “gargling gravel” voice, indicating another personality swap. That’s what I’d been thinking. Also, he’s been getting really good at controlling these swaps. They seem to tire him, though.

A quick vote later, we decided that something capable of enslaving giants was both too powerful and too horrible to allow to exist. We attempted to destroy it, but just like the scrolls, it was too powerful to break with normal means. I remember there being a method for it, but I either never knew the method or couldn’t recall. So, concrete and volcano it was once more. We just needed to find a volcano.

We continued on and found our way to a set of bronze doors. I found myself getting excited. Who knew what this library held. Maybe I’d find what I’d been looking for. “Viosanxi,” I said. The doors swung open, revealing an impressive library within.

A clockwork construct approached us. It was pitiful. The poor thing had spent thousands of years in here without any kind of maintenance. I activated my magic sight and could see that there were spells about to prevent the effects of time on inanimate objects within the library, but they wouldn’t help the poor librarian. It had been forced to repair itself and had been pretty inadequate for the job.

One of its three legs dragged behind it, one of the gems it used for eyes was missing and one arm was completely useless. Beyond that were numerous smaller issues. It was a wonder that it could even run. I felt incredibly bad for it.

<Margin Note: You probably feel sorry for this lamp. That is because you’re stupid. The lamp has no feelings and the new lamp is much better.>
<Margin Note: Hush, you.>

I presented the writ to the librarian. “Welcome,” it said in a halting, grinding voice. Understandably, it spoke Thassilonian. “Which volume of lore would you like me to retrieve for you? There are currently twenty four thousand, four hundred ninety one volumes, scrolls, pamphlets and unbound manuscripts available. Please indicate your wish by author, title, subject or date of acquisition by the Therassic Monastery.” I believed the number. The library was massive with a sixty foot tall domed ceiling and magical crystal chandeliers hanging throughout. No expense had been spared in the pursuit of knowledge.

I managed to convince the librarian that I was the library’s new caretaker and would be repairing it at my first opportunity, though I had the more important task of dealing with dangerous vermin in the areas outside the library before I could get to that. At my request, it directed me to another exit on the far side of the library. While it waited, I asked it to find me anything it could on teleportation magic capable of transporting one interplanetary distances.

Through the door was a strange room with only one corner. I was almost confused, but when I heard the howl, I realized the brilliance. It had been made to house Hounds of Tindalos, They inhabit the angles within space-time, while the rest of us inhabit space-time’s curves. By creating a room with only one angle, you create a perfect room to greatly increase the length of servitude for such creatures using symbolic magic.

I wasn’t sure if the room had been designed by the Thassilonians or if Mokmurian had altered it for his needs, but it really didn’t matter. What did matter was that he had a trio of the beasts at hand to attack us. But, again, we had a two Lenns, a tiefling archer/caster, a knight who was brokering no foolishness and one wizard with an SMG. They were pretty screwed, though I’m sure their howls warned their master we were coming.

We made our way through the tunnels to what the librarian had described as the lecture hall. From outside the door, we could see that the room was filled with fog. I touched the fog, revealing that it was the kind of magical fog that slowed one’s movement. I silently activated my magic sight and peered within.

While I could not see the creature within the room, I could see all of its magical auras, giving me a rough idea of where it was. Based on the auras, I could also deduce the magic items it was wearing. And based on that, I was fairly certain we were looking at a wizard or sorcerer who could see through the fog and was ready to engage us by using the terrain to his advantage.

It was a smart play. But he was being stupid. He had set himself up in a defensive position, surrounded by magical traps so we’d have trouble reaching him. He was a bloody amateur. Don’t believe me? Just ask Michael Westen.

“When a pro plans an ambush, they capitalize on the element of surprise. They attack aggressively so their opponent has to react from a place of weakness. An amateur, on the other hand, is more likely to take a defensive posture which means they are the one acting from a place of weakness.” That isn’t to say he’d be a pushover, but I knew that if I could make him angry, I could force him to give up his advantages.

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s pissing people off.

Fleur had even set the groundwork. “Mokmurian’s inside. Prepare to charge. You’ll know the signal,” I whispered to the others. Then I tapped my hat and changed a few things about myself, including my hair color and style into long teal braids. Only then did I begin to sing.

“Wanna join me, come and play
But I might shoot you, in your face
Bombs and bullets will do the trick
What we need here is a little bit of panic!”

The fog spell he’d used was a clever trick, but it was defeated by a single powerful gust of wind. The amount of magic it takes to create fog literally as thick as pea soup is also much higher than the magic required to create a gust of wind, if you have the spell prepared.

If you’re a wizard who thinks they may have to use mustard gas against your foes, it’s only prudent to prepare the wind spell in case something goes wrong. Now, I know prudence isn’t my really my strong suit, but in this case, paranoia will suffice.

Upon singing the word “panic”, I unleashed a gust of wind, tearing away the veil of fog. Mokmurian, scarred by the corrosive mustard gas, reacted by unleashing a cloud of poisonous gas – the locals call the spell “Cloudkill” – upon my position.

“See how you like it!” he shouted, snarling in rage.

My companions rushed into the room and out of the cloud. I just stood there, nonchalantly checking my fingernails for dirt. “It’s fine. Not a very good smell, mind you, but it’s fine.” Unlike me, he hadn’t given himself permanent at will magic sight. Which meant he didn’t know that I was still wearing the necklace I had put on to keep out the cold. Again, if it works against the vacuum of space, no simple gas cloud is going to be a danger.

I winked and he howled again with rage, unleashing a magical ray of disintegration at me. It hurt, but I survived it just fine. And at that point, I was no longer the threat to him. He had two Lenns and Aurora upon him and Paulie had conjured up one of his ancestors. “ON-WARD!” the tiefling sang out.

Aurora cut one of his Achilles’ tendons and he responded by using telekinesis to throw her against a wall. In the process, he exposed himself to attacks from Lenn and Geo!Lenn, which proved brutally effective.

Suddenly realizing the real chance of losing, Mokmurian tried to cast a spell to teleport away. That was what I had been waiting for. I analyzed the magic and targeted him with a dispel, cutting a few necessary threads before the spell’s matrix could coalesce, leaving him trapped in a room with a pair of angry Lenns.

It wasn’t pretty.

As he lay on the ground, dying, I walked over calmly and drew my gun. “Please, spare me!” the giant wizard begged.

I raised my weapon, aiming it at his head. “I did warn you this might be the outcome,” I said with a sardonic smile before shooting him in the face.

“Pwned,” Fleur chimed in. Dork.

If I were a better artist, this would be the page with an illustration of the black tower with the date, time and the words “Fortress of the Stone Giants: Secured” or something written on it. But I’m not great with non-technical illustrations, so, I apologize for not doing so. But that does bring me to reveal a bit of something as way of apology.

Thanks to the smuggling of my new MP3 player, I had learned so very much. But there is one thing that I hadn’t even considered until a few evenings prior, when I noticed it had a running calendar. I now knew what day it was back home. So in lieu of illustration, let me just write:

8:47pm UTC-07
March 1st, 2025
Fortress of the Stone Giants: Secured
Happy Birthday to me.

I have been gone for a little under eleven years. But I was beginning to believe that it wouldn’t go as long as twelve. And yes, by some goofy coincidence, we defeated Mokmurian on my birthday. I mean, it’s only a one in a three-sixty-five chance, so it’s not that big of a coincidence. But it was amusing.

But that wasn’t the only thing that happened then. Because immediately after I shot Mokmurian, his body stood, his eyes glowing. A voice that was not his own poured from his lips, resonating through the chamber at an oppressive hundred and ten decibels.

“So these are the heroes of this age. Gasping worms to be crushed into the earth when I awaken the armies of Xin Shalast, when the name of Karzoug is again spoken with awe and fear. Know that the deaths of those marked with the Sihedron – a bounty of which you have provided this day – hasten my return, just as yours soon will. Fools, all of you! Is this all that could be accomplished in ten thousand years?”

I stood defiant. I don’t like bullies. “You have yet to begin to see what we can do. Bring your armies. We’ll crush them like we crushed your giants.”

The voice laughed. “Once more pride tests itself against me. Come then, and we shall see what you can do!” The giant’s body crumpled once more, disintegrating and leaving nothing but his gear. So much for any thought of using the Runeslave Cauldron on his corpse to bring him back for use against our enemies.

Not that I had ever even considered such a thing, mind you.

We secured the upper levels and a path to the library, then I set to work repairing the librarian with the aid of the technicians. Between us, it didn’t take all that long at all to set it back to full working order. The poor thing was so grateful that I’m sure I had its undying devotion.

When I fabricated a handheld document scanner the next day, it was more than happy to begin scanning everything in the library for me. It also gave me a special prize it had found, the torn fragment of a scroll that once held a spell that would have allowed me to teleport home across any distance. It wasn’t quite enough for me to reconstruct the spell, but it was a place to start.

We continued working through the vast tunnels, securing zones and massive piles of treasure. In fact, the treasure was so great that we weren’t going to be able to move it all out on our own. We needed help. So I sent a message to the Voidstrife factor in Magnimar to make the arrangements on our fourth day.

Imagine my astonishment when Chadwick appeared out of nowhere that evening with the unmistakable pop of teleportation magic. “What are you doing here?” I asked my adopted brother.

“Our office in Magnimar has been sending me some very concerning reports. When you requested we send a wizard with a half dozen portable holes to move some stuff to Magnimar, I decided I would come personally and address the concerns.” Yes, six portable holes. There was a lot of treasure.

“Okay, what are you concerned about?”

He pulled something out of his pocket. “This. Why did you have our factor acquire so much of it?”

I laughed. “That’s it? That’s the big worry?” I opened my bag and fished around for a minute. “Do you know what this is?” I asked, handing him a small metallic disc.

His eyes went wide. “I’ve never seen so much of it at once. Where did you get it?”

I tapped the rock he was holding. “From one of those. The alchemical processes people use to get aluminum are expensive and only work on rarer sources. I can extract it easily from very common sources. I had him get it on a hunch because I may need it to build something we can sell at value. But if not, I’ll just extract enough to double our initial investment without oversaturating the market and keep the rest for my own work.” I had explained why I might need all that bauxite, but I guess I had forgotten to mention that aluminum was a metal known on Golarion that was more valuable than platinum.

“Okay, good. So you haven’t gone crazy.”

“No more than usual. So, did you bring the portable holes?”

“I did. We’re charging seven percent of the value of goods for transport to anyone in your party, so I believe we stand to make mutual profits from this arrangement. Normally, it’s ten, but they’re with you, so I’m giving a discount. Of course, anything of yours can go for free. That goes for anything Aurora sends as well.” He must have seen me wince when he said Aurora’s name. “What’s wrong?”

“We’re kinda fighting right now.”

He smacked me upside the head. “Then go apologize for whatever you said or did.”

I had tried. It was just hard to talk to her the last couple days. The first day had been bad. She was still really upset. We ended up fighting some more. Then it had been pretty silent. Every time I tried to talk, I could tell she didn’t want to. So we explored in silence.

I took refuge in crafting. I needed to take my mind off of it, so I worked on completing the present I had been making her – which I was pretty sure she wouldn’t want anymore, but I couldn’t leave it incomplete – and then I began work on my own special project. Top secret. Very confidential.

“We think there might be a few more areas to scout. Can you wait until tomorrow evening to head out?”

“Sure, as long as you have somewhere for me to sleep and enough food.”

I nodded. “Easily done. In the meantime, want to check out the library?”


“Ancient Thassilonian. Amazing stuff in there you have to see.”

I took him to check it out. No more than half an hour in, he had made a decision. “We have to own this. Do you think we’d be able to take all of this back to Absalom?”

I shook my head. “Nope. Anything in here that gets taken out undergoes the full ravages of the time it spent inside the library upon leaving the room. I’ve been making copies, but this has to stay here.”

“Then who owns the library?”

“It technically belongs to a long dead order. The librarian has accepted me as the monastery’s new caretaker, though, so I’m sure we could have the family take over the whole thing, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“I am. Someone’s going to claim it. Might as well be us.”

I grinned. “Put everyone here on the payroll. Waive the transport fee as payment for services rendered. Make it official and I don’t think anyone will complain. Especially if you give the artifact we seized to the Lord Mayor as a joint bribe from the Voidstrifes and the Potent Rainbow Lions. Then retain at least one squad of the PRL to guard this place alongside family forces. Everyone wins. It’s either that or years of legal contests.”

“Done. I’ll make the arrangements tomorrow.”

With Aurora sleeping in another room, the nightmares returned that night. This time, however, they maintained the theme my dreams had been going on. I was in the burned out husk of a village, the torched remains of huts still smoldered around me. “CEDWIN!” I called out. I didn’t know how, but I knew my parents were still dead. My brother was all that I had left in the world. I had to find him. But I felt like I was walking in wet sand and couldn’t get anywhere. He was nowhere to be found.

I was awoken by a scream of agony. At first, I thought it was part of the dream, but when I opened my eyes, it was still there. I got up and rushed towards the sound. Aurora met me in the hallway and we ended up having to kick in the door to Geo’s room.

I will never forget what awaited me inside.

For lack of a better term, Geo had exploded. Bits of him were all over everywhere. In the center of the room stood Lenn, naked. “What happened?!” I asked.

Before Lenn could answer, a voice behind me roared. “I’M TRYING TO SLEEP!”

I knew that voice. I turned and saw Lenn looking out from another room. “What.” It then dawned on me. Geo had done it. He had managed to clone the old Lenn within his own body, but he hadn’t survived the process. I turned away from the room, dropped to my knees and started retching.

We had enough money to pay for the more expensive resurrection he’d need – and dammit, it was coming out of his share! – so, once my stomach settled, I began using light telekinesis to gather his remains up in a bucket. It was a long, disgusting process.

And then it got even more disgusting about an hour later when his remains began crawling together towards the pile I had in the bucket. I never screamed, no matter what anyone tells you.

Ones re-gathered, the body knitted itself together and Geo stood before me like nothing had happened. Well, his clothes hadn’t survived. That was two naked men more than I had hoped to see that day. And weirder, anything he had done to his body to accommodate the process had reversed. “What,” I said for the second time that morning.

“I’m pretty hungry,” he said. “Pregnancy takes a lot out of you.” Just like it was no big deal. What the hell is wrong with my life? At that point, I could either further analyze what he had done to himself, or I could pretend it had never happened and go on with my day.

I’m pretty sure you know what I chose.

After I finished my crafting for the day, I joined Aurora to continue searching through the tunnels. The truth is, what really happened is that I went alone and she followed because she had sworn to be my protector and wouldn’t break that promise, no matter how mad at me she was.

In truth, the chamber we were entering was one we had found the previous day, so there was little to no danger, since we’d already swept it for traps and other hidden hazards. As best we could tell, it belonged to the dragon we had slain in Sandpoint. Its hoard was sizable if not terribly valuable. I would catalog it and then we could divvy it up. I could claim the bulkier, less valuable portions in equal value and break them down into magicite, allowing others to take the more portable filthy lucre.

No one followed us into the treasure hoard. Likely Chadwick’s doing. He was dead set on Aurora and I fixing our problems so we could get together like he wanted us to. Damn shipper. Get a Tumblr blog already.

I was careless. Everything that happened next is my fault. That someone might have snuck in and put in traps after we had searched the treasure hadn’t occurred to me. If I had, perhaps things might have turned out differently.

“Maybe we should talk,” I said, finally.

“I’m not sure I’m up to fighting today,” Aurora said quietly. I knew how she felt. But if there was any hope of salvaging our friendship, we had to talk eventually.

“We’ll take this slow, then,” I said. I paused to formulate my words carefully. In the silence I heard a sound that made my blood run cold. I didn’t know exactly what it would set off, but it was definitely a spell trigger. And the sound came from where Aurora was standing. “Look out!” I shouted, diving without thought at her.

I pushed her away and heard an explosion. Pain tore through my body, then I realized as I hit the ground that I couldn’t feel my legs. How cliché was that?

Aurora rushed to my side. She was saying something, but I couldn’t make out the words. My ears were ringing. Why did everything hurt so bad? “Thank god,” I said, though I couldn’t hear my own voice. “You’re okay.”

As I lay there, the blackness closing in all around me, I could only think of one thing. I had never apologized to Aurora. Like a coward, I could not admit to her how sorry I was for what I said. At that moment, I would have given anything for just a few moments to say those words to her.

But try as I might, I simply could not find the strength to speak. And please believe me, I tried. I tried harder than I’ve ever tried to do anything in my life. But it did no good. It was beyond my ability. I could not do it, for what seemed like an eternity but was likely only a matter of moments.

Instead, all I could do was look up at Aurora, cradling my dying body in her arms. Were those tears in her eyes? Had I made her cry? That was unforgiveable. No. I had to tell her. I gave it my all. Every ounce of strength that remained and even a few ounces I didn’t have.

But it wasn’t enough. As I died – not for the first time in my life, having died on the operating table for a few seconds back when my older brother had nearly beaten me to death – I simply sighed. The darkness that closed in on me was almost comforting, like an old friend.

At least the pain was gone.

From the Desk of Fleur:

Mm, what'd you say?
Mm, that you only meant well
Well of course you did
Mm, what'd you say?
Mm, that it's all for the best
Of course it is
Mm, what'd you say?
Mm, that it's just what we need
You decided this
Mm, what'd you say?
Mm, what did she say?

The Battle of Jorgenfist or "What's a mortar with you?"

Harry Shearer, of Simpsons fame, once famously said, “I am one of those people who thrive on deadlines, nothing brings on inspiration more readily than desperation.” I must say, it’s interesting if nothing else.

We had one night to finish everything we would need for the assault on the giants’ stronghold. We had the mortars and machine guns, of course, but those were now knowns for the enemy. I had to assume they would be ready to counter them, so that meant I had to have other plans. I had fabricated a number of options, but our biggest plan B lay with the work we had done to the carts. But we had to finish them first. The deadline loomed.

I sang pony songs as we worked because my workshop, that’s why. Well, Fleur sang with me, but no one else could hear her. And she’s me, so I guess technically my original statement still holds. That’s it. I’m seeing a psychiatrist first thing when I get back.

After today, maybe I could officially add PTSD to my list of conditions to talk with him about.

I tried not to think about it as I worked. Perhaps a little too hard. I ended up humming the tune to Narwhals for about an hour before someone complained.

Despite all of my worry, we finished what we needed to do. The last step was to upload specialized copies of my VI into the carts and hope that everything would work out. I mean, they should work fine. I designed them. But no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, even when it’s Plan B.

So it was good that I’d prepared Plans C through H. Each was more horrible than the last and several would need to be censored if I ever released this journal back home if I wanted to stay out of a war crimes trial. But the important part was that I could whip them up quickly as needed, with only a few of them requiring pre-preparation.

This would be simpler if I could Fabricate plutonium. But I can’t. Yes, I tried. Well, that’s a lie. I can Fabricate plutonium, but the quantities I can get per cast are so ridiculously small that I’d be looking at months, or perhaps even years before I had enough to make a single weapon. Same goes for enriched uranium.

Depleted uranium, on the other hand? That I could get if I needed it. It just wasn’t as valuable, which somehow meant it was easier to make. I don’t get it. But believe me, if we come across some kind of adamantine golem, I’m making depleted uranium shells. Not that this was really likely to be helpful with today’s work. So we’d call that Plan U.

We Earthlings have a whole history of very inventive solutions for the age old problem of how to kill each other. To abuse another quote from home: “War. War never changes. Since the dawn of human kind, when our ancestors first discovered the killing power of rock and bone, blood has been spilled in the name of everything: from God to justice to simple, psychotic rage.”

My people have been killing each other for millennia. It would be laziness of the highest magnitude if we hadn’t at least gotten good at it in the process. Back at Sandpoint, we gave the giants a glimpse of that brutal efficiency. Today, at Jorgenfist, they would learn just how good we were at it.

This would be so much easier if I had the facilities I really needed. Thankfully, I can shortcut with magic, but there’s a limit to just how much of that I can do each day, and I’ve only recently gotten good enough to really crank that up to eleven.

What I need are factories crafting composite materials, mines gathering what I need to make those necessary materials by the truckload, paved roads or railways to deliver what I need en masse. I need whole workshops of college educated engineers to put together what I’m designing. What I have is magicite, four people trained in crafting magical constructs and nearly a dozen temporary robot helpers in addition to a smattering of technology equivalent to somewhere between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries.

When I leave, I won’t be leaving behind a tech revolution. What I’ll leave behind is a number of artifacts and perhaps some innovative ideas someone might use to craft new magic items that mimic some of my technological devices. Heck, the longer technological legacy I’ll leave is likely to be from my efforts to speed along technological evolution through the Voidstrife organization, and all I’ve been doing there is focusing on jumping tech roughly five years for every one to slowly build the tools society needs to build the infrastructure I’ll need to build the tools I need to build the tools society needs to build the infrastructure I’ll need… and so on and so forth.

If this whole Thassilon thing fails to provide a way home, I’m fairly certain I could now build a ship capable of getting Aurora and me safely to Castrovel in about three years using a combination of Earth tech, alien tech from the guide and a few of my own innovations. I’m sure that if an MP3 player was enough to buy a trip home that I have something valuable enough to buy a copy of the spell itself for my spellbook.

I do have that screen I made and did put a few hours of pornography on my new MP3 player, after all. And if that fails, maybe I could build the wizard an entire central air conditioning system for his home powered exclusively by magitech batteries. After all, there is no pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater than central air.

So, in the end, finding a way home is no longer the priority it once was. I’ve actually more or less got that sorted. Finding a faster way is still a goal, but for now I just need a way to survive til then and finish what I’ve started.

So, to war I will go.

I finished what I could and went to lay down for sleep. Aurora was waiting for me. “Can I get your help?” she asked.

“Sure,” I replied. “What do you need?”

“Help me out of my armor?” It seemed dangerous this close to the enemy fortress, but I figured she might need to make use of the camp’s crude facilities, so I didn’t say anything. “Okay, lay down,” she said once we were done.


“You need your sleep and I need to not hear you whimpering so I can sleep. So lay down.” Ah, so that was it. I did as I was told and she laid down next to me, her head on my chest. I must have been pretty tired, as I fell asleep almost immediately.

My dream that night was pretty weird.

“YOU KIDNAPPED A NOBLEMAN’S DAUGHTER?!” I screeched in a strangely musical soubrette. “What the hell is wrong with you, Cedwin?!”

The half elf before me looked ashamed. “It all went to pot. They wouldn’t surrender. I tried to knock the lord out, but I hit too hard and cracked his skull. The mother attacked me with a knife and Talfryn shot her before I could react. After that, with the remaining staff scattered, we didn’t want to leave her for bandits, so we brought her with us.”

Curse him. He had a point. “Okay, that’s understandable. Mistakes were made, but you did the best you could. I’ll find a way to figure this out.”

“I knew you’d understand.” He turned to leave, then suddenly stopped. He took a deep breath and turned to me again. “She wants to meet you.”

“Oh?” I raised an eyebrow dangerously. I could already tell I wasn’t going to like this.

“Since you’re head of the family, she feels it’s her obligation to do so.”

“Ced? What did you do?!”

“It was her idea.”


“It’s not my fault.”


“We, uh, got married.”

I tried to scream at him, but I couldn’t. I had gone so far past angry that it had become hilarious. I just fell to the floor laughing. My brother, the idiot, just stared at me, certain that when I was done, I was going to turn him into a newt.

But I had other plans. Yes, this could work. It would cost us some allies, but what was done was done. Those allies were gone. No, I had to simply adapt. And I would certainly adapt.

The black knight had a long season ahead of him.

I woke up confused, with Aurora looking at me. “What?”

“You were laughing.”

“It was a weird dream.”

“Sounds like the camp is starting to get ready to move. Shall we get up?”

“Yeah, I think I’ve gotten my two hours. You?”

“I slept a few hours while you were working. I’ll be good.”

We got up and I helped Aurora into her adamantine apparel, checking all the fittings to make sure everything would be secure. We didn’t want any mishaps today of all days. After that, I prepared my spells for the day. It was a combat heavy list, containing some direct attack spells as well as a number of support spells. Unlike most days, I only left a handful of slots blank.

Better to have something prepared that isn’t exactly right than to have nothing prepared and need something immediately and desperately.

I met up with Orik at his campfire. “Everything ready?” he asked.

“As ready as we’re going to get,” I said. “How about on your end?”

“The Lions will get the job done, even if the Flails have to carry the whole operation. There is one thing I’m concerned about, though.”

“What’s that?”

“The big guy. There are going to be a lot of giants. Can you keep him under control?”

That was a good question. “I think Geo can direct him where we need him. And if not, then we always have plan B.” I grinned. “But if things go sideways, just imagine how much fun it’s going to be to watch your gnome explain to the boss how he screwed up the operation because he got tired of waiting back at the cliff.”

He laughed. “You really don’t seem to like gnomes.”

“I don’t understand them. There’s an uncanny valley thing about them, like they’re normal beings like humans, elves and dwarves, but there’s just that little bit off about them.”

“That’s a surprising observation. I mean, they’re weird, but no one pays them any mind. It’s just their way.”

I shrugged. “First time I met someone that wasn’t a human was when I was nineteen. I’m a little sheltered.” Maybe it was something I needed to work on. I dunno. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that when I was near one, someone was watching me. I mean, other than the gnome.

We set out just after sunrise, planning our arrival for midmorning. Truth was, with the hobgoblins, there was no reason to show up at night. That would just hand them a sight advantage. And we were traveling east-ish to get there, so no reason to show up at sunrise. No, midmorning was our best option.

We timed it pretty well, reaching the Valley of the Black Tower around nine am or so, based on the position of the sun. The valley was massive, which made sense considering it was used by giants. Not too far inside the valley was a watch post of sorts. Our group of five mounted up and rushed it, hoping to hit it before it could raise an alarm, the carts following behind us at the quickest pace they could reasonably manage.

Of course, we weren’t quite quick enough, because that would have made me happy. As we neared, red smoke – the color likely coming from an additive easy enough to produce with a little alchemy – billowed up from inside the palisade around the smallish watch post.

“Oh ho ho ho,” laughed the grotesquely scarred taiga giant woman standing at the gate. “Now everyone knows you’re here. But we don’t have to wait. I’ve heard so much about how dangerous you are, so prove it. Send out your champion and let’s see how strong you really are.”

I exchanged a glance with three of the others, and without words we immediately agreed that there was only one choice. “Lenn?” Geo asked.

“GIANT!” the big man roared. Yeah, he got the idea.

Honestly, had Lenn not been there, I would have just suggested we decline and swarm her. But I hoped that if he got it out of his system now, at least a little, he would be easier to hold back during the larger fight.

The battle was quick and brutal. She was wielding what looked like some sort cross between a battle axe and an ogre hook, but it wasn’t any bigger than Lenn’s weapon. A crazed look in her eye – bloodlust, most likely – she charged in with a heavy overhand chop. She anticipated the sidestep anyone else would have made and arced it left at the last moment, bringing it down against his rising axe. Normally, both weapons would have survived the encounter, but he had the strength on his side, both of arm and of weapon.

Lenn’s axe cleaved right through her weapon without even slowing and continued on. Striking off kilter, it didn’t so much chop her head off as it popped her head clean off, almost like a grotesque Rock Em Sock Em Robot. All that held her now decapitated head in place was a loose flap of skin just over her spine.

She fell backward from the force and crumpled in a heap upon the ground.

Four more giants poured out from the post. Our fight with them was nowhere near as brutal as Lenn’s fight with their commander. Lenn, Geo and Aurora each soloed one, while Paulie and I worked together to conserve spell resources. We had plenty of arrows and bullets, but spells might become a limiter later.

We inspected the corpses and the camp as we waited for the rest of our forces. I was dismayed by what we found. I called Aurora over. “What is it?” she asked.

“These runes,” I said, indicated one of the four minions’ corpses. “They’re Thassilonian. They’re used to enslave creatures. Giants, specifically, for these.”


“Our enemies may not be in control of themselves. Certainly many of them aren’t.”

“What do we do?”

I shook my head and sighed. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do, honestly. We continue forward.”

“Okay.” She put a hand on my shoulder. “Kyle, this is important. You can’t show any hesitation and especially no fear today.” She pointed an arm out towards the valley, where we could already see hundreds of foes stirring and beginning to make their way towards us. “In about an hour, we’re going to be fighting for our lives against an overwhelming force. The only reason any of us are still here is because you’ve told us we can win this and we’ve seen enough to believe you. If you start looking doubtful, it’ll turn into a rout and we’ll all die, okay?”

I nodded. “Okay. I’ll be a big brave dog today.” I grinned. “Everyone else is almost here. Guess I should make a speech, huh?”

“It would probably help. No pressure.”

I relayed instructions to Orik and Squibbles. They began barking orders to their soldiers and setting up the barricades just like we’d practiced. Large walls unfolded just like my scrying mirror and were secured in place with all practical speed. Massive caltrops and landmines were deployed, creating avenues of approach that we could fire down.

I stood up on one of the wagons and had the VI connect my radio transmitter to the speakers I’d attached. “I need a moment, everyone.” Work stopped and all eyes were on me. “I’ve come to trust each and every one of you, with my life if necessary. But I have heard murmurs of discontent. In your eyes, I see the very fear which at times threatens to take me.” I motioned over the valley, at the armies assembling to meet us. “How could it be otherwise? We’re a few, taking on many. They are larger and stronger than we. Yes, how could it be otherwise indeed?

“I’m not going to lie to you. The odds against us seem insurmountable at first glance. But let me explain something. Those forces out there? They aren't a threat to us. They're a threat to everything — everyone. If we fail, it will be the end of Sandpoint, of Magnimar and every other settlement within hundreds of miles. If we fail, every human, elf, dwarf, gnome and people of countless other races within the region will be dead or enslaved within the year. The few that survive to become slaves will envy those who have found the release of death. Those are the lives we're fighting for. That's the scale.

“It's been a long journey, and no one's coming out without scars. But it all comes down to this moment. We win or lose it all in the next few hours. And make no mistake, we CAN win this. But it’s on us. So, make me proud. Make yourselves proud.

“Mokmurian seeks to bring an apocalypse down upon us. If we do nothing, we might just live to watch the end of the world we know. But that isn’t going to happen. A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, as the Age of Civilization comes crashing down! But. It. Is. Not. This. Day.

“Because today… Today, at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other. Today there is not a man or woman in here that shall stand alone. Not. Today. Today we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them! Today, we are CANCELING THE APOCALYPSE!”

Cheers erupted from our forces. Aurora nodded approvingly. I winked, deciding not to tell her today that I had cribbed my words from multiple sources. I’d have to tell her eventually, of course. After all, even if she missed the others, what were the odds that she’d never watch or read Lord of the Rings after we got to Earth?

I inspected the work as it went. These people were not just professionals, but driven, so it was going well. One of the technicians stopped me as I went along. “You really think we can survive this?” the young man asked, in front of far too many witnesses.

“You’re damn right I do. You know why?”

“Why is that?”

“Because we’re too gods-damned pretty to die.” I glanced over at Orik, who was helping his men work. “Okay, one of you keep an eye on Orik. I’m only giving him a fifty percent chance on that whole ‘too pretty to die’ thing.” Several of the soldiers laughed. “Alright. Keep working. I’m going to go grab a few more grenades.”

I walked around a cart, out of sight of the soldiers. Then everything I’d been suppressing hit me like a ton of bricks. I retched violently, though I barely managed to stifle the sound. I would have vomited if not for the fact that there was nothing in my stomach to vomit. My entire body was shaking.

What the hell was I doing here? I saw that army. From my count, there had been one hundred twenty seven assorted giants, fifty three ogres, three hundred hobgoblins, ninety three goblins and one hundred eighteen assorted undead. I had fewer than fifty men and women with me. This was insanse.

Don’t get me wrong, I had confidence in my tech. But had we brought enough, or was this going to turn really ugly really quickly? All I know is that I’d have traded all my forces for a fully loaded B-2 bomber right about then.

Aurora managed to sneak up on me. I only noticed her when she put her hand on my shoulder. “You’re doing fine. Just hang in there.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll be fine once we’re actually fighting.” At least, I hoped so. She nodded and got back to work.

“‘I always get the shakes before a drop,’” Fleur quoted. “‘I've had the injections, of course, and hypnotic preparation, and it stands to reason that I can't really be afraid. The ship's psychiatrist has checked my brain waves and asked me silly questions while I was asleep and he tells me that it isn't fear, it isn't anything important — it's just like the trembling of an eager race horse in the starting gate. I couldn't say about that; I've never been a race horse. But the fact is: I'm scared silly, every time.’”

I grinned. I’ve always loved that book. “If Rico can do it, so can I.”

“Then let’s get out there. C’mon, you ape! You wanna live forever?!” You know, actually, I think I’d rather like that. An eternity to game and science aplenty to study when my thumbs needed a break? That sounded like heaven. Maybe it was something I’d look into once I’d solved the ‘getting home’ problem.

But that was a thought for another day. “Then let this be the hour when we draw swords together. Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn!”

Fleur laughed a berserker’s laugh. “Forth now, and fear no darkness!” I grabbed a few more grenades like I’d said I would. If it came to it, if we failed, I would take as many with me as I could. Because I was no one’s lunch.

When I got back, everything was ready and the enemy was almost close enough. Time enough for one last speech. “Hear me! Those bastards out there, they attacked our homes, our friends! They think we're helpless. They're wrong. They started a war, but we're not here to finish it. We're here to make them regret -- to show them and everyone else what happens when you go too far. No more running, no more waiting. Let's hit them where they live. Load the mortars! Arm the machine guns! Let us teach them fear! They will show us no mercy, so let us give them no quarter! CRY HAVOC AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR!


The sounds of mortar fire erupted all around me, reverberating through my whole body. The sounds of machine gun fire pierced the very air, threatening to overwhelm my eardrums. It was an experience like no other. And, in a strange way, it was magnificent.

Those sounds signified our strike against those who would harm the innocent. They were our voices, crying out in a terrifying cacophony against those who had harmed us. But more than anything, they were a roaring testament that I had done it. They were the glorious tribute to my brilliance.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite as smug as I did in that moment, watching modern – and even more advanced than that – tools of war tearing through the ranks of this monstrous force before us like a scythe through a field of wheat. I couldn’t help myself. I threw my head back in a mad scientist’s laugh, just like Maximillian Hertz – AKA Dr. Hertz, one of my favorite comic book supervillains.

If you’ve never heard of it, there exists on the internet something called “The Evil Overlord’s List”. It’s a list of things one should or should not do if one ever finds themselves in the position of becoming a movie style evil overlord. Most of the advice is common sense, though some of it is fairly specific to recurring mistakes said overlords make in fiction. As such, some of the entries make sense for more than evil overlords. Some of the entries also apply quite well to gentleman adventurers and mad scientists, which I must admit was a reasonable label to apply to me at the moment.

Please allow me to quote number twenty from the Evil Overlord List: “Despite its proven stress-relieving effect, I will not indulge in maniacal laughter. When so occupied, it's too easy to miss unexpected developments that a more attentive individual could adjust to accordingly.”

Truth is, if I had been paying attention, I might have noticed the magical shield the enemy army had erected in time to save around two dozen shells. But I wasn’t, so a couple extra volleys got through. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s not like we really had that many shells to spare.

“Hold your fire!” I commanded upon noticing the shells exploding in the air upon impacting a nearly invisible barrier. I scanned the field looking for a cause. It didn’t take long to spot Lyrie and Lucrecia. They were standing next to a giant shorter than the rest, who I guessed to be Mokmurian. The three of them, along with others, were taking turns channeling magic into an artifact of some kind. If I were a betting man, I’d guess that had to be what was creating the shield.

I pulled out my scope and took a closer look. The artifact was an orb of polished marble, covered in Thassilonian runes set on an ornate stand made of black metal – I recognized it. It was a shield stone. It was believed that some of the Runelords used them to protect their strongholds against attacks from siege engines and enemy wizards. As long as it was fed magic, it would take the force of a nuclear bunker buster to penetrate. The upside was that it couldn’t be moved while it was being used and had a limited radius, though I wasn’t sure how limited. Large enough to cover a fortress, at the very least.

It also wouldn’t stop everything. Only objects traveling at high speeds and magic attacks would be blocked. People could ride right through it if necessary, which was an advantage for our enemies, not us. They still had roughly half their forces after taking the first couple volleys unprotected. At the very least, that was giving them pause. We had bloodied them and they were unsure how to react.

Well, most of them were unsure. The hobgoblins immediately took advantage of the situation by setting up crossbow teams at the boundaries. They’d stick the weapon out and shoot, the majority of their bodies protected from retaliation. We had our teams raise the metal walls to give themselves some protection.

“Geo,” I said over the radio. “I have a question for you.”

“Go ahead.”

“We can’t hit them with the mortars unless they start to close. Is there anything you can do about the hobgoblin leadership?”

“I can try to get close, but it might be impossible unless you can offer some kind of distraction.”


Meanwhile, the enemy massed its undead forces for a charge. It was a suicide mission, and they had to realize it, but it would force us to waste valuable ammo on expendable troops. And those were the ones we hadn’t bothered hitting during the initial volleys, so they were at full strength. “Any suggestions about the undead?” came Orik’s voice over the radio.

“Use the machine guns to thin them out. Fire in bursts to conserve ammo. When the remnants get close enough, switch to melee. Have the gunners focus on the giant spiders. Be mindful you don’t go too far out and end up in the minefield.”

“Got it. Squibbles, Lenn, Aurora and I can handle whatever makes it through.”

Which left me to deal with the second front, coming from the hobgoblin side. They had whipped their goblin slaves into a frenzy and sent them charging at us. “The mortars will make quick work of them,” Fleur commented.

She was right. I was just about to order the bombardment, but then an idea crept into my mind. “Mortar teams. Fire two smoke rounds behind the charging goblins and one explosive round in front of them.”

“What are you playing at?” Fleur asked. “You should just destroy them.”

“That would be a violation of the Third Rule of Acquisition.”

“Which is…?”

“‘Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to.’ Words are cheaper than shells.”

“You’re going to use words to defeat goblins? Goblins?! How can you possibly hope to do that?”

“Rule One Ninety Four: ‘It's always good to know about new customers before they walk in your door.’”

“I worry about you risking our life on something you learned from Star Trek.”

The shells were fired and landed more or less where I intended, though the explosive one ended up clipping the front of the goblin wave. In truth, that was probably for the best. I rode out in front of the horde. “Goblins!” I shouted in their language. “You have seen the power of our fireworks! I am willing to trade some to you! Will you trade with me?”

They stopped in their tracks. I had uttered the magic word. Goblins love fireworks. “What you want for fireworks?” one shouted back.

I grinned. “Hobgoblin heads!” They exchanged glances. They were on the fence about that one. “I’ll give you this many fireworks for each hobgoblin head,” I said, holding up all five fingers on my left hand. “And I’ll throw in a barrel of pickles as a bonus if you can bring me thirty hobgoblin heads!”

It didn’t take long for them to do the math. Well, “math”. They didn’t know how many fireworks exactly they stood to gain, but they knew it was more than they’d likely ever seen. Almost as one, they turned and charged back at the hobgoblins, who were still oblivious thanks to the wall of smoke.

“I think that distraction will work nicely,” Geo said over the radio. I caught a glimpse of him as his skin changed color to blend into his surroundings while he crept up on the enemy army.

Of course, it didn’t all go our way. The shield seemed to block missile weapons in both directions, but spells were a different story. It was only logical that a Runelord might want to attack his enemies from inside the safety of the shield, so I wasn’t surprised when a fireball flew out at us several minutes after the goblin chaos began, just disappointed. I had really been hoping that wouldn’t be the case.

“I have to bring down that shield,” I said to no one in particular as a volley of magical projectiles came flying at our position.

“Any ideas, bruh?” Paulie asked from where he was heroically trying to protect one of our mortar teams.

“Just the one, and I don’t like it.”

“Sounds like we have no choice,” he replied.

“You’re right about that. I’m going to need my horse.” I walked over to where Pinkie Pie was. “Okay, girl. We’re going to do something stupid, but the part after could be fun, right? Yeah, I thought you might agree.”

“Wait,” Fleur interjected.


“I know what you’re planning. You’re not up to this.”

“I don’t exactly have anyone else I can send. Has to be me. Someone else might get it wrong.”

“Not true. There’s one other person who can do it.”

“Who?” I was genuinely curious. I was hoping she meant Squibbles, since this was stupid bordering on suicidal and I still owed him for the thing the other day.

“Me. I will take the ring to Mordor. And I know the way.”


“Believe in the you who believes in me. We’re in this together.” Was she insane? Was I insane for considering it? Probably yes on both counts.

I sighed and then chuckled. “Let it go. Let it go! Can’t hold it back anymore.”

“Time to give me an entrance. No Digimon this time. And no Power Rangers either.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yes, yes.” I walked over to the front lines with Pinkie following me. I then tapped into the speakers again and struck a pose. “My Heart: UNLOCK!”

Fleur laughed. “Shugo Chara! You went with Shugo Chara?! You’re such an ass!”

I smirked as I activated my magic hat. As always, it felt weird as my whole body began to writhe and roil in its transformation. The last thing I did while in control was to start the activation of my magic bracers to allow Fleur to change her clothing to fit her mood.

…And suddenly, the transformation was over and I found myself in charge of our body. Fuddy Duddy just stared. “Fleur? Why do you look like Jinx?”

I beamed, looking adorable with my dimples and blue-green pigtails. “Because!”

“Oh god. This was a mistake.”

I ignored him and hopped on Pinkie Pie’s back. “Let’s go! For cupcakes! For victory! FOR PONY!” Pinkie charged straight forward. We weaved our way past undead, narrowly avoiding crossbow fire.

“Wouldn’t it be better to sneak around behind them?”

“Maybe, but not as fun! Besides, I bet they never expected this!” I tapped the radio. “Mortar teams! Be prepared to fire on giants! I’ll try to leave you a few!” I threw grenades behind me to slow down several giants that had started pursuit, then drew our gun and kneecapped another in our way.

We charged past several more bewildered giants and I began pulling out the little surprise Fuddy had hidden in his bag. “You know how to use that?” he asked.

“I was watching when you made it. I think I can figure it out.”

“We’re going to die.”

“Oh hush. I need to concentrate.” We were close. I could see Lyrie, Lucrecia and even Mokmurian giving me incredulous looks, completely unbelieving that just one of us would charge them. I’m not even sure they realized it was me doing it. Just that any one of us would do so. I winked at them, not sure I was close enough for them to see it. “Wanna join me? Come and play!” I sang at them. “But I might shoot you in your face…”

“Oh, God. She’s singing that song. We’re definitely going to die,” Fuddy muttered.

I ignored him. “Bombs and bullets will do the trick, but what we need here…” I threw the armed canister, only slightly larger than a football, at them and wheeled Pinkie around to begin our escape. “…is a little bit of panic!” The canister exploded upon impact with the ground. Even at my distance, I caught scent of an overwhelming stench of garlic and horseradish as the explosion instantly released a massive cloud of highly pressurized mustard gas instantly.

I looked over my shoulder. Lucrecia grabbed Lyrie and the two teleported away. Mokmurian covered his face with his hands and ran, desperate to escape the cloud. From what I could tell, the rune-covered enslaved giant sorcerers currently channeling on the artifact didn’t even try to escape.

Pinkie charged past a pair of dumbstruck giants. I fired several rounds behind me at them. “Do you ever want to catch me? Right now I'm feeling ignored! So can you try a little harder? I'm really getting bored!” The giants roared and began to give chase. I tossed another grenade behind me as Pinkie dodged an ogre’s thrown club.

“The shield just fell,” Fuddy told me. I hadn’t even noticed. “You should radio the mortar teams and tell them to fire.”

I tapped the radio. “Come on! Shoot faster! Just a little bit of energy yeah!”

“Do you really need to keep singing?”

Pinkie was enjoying it. So yes. I really did. “I wanna try something fun right now, I guess some people call it anarchy!” The sounds of mortar fire began striking all around, though carefully aimed to not hit anywhere close to me or where Geo might still be over by the hobgoblins. I began riding around ogres in a circle, herding them into a tight ball as the goofily tried to follow me instead of working together to head me off.

I tossed a couple grenades into the crowd, laughing my head off as I did so. “Oh no,” Fuddy gasped. “This isn’t good. This is definitely doubleplusungood.”

“Quit being a drama queen!” I laughed.

“You don’t understand! I finally figured it out!”

“You going to get to the point sometime today?” I asked as I gleefully threw yet another grenade.

“Rarity died because of my generosity! Applejack died because I chose to be honest with myself! Fluttershy died after I had a moment of kindness!”

“So?” I said, giggling as one of the bullets I fired hit a pursuing hill giant in the forehead. I threw another grenade.


Right on cue, the grenade I tossed exploded. Normally not a problem, but the concussive blast sent a piece of metal, either from the grenade itself or another source, flying directly our way. It missed me, but hit Pinkie Pie in the neck, severing both her carotid artery and jugular vein. She was dead before we hit the ground.

I got to my feet quickly, winded from the fall, but otherwise okay. For the moment at least. I was surrounded by hostiles, only had a couple dozen rounds before I had to take the time to change the battery on my gun – a longer process than swapping a clip – and was down to only a couple grenades.

I tapped the radio to a commander only channel. “If I fall, hit this area with the full spread of the mortars.” I began firing in desperation. The closest were only ogres, so they fell quickly, but it was looking grim. Fuddy began calling out targets, aiding me immensely and allowing me to focus on making my shots count rather than having to decide which enemy was the most immediate threat.

We managed to buy a little breathing room as our enemies tried to decide how best to attack us. I think the only reason we were alive now was that Geo had been successful. There’s no way the hobgoblins wouldn’t have taken advantage of this if they weren’t in chaos at the moment.

But I had to face the truth. There was no way out of this. All I could do was as much damage as possible before dying. “Sorry,” I told Fuddy. “I got carried away and messed up.”

“Don’t give up hope. Keep fighting.”

“I’m not sure we have much fight left.”

“You’d be surprised. ‘The humans, I think, knew they were doomed. Where another race would surrender to despair, the humans fought back with greater strength. They made the Minbari fight for every inch of space. In my life, I have never seen anything like it; They would weep, they would pray, they would say goodbye to their loved ones, and then throw themselves without fear or hesitation at the very face of death itself, never surrendering. No one who saw them fighting against the inevitable could help but be moved to tears by their courage. Their stubborn nobility. When they ran out of ships, they used guns, when they ran out guns they used knives and sticks and bare hands. They were magnificent. I only hope that when it is my time, I may die with half as much dignity as I saw in their eyes in the end.’”

He was quoting fiction again. Unfortunately, I knew the end of the quote, the part he left out. As we continued fighting, I finished it for him. “‘They never ran out of courage but, in the end, they ran out of time.’ Just like us. Our ammo is up and so is our time.”

He smiled. “I wouldn’t say that,” he replied mysteriously. I braced myself for the death blow coming from a stone giant, flinching in anticipation of my death, but it never came. I looked again and this time I saw a glowing halo, white wings and silver skin standing between me and the giant. “Huh. She has a new manifest characteristic.”

“Sorry I’m late,” Aurora said. “I had to tell them to send in Lenn.”

“You’re just in time!” I replied excitedly. We might just live after all!

Another ogre charged, but was brought down by a half dozen well placed arrows in the side of its skull. I glanced over and Paulie waved from several hundred yards away. Then suddenly Geo was next to us.

“Need some help?” the tentacled man asked.

“I’ll take it,” I replied. “How’d it go with the hobgoblins?”

“There wasn’t much left once your goblin friends got through with them. Nasty little buggers never even realized they were outnumbered and fought to a brutal end.” I must admit that I felt kinda bad for them.

I didn’t so much see Lenn as I saw the effects of Lenn. Giants started falling at the other end of the horde, with his attack turning into a rout fairly quickly. He reached us shortly with a big grin on his face. “I KILLED GIANTS!” he roared.

“Good job, big guy,” I said. Safe at last, the adrenaline began to wear off and it all caught up with me. My muscles faltered and my legs gave out under me.

“You overdid it,” Fuddy said. “You’re not used to this.” I couldn’t even summon the strength to argue.

Aurora caught me before I fell. “Easy now.”

“L-Loosen the ribbon in my hair?” I asked. She nodded and gave it a tug. I surrendered to my exhaustion as my body reverted and gave Fuddy control back.

“Are you okay?” Aurora asked me, our faces close enough to make me blush slightly.

“I’ll be fine,” I said, popping off the magic bracers and returning my clothes to normal. Fleur really had overdone it. I would have killed a man for a two liter of Baja Blast or a six hour nap. With Aurora’s help, I stood up completely. “It sounds like they’re out of shells and we still have work to do. I just need a few moments to catch my breath first.” The enemy didn’t give me those few moments.

On the walls of the fortress were some massive catapults. One of them fired something that wasn’t stone or any normal ammunition. What landed was the stuff of nightmares.

First of all, let me state that I don’t think it was an undead creature. It was a construct of some kind. But it was made mostly of bones. Giant bones. And maybe some mammoth bones. It was a massive centipede like thing, with seventeen sets of legs, each of which was taller than I. In the front it had a pair of massive scything blades made of what looked like glaucite – an alloy of adamantine and steel, if you’re curious. Its “head” was made from a mammoth skull combined with the fanged jaw of some great dragon, with four massive, glowing red eyes.

I knew a raid boss when I saw one. First things first. We needed a tank. I tapped the radio. “Orik! I need you to grab its attention. Use that shield of yours to stay alive!”

“On it!”

“Lenn! Try to take out its legs!”


“Aurora, go get some grenades and try to hit it from the air.” I had another idea. “Also, take this to Paulie,” I said as I handed her several pre-measured wads of C-4 and some detonators.

“Be careful out there!”

“You, too.” I turned to Geo. “You’re the anatomy guy. See any weak points?”

“Several along the spine.”

I handed him more C-4 and detonators. “They’re all ready to go. Slap them on stick and in the detonator. I’ll set them off when you’re clear.”

“Leave it to me.”

I radioed again. “Paulie, has Aurora given you what I sent?”

“THIS IS A GLORIOUS FOE!” Oh, great, he’d shifted again.

“So, is that a yes?”


“Attach a lump to your arrow and carefully put in the detonator. Then fire where you want to do damage. Those are impact detonators, so they should go off when you hit. Try to aim for the monster’s jaw and the shoulders where those blades are attached.”


I could do little more than watch as the others fought. It went pretty much as planned. Paulie’s shots were magnificent as usual. With three arrows, he neutralized the construct’s strongest weapons. Aurora and Lenn’s attacks quickly reduced its mobility. And Geo was amazing. He ran right up the thing’s side and managed to place each of his charges without slowing down once.

Once he dove off, I shouted, “Clear!” into the radio and set off the charges with a radio trigger. The construct fell apart in a half dozen places and our men cheered.

“Now that was badass!” Fleur said weakly.

“You did good too,” I said approvingly.

She flashed an exhausted smile. “What now?”

“I’m tired of their s@+$.” I tapped the radio. “Begin conversion procedures. Authorization O’Halloran Delta Three Four Sigma Magnus Six.”

“Acknowledged,” the VI responded.

“Mortar teams, if you have any smoke rounds left, put up a screen between our carts and the fortress. I want this to be a surprise. Orik, Squibbles, ready teams as we’ve discussed.”

Paulie brought me a spare horse and hit me with rejuvenative magic – which is the next best thing to an IV drip of Baja Blast, so I felt great. We then rode back and I began overseeing the transformation of the pair of modified carts – well, more like carriages, really – into helicopters.

Truth is, for them to simply fly, the transformation was unnecessary. They were animated constructs and could magically fly on their own. The magitech powered rotors were for enhancing stability, speed and carry weight. For reference, a Black Hawk can carry up to 20 lightly equipped personnel. My X-187 Thunder Horses can carry up to ten heavily armed and armored individuals as well as enough armament to control or destroy a small Third World nation. And it could do all of this at a speed of about one hundred forty miles an hour.

Conversion took no more than five minutes. We were in the air two minutes after that. Naturally, when we took off, I had the outside speakers blaring Ride of the Valkyries.

Flight was controlled by the VI’s interface, but I had put in all the familiar controls out of a sense of propriety. Truth be told, if I needed to, the whole thing could run on voice commands. All it was really missing was ergonomic leather seats.

“Warning,” came the VI’s voice. “Bogeys detected. Initiate countermeasures?”

“Do it,” I replied.

Our helicopter came to a halt and rotated about twenty degrees before unleashing a barrage of hot lead upon a trio of harpies flying our way. They never had a chance. “Targets eliminated. Detecting additional bogeys. Firing anti-air missiles.” Three missiles fired from each helicopter, taking out a bunch of wyverns that were rushing to meet us and raining gore upon anything below.

I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. “Strafe the walls. Use rocket pods on the siege engines and machine guns on everything else. Prioritize anything that can attack us back.”


It was a slaughter. There were giants, hobgoblins and ogres – semantically, they’re a type of giant, but I hold a special hatred for them, so I’ll continue keeping them separate – stationed all along the wall. Not a one of them was a match for the wall of hot lead that poured forth from the two helicopters. The siege engines didn’t fare any better, being utterly destroyed by dozens of rockets.

I felt elated as I watched the devastation before us. Not because we were killing people, but because each death potentially meant one less danger to the people we were trying to protect. Regardless of anything else, I was certain we were saving a lot of lives today, even as we were taking so many.

My elation vanished when I saw the look of horror on Aurora’s face. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“How can you be happy? This isn’t war!” Her tone was accusatory. “There’s no glory, no honor here! We aren’t fighting an enemy by strength of arms or testing our cunning versus our foes! This is just a slaughter, as though these were no more than ants before us!”

It has been said that war never changes, but as I looked upon Aurora’s face in that moment, as her words washed over me, I realized how wrong that was. In the span of time I had been on Golarion, not only had war changed, but I had been the one to change it. War had gone from being a contest of strength where you faced your enemy on the field of battle, where you got close enough to see the anger in your opponent’s eyes as you tried your very best to kill one another in manual combat.

War had been something personal, almost ritualized. But in one day, it had gone from that to being something done at a distance, almost indiscriminately. I had taken changes that happened over a millennium back home and had inflicted them on this world in a day. And Aurora, who had always idolized knighthood and the rituals of combat, had been there to witness it. It was possible that she hated me now. The look in her eyes certainly made me feel like it was a possibility.

I’m not saying what happened next was right or even smart. What I’m saying is that I need you to understand the pain I was in before you judge how I reacted. The look in her eyes hurt so much that I could only react with anger if I didn’t want to succumb to despair. “Honor?” I asked, my tone filled with rage. “You think there’s honor in killing? No, there is no honor in war and never has been! The only honor is in protecting those who cannot protect themselves and they don’t care how you do it. The only thing that matters is killing your enemy or making him so afraid that you’ll kill him that he’d never dare harm an innocent. Glory is only in coming home to see those you protect.” If I had stopped there, maybe it would have been okay. But I didn’t. I had to keep speaking. “So forgive me if I don’t subscribe to your antiquated notions of glory and honor of war.”

Seeing how much my words hurt her, I regretted it immediately after saying it, but I was still so hurt that I couldn’t apologize. I wanted nothing more than to leave the situation and hit something. I looked out the side of the helicopter. We were hovering about a hundred feet over the fortress walls. With my magic boots, I could survive easily, and I was sure there was one other person who could go with me. I tapped Lenn on the shoulder. “WHAT?” he bellowed over the sound of the rotors.

“Let’s go see if there are any giants down there still alive.”

“GIANTS!” he roared, leaping out the open side of the helicopter.

“VI, switch the music to something that rocks.” I prepared to jump after him, but Geo stopped me. “What are you doing?!”

“I’m going to go secure a landing zone so we can disembark and find some enemies.”


“Because apparently we’re only supposed to kill them face to face like civilized people,” I sneered, still angry. The music finally changed and I couldn’t help but chuckle darkly at the VI’s choice. It was gloriously appropriate. I took a deep breath with the intro, then sang along with the music as I jumped after Lenn. “I see a red door and want to paint it black!”

As I fell, I couldn’t help but think that I had, in a few moments, ruined any shot of remaining friends with Aurora, much less ever being together. A part of me hoped that the fall would kill me, but I landed softly in a three-point stance. I surveyed the area around me and only Lenn was moving. A pity. I really wanted to shoot something right then. Though, for all I knew, even that would lack in glory or honor. Alone, momentarily at least, my grief washed over me. At that moment, more than any other, I regretted coming to Golarion.

No colors anymore, I want them to turn black.

Aurora’s Observation Journal: On the road to the Fortress of the Stone Giants

In the days after our trip to Absalom, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and I’ve come to one horrifying conclusion:

I’m in love with Kyle. Yes, I know. How could I be so stupid? How could I let that happen to me? But I'd gotten careless.

I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, though it was before the trip. But it wasn’t until after that trip that I was able to be honest with myself about it. What remains is to decide what I do about it. I’m terrified by the implications of all the potential answers I’ve come up with to that question.

Should I bare my soul and tell him how I feel? What if he doesn’t feel the same way? Or worse, what if he used to feel that way but doesn’t anymore? I could live the rest of my life knowing I missed out on that chance.

And if he doesn’t? What would he do? I know he wouldn’t take advantage of me, not exactly. But with his views on relationships, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be interested in some other form of relationship, borne of friendship and carnality but lacking in love.

Could I really be satisfied with something like that? Or would it be better to just stay silent and keep what we have now? The gods know that I’ve never had a friend like this before. Would it be worth it to risk that for something that, for all I know, wouldn’t necessarily be better?

I finished my shift on watch and headed to our tent to see if I could get a little time cuddling with Kyle before he got up, but he was already gone when I got there. I hadn’t seen the specialists from the Golemworks get up, so I was a bit concerned. I checked the usual part of the camp and found a pair of guards watching the usual magical door. They stood at attention when I approached.

“Can we help you, Ma’am?”

“I’d like to check up on Kyle.”

“Of course. Just need to do an identity check.” Despite my capture of Lyrie’s mask, Kyle had instituted a number of these mildly paranoid policies. But we were all humoring him. If he was wrong, then no real harm done, but if he was right, then we’d be grateful we’d listened.

“Go ahead.” It was a simple magic spell. Took a couple moments.

They cleared me and I headed into the magical workshop. I heard the sound of hammer blows, rhythmic and precise, as well as the sound of singing. Kyle’s powerful voice resonated through the room, sending a shiver up my spine. I stopped to listen, not wanting to interrupt.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin', it was drizzlin' rain
Fightin' and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol' mama lion
Cain't no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

If you see me comin', better step aside
A lotta men didn't, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't a-get you, then the left one will

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

While he sang, I watched sweat dripping down his muscled back. He was wearing a leather apron to protect his front, but his back was bare. I enjoyed the sight of his well-defined muscles as he worked. It wasn’t a sight one would expect from watching a wizard. I’ve worked with wizards before, back when I was a mercenary, and every one of them looked like a stiff breeze would snap them in half.

But Kyle was also a blacksmith, which is not a profession that usually allows one to remain delicate. You either get muscle or can’t do the work. And I was enjoying the sight of that result. I really wanted to walk up and find out if his backside was as defined as his back, but I didn’t want to interrupt his work.

He finished singing and measured out three more hammer beats before stopping. He pointed at one of his magical assistants, beginning a string of orders. “You, raise the temperature of the metal eight point seven Kelvin over one thirty four seconds. You, collect forty three milligrams of tin. You, one seventy three micrograms of gold. You, sixty six grams of mithral.”

The machines got to work doing what he had commanded. Satisfied, he wiped his brow with a towel and turned to me. “Hi,” I said awkwardly, blushing in spite of myself.

“Hey,” he said back. “What’s up?”

“Just checking up on you. What are you doing?”

“Secret project for a very secret client. I’m remaking a metal that hasn’t been crafted in over a millennia, if I’m right.”

Oh! I kinda knew what he was talking about! “You mean that stuff you’ve been reading about on your screen thing?”

“Exactly! You see, it’s incredibly complex stuff. There’s math involved that hadn’t even been invented when this material was discovered. The creator just sorta did it all by instinct. Can you imagine how difficult it had to be to get the proper harmonic resonance in the stage four copper integration to get the required gradiation without use of calculus?”

“Um, that does sound, uh, rather difficult.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but I seemed to have hit on the right answer, as he continued on for several minutes on the subject, continuing to work as he talked. It was rare enough, but he did this sometimes, becoming lost in a topic that no one else seemed to understand or care about. And he seemed completely unable to realize that we weren’t all into it the same way he was. He called it “geeking out”.

I knew it would pass, so I just let him keep talking. Occasionally, I’d nod agreement or say something to indicate that I was following along. I just kept myself occupied enjoying the sights before me. I actually got so engrossed in it that I didn’t even notice he’d finished his lecture.

“Aurora?” he asked.

“Oh, sorry,” I apologized.

He laughed. “Don’t worry about it. I went on a bit of a tangent there. Sorry for boring you.”

Just let me run my fingers over your chest, I thought to myself. I promise I won’t bite you. Not too hard. And that workbench over there looks pretty sturdy. Let’s go test it! Tear off my clothes! Let the machines watch! I DON’T CARE! JUST DO SOMETHING! But that wasn’t what I said.

“It’s fine.” That was what I said.

“Well, I need to work a new tempo. Feel like singing with me?”


He shrugged. “You have a very pretty voice. You really should sing with me more often.”

I felt my face flushing. My ears burned in embarrassment. I was grateful that he was focused on his work and not looking at me. “Okay,” I said, a shiver running down my back once more. My heart was racing. “But will I know the words?”

He looked up and grinned. “It’s a rare thing that I meet someone who has never seen karaoke.”

“Carry what?”

“Karaoke. Go grab the player and display off the counter there.” I did as he said. The screen was very flexible. I wasn’t sure what the material was, but it was pretty amazing stuff. “VI,” he said, his tone commanding. “Next song in the list, enter karaoke mode.”

“Acknowledged,” a strange voice responded.

Music began playing. “Just follow the bouncing ball,” Kyle said.

I looked at the display and watched as words began to appear. A ball bounced next to them, then after a moment, began to bounce over to the words. Kyle sang along with the first two lines as I watched and got the hang of this ‘karaoke’ thing.

“I thought love was only true in fairytales
Meant for someone else but not for me”

Then I joined in.

“Love was out to get me,that's the way it seemed
Dissappointment haunted all my dreams

Then I saw her face
Now I'm a believer.
Not a trace
Of doubt in my mind.
I'm in love
I'm a believer, I couldn't leave her
if I tried”

And we continued on, through that song and on to another, followed by yet another. All in all, we sang for over an hour, our words punctuated by the sounds of hammering metal and raucous laughter. We took breaks when Kyle had to get his assistants to make other preparations as the work proceeded.

After that hour or so, I decided to go get some sleep. My magic ring was starting to kick in, so I was needing less and less sleep, but I still wasn’t quite to Kyle’s minimal level of sleep. I asked Kyle if I could borrow the music player, and he had no problem with that, saying that he had all the songs he needed memorized anyway. He suggested I use something he called “ear buds” so that it wouldn’t bother anyone else in camp. He showed me how to use them and suggested that I use just one so that I could still hear things around me.

I went back to our tent and laid down, not bothering to remove my armor since Kyle had enchanted it to be comfortable to sleep in. I turned it on and told the thing that controlled it – Kyle calls it a “virtual intelligence” – to play something at random.

I was startled to hear a woman’s voice speak with no music. “Hello, Kyle,” she said. “I’m sure you’re surprised to hear this, but I wanted to let you know that I’m on to you. Sure, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know you well enough to know something huge is going on. You’ve been acting like it could be a long time before you see us again. Well, I trust you, so I won’t go warning everyone before you go. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to nag you, baby brother.

“Whatever it is that you’re doing, whatever is so important, I want you to take care of yourself. And don’t screw things up with that girl you were telling me about. What was her name? Aurora or something? It’s clear that you’re crazy about her, so man up and tell her how you feel. She won’t know if you don’t tell her.

“I’m serious, Kyle. You tell her, then you bring her back here so we can meet her. And you had better come back in one piece, okay? Don’t compromise who you are. I’m proud of who you are, and I’d like to think I had a hand in that. So just come back, okay? Come back and tell us all about everything that you couldn’t tell us before leaving.”
My heart was racing as I listened. Was this the voice of Kyle’s older sister? And had he really told her that he loved me? She continued speaking. “I remember all those times, back when you were little, when there would be a storm. You were so afraid of the thunder and lightning. Remember, baby brother? Remember how the only thing that could calm you was mom singing to you? Do you remember the song she always sang? I know you rarely forget anything, with that big brain of yours, but you were little. Do you remember?

“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin' might mean takin' chances but they're worth takin',
Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth makin',
Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,
When you come close to sellin' out reconsider,
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance....I hope you dance.”

My eyes brimmed with tears at her song. My heart felt it would break at the worry in her voice. I swore to myself once more that I would get him home, no matter the cost. I wanted to meet this woman who so loved him. I was a little jealous that he had grown up with people like that around him, when I’d grown up so alone. But that was in the past. I didn’t want to be alone anymore.

I was going to tell him how I felt. As soon as we were done dealing with Mokmurian, I would tell him everything. And if we weren’t meant to be, then so be it. But I wasn’t going to hold back anymore.

“VI,” I said. “Next time Kyle requests a song, override and play this entry again.”

“Acknowledged. Shall I enter a shutdown state?”

“Play me some music that’s good for falling asleep.”

“Acknowledged. Loading the lullaby playlist now. Sleep well.”

Wrapped in the protective embrace of the armor the man I loved had made for me, and listening to the music he had chosen for sleep, I fell into a deep and restful slumber.

Weird Science

I awoke about an hour before Aurora, but I didn’t want to disturb her, so I decided to just lay there and think about some of what I had learned. Eventually, I settled upon contemplating the nature of adamantine. Just what was it? Was it some new, never before discovered element? Could it be an alloy of some kind? Or perhaps it was simply a stable isotope of an already known element?

And if it was that last one, which element? I mean, I had some suspicions. Rhenium or tungsten fit the bill nicely enough, though the difference in the number of neutrons would have to drastically and fundamentally affect certain properties in order to make those fit. On the other hand, it being an alloy of tungsten, rhenium and some other things would certainly account for the properties of the material. And if it required specific conditions to manufacture, like high pressure combined with low gravity, then it would be exceedingly rare on inhabitable planets.

And if either of those meant that it could only be artificially manufactured, then that would explain why Titania couldn’t get any for her goddaughter. She likely didn’t have access to the tech needed.

Also, who the hell was this “Fairy Blacksmith” and why did she have not just a fairy godmother but a godmother that was queen of the fairies? And why was it that somehow, somewhere deep inside, I felt like I already knew the answer?

“Don’t ask me,” Fleur responded to my unasked question. “I just live here. Though, you’re right, it’s almost like we read about her somewhere once before and just can’t recall where. We’ve read a lot of books, you freaking nerd.”

“Speaking of reading about someone somewhere before, why is it that you look like a dead Frenchwoman?”

“Because that’s what form your subconscious chose when you put on that cursed belt?”

That was probably true. Fleur did seem to be a reflection of the schism in my mind. “Okay, but how did I know what she looked like?”

“You probably saw a picture of her somewhere. If not in the scrapbooks, then perhaps she was in Badass of the Week or something?” I guess it was possible, if not exactly probable. And it’s not like I could look it up.

I put it out of my mind and began planning out my day. I had a busy day before me. I had to make bombs, guns and all sorts of other tools before we reached Mokmurian’s fortress. I could really use some assistants, but I guess I would have to settle for Lit’s “Over My Head” on repeat while I worked.

Aurora finally woke up, stretching her wings and rubbing her eyes. “Okay, time for you to leave so I can get dressed,” she said after a moment.

“What? You mean I don’t get to lie here and watch?”

“Out,” she said imperiously.

I grabbed my clothing and got dressed in our suite’s common room, then sat down and began preparing my daily spells. I left a few slots open in case I needed something specific, but most of my day’s loadout was for crafting.

Aurora headed down to see what kind of breakfast was available and I began jotting down my crafting schedule, using code names for what I was making in case of spies. Someone has to be mindful of operational security.

Geo came up to see me while I was working. As usual, it was weird. The first thing he said to me was, “I need a sample of your blood.”

It was going to be one of those days. “Good morning to you too.”

“Oh, yes. Good morning. So, can I have a sample?”

“I’m gonna need to know why.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, I’ve been considering that stuff you were exposed to in the great dark beyond. The stuff you said had powerful mutagenic properties.”

He wanted to know more about radiation? “And you think you can learn something about it from my blood?”


Well, I couldn’t really see a reason to argue with that. “Fine, but sterilize the needle first.” He pulled out a steel syringe and sterilized it with moonshine, then took a sample from my arm.

Then he immediately injected the blood directly into his carotid artery. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!”

“Analysis,” he replied calmly.

“You’re insane.”

“No, Master Kyle. On the contrary, I’ve never been more sane,” he said as he left. I would have crapped my pants if there was any crap in my colon. Thank God for small favors.

“SAW-DAW!” Fleur – now wearing a long black wig – said ridiculously once Geo left, referencing one of my old fears.

“No jokes,” I said. “That was more than a bit creepy and you know it.”

“Of course it was. But it probably won’t be an issue much longer.”

This would be good. “Oh?”

“I don’t think he confirmed your blood types before giving himself that injection.”

“Oh crap!” I shot up and ran after him. I found Geo collapsed on the floor at the base of the stairs having a seizure.

“Kyle, what’s going on?” Ameiko asked, having heard my cries for help.

“Get Paulie!” I ordered. She quickly rushed to get him.

It was unnecessary. Suddenly the seizure stopped and Geo opened his eyes. “What seems to be wrong?” he asked me.

“What the hell happened?” I asked.

“I started feeling a terrible reaction, so I injected myself with a tonic to fix it. Apparently, the combination resulted in what you saw.”

“What was in the tonic?”

“Alcohol as a solvent and extracts from a number of plant sources.”

“Like what?”

“The major ingredient is from the seeds of the castor plant.”


He shrugged. “I don’t know what that is, but it worked.” He had a point.

“Okay, fine. Just remind me never to drink anything you’ve made.”

I headed back upstairs and cast my workshop spell. I needed something to take my mind off of that whole thing. I started trying to work on guns, but that wasn’t keeping my attention. I then started working on Aurora’s armor, but that was also too straightforward. I needed a real challenge, something I had never seen done before.

So I built a quantum computer.

It was surprisingly simple once I knew the principles behind it, which were in the book I’d read. The ironic part is that it’s likely that no one in the Technic League would be able to understand it for hundreds of years without a major breakthrough. But I had the knowledge they lacked. I was able to build on the work of those before my time. I knew the work of Rosen, Heisenberg, Einstein and Podolsky. I’ve made metamaterials in my dad’s garage, unstable and poor quality though they may be.

With my magical assistants working on the boring stuff, I managed to complete a working quantum computer in a little over two hours. I managed to create a housing for it and Fabricate a USB interface and keyboard for it in another half hour. By that evening, I had programmed a very basic but functional Virtual Intelligence interface to serve as something of an operating system.

Bill Gates, eat your heart out.

Orik made it in just after sundown. He brought with him several technicians from the Golemworks hired by the leadership of the Potent Rainbow Lions. Apparently they had been more than sold on the gun idea and wanted me to fully weaponize the carts of the companies they were sending. The techs were to help me in any way I needed. They also brought an entire cart of expensive crafting materials. Aww, yeah, baby.

“Oh, I also have something for you from your man in Magnimar,” Orik added.

“What’s that?”

“He sent you a horse, but I think you should find another one.”

That had me curious. “Oh?”

“She seems very odd. I mean, just watch her run.”

One of his men led her on a run from the back of his black gelding. Orik was right. She didn’t run. She hopped. Or maybe bounced was the right word. I was starting to get a feeling about this one. “Anything else odd about her?”

“She seems more playful than any horse I’ve ever seen. Sometimes, it’s almost as if she’s laughing when she makes sounds. And she won’t seem to let anyone ride her, not that anyone would want to ride a horse that runs like that.”

I grinned. “You just have to know how to read them. Someone bring me a cupcake.”

Five minutes later, using a tart since no one had a cupcake, I had won Pinkie Pie’s trust and we were bouncing around the town square. I was singing a jaunty tune and she was singing along – in a very horse-like kind of way. Orik looked on, very confused.

I grinned at him once more. “TO THE BAKERY!” I commanded the horse, laughing. She whinnied and began heading directly there, somehow already knowing the way.

That night, Aurora came to bed wearing underwear, to my great sadness. We talked for a bit and I let her know what I was planning for her armor, which she agreed to wholeheartedly. Then we went to sleep and the dreams began.

This time it started off as more of a memory than a dream, sort of. Shortly before I left Earth, I had been accepted into the alpha for a new MMO. It promised to be revolutionary, something no one had ever managed to do before.

It was to be something of a cross between a heist simulator like Payday 2 and a more traditional fantasy MMO with classic pen and paper RPG elements. It was meant to offer a number of possible missions with multiple ways to solve them dependent on your group makeup. For instance, conquering a dungeon might mean you go in and hack your way through the obstacles, or it might mean you sneak past everything and steal the treasure. Or maybe you befriend someone get invited in, bilking your targets out of their valuables. Or a combination of those.

And there was a faction system. Each player joined a side and might be given missions that affect the standings of the factions, offering benefits to all members of a faction until the balance had been tipped back.

It also had an extremely robust system of voice filters so you could roleplay while in game as whatever character you were, regardless of disparity between real life and character. This allowed the game to eschew almost entirely written chat unless you were using hearing impaired mode, which hadn’t been implemented at the time I played.

We were a team of six and were given a single directive: Rescue one of our faction’s spiritual leaders before he could be sacrificed in three days time. Failing that, we could anoint the altar of our foes with a small amount of the consecrated blood of an ocelot, our people’s spiritual animal, to prevent the sacrifice from pleasing our foes’ god.

We considered multiple solutions, including murder of our own holy man before he could be sacrificed, but decided on a rescue attempt since bringing him back alive got us a larger reward. We would infiltrate during the feast the day before the sacrifice from multiple angles.

I was playing as the party’s most social character, Rhoslyn Silverdew, a half-elf sorceress, so I went in as a wealthy socialite wanting to attend the party. Our party’s knight would serve as my bodyguard and three of the others snuck in as hired help of some kind. Our sixth member would – and I quote – use his “L337 N1NJ4 5K1LL5!” to enter by hugging the shadows.

Of course, Hoboken – yes, that’s what he called himself – wasn’t the ninja he thought he was. We were found out and the guards arrested my companions one by one. My protector was cut down quickly. I was all that remained and my arrest was imminent. This is where the dream started.

In real life, I had thought quickly and managed to spin a story about being there against my family’s wishes to convert to their religion, but hadn’t been able to say anything while my protector lived. They were dubious, but allowed me to perform the ritual, which ended with cutting my palm and dripping my blood on the fire. Only I mixed my blood with that from a vial of ocelot blood I’d smuggled in and completed the secondary objective, with them none-the-wiser.

The dream played out differently. I mean, first of all, I was my character, not just sitting in front of a screen. “Filthy creatures,” I spat. “You take our homes, murder our families and you demand we bow to your damnable god?! I don’t think so. BURN!” I then dropped a fireball right on myself, knowing I’d easily survive. I then quaffed a healing potion, stepped over their smoldering corpses and methodically murdered everyone in my way before marching the holy man right out the door, along with two of their own priests.

I don’t know what the dream meant, but I’m assuming it’s some sort of reflection on a new, more aggressive nature I’m trying to adopt since deciding to come back. And I’m not entirely certain why I’m bringing it up, other than the fact that I’m feeling bitter realizing that someone back home is probably playing that game right now. I hate that guy so much.

The next day, I got together with the people from the Golemworks and gave them an hour long lecture about operational security. “Okay, to summarize: You will not speak about our work outside of the extraplanar space. You will not sketch anything or do any models outside of the extraplanar space. If you need more time to plan and strategize, we will create a space safe from scrying to do so. All journals will go into a sealed chest that will not be opened outside of the protected spaces. Do you have any questions?”

One of the workers, a fairly attractive sorceress in her early twenties, motioned that she did have one. I nodded to her to go ahead. “Isn’t this a little much? I mean, we are careful around the shop, but this is strict even compared to that.” Several others nodded in agreement.

“Our enemy has shown an extreme ability to infiltrate and gather intel on our activities. This is all we can really do to counter that. So, unless there are any further questions, let’s be about it. We need to get a full day’s work in today. We’re expecting to leave either tomorrow or the day after.”

I cast the spell to open the magical workshop and we wheeled in one of the carts. Of course, they were suitably impressed by the masterwork that is my spell. But we didn’t have time to get worry about that. We had work to do.

I got them started animating the cart, explaining what we were doing and overseeing the project while I also began crafting weapons and some necessary mechanical components for it. This was going to be quite possibly the world’s first magitech construct, so I wanted to do it right.

I’ll be honest. I was having the time of my life. We even hooked the MP3 player into the shop’s speakers. Yeah, that’s a thing my spell could do and I hadn’t even realized it. I’m not sure the others quite got J-pop and Taylor Swift, though the geth workers seemed to enjoy it. The others liked the classical stuff well enough, though.

After a full day’s work was done, we closed up shop and exited to do other things. I spent a couple hours training with Aurora. The woman is a harsh instructor and would give Gunnery Sergeant Hartman a run for his money. Or maybe she’s not that bad and I’m whining because I have sore muscles I didn’t realize I had. All I know is that I feel like she’s a demon and it has nothing to do with a bed. No, she’s a perfect angel there, much to my chagrin.

Afterwards, I fabricated a screen for the MP3 player and had the VI load up the Fairy Blacksmith’s journal. It did pretty well, considering that the system didn’t have a text reader on it. I then cast a spell to allow me to read any language and started reading.

I must first note that they hadn’t sent me a single journal. This was a whole library of journals. I guess the good doctor had been playing her cards close to her chest. My second note is that there were two parts to the journal. She methodically kept notes about events on the left page and notes about research on the right pages. It’s almost like she was a bit OCD.

The events were pretty interesting. She was the daughter of the ruler of all the elves in Britain. They were apparently a simple folk, living in small villages but using magic to keep in touch and work together. They initially got along well with Camelot, but things went downhill for reasons she didn’t get into. She was the only one to see it coming, so she began preparations years before the trouble began.

The most important preparation was the creation of a new metal, which she called Fairy Steel, which was a brilliant substitute for adamantine. I was fascinated by the process in which she figured it out, which took almost five years, followed by several years of research as she crafted arms and armor for her brother. She ended up creating a suit of nearly invulnerable, yet surprisingly mobile armor that incorporated elements that history wouldn’t see again for centuries.

I decided that I would make the swords my future self had told me to craft out of Fairy Steel. Sure, it didn’t really offer any benefit beyond that provided by adamantine, and they’d require more costly materials – and thus a larger personal injury – to fabricate, but damn if it didn’t sound cool.

That evening, an advance contingent arrived and let us know that our remaining support units would be arriving sometime around noon due to a broken wagon wheel. Which was fine, since it gave us time to get more work done.

<Margin Note: Important work, like teaching a dozen villagers how to “Gangnam Style”?>
<Margin Note: Yes.>
<Margin Note: You’re so embarrassing.>
<Margin Note: One of these days, I’m going to find Samantha, reach out my hand and give her a high impact palm reading for taking you back home and letting you smuggle back that mp3 player.>
<Margin Note: Oh, come on, Fleur, you know you love it.>

The rest of our contingent, larger than I expected, arrived late in the morning and we set out. We found signs of giants all over, heading in the same direction we were going. A smarter man might have rethought the plan to go where so many giants were going, but I’m not a smart man, I’m a genius. So, obviously, I ‘m too stupid to know better.

I’m familiar with London. “I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” I’m also familiar with The Kurgan. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away. Something something there can be only one.” It’s why I’m back here, after all. So onward we marched. Well, I rode, but some people marched. The crafters slept in a cart I’d outfitted with makeshift shock absorbers so that they’d be rested and ready to work when we made camp.

For the most part, the day was pretty uneventful, though the evening did have an interesting event. It was just after dark when Pinkie Pie hopped out of our makeshift corral and began hopping around playfully near a tree at the edge of camp. She looked like an overexcited puppy, if I’m being honest.

I shined a light on the tree and spotted the winged woman I had seen several times before. She looked at me quizzically then, with a single flap of her massive wings, shot off into the sky. I sighed. “I’m guessing no one saw her that time either?”

Aurora gave me a look. “Of course we saw her. She was right there.”

Really? Maybe I wasn’t going crazy after all. “But why didn’t you see her those times before?”

She shrugged. “Just missed seeing her, maybe?”

I was about ready to just drop the whole thing and instead focus on why she kept showing up, but Paulie interjected. “I’ve seen her before, bro.”

What. “What.”

“Yeah, bro. Sometimes, she comes while I’m keeping watch and just stares at your tent while you’re sleeping.”

I was speechless for a moment. “My tent? Like, specifically my tent?”

“Yeah, bro.”

“And you never mentioned it why?”

“Well, she seems pretty cool, so I didn’t want to bother you with it.”

I don’t remember what I said, but I think it was in Angrish, so I don’t think anyone else remembers what I said either. I vaguely remember something about wanting to turn Paulie’s pelt into a hat. I also remember repeatedly bashing my head into the muddy ground. At some point, my horse tried to bring me an apple. I think. It’s kind of a blur. I don’t think I actually attacked him. In fact, it probably looked like I was having a seizure or something to most people.

The first clear moment I have is waking up in my tent, Aurora sitting on her bedroll and giving me a concerned look. “I think I’m okay now,” I said. “But from now on, we set someone on watch with Paulie. I’d really like to be informed if someone we don’t know is entering our camp in the future.”

“Okay,” Aurora said. “It is a little creepy,” she admitted with a nervous titter.

“Well, not much we can do about it at the moment.” I said. “I need to get to work. Strip.”

“What?” She looked scandalized.

I grinned. “Your armor. I’ve figured out a way to adjust it to fix your little problem.”

“Oh, okay. Help me out here.”

That night – or morning, as it were – I showed my hired assistants what we were doing next on the first cart, fabricated the parts they would need and had several of the geth help me enchant Aurora’s armor. I was using an enchantment design commonly favored by the strongest paladins and luckily much of the base work was already done. All I had to do was add the beta and gamma runes – a moderately time consuming but not all that difficult task – to give it heavenly properties and lighten the armor significantly.

While I’m talking about that, let me rant for a moment. I will never understand my fellow magic crafters. This enchantment is a well-known one – Celestial Armor, they call it – adapted for a heavier set of full plate armor. So far, so good, right? Well, whomever it was that designed the spell form ascribed it a rigidity in the lightening department. It doesn’t so much lighten the armor as it sets the armor’s weight to a specific weight. Which is fine, if you’re using it on chainmail like it usually is. But, in order to not make it inordinately expensive to enchant, they had to raise the weight it changes to when using it on plate. Which again, is normally fine.

That is, of course, unless you’re using it on a suit of mithral plate, in which case you end up shaving off about an eighth of a pound. So, if you wanted to reduce the weight down to around that achieved in the chainmail version, you end up having to pay roughly triple the enchantment’s full cost, including the cost of the alpha enchantment – which is just the basic magical enhancement to the armor’s hardness and effectiveness.

Because, of course, they tied the reduction to the armor’s physical dimensions, not the armor’s weight. If instead they had made the enchantment work as a percentage of the armor’s weight, it would have been easy to adapt to all kinds of armor and would have instantly solved the mithral plate problem. And it wouldn’t have been all that hard, though the downside is that it would have been a little bit more expensive for regular steel armor. Still, I may do it when I have three or four weeks to just sit down and work on the problem.

But Aurora’s armor is adamantine, and thus I don’t really have to worry about it right now. The enchantment works just fine with adamantine’s properties.

The next day was dominated by fairly boring travel, which I got through by reading more about the Fairy Blacksmith’s work and playing music for Pinkie Pie because I didn’t want her to get bored and wander off. Like I said, you’ve just gotta know how to handle these strange ass horses.

As we moved, I had a eureka moment. It was beautiful. In one instant, I could see everything in the process right before my eyes. I began swapping things around and moving the parts by adding in the kinds of precision only possible with modern equipment. The Fairy Blacksmith’s work was brilliant, but I had tools she never would have dreamed of. I could revolutionize her work. What could be done with days of slaving using the old methods could instead be done in about six hours with a few assistants and extremely precise equipment. Even then, it would take extreme skill.

Luckily, I’m amazing. So is my horse. It tastes like raisins. Probably. Look, I’ve never licked the horse, though I did watch her lick a toad earlier. It was a little strange.

Anyway, I was naturally glad when we stopped early. The mercenary commander - Orik’s fellow commander, goes by the name Squibbles or something – decided we needed to stop because we didn’t want to reach the Storval Stairs after dark. He’d also spotted signs of some kind of animal herd – ibex or something – and wanted to get in a bit of hunting. I’m sure he wanted to study the creatures’ internal organs or something, since he’s a gnome and they do things like that.

But all that mattered is that I would have time to work on my very special project and would be able to let the technicians rest, since they’d been whining about the grueling pace we had been setting. Let them relax their way, I would relax mine. Then, when I was done, they could get to work while I rested my muscles.

I was using music to time my blows, and was in the middle of singing when Aurora showed up. I was also immediately aware that I was shirtless – it was hot, okay? – and wearing only a leather apron over my chest. And okay, so maybe I flexed a few times when I thought she might be looking to show off my arms. But is that really so wrong?

I talked her into singing with me for a bit while I worked, which was great for taking my mind off the ache in my shoulders and the sweat dripping from my brow. She really does have an incredible voice. With a little training, I’m sure she could sing for an opera.

No, I really mean it. She speaks with a powerful contralto, but sings in both the mezzo-soprano and soprano ranges where necessary. We really do make beautiful music together. And I’m not saying that figuratively. She’s a hell of a lot of fun to sing with and I’m sure anyone listening would enjoy the experience. In fact, having her there made it hard to concentrate. I kept imagining tearing off her armor with magic, tossing her on a nearby workbench and ravishing her thoroughly. But I didn’t prepare that spell today – she’s sleeping in her armor on the road, so there’s little risk of needing to get her armored up in a hurry – and she’d probably kill me if I tried.

I was right when I thought that it would take about six hours to complete the sheet of metal. This was followed by about an hour of work with a precision laser to cut out and sharpen the blades and cut them into the necessary pieces. All that was left was the technological component, which I could work on later.

I cleaned myself off, set the technicians to work and laid down with Aurora for a bit. After the rest, I recovered my mp3 player. I told the VI to play me something fun, so it loaded up a message from Katie for some reason. I’ll have to work on that.

I’m just glad it didn’t play that message for Aurora. It would have been embarrassing to have her hear what Katie had said about my feelings for her. Still, it was good to hear my sister’s voice. I’m sure she must be worried sick. I would have to find a way to make it up to her and the rest when I got home.

Rested, I got back to work with the technicians. Now, I’m not going to tell you exactly what I have them doing to the carts, but let’s just say that I’ve been considering the names of Native American tribes to name them after. I think I can say that. It’s not like Lyrie would ever realize the significance of that if she ever got ahold of this journal.

During the night, the hunters returned, grabbed our smaller merchant cart and Paulie, then headed back out. I went around camp verifying the battery levels on all our radios in case something came up, then returned to my vigil over Aurora’s sleep.

Naturally, Fleur kept teasing me by singing “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing”.

Shortly after dawn, the hunters returned with the cart fully loaded. I was expecting a few animal carcasses, and those were there, but they were joined by a number of large barrels. I went to check it out, and it turns out that they had found a burned down ranch and evidence of ogre cattle rustling. They had apparently come for Paulie because they needed someone to help burn the bodies of the ranch’s inhabitants. They also hunted down the ogres, who had gotten drunk and passed out, then returned and inspected the ranch. In a cellar, they found the barrels, which contained a rather expensive tasting brandy.

We opened up one of the barrels and shared it around the camp – roughly a cup for each person – and then sent the rest back with some of the support staff to sell. We were pretty sure that the road behind us was clear, so it would be pretty safe for them to do so.

On the road late the next morning, we came across a destroyed caravan. Most everything of value was gone, as were almost all the people. Only one person remained. We found him injured and trapped under an overturned cart. He was pretty beat up and dehydrated, but healed up quickly once we smacked him with a healing wand and gave him something to drink.

The merchant told us that his fellows had been set upon by a group of hill giants and ogres. Some had been killed in the fighting – and the fact that the bodies weren’t still there told a stomach-turning tale – while others had been dragged off alive. As we suspected, the giants had headed off towards the Storval Stairs.

The merchant decided to stay with our army, worried about the fate of his surviving friends. We gave him a crossbow and taught him its use, then told him to stay out of our way. We then continued on towards the only path up the escarpment.

The Storval Stairs were literal stairs carved into a cliff side. Using telescopes, we got a good look at the garrison manning the top. Geo was troubled by what we saw. “Giants don’t usually work with hobgoblins.”

“Likely mercenaries,” Aurora said. “I’ve encountered hobgoblin mercenaries before. They’re brutal and ruthless.”

“But giants wouldn’t hire hobgoblins like that.”

“Lyrie might,” I interjected.

“I’m really starting to wish we had killed her when we had the chance,” Aurora said.

“I warned you.”

Orik just shook his head. “So what do we do?”

“It’s going to be rough getting to the top. I’m thinking we fly up a shock force and take down the most dangerous troops up there before bringing up our main force. Paulie, you ready to burn some people?”

The cat man twitched, then grinned. “I’m ALWAYS ready to burn people!” He was perhaps a tad too enthusiastic.

“Good man. Then that’s what we’re doing. I’ll grow larger, cast as many flight spells as possible, then we’ll ferry people up. Orik, pick out your top three soldiers for this kind of role. Squibbles, we have room for three of yours as we-” I stopped suddenly. “Anyone know where Squibbles went?” I was answered by the sound of explosions. I spat out an invective I’m not going to repeat here. “The mortars!”

We rushed over and found that the gnome, as one of the very few who knew about the mortars I had fabricated, had pulled the weapons out of a cart and had started raining technological death upon our enemies.

I was livid. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”

“It seemed faster,” the gnome answered with a shrug.

“And now our enemies know we have them! These were supposed to be our trump card against the giants, and now they’re going to have a full day or more to prepare countermeasures.” I would have hit him, but Fleur told me to focus on the situation at hand. “Give me that,” I said to a nearby soldier. “We don’t have the shells to waste on you lining up a proper shot.” I ran calculations in my head in a matter of seconds and fired a trio of precise shots, knocking the shack at the top down on its inhabitants.

I then nodded at Aurora and she sounded the charge.

The fighting was quick and brutal, but in the end we were victorious with minimal losses. Two deaths and three injuries was an amazing victory considering the strength of the force we were up against.

We made camp at the top of the stairs to lick our wounds and pick through the intelligence we managed to gather from a few hobgoblin prisoners. I then spent the rest of the night figuring out new technologies to bring to bear against our foes, in case they were successful in countering the mortars. I did have one thing going for me, though I am loathe to admit it. But as they say, all’s fair in love and war, and we were looking at the likely complete extermination of all human life in a hundred mile radius if we failed. So what was that advantage, you ask?

Well, clearly our enemies weren’t signatories to the Geneva Conventions, obviously. That gave me an entirely new dimension of hell I could unleash upon them.

The fight for Jorgenfist promised to be nothing if not interesting.

This to be followed with an Aurora's Observation Journal I'll upload once I've finished eating breakfast.

Not Quite Paradise: Part 2

“Absalom Pathfinder Society,” I typed. More than thirty-eight thousand results. I followed the first to a wiki. I was amazed by what I read. The next hour was me wiki-walking my way through hundreds of articles.

Someone had made a game like Dungeons and Dragons and set it on Golarion. And they had gotten a lot of things incredibly close to correct. Not all of it, but more than enough to be more than coincidence, though unfortunately not enough to help me. But still, was I not the only person from Earth to ever visit Golarion?

I utilized all my skills and within a few minutes of setting out to do so, had not only the name of the game’s creator but a private phone number as well. I called. Someone answered fairly quickly. “Hello?” a voice asked, sounding startled.

“Are you the creator of Pathfinder?”

“Who is this?”

“You’re not going to believe me, but I’ve been there. I’ve been to Golarion.”

There was stunned silence at the other end. After a moment, I heard a voice that sounded muffled, like someone not properly covering a phone. “Dad. It’s actually him.”

The phone made some noises, as though someone else had taken it. “You must be Kyle,” an older gentleman’s voice said.

It was my turn to be stunned. “How do you know that name?”

“That is a bit of a long story. Do you have time to listen?”

If I didn’t, I would make time. “Yes.”

“I will make it as short as I can. My father fought in World War 2. His unit liberated one of the German POW camps. One of the prisoners was a Russian soldier, Corporal Kuznetsov, with whom he became friends. They stayed in the area for several nights helping coordinate moving the freed prisoners to places where they could return home.

“One night, his Russian friend told him a fantastic story. He told of how, during the first world war, he had met a young woman who had performed fantastical magical feats. She told him that she had traveled from another world to hunt the Mad Monk, Rasputin. Her Russian was excellent, but she had a terrible American accent, he told my father.

“During a battle, they were attacked by mustard gas. In her haste to protect herself with a magical barrier, she wound up dropping her diary. She and her friends left before he could tell her, so he picked it up. Immediately upon opening it, a letter addressed to him materialized out of nowhere in his hands.”

I began working out the magic required for that. It was doable, if perhaps not something I could do. “What did it say?”

“He opened the note. Inside, in perfect Russian, was a set of instructions. It gave my father’s name and told him to give the diary to him when he met him. Story told, he did just that. Curious, my father opened it immediately.

“A letter addressed to my father appeared immediately when he did so. He opened it and inside were instructions that he pass it down to his child on my twentieth birthday. I also received instructions. Mine were that my own child would receive a phone call from a man named Kyle today at this time and that I should have the diary handy. It was only off by a few minutes.”

“What else was in the diary?”

“Descriptions of cities, organizations and peoples as well as a number of personal details, including some of a very salacious nature.”

Samantha had to be involved. “Can you read me a passage? I think I might recognize the writing style if I hear it.”

“Of course,” he replied. “Just give me a moment to – huh.”


“A letter appeared when I opened it. It’s addressed to ‘Kyle, The American Wizard’.”

“Read it to me, please.”

I heard the sounds of an envelope opening. “I can’t. I don’t recognize the language.”

“Can you scan it and email it to me?”

“Sure, give me a moment and tell me your address.” Less than five minutes later, I was looking at a scan of a letter in Ancient Thassilonian. But even more shocking: It was in my own handwriting. “What does it say?” asked the voice at the other end of the phone.

“It’s a note to me from myself,” I said.

“That’s impossible.”

I actually laughed. “You’d be surprised what I’ve discovered is possible. This actually fits consistently with what I’ve learned in the last few days. The gist of the note is that the girl whose diary that is hasn’t been born yet. Apparently she’s my daughter. Beyond that, it’s some advice, which it suggests to keep to myself.”

“If the girl who wrote that is your daughter, then I probably shouldn’t read any of it to you. She’ll probably want to keep certain of these details from her father.”

He might have a point. “Okay. Fair enough. Do me a favor, okay? Exactly two years from today, open the diary again and see if another note appears. I want to ask you to send something to my family about that, but I don’t want to make the decision on the spot. So if it is a good idea, I’ll enchant the diary with another request for you.”

“That sounds complicated.”

“Yeah, time travel’s annoying.”

“I’m still not sure why I believe any of this. I guess I wouldn’t, if I hadn’t seen those letters appear out of nowhere like that.”

“Yeah. I can’t blame you. It’s amazing the things I’m willing to accept these days.”

We said our goodbyes and I turned again to the letter.

“Kyle, as you know, I can’t tell you any more than the bare minimum, for fear of creating a time paradox. But be comforted by the fact that I get as annoyed at time travel as you do. Exactly as much as you do, in fact.

“Do try to remember that my survival may not necessarily mean you will also survive as you may be on a different branching timeline. However, we’re going to assume you’re on the same one as I went through, since I can’t give you any advice at all if not.

“So here it is, my one piece of advice. You need to start carrying around a pair of swords balanced for dual wielding. They need to be on you and easily accessible, but hidden. I will leave it up to you as to how you do so. Hell, make lightsabers if you want and have the resources. But they need to be on hand and light enough for someone who isn’t as strong as Aurora. You’ll know when their time has come and I don’t think you can screw it up. But failing to have them when the time comes will be a problem. Additionally, you can’t tell anyone at all what you’re doing. It would be bad if the wrong people found out. So make them concealable.

“Finally, I must tell you that things will get worse. There are hardships before you. But there is so much worth fighting for and the future gets better. So, no matter what happens, don’t lose sight of who you are. Do what you think is right. And most of all, never, ever give up. Because failing will potentially mean disaster for two worlds.

“So, you know. No pressure.”

After reading that, I had come to one conclusion. Future me is an a-hole. But I’ll show him. I’m going to eat a ton of ice cream and then he’ll have to deal with being fat. That’ll show that jerk.

But he had given me potentially important information. I would need to get a pair of swords. Honestly, I’m not even sure I needed to make them anything all that special. Just make a couple basic but functional one handed swords, something in a twenty-five to thirty inch blade and then stick them in one of those closed tubes architects use to carry blueprints. Boom, done.

But he had suggested light sabers, probably as a joke. Or was it? I mean, blades made out of hard light like that might be beyond my capabilities, but I bet if I tried I could come up with a way to make swords out of molten metal or superheated plasma suspended in an electromagnetic field. The costs, however, might be prohibitive. I would have to consider it. There had to be a happy medium, something that would be cheap enough to make but not a burden for me to carry.

As I prepared for bed, I remembered one last thing I needed to do. I hadn’t shredded my documentation of my older brother’s attack on me when we were younger. It would serve no purpose for him to get blamed for my disappearance. So I ran it through the shredder, ran the scraps through again and then soaked the whole wad in laundry bluing.

What? I take identity theft seriously. You should too. The stuff is like two bucks for a thirty two ounce bottle. The identity you save could be your own.

After tossing my gloves, I sat down to check my email one last time before getting some sleep. My main accounts had nothing of interest, but one of the burner accounts I’d created to send out all those translations and tech schematics did have a new message that looked interesting, so I opened it.

“To the Crimson Scholar,” it began. Yeah, I’m still bitter they never made another season of Maoyuu. “I have enclosed my Skype contact information. Please contact me as soon as possible, any time day or night. During an archaeological dig in the UK, we located another document written at least partially in the same language as the Voynich Manuscript. We were planning to wait until archivists could finish touching it up before releasing the information. However, as it seems that you have managed to decipher the language, we would love to have you take a look at it for us.” It was signed, “Elizabeth Whitworth.”

I looked her up and she was indeed the head of Archaeology at a recognizable university. “What the hell,” I said to myself. “Might as well see what they’ve found.” It was five in the morning over where she was, but she did say to call any time. I fired up Skype and, bouncing the call through three proxies, I dialed her up.

A respectable-looking middle-aged British woman answered. “Hello?”

“Greetings,” I said. While I could see her, she was seeing just my silhouette thanks to some special filters I’d installed on my feed. “You said you wished to speak with me?”

“You’re the Crimson Scholar?”

“I am,” I replied. “Tell me of this document you found.”

“Yes, of course.” She pulled up a page and displayed it over the feed. “This is the first page of a journal we found in what can only be described as a vault discovered in Wales. Most of the writing within the trove was in an older, pre-Welsh dialect, suggesting that it was built somewhere between the years five-fifty and eight hundred or so. This was the only piece of material out of place. The journal is written in two languages. The first is the same as the Voynich document, while the second is another unknown.”

My mind made a logical leap. “And you want me to translate this one because you believe that the ancient Welsh documents will confirm whether I’m telling the truth, thus corroborating my story?”

She looked surprised. “That was part of the reason, though in truth I’m more interested in what the journal says. If the other documents are telling the truth, this could be the find of the century.”

Well, that had me interested. “Okay, give me a moment.” I read through the page. Wow, she wasn’t kidding. This could be huge like Xbox. “‘My brother and I went to visit cousin Gwain today. Her new husband seems like a strong man. Having him on our side against the invading Saxons makes me feel better. But what interested me most of all is that sword of his. After Gwain explained to him that I was a smith, he let me take a look at it.

“‘I’ve never seen a finer blade nor have I ever seen the metal it’s made of. I asked for a demonstration of its strength and he obliged. He took another sword and with a single strike, cleaved it in two. Awestruck, I remarked that surely a blade as fine as that must have a name. He told me that it was called Excalibur.’”

She looked surprised. “You really can read it!”

I was just as startled. “Is this right? Is this really the journal of THE Guinevere’s cousin?”

“It would seem so. Here’s the next page.”

“‘When we returned to the village, I could not get the blade out of my mind. A few weeks later, on my naming day, my godmother came to visit. I told her of the fantastical thing I had witnessed, and she listened carefully, as she is wont to do. When I finished my tale, she regarded me thoughtfully for a moment and spoke. ‘This metal you describe is known as Adamantine. I have seen it on many worlds. You would be blessed to find such a rare material to work. Would that I could give you such a gift for your naming day, but it comes from the sky and is beyond my domain. Ask instead for your own weight in mithral or Summer’s Bronze and I will gift it to you, but know that Adamantine is beyond my ability to give.’

“‘‘Beloved Godmother,’ said I, ‘I understand. Instead will I endeavor to make something just as great using materials you can provide. I will use the techniques of the Byzantines of Damascus to create something new and glorious.’

“‘Wise Titania laughed. ‘Were I any but your godmother, I would strike you down for your arrogance. But as I am your godmother, I find myself intrigued. Show me your power, little smith. Tell me what you need and I will provide it, so long as you ask not for adamantine or foul cold-iron.’’”

“Did you just say Titania?” the archaeologist asked.


“As in, queen of the fairies?”

“I’m as shocked as you, though I’m getting the feeling that there’s something you’re not telling me.”

She nodded. “Perceptive of you. The accompanying documents state that the journal belonged to someone known as the Fairy Blacksmith, born in the ‘Elven village of Dragonlea.’”

It was my turn to be surprised. “Does it say what happened to the village?”

“It was put to the flame by Camelot’s crusade.”

What. “What.”

“Apparently, after driving back the Saxons, the Knights of the Round Table set out to wipe out first dragons, then all numbers of non-human species, including elves, dwarves and even giants. It said that a half-elven woman named the Fairy Blacksmith and her brother were some of the last to fight against Camelot’s campaign of genocide, but in the end, even they fell before the armies of mankind.” She smiled. “Obviously, it’s an exaggeration. But it does suggest that there was another race of people that once lived in ancient Britain that was wiped out.”

“What if it isn’t an exaggeration?” I asked. I turned off my visual feature, revealing my face.

“Of course it is. There’s no such thing as elves or dragons.”

I shook my head. “The language this was written in is the language of dragons.”

“That’s impossible.”

It wasn’t worth arguing about it. “I’m just relaying what my source said.”

“What source?”

I hadn’t thought that far ahead. “I found the information on the Deep Web.” It was a good lie. Most normal people have either never heard of or knows almost nothing about it, so it’s a mythical land you can use to justify anything. “That’s where I learned the language. I found a hidden spot in the Deep Web where some people were talking about long extinct creatures, including their languages. This was the only one I felt I could get the information I needed to begin learning it without getting caught.”

“So what, some kind of ancient secret society trying to keep ‘the real history’ hidden?”

“Could be. Seemed like a bunch of kids playing around. If it wasn’t for the language, I’m not sure I’d believe any of it.”

“Fair enough. I’m emailing you a scan of the whole journal. If you manage to translate the rest of it, please let me know.”

“Will do. And I promise I won’t go public with any of this. I wouldn’t want to risk those people realizing what I’ve done, anyway.”

“Stay safe,” she said.

“You as well.”

The majority of the rest of the journal was in another language. It looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Aside from that, it looked like research notes. She was trying to perfect the method to make a material similar to adamantine without using adamantine using the same methods used to make Damascus steel.

I suspect that the reason she used a different language is because Draconic isn’t good at dealing with numbers in general and fractions in particular. Dragons don’t have much use for complex math and use a base eight number system anyway. Base Eight isn’t too hard for me or really anyone nowadays, but for someone working back in the dark ages, it likely wouldn’t have been worth the effort.

I took the time to pull out the MP3 player I’d hidden and added the new document to it. I had some ideas for making a compatible screen for it, so it wouldn’t be too hard to read later. I then carefully replaced it and hid the work from my past(future?) self.

The first two days of the paintball excursion went as before. I walked right into the same traps I had fallen for the previous loop in order to avoid a paradox. As if I hadn’t already changed enough. Yeah, I don’t know. Time travel gives me a headache.

The third night, Samantha didn’t come. I waited an additional hour beyond when she had arrived last time and then decided to set off to find her. I strapped on all my knives, grabbed my bear mace and headed off into the woods.

I crashed around the woods for a while, searching for her with no avail. I had just about given up when I stumbled into a clearing and found a black bear fishing in a stream. I froze and tried to back away, but the damn thing roared at me and began to charge.

I pulled out the bear mace and fumbled with it. I couldn’t even get it open. Why the hell hadn’t I removed the overwrap before going into the woods?! In my panic I dropped the can. I cursed in three languages as I desperately sought an option.

It came naturally. I pulled in the power and focused my mind. A bolt of magical force erupted from my hand and struck the bear in the face. I felt vindicated. My academic side also found it interesting that only one bolt had formed, since future me casts the same spell with a result of five bolts.

The bear seemed surprised, but didn’t stop its charge. I pulled out my knives and prepared to go down fighting. The bear leapt at me with a mighty roar and it’s possible I flinched as I prepared to meet my maker. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Okay, yes, I was there, in a physical sense. But my mind kinda checked out for a bit.

There was a loud crash and, after a few moments, I opened my eyes. The bear’s corpse was lying right in front of me. It had been cut in half with a mighty slash. If I hadn’t known better, I would have called it Lenn’s handiwork. It was that brutal.

I looked around, searching for the one who had saved me. I caught sight of the glint of mithral in the moonlight. An extremely beautiful blonde woman in black scale mail armor was standing before me. I was shocked to realize that her body was no longer asymmetrical, though a mask still covered half of her face.

“The two parts of me have worked out our differences,” Samantha said, sensing my question. “So tell me, are you stupid?”

“What?” I asked, shocked.

“I went to all this trouble to give you what you had been asking for. You’ve spent weeks just b#**!ing and moaning over your situation. So I sent you home through the reaches of time and space. Yet all you can think of is going back. Why?”

It was a good question. And it wasn’t just weeks I’d spent complaining. I had been complaining for years. “Because if I don’t, then things will change. People will die. I don’t know if I can live with myself knowing that I did nothing. One day, I will die. On that day, my twin sister will be waiting for me. I want to be able to tell her that I did what I thought was right.”

“There’s no guarantee that things will be better if you go. There’s no way of knowing if things will work out as you’d like. You may fail and die, and the world may be worse off for your having tried.”

“If I let myself be paralyzed into indecision by what might be, I’ll never be able to act. All I can do is what I think is right and hope it works out.”

“Are you sure it’s not just because you want to see your knight again?”

She had a point. “That might be part of it. But if I knew things would be better without me, I’d live with that. But I can’t know, so I have to do this.”

She smiled softly. “If that’s what you want. Let’s head back to your camp. Once your body is safe, I’ll send your consciousness back forward and reset your current self’s memories back to how they were when I first met you and have my past self come for you as before.”

“Wait,” I said. “We have this perfectly good bear carcass. We should do something with it.”


I took a piece of flesh off the cut section using light magical telekinesis. I then wrote something on a rock with the blood.

“‘Red like roses fills my dreams and brings me to the place you rest’?”

“It was the first thing that popped into my head.”

“Oh. I wanna write something too! Any suggestions?”

“Depends. Do you think Courage would eat pieces of the bear if you bring them?”

“Of course.”

“Then write this…”

I couldn’t wait to get back and find out how people would react to a bear with missing forepaws and the message “…the right of the people to keep bear arms shall not be infringed” written on a nearby rock. I had to explain the joke as best I could to Samantha, but I’m not sure she got it. She was willing to believe my assertion that it was a very funny joke, at the least.

As we walked back, I became curious. “Samantha, there’s something else I have to know. Will you answer if I ask?”

“Why I left you on Castrovel?” she asked. I nodded. “That’s a question that requires a little background. Before I answer, have you ever wondered why it was I chose you to go with me?”

I really hadn’t. “I had always assumed it was more or less blind chance. You were letting Courage rest and heard me playing.”

She shook her head. “I told you back then that I had encountered a dark presence in the depths of space, remember?” I vaguely recalled that. I don’t recall if I’ve ever written about it here, but it’s why she’s different. An eldritch horror in the depths of space came to possess her. But it hadn’t considered the possibility that it would be trying to take over the body of a paladin, one who might actually resist him. “It’s too bad it wasn’t Obrek that the creature ran into,” she said, referring to her comrade-in arms from the city of Valor’s Triumph. “He might have pushed it into a little ball and kept complete control. But it wasn’t him. The girl I was could not overpower the will of the being.”

It hurt me to think about how Samantha, no older than I had been when I left Earth, had been all alone with an alien presence trying to overpower her mind and dominate her body. She must have been terrified. “So you chose your battles?”

She laughed again. “Not exactly. It isn’t so much that one of us overpowered the other. In the end, we came to terms with the differences in ourselves. He’s not evil. Not exactly. It’s more that he doesn’t think the way most people do. He’s a nigh unknowable presence with values that are simply so different from our own that they defy explanation.” She sighed. “I’m not explaining this very well, am I?”

“You’re talking about ‘Blue and Orange’ morality,” I replied. Let me explain. Imagine a graph. A simple one would be a single axis up and down. Good and evil. But there is another axis, from left to right. Order and Chaos. Those aren’t precise terms. You could just as easily label them Tyranny and Freedom. It’s a matter of perspective. Perhaps Order and Freedom would be the best way to go about it.

Now that you have both an X and a Y axis, consider this: Most humanoid beings fit somewhere on that singular plane. But what if there were another axis? What if this Z axis were so out there that we couldn’t comprehend it? This is the Blue-Orange axis. It’s an unknowable morality. There are beings who fit somewhere on one of these axes that interact with humanoids, but even then, they generally fall within a realm we can understand once we know certain base facts about what it means to be one of them.

But what if there were beings so far out there that we had no hope of understanding them? And what if they were like us in that they couldn’t understand Good and Evil? Honestly, we’d probably label them evil and be done with it.

So if Samantha had something like that in her mind, then it explained a lot.

“I forgot how refreshing it was to talk with you,” she said. “You understand the weirdest concepts. It’s almost like talking with Gribbletoo sometimes.”

I decided to take that as the compliment she intended. Gribbletoo’s blue-orange axis had Pancakes at one end. No idea what the other end held. Truth be told, I don’t think I want to know.

“What I’m getting at,” she continued, “is that the being could influence the paladin. But it couldn’t completely control her. As such, it wanted out. Taking you with us was its ploy for escaping this body.”

“Me? How was that supposed to work?”

“It didn’t need you, specifically. What it needed was a man with enough charm to make the paladin fall in love and let her guard down. Which meant that it had to be subtle. It couldn’t afford to let her raise her guard. So it nurtured a sense of loneliness in her, making her think finding someone was her idea.”

“I’m still not seeing the end game. How does that allow it to get free?”

Samantha smirked at me. “Well, you see, Kyle, when a man and woman love each other very much, they do certain things with and to each other.”

A lightbulb clicked on in my mind. “It was trying to get your body pregnant so it could escape into the child?!”

“Picking you was a stroke of luck on the creature’s part. You were timid enough to fear the drama that would occur if you pushed the paladin too far too quickly. But you were charming enough that you wormed your way into her heart over time.” She giggled. “All I could think about was how I was going to tear your clothes off and thoroughly ravish you first thing upon arriving on Golarion. Both of us wanted it, though for very different reasons. It was only luck that made the paladin realize the monster’s intentions at the last moment. But even then, she wasn’t sure that she would be able to resist it if you were the one who initiated things, which seemed to be something you were working up to. So you had to be left behind.” Her voice had grown softer as she spoke. Then she whispered, “I’m sorry. It’s all my fault.”

The pain in her voice was almost too much to bear. I could tell just how lonely she felt. Without even thinking, I hugged her close to me. “Don’t be. I should have realized what was going on earlier.” We embraced for several moments before letting go, though I could tell she did so very reluctantly. “I realize now that we never could have been together. But if it’s all the same to you, I’m going to lie and tell anyone who’ll listen that I tapped that ass.”

She looked dumbstruck for a moment, then began laughing. It was a hearty, rich sound that rang through the crisp night air. “You’ll always be one of my dearest friends,” she said. “Are you sure that you don’t want to reconsider your decision to go back? I can’t interfere there without alerting some dangerous foes to my presence, so there’s no guarantee that I can protect you.”

“You’ve already done quite a bit,” I said. She gave me a confused look. “Don’t think I’m not on to you. I’ve had a lot of time to think about how I met Aurora. That was no coincidence, was it?”

She laughed again. “It was also really funny. For such a deep voice, you have such a high pitched scream.”

We walked the rest of the way back to camp in silence. When we arrived, she smiled wistfully. “You know, I didn’t finish telling you why I chose you to go with me.”


“I told you the monster’s reasons, but the paladin’s motive was a bit more focused.” She laughed softly once more. “You know, it’s funny. On this world, there are so many people who profess beliefs in things like justice, who will tell you all about how they would do whatever it takes to protect the innocent. Yet, when you peel back that thin veneer, it’s not true. Don’t get me wrong. Consciously, they fully believe it. But deep down, it’ll be no more than a passing priority at best. But the propensity towards that belief made my search difficult.”

“So you were looking for a good person? It makes sense. You’d want to be near someone like yourself.”

“It’s more than that,” she said. “The paladin didn’t know what would happen to her. She feared that if she lost the battle for her mind, she would become a monster. She wanted to find someone to carry the torch for her. She needed someone who not only believed in the ideals of Good, but would do what it took to make them a reality. In truth, she sought a replacement.”

That hit me hard. A paladin had wanted me to replace her? It didn’t even make sense. “Then why choose me? I don’t respect authority. I’ll sleep with almost any woman who gives me the opportunity. I’ve spent more than my fair share of time thumbing my nose at society’s rules. I’m no paladin. I’m more of a hedonist. I just do things that I enjoy.”

She nodded. “That’s exactly why I chose you. The paladin I was upheld the ideals of Good because it was my duty. I did good things because it was what I was supposed to do. I also believed in helping those in need, but it was almost a ritualistic thing for me. I did good because the being I worshipped expected it. But you… Do you know what I found in your mind when I looked?”

“What was it you found?”

“I found exactly what you said, a man who did things only because he wanted to. A man that did things that he enjoyed. But, in spite of that, or perhaps because of it, he kept doing things that were good. Not because he was supposed to. Not because it was his job. Not because his god demanded it, though yours does and you do seem to care about that. No, I found a man who does good things because he enjoys them. That’s how I knew you’d make the world better in my place, because it was something you’d enjoy.”

I have never considered myself a good person. Hell, I’m sure I’m the poster boy for at least three of the seven deadly sins. I’m talking about Lust, Wrath and Pride, in case you’re not paying attention, though maybe Gluttony in the non-food sense also fits. But especially pride. I’m at least ten times more prideful than anyone I know. Maybe I’m good on a couple virtues as well, but at best that just means I’m not a completely awful person.

She seemed to read my mind. That’s a thing she can do, in case you’ve forgotten. “You’re better than you think you are,” she said. “And you’re much stronger than you know. Even now, you’re here trying to find a way back into what has felt like hell to you.”

“Shall we get this over with?” I asked, wanting to change the subject.

“If you’re sure. I can’t do much to help you once you’re back. This is your last chance to change your mind.”

“I’m not changing my mind.”

“Even with as much of a baby you’ve been about how scared you are every single day?”

What Samantha didn’t understand was that I had always been afraid. My whole life, I’ve lived in a constant state of fear. There’s a part of me that pipes up every time I do anything to warn me of the risks. I just have another part that has always told that part to shut up and forces me to live my life, regardless. I could feel myself smirk as I answered. “I may be a baby,” I said. “But sometimes a baby’s gotta do what a baby’s gotta do.”

She laughed. “I do so very much miss spending time with you. Close your eyes.” She gently grabbed the back of my head and pulled it forward. I felt the soft touch of her lips on my forehead, then she released me. “Take care of yourself, Kyle.”

“I will,” I started to say, but got only one syllable in before the world began to taste very, very purple. Then I passed out.

I awoke to a feeling of warmth on my back, not too warm but instead exactly the perfect temperature. I felt the strong arm around me, heard the soft, rhythmic breathing of sleep and smelled the faint scent of lilacs. I was back.

I carefully extricated myself from Aurora’s embrace and walked over to my bag. I opened it and searched inside. The enchantments made it hard to find what I sought, since it was much deeper inside than before, but I found it nonetheless. Excitement washed through me as I carefully pulled out the crude metal case. Within, nestled in a bed of memory foam – the remnants of a shredded pillow – was my mp3 player.

I just stared at it for several moments, awash with varied emotions. “I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested. I’d like to think that if I was I would pass…” I whispered the first words that came to me. I had been given an out. I could have walked away. But I hadn’t. It wouldn’t have been right. Maybe Samantha was right. Maybe I was stronger than I had given myself credit for.

“Yeah, you did good,” Fleur said. “But does this mean you’re done whining about your predicament?”

“And give up all the fun I have annoying you?”

“Touché.” She stuck her tongue out at me. “Better get back to bed. Someone is waiting.”

I turned and saw that Aurora had stirred. She had crawled over to the foot of the bed and was looking at me inquiringly. In her curiosity, she had forgotten to cover herself with a blanket. In the moonlight, I saw everything.


In the moment, my brain wasn’t functioning properly. But even then, I knew better than to comment on any of the bits my brain wanted to comment on. So, in desperation, I spoke the first words that came to mind. “Huh. I didn’t know you shaved your armpits.” Smooth like buttah.

Aurora’s face went white in horrified realization. She mostly managed to stifle a scream and dove under the blankets.

“Can you just forget you saw that?” Aurora asked after several uncomfortable moments of silence.

“I’m pretty sure that would be impossible, even if I wanted to do so.”

“Oh.” The uncomfortable silence returned.

“Look, I’ll go sleep in my room,” I said, standing. I turned to leave but felt a hand on my arm. I looked back and Aurora had gotten up and stopped me, once more forgetting the blanket.

“Please don’t look,” she pleaded. I closed my eyes and pulled her to me, wrapping her in an embrace. She squeezed me back, burying her face in my chest and conveniently making it impossible for her to notice me sneaking a peek at her glorious backside. “Let’s just go back to bed,” she said.

“Okay,” I replied. “But I’d rather not lay with my back to you anymore.”

“I don’t want to lay with my back to you either,” she responded.

I considered it for a moment. “Well, then I guess one of us will have to lay on their back and have the other rest their head on the first’s chest.”

She giggled. “And I guess you’re volunteering?”

“Mais oui,” I said in a goofy French accent for no reason.

“Well tough. I’ll lay my head on your chest.”

I sighed exaggeratedly. “Well, fine. But you’re going to miss out on my patented Motorboat Alarm Clock.”

I laid back down and Aurora climbed into bed with me, laying her head upon my chest, wrapping her arm around me and pressing her soft body against mine. Carefully, I put left arm around her and rested my hand on her waist.

“I’ll get the blanket,” I whispered, preparing to cast a cantrip to pull it over.

“Wait,” she said, looking up at me. There was a slight tremor in her voice and I could see trepidation in her eyes. She was nervous for some reason. As she closed her eyes and focused, it didn’t take me long to understand why.

Great white feathered wings extended from her back as her halo reappeared, glowing with a very pale light. I was awestruck. “Aurora, those are amazing!” I finally exclaimed after several moments.

“Y-you don’t think they’re weird?”

Of all the things to be self-conscious about. I hugged her gently. “I think they’re beautiful.”



The light of her halo turned to a soft golden and I could see her smile. She hugged me tight. “Thank you,” she said. She stretched out her wings and carefully covered both of us with them. They were comfortably warm.

I lay there for several minutes, just enjoying the warmth of her body and the smell of her hair before a question struck. “So, the wings… is that why you aren’t wearing your other nightgown?”

She blushed. “I was afraid I’d tear it accidently if they came out.”

It was more than that. She’d been working up the courage to reveal that part of herself she’d only recently discovered to me, and she didn’t know how. I was touched that she cared. “You know, that brings up a good point. We’re going to have to modify your clothing so you can pop those out if you need to. And that’s before we even consider your armor, not that it’ll be easy to fly in your armor.”

“You don’t have to go to any trouble on my account.”

“For you, it’ll be no trouble at all. However, now that I think about it, that does bring up another question.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I understand now why you aren’t wearing a nightgown, but what’s up with the lack of panties?”

“Well, I, that is…”

I grinned. “You also grew a tail, didn’t you?” I teased.

Her eyes grew wide. “NO!”

“Oh, but how can I be sure unless I see for myself? Though I guess there is one way…”

“Kyle, what do you mean by…KYLE!” she protested, giggling as I grabbed her butt.

“Well, I guess you’re right. No tail here.”

“Then you can remove your hand this instant.”

“Sorry. Can’t. It’s stuck and won’t respond.” I goosed her again, prompting another giggling protest.

I could tell that despite the fact that she was somewhat enjoying this, she was also a bit uncomfortable. I decided not to press the matter and moved my hand back to her waste, softly tracing my finger along her skin the entire way. I could feel goosebumps on her arms where they touched me.

It confused the heck out of my subconscious. She was sending signals that she was open to advancing things further, but at the same time, I was getting clear signals that she didn’t want to, though I’m not entirely certain how to describe them here. I decided that I would give her time, let her slowly acclimate to the idea of further physical intimacy between us. Half the fun was in the chase, after all.

Once she fell asleep, I carefully put on my headphones and flicked on the mp3 player, turning it to random. I almost laughed at the irony as the same song that woke me back in my room played once more, though it was the original and not the metal remake. As I listened, I contemplated the events of the last few days and what they meant.

My entire life, I had been afraid. Everything scared me, so long as it had a horrible potential consequence for me to obsess over. But I had always soldiered on. I refused to let my fear define me. But that had started to change. Things have been so far outside of what I had ever encountered that I hadn’t been able to cope. I suspect that’s why Fleur and I had become two somewhat separate entities. I had stopped listening to her. But that had to change. I wouldn’t allow my fear to define who I am. I would not allow fear to blind me.

This world wasn’t my hell. I wasn’t taken here completely unknowing what awaited me. No, not Hell. This is the future I chose. So I will no longer give in to my fear. I shall move forward doing what I think is right and to hell with the consequences. Fiat justitia ruat caelum. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.

And if those are the words that end up my epitaph, so be it. If those are the words I’m remembered by, then I can live with it. I could certainly do worse than a legal maxim cited by several heroes of history that chose to do what was right instead of what was easy or popular.

So here I am on the road again. Here I am upon the stage. There I go playing star again. Here I go…

Turn the page.

Okay, so first of all, sorry this one took so long. Holidays, five weeks of illness, marathoning Skyrim mods videos... well, you get the idea. I had actually written this a while back as a possible thing to throw in(somewhere around mid-chapter 2), but when we got here, things had changed so much that I couldn't really salvage the whole thing. I'd say about a page survived the rewrite.

Either way, it ended up being one hell of an infodump, introducing things that had been planned all the way from day one and new ideas inspired as we went along. Some of this is foreshadowing things in the campaign, but one part is primarily foreshadowing the epilogue. Let me make one thing clear though. This world is an alternate Earth, so if I got certain aspects of our world wrong, it's because that's how they are in this one, so deal with it. :P

As for the next section, I've already begun work on it. Hopefully won't take nearly as long. As for a hint of things to come?

Daa-da-da-da-DAA-da, da-da-da-DAA-da, da-da-da-DAAA-da, da-da-da-daaaaaaa!

Not Quite Paradise: Part 1

I awoke to the sound of a guitar riff, not unlike the warning sound of my magical camp alarm. I leapt up, attempting to ascertain where the threat was coming from, but instead got tangled up in the sheets and fell off of the bed. That was my first sign something was wrong. The bed I had fallen asleep in didn’t have sheets, just a blanket.

My next clue was the fact that while I couldn’t really see anything through the bedding, I could see that it was daylight in the room I was in. I had gone to bed sometime around midnight. Since I sleep only a few hours a night, there was no reason I should be up now.

The third clue was the bedding itself. The sheets were at least six-hundred thread count cotton sheets. Now, I’ve slept in a number of soft fabrics since coming to Golarion. Hell, my sheets in the Voidstrife mansion are silk and soft as hell. Nonetheless, I’ve never seen cotton bedding of this quality anywhere on Golarion.

Then there was the fourth clue. The sound that woke me didn’t stop. And it was music. Familiar music. IN ENGLISH.

On a long and lonesome highway east of Omaha
You can listen to the engines, moanin' out it's one old song
You can think about the woman, or the girl you knew the night before.

I laid there for a moment trying to figure out what the hell was going on when I heard the door open. “Kyle,” a voice said. “Are you okay? I heard a crash.” That voice was impossible. There was no way I heard who I thought I had.

As I struggled to untangle myself, I heard footsteps and the music stopped. I managed to work my head free of the sheets and saw an impossible sight. “How?” I asked, at a loss for words as I stared at my bedroom – my bedroom back on Earth – and the woman who couldn’t possibly be there.

My older sister laughed. “I’d guess you got startled by the alarm and fell out of bed, silly. You’re such a spaz.” She helped me untangle myself and pulled me to my feet.

I stared at her, dumbstruck, for several moments before throwing my arms around her. “Onee-sama!” I exclaimed pathetically, using the term as I always had ever since I started doing it to irritate her when I was twelve.

She laughed. “Hey, hey! No hugs before you put on pants!” She looked at my face and her expression darkened. “Kyle, you’re crying. What’s wrong?”

I couldn’t speak. I just hugged her for a while, sobbing. She got over the fact that I was just in my boxers and held me until I could compose myself. I pulled away. “I’m okay,” I said.

“What brought that on?” Katie asked.

“Sorry. Had one heck of a nightmare,” I said.

She shrugged. “Must have been. Well, when you’ve calmed down, put on some pants and hurry downstairs. Dad’s making chocolate waffles.” With that, she left.

My stomach rumbled. That wasn’t right. My magic ring should be keeping me nourished. I looked at my right hand. It was gone! I looked over at my computer chair and saw my bag. I looked inside and it was amazingly empty. It was like it wasn’t even enchanted.

“Yet,” I added as my babe-a-day lingerie calendar caught my eye. I stared at it in disbelief. “It’s the Friday before my paintball trip.” I then stared at my mirror. The person staring back was the young man that had existed before I left, tall and barely muscled. Much different that the man who had been training daily with Aurora, the man I should be now.

I looked at the teddy bear on my bookshelf, Percival. On one side of him was a graduate-level astro-physics textbook and three books on motherboard architecture. On the other was my binder of Ponies fan-comics and a half dozen video game artbooks. “So, Pashibaru. Do you have any idea what the hell is going on?” He didn’t answer. He never does.

I pulled on some pants and a t-shirt then headed downstairs. I somehow managed to not choke up upon seeing my parents and all my other siblings. Katie didn’t show any outward sign of concern, but she was watching me the whole time.

After breakfast, I returned to my room and fired up my computer. I opened up my CAD program and began putting together a design for the batteries from the Technic League member’s journal. I didn’t add in any of my magical upgrades, since I was going to have enough trouble explaining how I came up with the battery without overcomplicating it.

I was so focused on what I was doing that I didn’t hear someone come in. “That’s pretty interesting looking,” Katie said over my shoulder. “What is it?”

“It’s a battery,” I said, motioning for her to shut the door. She closed it and sat down on the edge of my bed. I turned my computer chair to look directly at her. Now, what to tell her? I couldn’t exactly explain to her that I had been on an alien planet for the last ten years or so. Next ten years. Err, both? Yeah, it gets a little confusing when time travel becomes involved.

“A little secretive for just a battery.”

“That’s because it’s one hell of a battery. It represents a breakthrough in quantum physics for humanity. At a few inches across, one of these should be able to run a small car for a couple hours at least. If I’m being honest, I don’t exactly know the energy requirements of a car off the top of my head. I’m just making a best guess estimate.”

“Really? Wow. How does it work?”

“It uses quantum phenomena to story energy. Which is the breakthrough, because it’s beyond our previous understanding of physics.”

“And it works?”

“I’ve already built one.”

“Damn, Kyle. You’re going to win a Nobel prize for this!”

I didn’t want to take full credit for this, but at the same time, what the hell was I going to tell her? Oh yeah, I’ve come from the future, where I flew through space on the back of a Lovecraftian monster to another world and got alien tech? Yeah. That wasn’t gonna happen. I like not living in an asylum, thank you.

Maybe if I could show her some magic, maybe then I could tell her, but I wasn’t sure I could. Even assuming magic was possible on Earth, could I still do it? I mean, I knew how, but some of it is a physical thing. What if I tried and hurt myself? No, that would take days of slow building until I could properly be sure I could do it. For now, I would have to assume I couldn’t until I had time to test it.

So, I guess I just had to take credit for it for now. I’d have plenty of time to work on the magic thing. I mean, I finally had what I wanted. I was home. That’s all I’d wanted for over ten years.

So why did I feel so bad?

Argh. Time travel. There were so many questions. Would everything I’d affected change? Would I just disappear suddenly, Aurora waking up alone and never sure where I had gone? Or would she never have met me? And what if I’m the nail?

In case you’re wondering, I’m referencing Poor Richard’s Almanac. “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” I don’t think my part is any more important than those of any of my companions, but without me, does Aurora go to Sandpoint? Does Paulie? How about Lenn and Geo? Without the five of us, how many die in the goblin attack? Does Aldern get stopped? What about the things that lie beyond?

I had what I wanted. I was home. But could I really take my happiness at the cost of everyone we’d saved? And what about Aurora? Would she be okay, or would she die of alcoholism? I mean, if I knew she’d be okay, maybe I could. But without knowing? I’m not sure. But even then, I really wanted to.

But your thoughts will soon be wandering the way they always do
When you're riding sixteen hours and there's nothing much to do
You don't feel much like ridin', you just wish the trip was through

Everyone has that little voice in the back of their minds. Some call it their conscience. Others see it as the little angel that sits on their shoulder. For many, it’s the sense of guilt that makes them do what’s right even when they’d benefit by doing otherwise. Most people don’t hear it actually speak, it’s just a feeling in their guts that tells them to do the right thing.

Mine speaks to me. It always has, though it has gotten much louder lately because of trauma I’d gone through on Golarion. Today, however, she was back to the quiet voice in the back of my mind, suggesting that the greater definition she’d gained was due to actual physiological changes.

“It’s up to you,” Fleur whispered. Yes, Fleur is my inner voice. What you perceive as your conscience is more than just the impulse to do good. It’s not just the little angel on your shoulder. Sometimes, it’s also the little devil on the other shoulder. “No one will ever know.”

I wasn’t prepared for that. If she had argued with me, maybe I could have tried to justify it, but at that moment, my entire soul felt laid bare before me. What I chose in this moment would define me for the rest of my life. What I chose now would reveal who I was now and forever, though, as Fleur had said, no one would ever know.

Almost no one. “I’ll know,” I subvocalized. And just like that, in an instant, my choice had been made. I had learned who I was in the dark, where no one else could see. And, surprisingly, I liked what I found. I had always feared that deep down I was a coward, and unworthy of all the blessings I’d had. But maybe not. Given the chance, I could prove myself worthy.

And that meant that I had to go back to Golarion. I had to find Samantha and set this right.

But that didn’t mean I couldn’t take advantage of this opportunity while it was here. “Katie, I’ve been offered a position overseas at a university where I can continue my education while being given free rein to research in a well-stocked laboratory. I didn’t want to tell everyone until I’d made my decision.”

My older sister hugged me. “Kyle! That’s amazing!”

“I need to do some teleconferencing tomorrow morning, but I had also wanted to go to the mall in Tucson to pick up a few things for my paintball trip. Were you planning to do anything then?”

“Not really. I can take the girls and make a morning of it, if you want.”

That would keep my younger sisters out of my hair. “What about Kenneth?”

“He goes by ‘Ken’ now.”

“Oh, really?” Somehow I’d missed that on the last trip. My brothers and I don’t get along, so I rarely chat with either of them. But I knew a girl with a younger sister named Barbara. I’d have to set her and my brother up if I had the chance.

“Yep. Asserting his independence. Anyway, he has practice tomorrow.”

“Ah, yes.” Right. Band nerd. Forgot about that.

“But, in exchange, I want you to come with me to see Father Alejandro tonight. He’s been bugging me to come do a couple music videos for his Youtube channel and I know he’d love to see you too.”

“Fair enough.” Let me explain. Father Alejandro was a good friend of the family, in addition to being a trusted priest at our local church. He had also been in a band before the car crash that killed his band mates and turned him to the services of the Lord. But he still liked to play his guitar, so we often hung out and played music together. Not just me, but a number of folks in the community would get together with the priest and rock out – or not, if you were into a different kind of music. What would you call it if you were getting really into something like country music? Tonking it? I dunno. Random rambling. Moving on. Chaika moment. Shocking truth.

And it wasn’t just music that made him such a cool priest. The man was also into video games. Fact of the matter is that it was he who had gotten me into my World of Warcraft guild. I had been sixteen at the time and looking for someone to raid with. He was the main tank for one of the top guilds on the server and got his guild leader to bend the rules for me and let me in, despite the fact that the guild didn’t allow anyone in who was under the age of eighteen.

In thanks, I got him a good webcam and taught him about music videos on Youtube. He wasn’t sure if he should be making videos since he was a priest, but ended up doing it anyway. He just wore a luchador mask while doing it. It became his gimmick. I don’t remember what his channel was called, but those of us who knew him just called him Padre Lucha Libre. His channel had over ten thousand subs, which isn’t bad for a guy in a luchador mask and a cassock singing rock or video game theme covers and hymns while strumming on a guitar.

It’s more than I had on my channel. Granted, all I ever did was rants on games or whatever. And that one time I spent fifteen minutes discussing required material strengths for certain Gundam scenes. That’s my most popular video, actually, with views in the near hundreds, despite all the calculus involved. Or maybe because of it. It’s not that I wasn’t planning on doing more, I just hadn’t gotten around to it.

Anyway, he’d been bugging several of us to come join him for some collab videos. Katie had always put a ton more time into practicing piano than I ever had the violin, at least before Golarion, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the one he bugged the most.

“Good,” Katie said. “I’m holding you to that.” She, like Aurora, was a lot stronger than me. When she said she’d be holding me to it, she meant by the arm twisted behind my back if necessary. “So tell me, how else are things at school? Any lovely young women in your life?”

Lying to Katie is an art. You can fudge information, you can leave out details, but it has to be mostly true or she’ll figure it out. For instance, I was planning on finding a way back to Golarion, so I had told her I would be going overseas. The core truth was the same. I was going away. It was just the scale I had fudged.

So it was with this. I couldn’t completely lie. I could either tell her a truth scaled based on time period, or I could clam up. I would do better preparing if I had her help, so I needed to use a delicate touch here. “I’ve been to a few parties. May have enjoyed the company of a few young women.” I said it nonchalantly.

“Anyone serious?”

Now that was going to be difficult to lie about. So I’d go with the truth. “It’s complicated.”

“Now I’m really curious.”

I shrugged. I could use the advice. “What does it mean when a girl who says she isn’t interested in you sleeps naked with you and cuddles your back?”

“You’re…going to need to explain that one further.”

“You may want to get a beverage. This is gonna take a bit.” I laid out the basicness of my relationship with Aurora, making her sound like a foreign student – Romanian, if you’re wondering – at my school. I explained that I had laid out my feelings for her several times, but that she had let me down easy.

Katie thought about it for a bit. “Well, as I see it, there are a couple possibilities. It could be some kind of foreign thing we don’t get. It could be that she’s interested but afraid of commitment. Or…” she laughed.

That worried me. “Or?”

“Maybe she just likes messing with you.” I hadn’t considered that. Was Aurora trolling me? If she was, two could play that game. Though I guess I’d probably have to eat something to retaliate with a Dutch Oven. “But it does say one thing about how she feels about you.”


“She trusts you. She’s putting herself in a very vulnerable position and she trusts that you won’t do anything to her without her permission.”

I laughed. “Maybe. Or it could just be the fact that she’s strong enough to break me with her pinkie.”

“Kyle, a stiff breeze could break you as long as it was carrying a long black wig.” Hey, I was little kid when I first saw the Japanese version of The Ring. Shut up.

“She could probably beat you in a fight, with one hand tied behind her back.”

She looked surprised. “Okay, then maybe she doesn’t have anything to worry about from you. But my point stands. I think she trusts you completely. Either that or she wants you to make a move but has some kind of hang up making it hard for her to say anything.”

“Thanks. It’s all clear as mud now.”

“Glad to help.”

She left to go work on her studies and I got back to work on putting my knowledge into schematics. I had a lot to do. I had a great number of designs I could choose from, but only a limited time to do so. So I focused on those things that could most help the world as well as a few things that could make me a lot of damn money while I was gone.

Because I gots to get paid, yo.

(Margin Note: You really didn’t just write that.)
(Margin Note: Don’t be a hater, Fleur.)

That evening, we had Taco Bell for dinner. I ate five Doritos tacos. Considering how long I’ve gone without those and how often I have sex, I can almost literally say that they were better than sex. Almost. Sex is still pretty damn good.

After dinner, Katie and I swung by the church to visit Father Alejandro. We arrived just after the Friday evening Spanish mass. The jovial middle-aged Hispanic man waved us over once the last of the regular Friday parishioners had left. “Hey kids! What brings you to the house of the Lord this fine Friday evening?” He suddenly noticed what I was carrying. “Can it really be? Has the man-in-black finally come to grace us with his musical talent?”

“Dubious as that talent may be,” Katie added.

“Ha. Funny,” I said deadpan. They had no idea what they were in for.

“Let’s go back to the studio,” Father Alejandro interjected mildly.

The “studio” was a small room in the back of the church. As I understand it, it had been a storeroom before the padre had cleaned it out and put up a bunch of those foam sound-dampening squares all over the wall. It wasn’t really what one would call a professional studio, but it was pretty good for some amateur performances.

“So, you two need to warm up?” he asked us.

“I’m good,” I said, drawing a look from Katie. “What? You think I can’t keep up?”

“It’s just that you’ve never been one to practice much. You can play versions of some simple eight bit tunes.”

I turned to the padre. “Fire up the webcam. You have a mask for me?”

“I only have the one spare,” he said. “We’ll need to make one of you one out of a bandanna.”

I picked a long one and cut some holes in it, looking very “Dread Pirate Roberts-y” once I had it on. I then pulled out my violin and handed my sister the sheet music that I’d put in there the day I’d gotten in. “Locatelli’s Caprice in D Major Op. 3 No. 23?”

“Il labirinto armonico.”

“This looks really complicated,” she replied.

“It’s one of the hardest pieces for a soloist in existence,” I said, throwing on my coat – which I had only brought for the look, it was March in Arizona – in a dramatic fashion. “Fire up the webcam and prepare to be amazed.”

“Watch out,” Father Alejandro said. “We’ve got a badass over here.”

For the next few minutes, I played my heart out. The instrument’s sound wasn’t what it could be. I hadn’t used magic to improve it yet. In the future, it would be better than any Stradivarius, but now it was just a fairly good quality instrument. Hell, it was capable of supernatural feats, allowing me to be able to play two different parts at once. Still, notes poured out sweet and joyous and I played flawlessly without any signs of strain.

Out there in the spotlight, you’re a million miles away
Every ounce of energy, you try to give away
And the sweat pours out your body, like the music that you play.

Once I was done, I twirled my bow like some kind of Final Fantasy character doing a victory pose, then went and ended the recording, since the other two were far too stunned to do so.

I considered going and making some tea to give them time to regain their composure, but my sister finally spoke up. “Where the heck did that come from?”

I looked her dead in the eye. “I’m a time traveler. I’ve spent over ten years on an alien planet, during which time I had to become a better violinist in order to earn money for schooling I needed to get home.”

She didn’t know how to respond to that. Fortunately for her, Father Alejandro interjected. “You’ve been practicing to impress a pretty girl, eh?” he asked, clapping me on the shoulder.

I gave him my best fake sheepish grin. “That’s the one.”

“Good boy. Well, then let’s throw out this kiddy level music I had planned and rock out.”

We spent just under two hours recording a number of songs before Katie and I headed home. When we got there, I decided to do things differently than I had before. So what if it changed the past? I wanted to spend time with my family. So I went up to my mother’s study and knocked lightly.

“Come in,” came her voice from within. I opened the door, revealing the woman that looked like a simply older version of Katie. “Kyle? What’s up? I figured you would be in your room playing some game or something.”

I shrugged. “Servers are down.” I didn’t want to worry her. “What are you up to?”

“Just looking through some old scrap books. You can join me if you want.”

Ouch. Scrap books. Oh well, it was the time with Mom I wanted. What we did really didn’t matter. “Sure. But you’ll have to explain to me what any of these pictures are.” I had always managed to get out of looking at these somehow, but I was committed now.

Twenty or thirty minutes – or maybe hours, I dunno, it was really boring – into it, Mom pulled out something she thought I might find more interesting. She flipped it open and looked for a moment. “You were such a cute kid,” she said, handing me my baby book.

I flipped through it. She was right. I was “totes adorbs” as they say in the modern vernacular. After reaching the end, I went back to the beginning, to a page before where she’d started me. I was surprised at what I found. “Mom? What’s this?”

She looked at what I was showing her. Her face blanched. “Oh. That. Well, I guess you’re old enough to know now.” She inhaled to regain her composure. “I’ve been meaning to tell you about it for a long time, but the time never felt right.” She pointed at one part of the ultrasound. “That’s you.” She then pointed at another portion. “That’s your twin sister, Kira.”

“I have a twin sister?!”

“No. Something went horribly wrong about a month before you were scheduled to be born. I’m still not sure on the details. They had to perform an emergency caesarean. You spent the first two and a half weeks of your life in the NICU. Kira died before they could deliver her. There was nothing they could do.”

That certainly explained why my birthdays always seemed a bit more somber than others. They tried their best to hide it, but my parents were grieving the loss of their daughter while also trying to celebrate the birth of their son.

Suddenly, I had one of those weird thoughts that I sometimes get. “Mom? What happened to Kira’s body? Did you bury her?”

“She’s at the cemetery. Your father can take you there tomorrow if you want.”

I was relieved. Last thing I needed was to discover that her body had broken down in utero and been absorbed into mine. Hell, maybe we had been conjoined and half my brain was hers. That would certainly explain Fleur, but God would it be creepy. And that kind of thing does happen. Something like one in eight multiple pregnancies ends with one fewer child than originally expected. Hell, I’ve even heard of a case where a man was found not to be the father of his own child due to having his fraternal twin brother’s testicles.

“I think I’d like that.” Time for a less somber subject. “Okay, so we’re done with that book. Got anything in the ‘great-grandpa kicking Nazi butt in dubya dubya two’ genre?”

Mom laughed. “Actually, I think I might. Your great grandmother was the one who got me into this scrapbooking thing.”

Curse you, Nana! CURSE YOU!

Nana had three – THREE! – books filled with photos and memorabilia of my great grandfather and other world war two memorabilia. For the most part, it was pretty simple stuff. But there was one thing that was pretty shocking.

My mom, who must have noticed that I was staring at a single photograph for an incredibly long time, nudged my shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

I couldn’t look away. How could I? There was a woman in the picture, dressed in a can-can outfit and chatting with my great-grandfather and one of his friends. I knew that woman. I’d seen her many times before, but this time I wasn’t looking in a mirror or seeing a face with my mind’s eye. “Who is this woman?” I asked, pointing at the photograph that just couldn’t be.

“I’m not sure what her name was. Let me check the back of the photograph.” She took the book from me and checked. “Ah, here it is. Her name is Fleur Renaud. She was a dancer. Apparently she and her brother worked for the French Resistance. He saved granddad’s life, but she was the one who got the intelligence.”

“A dancer?”

“Yeah. Says here that she had a stage name. She apparently called herself Fleur de Lis.”

“What.” I must have hit my head. That was it. This was just some weird ass dream. There was no way this was real life.

We continued looking through books for another hour before I excused myself and went back to my computer to do some more research. I didn’t find much on the Renauds, but I did find a few more pictures. Both of them looked incredibly familiar, but I couldn’t place why. It was driving me crazy.

That night I had an extremely vivid dream. I was the woman from the photograph. It almost felt like I was seeing her memories. But that was impossible. Unless what I thought of as a part of me was maybe some kind of ghost dwelling in my body with me. And now she was sharing her memories with me. Maybe?

It wasn’t a great theory, but let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised at this point. My life is weird.

The next morning, Katie and I discussed what I needed from the mall. “Big list for a paintball trip,” she said.

“It’s not all for the trip. I just figured that since you were gonna be there anyway, you could grab me a couple other things.”

“Fair enough. But you’re paying for lunch.”

“Done,” I said with a grin. “I had a couple of stocks go up over twenty five points unexpectedly yesterday.” It was true. I also happened to know that they would drop thirty points on Monday thanks to time travel, so I had sold them off. I made a crap ton of money.

“Really? What you up to?”

“More than two hundred thousand now.”

“What the heck?! Why are you not managing my finances again?”

“Not bad for someone who started with a couple hundred bucks of Christmas and birthday savings.” It had started during my sophomore year in high school. I knew that, starting that summer, I would be expected to get a part time job. I didn’t want that, since it would cut into my reading, gaming and studying time, so I decided to do something about it.

I had been saving a portion of my birthday and Christmas monies for five years, so I had a couple hundred bucks in my credit union account. I took that and spent a weekend devoted to understanding the stock market. I then spent a week researching companies. After that, I created an account on an online trading site using my father’s info and began investing. By May, I had turned my two hundred dollars into an amount of money that gave me an excuse to dust off the old Vegeta meme. What I’m saying was that I had an account worth more than nine thousand dollars. I closed the online brokerage account and put the money into my bank account.

When my parents told me I needed to start looking for a job, I pulled up my account and showed them. They were so impressed that they couldn’t even be mad that I had basically stolen my father’s identity to do it. After that, my part time job was managing their retirement fund. By the time I graduated from high school, I managed to get them nearly a ten-fold increase on their investments – and my own, for that matter – doing only about eight hours of research a week, usually watching anime while I did so. Beat the hell out of pushing carts at the local Walmart like my older brother did.

To be fair, some of that was luck. But it was the kind of luck you make yourself by giving yourself good odds and understanding where risks aren’t as high as they look and rewards are better than they seem. It was like being The House in Vegas. Yeah, it was a gamble, but The House always wins.

I set up a schedule to transfer ten grand into my sister’s account over the course of a week, the ability to do so being a benefit of registering hers as a preferred account with my online bank. “Kyle! What the hell?!” she exclaimed.

“You’ll spend about a grand on the stuff I want. Then, of course, I owe you lunch. You can also buy the girls a few things if you want. I hear that Maggie’s been bugging for a PS4 and Molly always wants jewelry. Keep the rest. It’s only money and I can make more. Even if I’m wrong and somehow can’t just get a ton more from investing, it’s not like I’m dipping into my food budget or retirement fund. Besides, with the money I’m going to make from that new battery, I’ll be a multi-millionaire by the time I’m twenty five, and that’s a conservative estimate.”

“Fair enough. See you this afternoon.”

After the girls went to the mall and Ken left for band practice, I changed into something respectful and went with Dad to the cemetery. He led me to the site of my twin sister’s grave. The tombstone had been meticulously cared for, as though someone had been by to clean it every few weeks since she had died.

“Take your time,” my father said, his strong hand upon my shoulder. “I’ll be waiting by the car when you’re ready.” Then I was alone.

What do you say to the sister you never knew you had? How do you apologize for never coming to see her? I was at a loss for words, so I rambled. I told her everything that had happened – everything that was going to happen. I apologized several times. I lose track of just how many times I said that I was sorry.

Then, making sure there was no one around to be bothered by it, I pulled out my violin and played a couple songs for my long dead twin, my other half that I had never known about but suddenly realized I had been missing my entire life. I’m not even exaggerating. There were times when I was younger that I felt like I had to share something I’d learned with someone, but upon thinking about it, would realize that I didn’t know who it was I wanted to talk to. Perhaps that person had been Kira.

After I finished the third song, my favorite hymn, I stood in silence and said a prayer, asking that Kira be watched over. When I finished, I put away the violin and prepared to leave, but was stopped by a young woman. “I’ve always loved that one,” she said.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize there was anyone else here,” I said. “I hope my playing didn’t bother you.”

“It’s fine,” she said. I got a good look at her. She was wearing a nun’s habit. I didn’t know we had nuns in this town.

“Oh, sorry Sister.” I’m a Catholic boy. There will always be a part of me that’s terrified of nuns.

“I’m sure she’ll be happy you finally came to visit,” she said, indicating the gravestone.

I turned and looked without thinking. “How did you know that…” but when I turned back, she was gone. Yeah, too spooky for me. I rushed to Dad’s car as quick as I could without looking disrespectful.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Dad said to me. I told him about the nun. He laughed. “Nice try. Tell your mom you almost had me there.”

“What are you talking about?”

He looked at me critically. “Your mom didn’t put you up to this?”

I shook my head. “Why would mom have put me up to anything?”

“You really don’t know. Oh, wow. Umm, well, the day you were born, I spoke with a nun while standing outside the NICU trying to deal with what had happened with your sister. She tried to comfort me for a while and disappeared when I turned away to get a coffee from the machine. At my request, they pulled the security tapes and there was never anyone in the room with me, despite how sure I was that I had seen her. And you just described her.”

Wow. “She wasn’t in the footage at all?”

“Well, sort of. There was a figure reflected in the observation window, but you can’t really make her out. But no one was actually in the room, if you believe the footage.”

“Well, there goes all sleep I was going to have tonight.” I had encountered a lot of things on Golarion, but never anything like this on Earth. It spooked me more than I cared to admit. Earth was safe from spooky stuff. Here, everything was all in my head, right?

Says the man who left Earth on the back of a Lovecraftian horror and flew through space without a space suit. The Nile isn’t just a river in Egypt, apparently.

When we got home, I made the mistake of looking up the video. It was actually on the net. It was spooky. I also got to see baby me being amused by his own reflection in a rare moment of not sleeping. Good to see some things never change.

I got back to work, preparing things for while I was gone and studying information I could use when I returned to Golarion. On the latter front, I gathered schematics and read up on a number of engineering principles I needed a refresher on. It was pretty straightforward.

On the former, I set up timed releases going up for twelve years. It wasn’t too difficult. What was difficult was having them come from different sources so they would be more difficult to track down. I didn’t want anyone get ahold of the tech before the previous steps were in place, since it would make more money to do it this way.

Satisfied that I had done everything I could, I leaned back and stretched. “And for my next trick, decoding the Voynich Manuscript.” Huh. “Well, let’s take a look at it.” I went ahead and loaded it up.

The damn thing was in Draconic. That left me with a whole new set of questions. First of all, it proved that there were dragons on Earth at some point. But that made me wonder why they had the same language as the dragons of Golarion. Was that the language that their gods created them with?

I wrote up my translation and sent it out anonymously – well, I signed them with a pseudonym – to a number of universities. Then, for the heck of it, I loaded up some other ancient untranslatable texts. Many of them seemed to be gibberish, but a few – particularly ones said to be in Enochian – were in the language of the celestial realms. Those translations I sent out anonymously to some religious scholars, as the texts concerned such things.

Then I began to wonder about the “gibberish”. What if it was just another language I didn’t recognize? It was too bad Aurora wasn’t there. I’m sure her magical angel language powers would make quick work of it if it really was a language.

If anyone figured out I was behind all these seemingly dissimilar events, my disappearance was going to become LEGENDARY. There might be a whole fleet of documentaries about me. Then I could come back like a rock star.

Focus, Kyle. You have to get back home first. Let’s not get ahead of myself here.

I still had time before my sisters would get home, so I ran by the hardware store. Rather than listing what I bought, let me ask you something. Are you aware that you can build a forge from things you can get from your local hardware store? Well, you can, so I did. It was very easy to set up, too. I mean, it wasn’t built to last, but it would get the job done.

After that, I spent time under a canopy in my parents’ back yard, listening to heavy metal while working some heavy metals on the forge. In the end, what I crafted wasn’t my most elegant work, but it didn’t need to be pretty. It just needed to be functional. It was too bad that I didn’t have more time, though. I could have made some jewelry for my mom before I left.

When my sisters got home, Maggie rushed upstairs and flung open my door. I shook my head. Twelve years old and still no sense of privacy. “Oh my god! Best big brother ever!” she shouted, throwing her arms around my neck. “I can’t believe you got me a Playstation!”

I laughed. “What games did you get?”

“I got five games! And a year of Plus!”

“Killzone? Extra controller?” I asked. She nodded. “Well, go get it set up then. I’ll be down in ten minutes to school you so hard that you’ll forget that it’s Spring Break.” She laughed the whole way down the stairs. Truth is that she’s better than me at most shooters.

I closed the website I had been browsing – research on defensive architecture, if you’re curious – and headed downstairs. Molly showed me the new phone Katie had used my money to buy for her. I was impressed that she didn’t blow it on fancy jewelry. Then we all spent the rest of the evening hanging out and gaming. We even busted out our instruments for an impromptu jam session, culminating in me performing for them a song I had written about Aurora though I’ve never sung it for her, “The Knight and the Maiden Fair”, sung completely in Taldan. They couldn’t understand the words and thus were unaware of anything but the title, but not a dry eye remained in the room by the time I had finished.

Actually, it’s probably better that they didn’t understand the words. I’m confident in the music itself, but I’m no poet. That is why I won’t share the lyrics here. But, if you’re interested, the song is a ballad. It starts telling the story of a young maiden, alone in the world. Then it transitions to the story of a gallant knight. Several verses weave the stories of the Knight and the Maiden together and it seems inevitable that the two will meet and fall in love. But at the end, the narrator reveals that the knight and the maiden are the same person and that the person the knight has spent the song saving is the narrator himself, who has fallen deeply in love with her. Basically, it’s a true story, is what I’m saying.

Before bed, Katie gave me the MP3 player I had asked her to get. “I’ve already put a bit of music on there for you.”

“Sweet.” My sister and I don’t always have the same taste in music, but I had the space to spare, so no worries. “Thanks.”

The next morning, I spent more time with my family before they took me into Tucson so I could fly back to Denver. During the afternoon, I recorded a few songs for my family, embedded them into vlogs and set them up to be sent every year on my birthday.

I had dinner with a couple buddies and then headed back home to finish packing. I did everything like before, except this time I put the new MP3 player in the radiation shielded case I had forged and carefully sewed it into a hidden spot in my bag. It would not be perfectly shielded, but my other player survived the trip, so I figured it would be good enough.

With time left on my hands and nothing to do, I browsed the internet. “Breaking into the Pathfinder Society Library,” I typed on a whim. I was not prepared for what I found.

“168,000 results,” read the display before me. And they looked relevant. The hell?

This section got a little long(17 pages 10 point, if you're wondering), breaking into two parts. Commentary on second part.

Turin the Mad wrote:
What's Bloodborne?

PS4 game by the makers of the Souls series. A game where intense difficulty isn't a flaw, but a main selling point. Uploaded a bunch of boss kill vids during my first playthrough a while back, if you're interested.

A lot of games I play, I do themed runs based on characters from this campaign. Actually just finished a Kyle run in Skyrim(using mods to insert guns and some more interesting spells). My Bloodborne Kyle run is going to be a gun focused build that also uses some of the game's limited magic. To be honest, though, I mostly just saw a coat that screamed to me "This looks kinda like Kyle's!" and ran with it. Since I don't have any particular artistic skill, I figured this would be my best chance at showing off at least a close approximation of what Kyle looks like in my head.

At some point, I have plans to do a Fallout NV Lenn run, Fallout 4 Kyle and Aurora runs and probably some kind of Dragon Age trilogy run using a combination of multiple characters.

Spent a little time trying to recreate Kyle and Aurora in Bloodborne. No luck on Aurora, every attempt somehow ended up looking like a psychotic schoolmarm, still not sure how.

But I managed to pull off something close for Kyle. I'd imagine the clothing choices in game helped.

So, here's one. After saving a certain town from a major attack(Chapter 4), the town has a barbecue in honor of the party. Two things of note happen during the party.

1)The only Irishman on the entire planet ends up getting into a drunken fistfight because "apparently I'm a walking stereotype".

2)The entire town consumes dragon flesh, except for one member of the party. Later, they discover that the everyone in town is now fire resistant, except for said party member. This is discovered when, testing whether a flame was actually burning cold because it hasn't hurt anyone else when they touched it, said party member confidently thrusts his hand directly into the flame.

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The Attack on Sandpoint Part 2: Aftermath

I tapped my microphone. “Shelter leaders. Threat appears to have passed. Give us ten minutes to sweep the town to confirm. Meanwhile, I need everyone to do a headcount and make sure everyone assigned to you is present and accounted for.”

Duty done, I was able to let the victory wash over me. I danced a jig, right there on the roof. Several of the people on the street hooted and hollered, others joined in. I hopped down and started grabbing hands and dancing with several of the women in celebration.

“We did it!” Ameiko laughed.

“We’ve done the impossible, and that makes us mighty!” I shouted. Cheers erupted around us. “Alright, everyone, work isn’t done. Begin sweeps in groups of three as planned. Geo, give me a sec and I’ll get you a listing of all unsprung traps. I may have missed a few going off, so there’ll be a few extra, but it’ll be a good place to start. Sheriff Hemlock, after that, I need to speak with you for a moment.”

I got Geo the list and he got to work disarming traps. Then I pulled the Sheriff aside. “Is this about the Vinder girls?” he asked.

Oh, right. I needed to figure out what to do with them. “Indeed,” I said, loud enough for anyone listening to hear. “Let’s talk more privately.” He agreed and we found a place with a little privacy to talk. “Actually, this has nothing to do with them,” I whispered. “We need to do something about them, but this might interest you a bit more.” I handed him the note I’d snagged from Scarnetti’s damaged desk.

He read the note, his face contorting in a mixture of anger and vindication. “I knew it!” he said.

“We have to handle this correctly. After the sweep, once we call for the people to come out, we’ll have everyone assemble in the plaza in front of the cathedral. You have your guards arrest Jubrayl Vhiski. I’ll take Titus Scarnetti into custody. Then we’ll escort them and Jubrayl’s top men to Magnimar for justice. Until then, play this close to the vest.”

He nodded. “So, what do we do with the Vinder girls?”

I sighed. “We need to find out what the hell they were thinking. Then we’ll decide.”

“Sounds good.”

My earpiece crackled. “Kyle,” Aurora said.

“Go ahead.”

“One of the giants is still alive, but unconscious. Should we finish it off?”

“No. I need the closest group to the dragon’s corpse to go collect the cables Paulie used to bring down the dragon and take them to Aurora.”

“We’re on it!” Ameiko answered.

“Aurora, bind the giant when she gets to you. Post a pair of guards with a radio on him. Tell me when he wakes up.”

All in all, the town survived the onslaught with minimal damage. Geo managed to pull up and disable the traps fairly quickly and with little incident. The caltrops in the river would have to be removed by someone with a boat. I whipped up a fairly large magnet to make it easy.

Once we were certain the town was secured, we let everyone out of the shelters and gathered up the leaders and anyone who wanted to learn more at the square. We organized teams to clean up the corpses and repair damage, with a focus on the gate.

Jubrayl Vhiski and his Sczarni friends hadn’t come to the square, so I signaled Sheriff Hemlock to go get them, having Lenn go with them to prevent anyone from trying anything. Then I called up the four nobles who had served the town so I could recognize their efforts. As I shook Mayor Deverin’s hand, I slipped her the note and told her to read it while I addressed the others.

Titus Scarnetti was the last one. As I shook his hand, I looked over my shoulder. “Mayor, with your permission, may I act on what I’ve given you?”

Her face was livid. “Do it.”

“Titus Scarnetti, for conspiracy to commit arson, I hereby place you under arrest. You and your accomplices will be taken to Magnimar to face justice. Any attempt to resist will be met with swift and immediate force, including deadly force if you make it necessary.”

“What is the meaning of this?!”

“You and that bastard Vhiski burned down your competitors’ mills!” the mayor accused. “It’s all here, in your handwriting!”

“Lies and slander! Where did you get that?”

I shrugged. “Some giants were looting your house. I stopped them, of course, but not before they threw some of your stuff on your lawn. I noticed that your big, fancy desk, which was upside down, had a secret drawer, which had broken open as the giants tossed it. I didn’t want that letter getting wet and ruined, so I picked it up. I glanced at it, and since I read really quickly, I absorbed it and realized what you had done.”

“You’ll pay for this!” He swung at me. Aurora brought him down with a swift kick to the back of his knee. She pulled his arm behind his back and kneeled on the small of his back. He groaned in pain.

“I did warn you,” I said as Aurora bound his hands.

The town watch returned a few minutes later with several Sczarni gang members, including Jubrayl Vhiski, in tow. “I can fit seven of them in our wagon,” Sheriff Hemlock said.

“We can take three of yours and Scarnetti,” I said. He looked at me in confusion. “We’re teleporting over to take care of this now.” I planned to take Aurora, Hemlock and Orik, so we only had the room in the hole.

“Even better. Should we have the Vinder girls cool their heels until we get back?”

“Right. Them.” I guess it would be better to deal with them now rather than later. “No, let’s go talk to them. Orik, can you and Lenn help the watch keep an eye on these guys for a few minutes?”

“Got it.”

Aurora, Hemlock and I went to Venn Vinder’s store, where the girls would be waiting with a couple members of the town guard. Mayor Deverin decided to come with us to witness the conversation. Venn was waiting with his daughters when we arrived, so I knew this would prove interesting. Katrine looked embarrassed and ashamed. Shayliss was hiding her mental state pretty well.

“Alright. Let’s start with you,” I said, pointing at Katrine. “What were you thinking? Why were you on that beach?”

“You came to me and told me to meet you there!”

“What.” I rubbed my temple. I could feel a headache coming on. But I’d promised myself I’d be nicer to her. “Okay. When did I come tell you to do this?”

“Right before you spread the alarm to send everyone to the shelters. You told me you wanted me to be somewhere safer than the shelters, so you were going to take me somewhere safer.”

I sighed. “I’m sorry, but I never came to visit you. I was in the air at that time.” At least this time I’d have witnesses. But it troubled me. She didn’t seem like she was lying. She actually believed what she said. “Let’s come back to that. You,” I turned to Shayliss. “Why did you tell Lenn to abandon his post?”

“I was trying to help you,” she said. It was true, to a point. There was more to it, but I wasn’t sure how to continue that line of questioning. More importantly, why did Katrine believe that I had told her to do it? There had to be something I was missing.

“Hey,” Fleur said. “Access your memory of talking to Lyrie.”

I closed my eyes for a moment and focused. On her belt. What was that hanging there? “Oh god,” I gasped. “No. Nononono.”

“What is it, Kyle?” Aurora asked, putting her hand on my shoulder.

“Lyrie has a Stalker’s Mask!” Aurora’s eyes widened in surprise.

“A what?” Mayor Deverin asked.

I was nearly hyperventilating at this point, so Aurora answered. “A magic item that lets you masquerade as someone else. Aldern Foxglove, the Skinsaw Man, had one and used it to impersonate Kyle during some of his killings.”

The mayor was a smart cookie. She looked at Katrine and back to Aurora. “Would that let her impregnate someone?”

“I’m not sure. Kyle?”

I focused on the technical problem, trying to come back down to a level where I could function. “Not on its own. It’s just an illusion. She would need something like my hat to bridge the gap by turning herself into a male humanoid before using the mask.”

Katrine blanched at the realization that she’d been seduced and tricked by someone into thinking she had been with me. Shayliss had no reaction. Was she lying about having slept with me after all? Venn, on the other hand, just looked confused.

“So you’re saying that a woman tricked my baby girl and got her pregnant? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way.”

“It does when the other woman is a sadistic wizard.” I gave Aurora a look that said “I told you we should have killed her when we had the chance.”

“So what’s going to happen to my baby girl?”

“Your daughter and her child should be fine, but they’re going to need your support.” I turned back to Katrine. “I’m sorry. She probably used you to get back at me. I won’t take responsibility for what I didn’t do, but I do feel like I should help out. I’m sorry to say that I’m not interested in you like you want, but I’ll see what I can do.” If nothing else, I’d find a way to set up a proper education for her child. It was the least I could do.

She sniffed and nodded. “Do you plan to bring this woman to justice?” Venn asked, his eyes wild.

“No,” I said. “Justice for this would be to make her pay to support the child she fathered. I’m pretty sure she planned it.”

“No? Why not?”

“Because I’m going to kill her,” I said. “Though I might sell some of her magic equipment and give you the money to help take care of the baby.”

Venn actually smiled. “I’m going to hold you to that.” He held out his hand. I took it and we shook hands in agreement.

The mayor agreed to spread the word of what had happened, so we went back and tossed the prisoners in the portable hole and teleported off to Magnimar.

(Margin Note: Hey, when did we get that Portable Hole, anyway?)
(Margin Note: We picked it up weeks ago, Fleur. We’ve had it the whole time.)
(Margin Note: Well, I guess we had to have it, otherwise we never would have been able to teleport everyone a few days ago.)
(Margin Note: Yep. THE WHOLE TIME.)
(Margin Note: Just like mini-moose.)

We took the criminals to a judge that Hemlock trusted. They were shocked at the arrest of the nobleman, but were willing to accept our word and the letter as proof. We were promised that they would be punished for their actions.

Orik then went off to go speak with his leadership, telling us that if we had to leave early, he’d catch up with us in Sandpoint within the next day or so. The rest of us headed to go visit the Lord Mayor and give a report of both the attack on Sandpoint and the situation at the fort.

Lord-Mayor Haldmeer Grobaras was rotund as usual, but he made immediate time to meet with us, so I won’t talk too much about how sweaty and out of breath he was. “I received your missive, but tell me what has transpired.”

We filled him in on the details. “A dragon and nearly a dozen giants, yet no one died in Sandpoint?”

“We had one rather close call,” I said. “But things worked out. That said, there’s a danger I need to warn you about.” We filled him in on what had happened with Lyrie. “So, if I come to you at any point in the future, have your guards immediately disarm and bind my hands. I don’t know that she has any plans to attack you, but it’s better that we take precautions and not need them than need them and not take them.”

“Prudence does seem warranted,” he agreed readily. It was his own ass on the line, after all.

“We’re planning to take the fight to the giants, just as soon as we figure out where they are,” Aurora said. “We’ll probably need some help.”

“It does not seem prudent to send out the city’s forces with so many giant patrols wandering about. Especially since you don’t yet know where they are.”

“One way or another, we’ll find out by tomorrow,” I said. “We have a prisoner and I’ll use magic to get it out of him if I have to.”

“Of course, but I still would rather not commit any additional forces. It would leave the city vulnerable.”

He had a point. “What about the Potent Rainbow Lions?”

He considered it. “I’ll urge the council to free up funds to hire at least a few squads for you. Where shall we send them?” A few squads? Well, it was better than nothing, but it was still a token force. We would have to introduce more tech if we wanted to take on the giants.

“Sandpoint,” I said. “We’ll wait there a few days while we prepare ourselves for combat.”

“Sandpoint it is, then. Godspeed, heroes.”

Aurora, Hemlock and I left the Lord-Mayor’s residence. There were a few things I wanted to take care of in Magnimar before we returned, so we decided to head towards the Voidstrife factor’s office. I swear, it was for legitimate business reasons and had nothing to do with wanting to avoid helping clean up all those giant corpses.

We made our way through the Alabaster District and headed towards the Silver Shore – clear across town. Along the way, we stopped at a magic shop and I grabbed Aurora a ring like my own. It would be almost a week before she no longer had to sleep a full night, but now she had it. I also loved giving Aurora a ring, even if it was mostly from her own funds that I happened to carry for her.

In the Dockway District, we found a large crowd gathering along the main thoroughfare. I didn’t want to take the effort to take another street, so we just tried to make our way around the edge of the crowd, which we realized was gathered around one of those “end is near” doomsayers. Being a town filled with cults – mostly worshipping celestial beings – it wasn’t uncommon.

He was covered in tattered sackcloth robes and was talking about some monster coming to destroy the city. He had seen it in a vision. And he wanted to tell everyone about it. The basic gist was that some kind of serpent would awaken a mighty queen, which would devour the city. You know, basic doomsday stuff.

It probably would have been little more than a minor anecdote, but he spotted me and called out to me. “You! The man in the black! I must speak with you!”

I sighed. “What?”

“You are the only one who can stop the beast and save us!”

I humored him. “And how, precisely, am I supposed to do that?”

“You know of the great being known as the Defender of the Universe! Only he can possibly hope to defeat the vile queen.”

“I’ll, uh, keep that in mind,” I said.

“Good! Remember, the Defender is the only one who can pierce her thick scales. The greatest weapons man can make will not do as much.”

“Okay, that’s fine. Now, I’m gonna go ahead and just go somewhere a little less crazy, mmkay?” There was no way he meant what I thought he meant. But you know what? I’ve seen weirder things. And if he was right, then I would need to prepare. And if he was wrong, then it wouldn’t be a total loss either, if I played my cards right.

We passed a number of stalls selling various wares as we continued past the docks. One of them caught my eye. The owner was selling various minerals and gems. I browsed the wares, quickly finding what I was looking for. I got several of the items extremely cheap, since the people of Golarion hadn’t yet learned what value they had.

We met with my factor, who had made it back to Magnimar safely. “Milord, I am pleased to report that you were correct about the ambush. It seems that the Potent Rainbow Lions sent several squads as requested and managed to surprise the ambush, killing half a dozen giants in the process. Others managed to escape, and the Lions pursued until it was clear that they had been eluded.”

“Do they pose any further danger to the people in the area?” Aurora asked.

“Yes, unfortunately. But the city has sent some of its own troops to patrol the surrounding areas. It is hoped that this will be enough to keep them at bay.”

“It should work for now,” I said. “So, tell me, what does the mineral market look like at the moment?”

“Some are cheaper than usual, others more expensive. If you tell me what you need, I can be more specific.”

I pulled out the minerals I’d purchased. “I need these, and some others. In large quantities. Can it be done?”

“How large are we talking?”

“A warehouse completely filled with the materials.”

His eyes grew wide. “We can do that, milord, but it would cut into profits greatly. May I ask what you need them for?”

“Hedging my bets. If we actually need them, then they’ll be instrumental in saving the city. If not, I can teach you how to turn them into something that will make a great profit.”

He smiled almost reflexively at the word “profit”. He considered for a moment. “Of course, milord. I will see to it. Though I am curious as to what value this in particular has.” He held up the piece of bauxite I’d collected.

“That is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle. Trapped within is a metal my people call aluminum. It is complex to extract, but if you know how, not so difficult. I can make an alloy with it and several other metals that will be as strong and as light as mithral, but cheaper by far. Of course, it requires some mithral in the mix, so we can’t bypass it altogether, but it will be necessary for something I may need to build.”

It was an alloy described in the technology guide. It was described as being used in shuttle or fighter hulls. There was enough information that I was pretty sure I could replicate it, but they never named it. Of course, that meant I was free – no, OBLIGATED! – to name it myself. I considered calling it Tritanium, Trinium or something else from sci-fi, but opted to go with Mithracite, since I’d already started calling the material I’d made of magic Magicite.

“Of course. If you give me a list of the ratios you need of these, I will fill a warehouse with what you need.”

“Excellent. There is one other task I need completed.” I pulled out a round of OCP-L. “I need you to make me roughly one hundred thousand of these.”

He gave me a dubious look. “What for?”

“If we can’t deal with the stone giant threat the way we’re planning, I’m going to have to convince the city to buy a lot of guns. Those guns will need ammunition. They need to be exact. Don’t deviate on size or shape. And they need to be made of steel or iron.”

“And what if you do manage to deal with the threat?”

“Then I’ll just have to figure out another buyer. I’ll come up with something.”

“Of course. Anything else I can assist with?”

“We’re gonna need a couple wagons and horses to pull them. Get in touch with the Potent Rainbow Lions and send them with the units they send to Sandpoint. Also, I need another horse to ride. My last one got blown up.” I sighed. Requiescat in pace, Fluttershy.

“As you wish, milord. I won’t claim to understand any of that, but I’m sure it’ll make money somehow.”

We stopped at “O’Halloran’s”, a tavern run by the Voidstrife cartel and serving traditional Irish dishes from recipes – as well as several bastardized American versions – I’d provided several years back. There was an “O’Halloran’s” in four major cities, including Magnimar and Absalom, with plans to open in several other cities. I didn’t need to eat, but Aurora and Hemlock did. I had a shot of whiskey and a cup of tea, while Hemlock had a bowl of coddle and Aurora ate the most expensive thing on the menu, a bacon cheeseburger, served medium rare.

Look. No one on Golarion needs to know that a cheeseburger isn’t traditional Irish food. I won’t tell if you won’t. And hey, I resisted the urge to put tacos on the menu. Give me some credit here.

We returned to Sandpoint to find that cleanup was going well. Most of the giant corpses had been piled and burned and all the traps had been disassembled, aside from the caltrops in the river. Not to say that problems didn’t remain.

“You cannot repair those!” Paulie shouted as he stood out in front of the town hall. “They are monuments to my glory!”

“I have an order to patch the holes,” a tradesman was saying.

“What’s going on here?” I asked, against my better judgment.

“The mayor has ordered me to repair this damage, but this man won’t let me.”

“It’s a monument to my glorious deeds!” Paulie exclaimed.

“What is?”

“These holes where I anchored the cable that helped bring down the dragon.”

“The holes are a monument to your glory?”


“So, they’re… glory holes?” Fleur lost her mind with laughter. I managed to keep a straight face.

“YES! EXACTLY! You cannot fill in my glory holes!”

I could feel the corner of my mouth twitching. “Look, I agree with you. But in ten years, most people will forget what they mean. What if I instead use some magic to make a statue or something?”

He considered it. “That would be an acceptable compromise.” He clapped the craftsman on the shoulder. “Okay, my good man. You may proceed with your work. I will protest no longer, though it pains me to see you fill my glory holes.”

I managed to make it just out of sight before I collapsed to the floor, convulsing with laughter.

A bit later, someone came to let me know that the giant prisoner had finally woken up, so Aurora and I headed over to the large, walled pen where we were keeping the giant. The pen was usually used for farmers bringing in livestock to sell, but it had been repurposed for this.

I tried befriending it, that didn’t work. So I tried the whole “Punisher torch thingy” since it had worked for me before. The giant was too stupid to understand the concepts, so it failed too. I thought I was going to have to take a day and prepare magic to get the information out of him after I’d slept, but Paulie came and found me. Apparently, on hearing that I was having trouble with the prisoner, his personality had flipped again.

“I can get the information you want,” he said, his voice once more sounding like he’d been gargling rocks. He was hanging upside down from the eave above me. “Just give me fifteen minutes with the prisoner.”

“You won’t kill him, will you?”

“I will be careful.”

I don’t like actual torture, but lives were at stake. And while I don’t believe that it gets results, it wouldn’t hurt my chances of getting the info with magic. “Okay, sure.”

One of the town guards said that he needed to oversee the interrogation, which was fine. He’d done the same for my attempts, so it wasn’t a big deal. Right before going in, Paulie stopped. "I need to borrow your little knife.”

I pulled out my small folding knife. “This one?”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I need.” I really didn’t want to know.

For about twelve minutes, there wasn’t a sound from the other side of the wall. Nothing. It was really eerie. Then suddenly, the giant began screaming. “Make it stop! I can’t take it anymore! Please, I’ll tell you anything! Just make him stop!”

Paulie opened the pen door. “He’s all yours.” He handed me back my knife and looked back at the giant. “Don’t make me come back here.” The giant whimpered.

Aurora and I exchanged a concerned look and went in. “Okay, so now that we have that established, it’s time to ask you a few questions. Let’s start with the basics. Tell me what you can about Mokmurian.”

“He is our lord. He will grant us great riches. When his armies march down from the Storval Plateau, he will take everything from you.”

“I see. And how does he command your loyalty? Is he the largest, most powerful giant?” I wanted to know if it was possible we were dealing with an idiotic meathead.

“He is a child of the stones, but he commands the magic of the Ancient Lords. He can turn flesh to immobile stone and his skin to armor like granite. And I’ve even heard that he can cause the very stones of the earth to quicken and pull those who stand atop them into a tomb below the earth. And that is just the barest tip of his power. You have no chances against him.”

“You mentioned Ancient Lords. What can you tell me about them?”

“They are gone now, but our elders tell us that they once ruled this land. They enslaved our ancestors and forced them to build the monuments that grace the land even today. Some of us believe that he is an ancient lord risen from the grave to rebuild his empire.”

That sounded a lot like the Runelords. But, as far as I knew, none of them were giants. “Tell me more about your forces. How many does Mokmurian command? And when does he plan to attack?”

“Seven tribes, numbering in the dozens each, follow the great Mokmurian. He also enjoys the support of conscripts from among the lesser races. Ogres, hill giants, ettins, trolls and even a few lamias recognize his strength. He will lead them down to reap your puny race like wheat soon, maybe by the end of the month. Already his scouts map your lands.”

That was a lot of giants. I made some quick calculations and realized I would need to make some much bigger weapons to make this assault viable. “Okay, then, if I want to show him how weak the powers of the ancient lords really are, where would I find him?”

“Ha! I would love to watch your death when you try. If that’s where you wish to go, then find Mokmurian in Jorgenfist, his stronghold in the Valley of the Black Tower in the Iron Peaks, east of the Storval Stairs. He dwells deep below Jorgenfist, in hidden places only he is allowed to go.”

That was almost everything. “What was your mission here? Why did you attack Sandpoint?”

“We were to take those filled with greed as prisoners, as well as what wealth we could gather. Lord Teraktinus was also here on a special mission to take a stone from the building you call Old Light. He didn’t say why, but our people have the ability to coax secrets from stones. Perhaps the stones there knew something Lord Mokmurian needed.”

I couldn’t think of anything further. “Thank you for your time.” We all went outside.

“What do we do with him now?” the guard asked.

“Confirm with Sheriff Hemlock, but I believe he is guilty of attempted murder. Just do me a favor and if you execute him, try to make it quick and relatively painless.”

“Of course, milord.”

“Also, I have to ask. What exactly did Paulie do?”

The man suddenly went full thousand yard stare, like a homeless veteran suddenly recalling ‘Nam. “He just sat there, staring at the giant. For what seemed like forever, he just stared, not breaking eye contact.”

What? “Then, what was the knife for?”

“He pulled out a hunk of cheese and kept cutting slices off and eating them.” That didn’t sound bad, but the way the man said it made me decide not to press it.

Later that afternoon, we joined Paulie and several regular patrons of the Hagfish in mourning the two casualties of the battle, Fluttershy and the hagfish, Norah. It was a tasteful, if slightly drunken, ceremony.

That evening, the town threw one hell of a party. Even done at the last minute, it rivaled the festival we attended when we had first arrived. Part of me spent much of the night waiting for goblins to show up. They served dragon four different ways, which was a pity. I kept having to turn down meals because I refuse to eat anything that intelligent.

“I have one rule when it comes to eating meat,” I told Ameiko. “I never eat any species capable of calculus. Doesn’t matter that they haven’t discovered it, but dragons are certainly capable. So I don’t eat them.”

“I guess that’s fair,” she said after I’d explained calculus to her. “What about drinks? Can I interest you in some kind of beverage?”

“Well,” I said, thinking about it. Then it hit and I sang my answer, once more relying on my mental collection of other people’s songs as a shortcut. “‘When we raise our flagon to another dead dragon, there’s just one drink we need.’”

“And what’s that?”

“Nord MEAD!”

She and Aurora laughed at my lighthearted singing. “Mead I have. I think there are two or three kegs in the cellar.”

“I’ll buy every one of them. Tap those things and let’s all get drinking!” A number of the townsfolk cheered.

We partied for hours, with most of the town joining in. A local bard did some great performances until he was too drunk to sing, so we all took over and sang a number of drinking songs. I knew a few songs that fit the bill.

There was also dancing. Through the night, I took a turn on the dance floor with a great number of women, including the town’s mayor, who was pretty spry for a middle aged woman. I even danced with Katrine Vinder, who had timidly asked. I think she still felt embarrassed and a bit ashamed over what had happened to her. I couldn’t think of any reason not to, so I went ahead and we danced to a faster number that Ameiko herself performed. Strangely, Shayliss didn’t make an appearance at the party. Probably off sulking, I told myself.

There was talking. Ameiko and Mayor Deverin told us that they had commissioned new windows for the repaired town hall, which had been damaged by the dragon’s impact. The glassworks would be working with an artist from Magnimar to make a bunch of windows depicting the morning’s battle. That was pretty cool, but I asked that they make sure to emphasize that the real victory was that no one died, aside from a horse, a fish and a bunch of giants.

And of course, the only Irishman at the whole party managed to get into a drunken fistfight. It wasn’t my idea, and I wasn’t exactly drunk. I don’t like being drunk. In a world where everything is trying to kill you, it’s probably a bad idea to voluntarily take leave of your senses. And a wizard should never get so drunk that they slur their words. Never know when you’ll need a good incantation.

I didn’t know the guy’s name, but I recognized him as a Shayliss supporter from the other day’s brawl. He couldn’t have been a day over nineteen. He stood on a table and denounced me in front of everyone, demanding to know why the people of town had “forgiven my misdeeds”.

He then hopped down and declared his intentions to “settle me personally”. I tried to talk him out of it, and Sheriff Hemlock tried to intervene, but I eventually came to the realization that this wouldn’t end until he’d hit me.

So I offered him the chance. I flung my arms wide open. “Okay, go ahead, give me your best hit. Then, once it’s out of your system, let me buy you a drink and let’s talk this out.” He swung once, then again, and again once more. Aurora moved to take him down, but I waved her off. “Okay, I guess if that’s what you want.” I tapped my magical cuffs, turning my long coat into a light vest that wouldn’t get in the way of a fistfight.

Now, I’m not a fighter, not truly. Any one of the people I travel with could lay me out pretty easily. But this was just a drunk idiot farmer or something. And I’d been practicing a bit with Aurora. Add in my height – and thus, reach – and the fact that I’ve stared down death a number of times, and you’ll find that this callow youth was out of his league.

I had knocked him out after three decent punches. Hemlock had a couple of his people throw him in a cell to sleep off his drunkenness and the party resumed.
Ameiko came over to check my injuries. She didn’t like what she saw, so she cast a few healing spells on me. I had forgotten that she was a bard. I guess they’re not all bad.

“Come on,” she said, satisfied that I had healed. “Let’s go have another drink.”

She handed me the mug closest to where I had been sitting earlier. I looked at it quickly. “This isn’t mine,” I said.


“I made a mark on bottom of the handle.”

She handed me the other mug and took hers back. We each took a long drink, then she set her mug down and walked dangerously close to me, then pressing herself against me. “You know,” she said, running a finger down my chest seductively. “You’ve danced with all the other girls, but you haven’t invited me out to take a turn on the dance floor.”

Fleur just stood with her mouth agape for a moment. “MUSIC!” she shouted, though no one else could hear her. “SOMEONE PLAY SOME MUSIC!”

And music there was. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to dance with someone who both had formal dance training and the youth to make the most of it. “Someone play the Csárdás!” I shouted for the hell of it. No one would know what I was talking about, but someone did start up something with a nice tempo and we wowed onlookers.

After the end of the song, we ended with Ameiko dipped backwards and thunderous applause. I pulled her up and she whispered in my ear. “I’m going to leave the party now. Come up to my room in fifteen minutes.” Her voice was dripping with the kind of raw, animal sexuality that you just can’t ignore.

Thanks to the whole thing with the Vinder sisters, I had decided that it wasn’t worth it to sleep with anyone in this town anymore, but this wasn’t just anyone. This was Ameiko Kaijutsu. I had been trying to get in her pants since we’d first come to town, and I wasn’t going to miss the chance now.

They say that you can tell a lot about how good someone will be in bed by how well they dance. Ameiko had been perhaps my best ever dance partner, and while I will not confirm nor deny just how good the night was, I will say that the old wisdom has some basis in fact.

I ended up sleeping in the next morning, waking somewhere around seven or eight in the morning when Ameiko woke with a groan. “Morning, sunshine,” I said to her.

She looked at me and blinked a few times. “Kyle? What happened?”

That startled me. “You don’t remember?”

“My head hurts too much to remember. How much did I drink last night?”

I started to panic a little. Had she been too drunk? She only seemed a bit tipsy, no worse off than me. My mind quickly raced through the images of her drinking. I didn’t think she could have had more than three or four drinks over the course of the whole night.

“I didn’t think you had that much. Are you one of those really functional drunks?”

“No more than usual. I need a moment.” She sat on the edge of the bed and held her head in her hands and concentrated. “It’s starting to come back to me, bits and pieces.”

I wanted to scream. I never would have slept with her if I’d realized how far gone she was. “Do you need some Alchemist’s Kindness?” I was referring to a popular concoction for hangovers mixed up by alchemists in every major city.

“That might help.”

I went over to my coat and pulled out my bag, which I had shrunk and stuffed into a non-magical pocket. Inside, I pulled out a little vial and a skin of water. I poured the water into a cup and tossed a couple tablets from the vial in as well before handing her the cup. She took down the medicine in two gulps and returned the cup. I went ahead and prepared some for myself.

Relief is extremely quick with that stuff. “Wow,” she said, gaping at me. “WOW.”


“I’m starting to remember and now I realize exactly why I’m so sore. Do you do that kind of thing with every woman?”

I grinned despite how horrible I still felt. “Most women aren’t limber enough.”

“I’ll bet.” She continued to focus, remembering her night. “No, I wasn’t too drunk. I can recall everything now. But something did come over me, something I’ve never felt before. You never use magic to seduce women, do you?”

“Not beyond using it to impress them, no.”

“I think someone used magic on me. I suddenly found myself overcome with lust for you. Gods, it was so intense!” Her face flushed and other parts of her body immediately showed signs of arousal.

“Really? That does sound like magic. Give me a moment.” I pulled out my spellbook and prepared a spell. I then cast it, causing my eyes to glow a pale blue and allowing me to instantly see magical auras. There was a faint but recognizable one permeating her entire body. “This almost looks like you drank a love potion, but it’s much stronger than anything I’ve ever seen in any of my classes. I’ve never heard of one that could last a whole night. Give me a moment. I have a spell that can remove its effects from you.”

She grabbed my arm and pulled me onto the bed, causing me to drop my spellbook on the floor. “I don’t think I can wait a moment. Sorry,” she apologized, her voice filled with urgency.

We were already nude and she’s a lot stronger than she looks, so it wasn’t too hard for her to do what she wanted. Well, it was hard enough, but it wasn’t difficult. You know what I mean. And it’s also not like I was really fighting. Not all of me wanted to stop her.

Half an hour later, she lay next to me, out of breath. “Please hurry and prepare that spell. Before I lose control and force myself on you again.” I just nodded. It’s not like I really objected to it, aside from feeling guilty because she was in an altered state, not that I’d had much choice in the matter.

A minute later, I broke the enchantment and relief seemed to wash over her. “Thank you. And I’m sorry for that.”

“Don’t be. I’m the one who should be sorry. I should have known something was wrong. I should have –“

She stopped me with a finger on my lips. “Let’s just call this one of those mistakes people sometimes make. No one’s at fault here and it’s not as though it was unpleasant for either of us. I really should go get some contraceptive herbs, but beyond that, no harm was done.”

I nodded. “Better safe than sorry, though I did take something to keep from getting you pregnant last night right before I came over.”

“Good, but I’ll get some herbs later this morning all the same. For now, I guess the real question is how I ended up drinking the potion in the first place.”

That was indeed a good question. “If it behaves like the weaker kind of potion I’ve heard of the reaction would have been nearly instantaneous after drinking it. When did you first notice it?”

“Right before we danced.”

I thought about it for a moment. “That means it was when we had that drink after the fight.”

“Right! And remember, we almost got our cups mixed up. Do you think someone had meant it for you?”

“It’s possible,” Fleur said. “But who do you think would have… Oh wow. Look back at our memory of right before we drank. What do you see?”

I focused and scanned the memory. It took me a moment, but I saw what Fleur meant: Red hair peeking out from behind a nearby chair. “Shayliss,” I said flatly.

“You’re kidding.” Ameiko somehow didn’t seem all that surprised.

“Nope. She was waiting right there, where she could pop up right after I drank it in order to be the first person I saw, which is how those things work. She must have mixed up the cups as well.”

Ameiko then asked possibly the most important question. “Where do you think she got the potion?”

I cursed. “It must have come from Lyrie.”

“That can’t be good.”

“No, it really can’t. I’m gonna go wake up Aurora and then pay Miss Vinder a visit. Would you get Sheriff Hemlock for me and ask him to meet me at the Venn’s store?”

“Of course. But before you go…” She grabbed me and pulled me close, then gave me a lingering kiss on the cheek and a pat on the backside. “Just to make sure you know that there are no hard feelings. You’re a good friend.”

Yeah, I guess there was no reason to keep being hard on myself. There was no way I could have known and she didn’t blame me. So screw it. I’d just be happy I got laid.

I went to our suite and knocked on Aurora’s door. She was already awake, so I let her know what was going on and headed downstairs. It was within seconds of reaching the ground floor that I realized that it was going to be one of those days.

Lenn had several of the women from the brothel in Ameiko’s kitchen. They were making pancakes. But they weren’t normal pancakes. If they were, it would have been fine. No, they were making pancakes using alchemy.

I didn’t even know Lenn knew how to perform alchemy. But apparently he had figured it out from the recipe the gnome – who I still suspected was Gribbletoo, champion of Gozreh – had given him. I watched for a minute while I waited for Aurora. They had the technique and formula down. I was pretty impressed.

Aurora came down, the fox that had become a fixture at the Rusty Dragon since we’d rescued it riding on her shoulder. She was just as shocked as I was at the sight of Lenn and his friends making breakfast, a term I use loosely because I certainly wasn’t going to eat it.

The fox, on the other hand, was interested in the eggs they were making. He jumped off Aurora’s shoulder and onto the counter, grabbing an omelet. “Give that back!” Lenn roared, scaring the fox. He darted under the stairs, out of Lenn’s reach, omelet still in his mouth.

Aurora got between Lenn and the stairs, not wanting him to traumatize the poor animal again. Eventually Lenn calmed and relented, proving even his animalistic rage could not stand against Disney Princess Aurora. “I’ll keep him out of the kitchen while you’re working,” she promised the big guy. She moved to coax the animal out from under its hiding place, but I stopped her.

“Let me talk to it. I know its language.”

“FOXES DON’T TALK!” Lenn said loudly.

“That’s where you’re wrong. Back home, we have learned the languages of all the animals. We even made a song to teach them to children.”


Well, if he insisted…

“Dog goes "woof"
Cat goes "meow"
Bird goes "tweet"
And mouse goes "squeek"
Cow goes "moo"
Frog goes "croak"
And the elephant goes "toot"
Ducks say "quack"
And fish go "blub"
And the seal goes "ow ow ow"

But there's one sound
That no one knows
What does the fox say?”

I knelt down and looked at the fox before continuing.

What the fox say?

What the fox say?


Aurora was laughing so hard I was afraid she’d pee herself, yet simultaneously making no sound. That had been my goal, since she had seemed a bit out of it that morning. But despite the fact that I was just being silly, the fox still cautiously came out, leaping to Aurora’s arms immediately. The look of amazement on Lenn’s face was priceless.


I patted him on his shoulder. “Just have to practice, big guy,” I said with a completely straight face. Aurora was wiping tears from her eyes from laughing, though Lenn had his back to her and didn’t see it.

“Can you imagine if he actually figured it out somehow?” Fleur asked me.

“It wouldn’t be the most impossible thing we’ve ever seen him do,” I replied. “Not by a long shot.”

Aurora and I made our way to the square where the festival had happened. I cast several spells, giving myself permanent arcane sight at the cost of self injury, which I then healed with almost all of the remaining charges on my wand. Using that sight, I sought out the mug Ameiko had drunk from.

Sure enough, I found it where we’d left it. There were still traces of the potion on the inside of the mug, so I carefully picked it up using gloves, careful not to smudge any fingerprints. I didn’t think I would have to use that kind of technique to prove anything, but I was prepared to do so anyway. I concentrated and turned off the arcane sight, stopping the glowing in my eyes. I was confident I could resume it at will if I needed it in the future with no need to recast the spell.

We met up with Sheriff Hemlock and explained the situation before knocking on the door. Venn opened the door, looking annoyed. “What is it now?”

“Sorry to bother you Venn, but there’s evidence that your youngest got involved in some mischief last night.”

“And what evidence do you have?”

“I’d prefer to give her a chance to respond to the accusation before we discuss evidence.”

“Fine. Come inside.”

We presented the charges against Shayliss, and she denied them, naturally. I explained the evidence. She continued to deny, as I expected. So I played a bit of hardball. “The truth is, I think you’re a pawn. I just want the person pulling the strings. Tell us the truth now, or I will be forced to use either technology or magic to prove your involvement. If you make me do that, any talk of leniency is off the table. I will press charges and require that you receive the full punishment under the law.”

“You’re lying,” she accused.

“Where I come from, we have a technique that allows us to determine if someone touched something. It wouldn’t take all that long, but it would waste a spell that I wanted to use for other things today in order to make the supplies I need. And if you were smart enough to pour in the potion without touching the mug, I could just pop over to Magnimar, grab a priest of Abadar and we could see about using some of his spells to compel you to tell the truth. So why protect someone else? Your own skin’s on the line.”

“I would never betray a friend.”

Now we were getting somewhere. “A friend? What makes this person your friend?”

“She’s the only one who sees the truth.”

I had her. “And what is the truth, exactly.”

“You belong with me! All the other girls are just distractions! You and I are meant to be together! I won’t let any of those harlots stand between me and my destiny! So what if I used a magic potion to try to ensorcell you? It’s for your own good!”

Venn looked pissed at his daughter. “Just what in the name of the gods is wrong with you?! Your mother and I raised you better than this?”

“You and mother have been blind! I’ve been running around with men behind your back for over a year. You think I’m still ‘mommy and daddy’s little angel’? Just how stupid can you be?!”

Venn slapped her across the face. “You little whore!” Hemlock stepped between them and prevented further escalation.

I cleared my throat. “We’re getting off topic here. Shayliss, I need you to tell me where you got the potion.”


That was about enough of that. “One moment. I’m going to prepare a spell.” I had learned a spell that would allow me to dominate the mind of another and force them to do what I commanded. It was strictly meant for use in infiltration and interrogation, but even then I’m loathe to cast it. I hate taking away anyone’s free will. That was more Lyrie’s style…


I concentrated, reactivating my arcane sight. I looked right at Shayliss. “What are you doing?” She demanded.

“Saving your ass, apparently.” My hunch had been correct. She was under a very subtle mind altering spell. She would view the one who had cast it as her dearest friend. Everything she had done had been under her own free will, but this mitigated it a bit, sort of like turning murder in the first to murder in the second.

I prepared a different spell than I had originally planned. A few moments later, I dispelled the charm. She blinked a few times. “What happened? I feel so strange.”

“You were under a spell that made you view the caster as a friend. While it doesn’t absolve you of responsibility for your actions, it does mitigate it a bit. So tell me. Who put you up to this?”

“A woman named Lyrie.”

“And did she tell you why she wanted you to do it?”

“She just said that the party was a chance to finally get what I wanted. She said she was just trying to help me.”

A thought occurred. “And what did she say to get you to go do what you did during the battle?”

“She said that you needed my help. That everyone was out of position and not responding. She said that you would appreciate what I had done and would thank me.”

“I see. Okay. Sheriff, check with Ameiko and see if she wants to press any charges. If not, I think we can leave Miss Vinder to whatever punishment her parents decide on.”

“As long as it doesn’t turn violent, I can accept that. You good with that, Venn?”

He looked at Shayliss. “First thing tomorrow, if the roads are safe, we’re taking you to see a matchmaker in Magnimar. If she can’t find someone who can accept you and your wanton ways within a week, then you’ll be entering a convent.”

“Ooh, that’s harsh,” Fleur commented.

Perhaps a bit too harsh. “When you get to Magnimar, see the Voidstrife factor. I’ll give you a note instructing him to find the best matchmaker in town.”

We left, Hemlock bidding his farewell. We strolled through town for several minutes before Aurora spoke. “That was a little weird.”

“I know, right? Do you think we were too hard on her?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“I just wish we had gotten something useful on Lyrie. With that Stalker’s Mask, she’s going to be incredibly dangerous.”

Aurora stopped suddenly. “T-That…may not be a problem anymore.” She sounded embarrassed and maybe even a little ashamed.

I felt my blood run cold. “What do you mean?”

She reached into her belt pouch and pulled out a small, folded object. “I wasn’t sure how to bring this up, but I managed to take Lyrie’s mask from her.”

I was going to kill Lyrie. I was going to kill her in the most painful way possible. Would I drown her in a lake? Would I feed her to a snake? Would I hit her with an axe? Put arsenic in her favorite snacks? No matter what I did, my rage had gone positively Seussian.

“What happened?”

“She came to our rooms last night, looking like you. I think she was trying to do to me what she had to Katrine.”

If I was a bit stronger, my clenched fingers would have ripped through my palm. I managed to keep my voice calm. “What happened?”

“I had changed for bed, and when she realized it wasn’t working, she tried to attack me.” She looked away from me. “She tore the nightgown you gave me.” Her voice was soft, barely above a whisper. I put my hand on her shoulder. “I managed to fight her off. I broke her nose. But, Kyle, I’m sorry. I haven’t been scared like that since I killed the nobleman who wanted to force me to marry him.”

I pulled her to me. She seemed a bit nervous at first, but buried her face in my chest. “It’s okay. We’re going to kill her together. I’ll have Lenn prepare us a picnic and we can make an afternoon of spreading her ashes to the four winds.”

She wrapped her arms around me, under my coat. “Can we have chicken?”

“That depends. Is chicken sausage and pancakes okay?” She laughed and hugged me tighter. “So, what you’re telling me is that I should still consider it impossible to get in your pants, eh?”

She laughed again. “That is probably a good idea.”

“Damn.” I kissed her softly on the top of the head. “I do have two questions.”


“How did you know it wasn’t me? I mean, what made you try to pull off a mask you couldn’t see?”

“She said some things that you wouldn’t have. Also, she didn’t smell right. What’s the other question?”

“How much longer should we hug before it starts to look weird?”

She laughed again. “Maybe a bit longer?”

“Works for me.”

After that, I knew I needed to get some work done. Regardless of what was going on, we were going to need some equipment to assault Jorgenfist. Thankfully, the giants had brought us plenty of materials for me to work with, and Lyrie’s mask was also available for breaking down. I also began instituting greater operational security. No one but Aurora and I knew what I was making, and we wouldn’t discuss that outside of my magical workshop, which was protected against scrying and other methods of spying available to our enemies.

That evening, the five of us joined the town’s nobles and Sheriff Hemlock for dinner at the mayor’s house. We discussed plans for the town’s security going forward while dining on herbed chicken, which Aurora was happy to see. I had a little so as not to be rude, and it was fairly tasty.

During the walk back, I noticed that something was wrong with Geo. He was walking kinda funny. It was like his pants suddenly fit poorly. It almost reminded me of times I’d tried to keep wearing the same clothes after a shape change into Fleur. But Geo looked the same from the waist up. If he had changed, it was only his bottom half. But that would be far too weird…

Crap. This was Geo I was talking about. It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing he’d done. And he’d borrowed my notes. But what was the purpose? You know what? I didn’t want to know. Let Geo do all the weird self-experiments he wants. Just keep me out of it.

Aurora turned in early and the rest of us had one more drink with Ameiko and Shalelu before bed. And, of course, the day’s weirdness wasn’t done. “Ameiko! Look out!” I shouted upon noticing that her hand had somehow unconsciously drifted into a fire.

She looked at the fire and pulled her hand back reflexively. She examined the hand, finding it wasn’t injured. “I didn’t feel a thing!”

“Maybe it’s not a very hot fire?” Geo suggested. He stuck his hand in the fire and held it there. “It’s pleasantly warm,” he commented, fascinated.

“I WANNA TRY!” Lenn said, sticking his hand in there. “IT’S NOT HOT!”

There are two kinds of people in the world. The first is those who will believe you if you tell them the fire is – or isn’t – hot. The second is the kind of person who will stick their hand in the fire to check it for themselves. We are all apparently the latter. One by one, we all did it. And one by one, we all found it lacking the heat to injure.

All except me. I confidently stuck my hand right in the flame and – with a curse – immediately pulled it right back out. “There’s nothing wrong with the fire!” I said as I poured cold water on my hand. “Whatever’s going on is something to do with you.”

We tried it out like scientists, testing with numerous different flames. Normal fires were fine, but when I raised the heat on a flame by using a bellows Geo borrowed from the nearby blacksmith, suddenly they found the fire too hot to bear.

Meanwhile, we tried to figure out what it was that was different about me from the others, and eventually it hit me. I hadn’t eaten any of the dragon. The flesh of a red dragon was rumored to have some kind of magical property, but this was a bit unexpected. If that was the case, then the whole town would be affected. We would need to make sure we informed everyone, and more importantly, informed everyone that it might not be permanent. But that was a topic for the morning. For now, I was tired and ready for sleep.

So it was that I headed up to the suite I shared with Aurora over an hour later than I had intended. I entered the suite and re-locked the door behind me, then set a magical alarm. I then walked over to the door to Aurora’s room, knocked lightly and opened the door.

Aurora’s hand shot to the dagger she had on the table next to her. “It’s me!” I said, in English. “Don’t stab me, bro!”

She relaxed and set down the knife. “Sorry. Just making sure.” Her hand was shaking a bit, but I don’t think it was fear. I think she was still angry at Lyrie.

“Don’t worry about it. Honestly, I probably would have panicked and thrown the knife.” I sat down on the edge of the bed. “Mind if I join you?”

“You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll be fine, if you want to go spend the night with Ameiko or someone. Don’t hold back to protect me.”

I scoffed. “Protect you?! You think I think I can protect you? I wanted to stay here because I thought you could protect me!” In the dark room, I could still see that she was staring at me. “What? You think I should set up some land mines or something?”

She laughed. “So, you’re not here because you want to protect me?”

“No more than normal. What I mean is that two of us together can protect ourselves better than one of us, so that’s always a factor, but would it surprise you if I just wanted to be near you?”

“I guess not.”

“I’ve been considering it for a while,” I said. “I think I’m done sleeping around. Hell, I kinda wish I had skipped last night.”

“Why? Is it not fun anymore?”

“Incredibly fun. But, truth be told, at some point, the fun became secondary. It’s more just a way to forget my troubles. It should be more than that. So I think I’m done having sex until I can do so with someone I actually love.”

“I guess that makes sense. And you’re absolutely sure you’re not here because you pity me?”

“Pity you? Hell no. I’m here because I sleep better in the same chaste bed as you as I do in a bed where I’ve exhausted myself in the arms of a pair of naughty young women. I mean, I think I’ll be fine by myself if you want me to go to my room, but I would certainly rather sleep in here if you’re okay with it.”

“In that case, go ahead and change for bed and join me,” she said warmly. “You’re not the only one who sleeps better with a good friend to share a bed with.” That was good enough for me. I stripped down to my underpants and climbed into bed. “Turn your back to me,” she said. She scooted up behind me and wrapped her arm around me.

If she wanted to be the big spoon, I wasn’t going to argue. But there was something unusual I noticed as she pressed herself against my back. “Um, Aurora?”

“Yes, Kyle?”

“Are you not wearing a nightgown?”

“No,” she said. I could hear the blush in her voice and could absolutely feel more than that against my back. “You… never fixed it for me.”

Oh, crap. I had forgotten. I tried to sit up so I could go do that immediately. “It’ll just take a second,” I said.

She pulled me back down. “No, stay here. Your back is so warm.” She almost purred the last sentence.

I activated my arcane sight and took a quick look at her face. It really was her and she wasn’t under some kind of enchantment. I settled back into position and within moments I could hear the soft sound of her rhythmic breathing, telling me she had fallen asleep.

I have never been so confused to be lying in bed with a half-naked woman. I reached down and gently felt her hip. She wasn’t wearing underwear. Let me amend that: I’ve never been so confused to be in bed with a fully naked woman.

But, as I fell asleep enveloped in the sweet scent of lilacs, I realized that I could get used to it.

Next up is a side story where Kyle ends up somewhere unexpected. Having to completely rework it, so probably take as long as normal. Add in the fact that I'm stuck with a trainee at work(where I do most of my writing) and it'll be a week or two after Thanksgiving before the next part's out.

Turin the Mad wrote:
Please do. It makes the most sense in-game by our (perhaps warped) logic.

It never has to make sense if you make it Sheogorath doing the summoning. :P


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Turin the Mad wrote:
Frag grenades?! AWESOME!! ^______^

You should see what he's planning to construct for the assault on the giants' fortress. :D

Also, I like to think that somewhere, in an alternate universe, there's a board where someone was running a "Giants vs. Humans" campaign as the giants and is now complaining about how unfair it was that their GM turned what should have been an easy city raid into

Tucker's Kobolds.

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The Attack on Sandpoint Part 1: Sandpoint Blitz

I woke up a couple hours later. I didn't want to get up, but I had to do so. I wasn’t sure what the situation would look like when we got there, so I prepared as many combat spells as I could reasonably get away with. Then I got to work.

First, I began working on Orik’s gun. He hadn’t gotten all the materials for me yet, but I wanted him to have some progress to show his boss if necessary. I owed him. With my geth assistants, I had worked through the materials I had for him in short time.

Then, I began working on some arrows for Paulie. He had requested fifty giant killing arrows, split thirty-twenty between normal and large arrows – the large ones were nearly the size of javelins. He’d wanted the large ones in case he decided to grow larger, since the magic that facilitates that stops working as soon as an arrow is loosed.

After that, I began working on some stuff for Lenn and Geo, basic improvements for some of their current gear. Afterwards, I crafted a dozen radios. The book stolen from the Technic League described commsets capable of transmitting audio and video in crystal clarity. Very advanced equipment to be sure, but they wouldn’t really do anything more for me than some basic Earth tech radios. Add in the time it would take to make them and the energy cost of running them and it was simply a much smarter choice to use the more boring, yet more practical option.

Once I’d expended the time in my workshop, I emerged and found the others waiting for me. They’d had just enough time to eat breakfast and prepare. With Paulie’s help, I Fabricated a bunch of Earth-tech fragmentation grenades. You know, the ones that look like pineapples. After that, Aurora used her armor to hostel Starbrite and I used the wand I’d acquired to shrink down our mounts and turn them into stone figures.

There were three others coming with us, which put us at our limit for teleportation using my secret weapon. Shalelu wanted to get back to town and Orik needed to report in to his superiors, so he and Belgren Blackhammer would be joining us. They’d help with the town defense and then head to Magnimar. Meanwhile, Magrim Emberaxe would command the forces remaining at the fort to assist Jakardros and the Black Arrows.

“It looks like we’re ready to go,” I said. “So only one question remains. Who is going in the hole?” I pulled a small, folded piece of cloth from a non-magical pocket – that part’s very important! – unfolded it and tossed it on the floor. Paulie, Geo, Orik and Belgren hopped inside the now accessible extradimensional space. I then picked up the cloth and refolded it. “Okay, we have two minutes.” I handed it to Aurora. “Open it immediately when we get there.”

The four of us remaining held hands and I teleported us to Sandpoint. We arrived in the center of the square in front of Sandpoint Cathedral. There were no signs of battle, which was good. Several of the villagers recognized us immediately and greeted us warmly. Others seemed a bit wary of me specifically, though I wasn’t sure why.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Katrine Vinder rushed through the square and threw her arms around my neck. “Beloved! You’ve returned to me!” she exclaimed before planting a kiss on me.

“Get away from him, b*%$#!” another voice yelled. I couldn’t see the woman’s face, but I knew the voice. Katrine was wrenched away as Shayliss yanked her hair. The two tumbled to the ground and began trying to kill each other in that way only two women fighting over a man can.

Several of the town’s young adults tried to pull them apart, but they were also clearly taking sides. Within moments, the square had devolved into a nearly twenty person brawl centered right on me. “What.”

Geo, fresh out of the hole, walked over and whispered something to Lenn. “QUIT IT!” the huge man roared. The fighting stopped immediately. Everyone stared at Lenn warily.

“He’s on the brute squad,” Fleur said.

“He is the brute squad,” I replied automatically.

Just then, as I thought it had finally died down, I was proven wrong. “You!” a voice boomed. “I’m going to wring your scrawny neck!” Venn Vinder charged at me. He was wielding some kind of meat mallet.

In a swift motion, Aurora stepped between us, swung her arm up and grabbed his thumb, disarming him and pulling his arm behind his body in a thumb lock. “Please, sir. I understand you may be angry, but I am his sworn defender. I highly recommend you use your words and, if he has truly done wrong, proceed with this using proper legal channels.” She smiled sweetly at him. “Or I could just break your thumb now. Your call.”

Venn’s face paled. “I’ll speak, then.”

“Good,” Aurora replied, releasing him.

He glared at me. “You seduced and got my little angel pregnant! I demand that you take responsibility!”

What. “Sir, there are so many things wrong with that statement that I’m not sure where to begin.” He growled at me. “Okay, how about we start with this. There are three women in this ever growing crowd I’ve had sex with, but neither of your daughters is one of them.”

“You dare accuse my daughter of lying?!”

“I’m not even sure which of them you’re talking about, but yes!”

“You know damn well which of my daughters you violated, villain! Unless you mean to tell me you’ve taken advantage of both of them!” Now he was snarling.

“I’ve done no such thing!”

He swung at me. Aurora grabbed his arm and took him down. She didn’t break any of his bones, as much as I would have found that satisfying. The melee began again, but now there were three sides – in addition to the Shayliss and Katrine camps, there was now the “Kyle didn’t do anything” camp. I was starting to get a pain behind my eye.

“THAT. IS. ENOUGH!” I shouted, punctuating my words by unleashing a lightning bolt into a nearby rock wall, sending chunks of stone flying. Everyone stopped what they were doing and started at me. Some of them really were stopped mid punch. “We don’t have time for this.” Sheriff Hemlock had arrived right around the time of my outburst. I looked right at him. “Keep every member of the Vinder family away from me for the next few days. And to the rest of you. If I hear of one more fight about this, I will turn everyone here into newts.”

“You wouldn’t dare –” someone began, cut short by my glare.

After daring anyone to try me further, I looked over at Sheriff Hemlock. “We need to speak with Mayor Deverin immediately. There is an urgent matter that she must be informed about.”

“Alright people, move along. I will be forced to arrest every last one of you.” He helped Venn to his feet. “I know you’re upset, but I need you to go home. I promise you that once I find out what is going on, I will hear your grievances against this man and, if warranted, we can discuss legal options. But for now, I can’t keep the peace if you don’t. And please take your daughters with you.” Venn glared at me but did as he was told. The sheriff nodded to me and motioned for us to follow him. Once we were out of earshot of the crowd, he stopped and gave me a look. “You wouldn’t really turn everyone into newts, would you?”

I shrugged. “Maybe.” It was, of course, a bluff. I didn’t have a spell to pull that off. But they didn’t need to know that.

“So tell me, did you sleep with either of those girls?”

I sighed. “No. I really didn’t.”

He groaned. “I was afraid of that. There’s no way I can get you to marry one of them anyway?”

“Sorry. Isn’t going to happen.”

“Yeah. Didn’t think so. I have no idea how I’m going to defuse this situation.”

“Why not get a cleric of Abadar?” Aurora asked. That was a damn fine idea. That church had some great magic for piercing lies. Hell, I’d even pay for it.

I just nodded, making a note to thank Aurora later. “That’s definitely on the table. But for now, we have bigger problems.”

“Bigger problems?” Sheriff Hemlock asked. “How big we talking?”

“Much larger than our friend here!” Paulie said a little too loud while pointing at Lenn.

“GIANTS!” Lenn bellowed.

The pain spread and was now behind both eyes. “We’ll explain further once we have assembled the mayor and the other nobles.”

We waited in the town hall for representatives of the city’s ruling families to be gathered. As we waited, a man I recognized as one of my adopted family’s business agents in Magnimar found us. “Milord, I have information on a matter you asked me to look into.” He was likely talking about finding Delek Viskanta, the man who had taken advantage of Nualia. I’d asked him to do a little footwork on the matter for me, telling him that the man owed me money and I wanted to collect personally.

“Tell me about it after the meeting,” I said.

“Of course, milord.”

The nobles all arrived within a few minutes, so I suspect that Hemlock’s men had impressed upon them the importance of the meeting. “So, what waste of time have you called us to this time?” Titus Scarnetti, asked, his tone dripping with contempt.

It was going to be one of those. I glanced around and it was clear that the others wanted me to deal with this. Shiny. “We’ve come across evidence that the town is going to be attacked. Soon.”

“By whom?” Mayor Kendra Deverin asked, startled.

“You’re not going to like it,” I said, motioning for Geo to hand over the letter from Mokmurian. He pulled out the hide. Several of the nobles were shocked by the sheer size of it as Geo laid it on the table before them. “Read it over. While you do so, understand that we obtained it from the possessions of a stone giant that had taken over a band of ogres and was forcing them to produce weapons and armor. Lots of weapons and armor. We estimate anywhere between one and three days before they arrive.”

The mayor stood up abruptly. “Sheriff, begin preparations. We have to evacuate the city before these giants arrive.”

“Wait,” Shalelu said.

“Miss Andosana?” Mayor Deverin asked.

“I’m not entirely certain that would be the best course of action. We believe that someone escaped the cave, a lamia named Lucrecia. Thus far, she has proven shrewd and dangerous. It is likely that she will anticipate that course of action and will prepare some kind of ambush, hoping to take out as many townspeople as possible while they’re at their most vulnerable.”

I hadn’t thought of that. In fact, I had hoped we could evacuate all but a small crew of people to defend the town. “She has a point. Lucrecia has taken advantage of every opportunity available to her.”

“Then what would you have us do? Let everyone stay in their homes and just hope the giants don’t grab them when they come?”

“Why not evacuate everyone to the chapel in the catacombs beneath town?” Aurora asked.

“Not entirely certain everyone will fit,” I said. “But if we split everyone between a few key evacuation points, we should be able to defend those places well enough. And the bulk of the people should be able to find refuge in the catacombs and smugglers’ tunnels.”

“And then what?” Scarnetti asked. “We allow the giants to take what they want, burn the rest of the town and leave unchallenged?”

“Not exactly,” I said. “My friend Lenn here would be unhappy if we didn’t kill at least a few of them.”

“How many is a few?” Ameiko Kaijutsu asked.

“All of them, Innkeeper Tightpants.” I smirked as I tented my fingers menacingly. “We’re going to kill all of them.”

Mayor Deverin was skeptical. “And how many citizens do you intend to sacrifice to do this?”

“As few as possible. Depends on how long we have before the attack. That said, if they give us three days, I think we might have fewer casualties than the giants do, assuming they bring less than a score of giants.”

“A big claim,” Titus Scarnetti accused. “But can you back it up?”

“We’re going to need the help of the townspeople to prepare. So, do we have your support, or are we going to have to convince everyone on our own?”

“I’m with you,” Ameiko Kaijutsu said after a moment, the first to respond.

The others agreed in turn, with Titus Scarnetti at last giving us a grudging “Do whatever you want.”

We spent roughly an hour hashing out the rough plan. We could refine it as the days went on, add layers to offset gaps in coverage. Then we gathered the entire town for a meeting. It went as well as one might expect, I guess.

At least we managed to stop the panicked exodus before anyone was trampled.

“So what? You want us to remain here and just wait for our deaths?” one man asked. The crowd rippled with murmurs of agreement.


The crowd looked ready to try to bolt again, so I stepped in. “While my big friend here is essentially correct, I want you to understand that no one is asking you to go toe-to-toe with the giants. What we need most of all is for everyone to pitch in and help us construct preparations. If you do not wish to tangle with the enemy directly, then we won’t force you. Your contribution could be little more than digging a hole, or gathering scrap materials just lying around. Maybe you help stockpile supplies for those hiding from the giants, or maybe you do nothing more than find a place to keep watch so you can alert the town.

“If you want to help out further, but still don’t want to engage the enemy, then you can volunteer for the fire brigade. And if you do want to engage, we will need a number of volunteers to perform hit and run strikes. No one is going to be putting themselves in more than a minimal amount of danger.”

“And you think you can really kill giants that way?” some woman yelled.

“Yeah, you can’t beat giants! They’re too big and too powerful!”

I could see this needed a different approach. “You’re wrong about that.”

“You deny that they’re too big to stop?!” another voice asked from within the crowd.

“Were the goblins too small to harm you?”


“The goblins that attacked the town. They killed a number of people. To them, you might as well have been a giant. So tell me, were the goblins too small to harm you?”

“Well, no,” someone said. “But the goblins lost a lot of their warriors.” The crowd murmured with agreement. “Yet you think we can do better?”

I grinned. “I am much smarter than a goblin. And so are you. Stick with me and I think we can do this. I can’t absolutely guarantee no one will die, but our dead will be a small number. Much smaller than we suspect trying to evacuate will lead to. So, are you with me?”

The first man to object stood again. “Let’s do this.”

After the meeting, I set aside a few minutes to speak with my agent from Magnimar. “Okay, so what news do you have on Delek Viskanta?”

“He’s dead, milord.”

That was actually a relief to hear. I felt like I needed to find and punish him, but someone beat me to it. “Truly? Are you certain?”

“Yes, milord. We used magic to speak with his spirit and confirm it. He did not recognize your name, nor did he have any fortune stashed away to make good on the debt. I apologize.”

“Don’t worry about it. Did you happen to ask who killed him?”

“He said it was a woman named Nualia. An ex-lover of his, it seems.”

I actually smiled. “Good for her,” I said.


“I was actually attempting to collect the debt on her behalf. It seems she managed to beat me to it. Go ahead and consider this matter closed. Now, tell me, is there anything else I should know?”

“There have been several patrols of giants spotted all around the region. Lord Mayor Grobaras has already begun preparing both the city’s forces and several bands of hired mercenaries to deal with the threat. In truth, however, there is talk among the commanders that they simply cannot keep up with the giants and fear that a larger attack is coming.”

“There probably is,” I said. “Do you know a way to get back to Magnimar while avoiding the main roads?” I already knew he would know several. All merchants know of a couple smuggling routes in their territories.

“I believe I can make it back to the city without being spotted,” he replied without actually confirming what I was asking.

“Excellent. Prepare to depart. I need you to deliver two letters for me.”

“Of course, milord.”

I wrote two notes. The first was to the Lord Mayor, apologizing for and explaining my actions from the second. The second was to the leader of the Potent Rainbow Lions, explaining our suspicions about Lucrecia’s ambush between Sandpoint and Magnimar. In it, I asked that he send a couple squads out to deal with it. Orik wrote a letter more or less confirming mine.

The next few days blur in something of a montage as we did a ton of preparation. We dug holes, set up trip wires and rehearsed ambushes. Anyone with any blacksmith skill helped make giant caltrops, which we set up in the shallow river. People scoured the local junkyard for usable scraps, which were either used for improvised traps – the caltrops and swinging spiked log traps, mostly – or got turned into magicite for me to make into more useful things.

The local apothecary prepared more vials of acid in those couple days than he had in any two years ever. Guardsmen tipped their crossbow bolts with an ingenious poison Geo gave us – I’m as shocked as you are that he whipped up any kind of potions – that had originated in his village. He called it “giant dazing venom”, and, as far as I can tell, it works by temporarily disrupting neurotransmitters in a stone giant’s brain. Thankfully, the primary ingredient is a plant found around Sandpoint abundantly.

I fabricated grenades for the trained soldiers and guardsmen, then made tanglefoot bags and bottles of liquid ice and acid for the volunteer militia we had recruited. I could have made alchemist’s fire, but I didn’t want to risk catching any buildings by accident. We trained the soldiers with dummy grenades and the others with water balloons. They got pretty good at it fairly quickly, though I knew this wouldn’t necessarily translate into smooth action during the heat of combat.

Speaking of water, we had some citizens fill barrels and other containers with water and set them near flammable buildings to make the jobs of the fire brigades easier. We then set up a number of watch positions, all of which I set up with a radio, which I taught the watchmen to use.

There were a number of interesting events that occurred during preparation.

Geo caught up with me the first afternoon. He returned my observation journal from when I had been changed into a woman the first time by the cursed belt. I had recorded a number of data points and all of my experiences. “I apologize for borrowing it without asking, but you were busy in your magical workshop and I didn’t want to bother you.”

“It’s cool. I don’t really mind.” I was a bit terrified as to why he needed it, but I decided to take the ostrich approach. If I didn’t ask, hopefully he wouldn’t tell. Then I could assume that he was simply trying to understand women so he could better woo Shalelu.

And it just kept coming. That evening, Paulie asked me to join him in a trip to a local tavern, the Hagfish. Apparently it had been his dream as long as he could remember – not that this was very long, mind you – to take the Hagfish Challenge.

If I had known what that entailed, I would have found a reason not to go.

The mascot of the bar was a hagfish called Norah. If I remembered my biology class from high school, she was a specimen of the species Eptatretus cirrhatus, the broad-gilled hagfish, but we only spent a day talking about them, so I could be wrong.

Look, my teacher was originally a marine biologist but he retired after an illness. We spent a lot of time talking about sea critters, even if they weren’t part of the required curriculum. He found the damn things fascinating.

If you don’t know much about hagfish in general, they exhibit a behavior when attacked where they exude a slime or mucus from nearly a hundred glands on their bodies. When mixed with water, this stuff expands, turning up to twenty liters of water into a gill-clogging slime.

The Hagfish Challenge involves drinking a stein of this slime and not throwing up. So that’s what Paulie did. To the chant of, “Chug! Chug! Chug!” from the inebriated crowd. Just watching, I dry heaved several times. Aurora looked green around the gills, but managed to hold down her lunch.

The challenge completed, Paulie got to carve his name in the rafter and took the prize purse, containing eighty silver pieces – not much for us, but a huge sum for the locals. He bought a round for the house and made a good number of friends.

Aurora and I left to return to our rooms at the Rusty Dragon. As we walked, Aurora broke the stunned silence. “I don’t think I ever want to eat again,” she said.

“I’ll see what I can do about that,” I promised.

Ameiko was waiting for us. She had a couple glasses of something to calm our stomachs. News had traveled fast that Paulie had completed the challenge. “Careful,” I told her. “You don’t want me to seduce, lie and impregnate you, do you?”

Ameiko laughed. “Don’t worry about the townsfolk. They’ll come around.”

“I hope so,” I said. I had spent the whole day working with people giving me looks when they thought I wasn’t looking. It was clear they assumed that I had done it. “By the way, which girl did I supposedly impregnate and which did I just seduce?”

“Katrine’s pregnant. To the best of my knowledge, she has been mooning over you since you brought her back to Sandpoint. Truth be told, I actually doubt she’s been sleeping around. She only has eyes for you, apparently.”

Yeah, that wasn’t helping my case. “And you really believe I didn’t do it?”

She shrugged. “You’ve been trying to get in my pants since you came here. What she says you said doesn’t match your style. If she had just said you’d slept with her, then there would be plenty of reason to believe it, but to say that you promised marriage just to have sex with her? I doubt it.” She looked over at Aurora. “Right?”

Aurora considered it. “True enough.” It meant a lot to me that they believed me. I respected both of these women and it would hurt if they thought the worst of me. On the other hand, I really did want to marry Aurora. I’m not sure that I like her thinking that about me.

The next morning, I got to work early and continued making required supplies. When I finished, I delivered things to the different ambush points. Despite the early hour, people were working hard to prepare. They realized that lives literally depended on our preparations.

I ran across Paulie, who looked none the worse for wear, at the third site. He was lucky he had a spell to end illness, otherwise I was fairly sure he’d be puking his guts out. He held up a green piece of volcanic glass. “Hey, do you think you can synthesize this stuff with your magic? I’d love to have a bunch of arrows tipped with this. Would probably be really good against giants.”

I refused to touch the stuff. “That’s viridium! That’s going to make you really sick!” The toxic trace minerals in viridium can impart a leprosy-like wasting sickness on anyone that handles them unless stored in a magical bag.

“Really? I’ve had it in my pocket for weeks.” That didn’t make sense. He should be violently ill. Unless…

That would make sense. Aurora’s body rejected his healing magic sometimes. His ancestors looked human. And viridium didn’t affect him. “You’re not a catfolk,” I said aloud as I realized it. “You’re a tiefling! One of your ancestors was a rakshasa!”

He looked surprised. “I thought you knew, bro.”

I didn’t! I had made assumptions based on faulty knowledge and had ended up making a mistake. I would have to keep that in mind. As smart as I was, I wasn’t immune to making mistakes. “Okay, in that case, I think I can make your arrows, but you’ll need to use magic to cure me afterwards and promise to keep them in your magic quiver when not using them. They’ll be a danger to every one of us. Only Aurora might be able to handle being near them.”

I fabricated the arrows, including a couple javelin sized ones. Then Paulie cured both the disease I had likely contracted and the damage using my blood had wrought on me. Then I got back to work. I had a lot to oversee.

Later, I ran across Orik chatting up Arika Avertin, one of the twin daughters of the owner of Sandpoint Savories. She and her sister had been running the place for a while, but rumors told me that she was getting bored of the job. Considering Orik’s previous taste in women, I made a note to keep an eye on her. She was probably a Hastur cultist or murdered hobos for their kidneys or something.

The next morning, I woke up early and got back to work. When I had finished my work in the magical workshop, I went downstairs to give the day’s tasks to the supervisors I’d appointed. Downstairs, I found Aurora playing with a little girl. They were playing with dolls, believe it or not.

Aurora had no idea what she was doing.

“So, what is this one supposed to do?”

“She’s the princess. She has to wait for the knight to save her.” The little girl had to be about five years old.

“But, why can’t the princess save herself?”

“Because that’s not what princesses do!” The child was getting exasperated.

“Want some advice?” I asked.

The little girl looked surprised to see me. “Mommy says I’m not supposed to talk to you.”

“Oh? Well, then I’ll talk to Aurora and you can’t help it if you hear.” I turned to Aurora. “Switch the dolls. Make the female doll the knight."

“That’s not how it works!” the little girl said. “Girls can’t be knights!”

“Aurora is,” I replied.

The child was shocked. She looked at Aurora. “You’re a knight?!”

“Yes,” Aurora said.

“And you’re a girl?!”

“Yes,” my friend said again.

“Have you ever saved any princesses?”

Aurora turned to look at me and gave me a mischievous smile. “Once or twice,” she told the little girl. I feigned offense and tapped my magic hat, turning it into a tiara, then ‘stormed off’. A few seconds after I’d left the room, I popped my head back in and stuck my tongue out at Aurora. Her silvery peals of laughter filled the room.

Later that morning, shortly after showing one of the ambush teams the proper way to throw a water balloon, I ran across Lenn. He was out in front of the local brothel with the full contingent of prostitutes. And he was teaching them how to fight.


“Just swing as hard as you can!”

One of the women struck one of the poles they were using as a practice dummy with a wooden cudgel. I cringed inwardly at the sound, since I knew just how much that would hurt your hands to do that. She cried out in pain and dropped the club.

“Don’t let go!” Lenn bellowed.

“But it hurt!” the girl complained.

“That’s because you aren’t swinging hard enough. Look!” He picked up the club and swung with all his might. The blow ripped the pole from the ground and sent it flying through the air. It embedded itself in a nearby wall. “Just like that.”

To my great surprise, the women renewed their attempts. I would have run away and signed up for some other job immediately. But for some reason, these girls really trusted our slightly psychotic warrior.

After I left Lenn and the doxies, I ran into the retired paladin, Jasper Korvaski and his not-entirely-secret lover Cyrdak Drokkus, owner of the local theater. “I wish to join one of the major ambush teams,” the paladin told me.

“You can’t!” the bard protested.

“I have a duty to help defend the people.”

“You retired from that life long ago! Please, you can’t!”

“I can and will!”

“Fine,” Cyrdak said dangerously. “If you’re going to join a team, so will I.”

“You will do no such thing.”

“I will and you can’t stop me.”

I cleared my throat. “Gentlemen, please. There is no need to argue. If you wish to join the efforts, I could use more ranged and spellcaster support. The role would be minimally dangerous to each of you, but a great help to us in defending the town. Would you each be able to live with the other functioning in that role?”

“That is acceptable, though I have no spells to aid you with,” Jasper said.

“You can heal people?”

“A few wounds per day.”

“Good enough. Also, there’s a special target to take out, try to save your holy wrath for that one.” He nodded.

That night, before bed, Aurora and I sat in front of the fireplace in our room, filled with the campfire bead rather than normal logs. “Thank you for your help,” she said.

I cocked an eyebrow. “What help was that?”

“The little girl. Apparently she learned about the giants coming and has been terrified ever since. Her mother left her with Ameiko for a few hours while she tried to get some sleep. Ameiko asked me to watch her and I wasn’t having much success calming her.”

“She seemed pretty calm to me,” I said.

“She was focused on the dolls, but she was still pretty scared. After you left, she really started calming down. I think you telling her that I was a knight really helped.”


“A few minutes after you left, she crawled in my lap, asked me to tell her a story and fell right asleep.”

“And what story did you tell her?”

“The first minute or so of the story you told me about the princess who gets put to sleep by the evil fairy. She seems to like princesses.”

“Good call,” I said. She still didn’t realize that her name was the same as the princess from that story, since I left out names when I told that one. “I am a bit jealous of the girl getting to sleep on your lap.” I winked.

She rolled her eyes playfully and smiled. “Come on, let’s get some sleep. Long day ahead of us tomorrow if your guess is correct.” Despite having separate rooms in the suite, we climbed into the same bed. She faced me and pressed her head into my chest. Okay, maybe I can get past my jealousy.

Over the couple days, I didn’t have any further trouble with Katrine Vinder. She had taken my threats of newtification to heart and left me alone. Shayliss, on the other hand, kept bothering me. I found her naked in my room both nights I returned to the inn. I ended up having to have Sheriff Hemlock throw her in a cell for a couple hours to make her get the hint that I didn’t have time for her bull crap.

By the end of our third afternoon of working – second full day – I was fairly certain we had done all we could in the time we had. It was possible that they would take even longer to get to Sandpoint, but I wasn’t counting on it. Still, if they did, I could make a bunch of muskets for the town and we could really stick it to those invading a-holes.

And, of course, if we had another week and tons of materials, I could probably have set up a number of machine gun nests and a surface-to-air missile battery. But we didn’t have that kind of luxury. So no sense in worrying about what we didn’t have.

The last night before the attack came was fraught with nervousness and very little sleep for most people. I got my two hours, but I may have been the only one who got a full night’s rest. We believed the attack would come at any point in the night. But it didn’t. It came at dawn.

Cocky bastards, giving up their main advantage.

The first group of giants showed up at the town’s only wall, which covered the road north. I actually spotted them from the air during one of several patrols in a three hour period. So we had plenty of time to get the townsfolk to their designated shelters. Three of the four noble families served as shelter leaders, tasked with keeping people calm and safe as the rest of us dealt with the giants. The fourth family’s only living representative, Ameiko, was stationed up top with one of the ambush groups. When the hit and run squads retreated to their fallback point, it would be her job to keep them safe and prepare them if we needed to use our secondary ambush points.

We had three main ambush points and had setup makeshift barricades and a few traps on the other routes. The first ambush point was on Church Street, in the northern section of town. That point was manned by Lenn, Orik, Balor Hemlock and Shalelu, who would join them after scoring a few hits on the giants and falling back from the north gate. She would lead them into the trap and then they would face those three, two members of the town’s watch and four volunteer flask throwers as well as the traps we’d put in place to soften them up.

It was our most secure position. We figured that if the giants came en masse, they’d come through the open terrain, planning on overwhelming us rather than using subterfuge. So we’d put our strongest front there.

I used magic to turn invisible and took up my position on the top of the Scarnetti manor. Only Aurora knew where I would be and I had whispered it to her so none could overhear. From there, I could keep an eye on everything using a spyglass, coordinating efforts via radio.

I tapped the microphone on my throat. “Enemy units approaching north gate. Movement spotted in the trees to the east,” I reported. “All squadrons, report.” Each unit confirmed that they were reading me, which I heard in my earpiece. Each of the nobles had a radio, as did Aurora, Paulie, Geo, Shalelu, Orik, Hemlock and one of the guards we’d stationed on the roof of the Valdemar manor, posted to keep an eye on the four noble households on the peninsula south of the city – they were unaware that I was nearby, but had been commanded not to engage any threats without my go ahead. At Geo’s suggestion, we’d left Lenn without a radio. We didn’t want him shouting directly in our ears.

I kept an eye on the situation. When the giants reached the gate, I once more tapped the microphone. “All units. Commence operation.”

The giants broke down the gate and two of them followed Shalelu’s retreat. A third took a parallel road and moved to flank the defenders, almost as if they knew what we were doing. Their wizard had done his homework.

Of course, we had planned for this possibility. The giant stepped on a trigger and set off a trio of what I call “Springing Flaskthrowers”, specialized landmines I’d created that acted like old German S-mines, shooting up into the air and exploding. But instead of a damaging explosion, they launched a number of flasks of acid and liquid ice in all directions. Yowling in pain, the giant stumbled over one of Geo’s tripwires. He slammed into the ground hard, which is where the second component of the tripwire found him. He was crushed under a massive log embedded with steel spikes.

The remaining two giants found themselves injured and wandering right into range of Lenn and the others, where they didn’t last long. I almost felt sorry for them. Almost.

“More coming from the east,” I said. “Crossing Tanner’s Bridge. Geo, you’re up.”

Two giants and a trio of massive bears rushed over the bridge. Geo hit them with a grenade and ran them towards his ambush point at the intersection of Undercliff Way and Soggy Alley, where Ameiko and Jasper waited with several watchmen and a few volunteer flask throwers. The bears didn’t make it past the five deadfall traps Geo had prepared along the cliff above. That once again left two giants to meet the meat grinder. Once more, they didn’t even last long enough for the volunteer flask throwers to need to rabbit away.

“Be careful,” I noted. “Big Red incoming. Paulie, get to cover.”

The dragon was coming from the north. He flew over and breathed fire on the Sandpoint Garrison, a mostly stone structure just across the road from the town hall, where Paulie had taken up a sniping position. After the dragon passed, Paulie peeked his head out. “I’ve got the fire, bro.”

Meanwhile, another pair of stone giants had tried crossing the river just south of Mill’s Pond, but found the caltrops to be too painful to navigate. They headed north and crossed Tanner’s bridge. “More incoming, Geo,” I warned.

“We have a problem,” Orik radioed. I quickly looked over and saw Lenn leaving his position and running towards Geo’s.

“What the hell is he doing?” I asked.

“He heard there were more giants that way.”

“Who told him?”

“That red-headed girl, Shayliss, just showed up and told him that Geo would need his help with the giants over there.”

I cursed. “I fear your position has been compromised. Fall back to the secondary ambush site at Shell Street. Balor, take Shayliss into custody. I don’t know if she’s just trying to be helpful or if the enemy used her to compromise your position, but we don’t have time to sort it out now.”

The dragon flew over and hit the cathedral. The north wing, which was predominantly wood, caught fire, which Paulie quickly dealt with. Geo and his team managed to get to cover before the dragon could get close enough to attack them. It somehow missed spotting Lenn running by. Once it had passed, Lenn and the others dealt with the giants heading their way.

Meanwhile, I radioed that another pair of giants was heading across the Lost Coast bridge on the southeast side of town. The lingering smell of beer drew them to the Two Knight Brewery, where they began demanding tributes of beer to the empty building. Aurora hit them with a grenade to get their attention and then rode straight towards the ambush at the corner of Salmon and Market streets, where Cyrdak and Daviren Hosk waited with more guards and flask throwers. The giants, once more severely weakened by landmines – these being directional anti-tank mines – were easy pickings for the defenders.

Longtooth, who I could now tell was a juvenile red dragon, breathed flames on Sandpoint Theater. Cyrdak rushed over to assist in quelling the flames. With his help, Paulie managed to save the mostly wooden structure.

While all this was happening, I didn’t notice a trio of giants stalking into the area below my vantage. My first notice was when the building shook. They bashed their way into the Scarnetti manor and began tossing out loot. I tapped my microphone and whispered, “Post Epsilon, assistance incoming. Hold fire until enemy is distracted.”

I looked over at the path onto the peninsula. The enemy had managed to miss the mines. I quietly flew over to the other side of the house and conjured a Bralani – a type of celestial creature with wind and lightning powers that also looks like an attractive elf.

“Hit the three giants with a lightning bolt and lead them over to the point on the road with the rune on the ground. Fly the whole way, but stay near the ground. Once you’re ten feet past the rune, turn and engage with everything you have.”

She nodded and took off. Meanwhile, I conjured a trio of lantern archons, which I also ordered to engage the giants, but to stay out of reach. “Epsilon engaging,” came the call over the radio. Between the celestials, the guards and the mass of mines, the giants fell extremely quickly.

I looked down and the pile of loot. A fair number of valuables, but mostly nothing of note, except for the overturned desk. It had a secret drawer under the normal drawers. Curiosity drew me over to check it out. No one could see me as I carefully popped open the drawer and grabbed the document inside. I scanned it quickly and was amazed at what I found. But I didn’t have time to worry about it, the battle was still ongoing. So I pocketed it and got back up on the roof.

The dragon breathed fire on the Hagfish, catching the bar, the docks and a small boat moored there – the “Wistful Widow”, if you’re wondering – on fire. I conjured a pair of small water elementals and sent them out to deal with the fire. I didn’t speak their language, but they got what I meant when I pointed at the flames.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something on the roof of the Kaijutsu Manor. I looked over and spotted the winged creature I had seen before. But she wasn’t looking at me. I followed her gaze and found what she was looking at. Katrine Vinder was just standing there on the sand near the Hagfish. And we weren’t the only ones who saw her.

The dragon landed on the beach, licking its chops. Its attack had been completely devoid of anyone to snack on thanks to our preparations. I cursed again. “Aurora! The dragon’s on the beach! Move quickly! Anyone with a clear shot, take it now!”

The last thing I’d said to the poor girl had been after losing my temper. If she survived, I promised I would be kinder. But it didn’t look likely. She was done for.

Then I heard hoof beats and saw my horse – completely riderless, mind you – barreling down onto the sand between the dragon and the woman. She stamped defiantly and glared at the dragon. A. HORSE. GLARED. AT. A. DRAGON.

The dragon paused, somehow cowed by the equine’s death glare. I shook off my amazement and took off like a bolt.

The horse and dragon would probably have still been at a stalemate when I reached them, but someone threw a grenade. It overshot the dragon and landed between the two. The dragon weathered the painful blow, but the horse didn’t fare quite as well.

I’m fairly sure they’ll be finding pieces of Fluttershy in the sand for years to come.

Aurora struck the dragon in the side with the full brunt of her lance, shattering it into almost as many pieces as Fluttershy. Meanwhile I swooped down and grabbed Katrine. “Hold on!” I commanded. Unable to see me, she did her best to grab on tightly as I flew her back across the harbor and deposited her on Valdemar Manor. “Don’t let her out of your sight!” I told the guards.

Still shaken from the horse’s actions and injured from Aurora’s lance, the dragon took off into the sky once more. More out of pique than anything, it breathed fire on the buildings over near Salmon Street, catching the Sandpoint Mercantile League, the Fatman’s Feedbag and several other buildings on fire. I conjured more water elementals to send out to deal with the problem.

Meanwhile, Paulie hit the dragon with a magical dragon-killing arrow he had managed to find at a local shop. There were more powerful versions that I could make, but I simply hadn’t had time.

The dragon roared in pain and wheeled north. It tried to grab at Paulie, but ended up merely striking him, sending him off the roof. Already flying in that direction, I heard him land. It sounded very painful.

I landed on the roof of the town hall and looked down where Paulie fell. He was still moving, but he looked dazed. I looked at the fleeing dragon and scanned the town. We had won. The giants were dead and the dragon was fleeing. Deaths were minimal, if anyone had died at all. All that was left was to clean up the damage and figure out where to go from here. But there was a little girl who would live in fear, always wondering when the dragon would return to eat everyone.

Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.

“Everyone find positions near the town hall. The dragon is probably coming back our way,” I said softly over the radio. “Someone get Lenn. Paulie, I need you to get up. This will be a great chance for glory.”

“We’re with you,” Aurora responded.

“Let’s do this,” Geo said.

“The town is with you,” Balor Hemlock said.

“Just tell us when to attack,” Shalelu said.

I dispelled my invisibility and cast the spell to allow me to shout extreme distances. “We are victorious, my friends! Look and see as the cowardly dragon Longtooth flees from our might! Laugh! Laugh with me at the coward!” Everyone did as I said and laughter rang through the town.

It wasn’t enough. The dragon wasn’t turning around. I was going to need to sing. I didn’t really have time to make something up, so I just sang the first thing that popped into my head.

“Brave dragon Longtooth ran away
Bravely ran away away
When danger reared its ugly head
He bravely turned his tail and fled
Yes, brave dragon Longtooth turned about
And gallantly he chickened out

Bravely taking to his feet
He beat a very brave retreat
Bravest of the brave, Longtooth!”

The dragon roared and wheeled about. “I will make sure you never sing about me again!” he snarled in draconic.

“Oh, I think I’ll sing this song in all the great cities of the land. Everyone will know of you, o dragon! Unless you think you can stop me.”

“I will enjoy watching your life fade from your eyes!”

“If you want it, come and claim it!” I shouted, turning my body to a duelist’s stance and drawing my gun. I heard the sound of something hitting the walls of the building. I had my suspicions, but I didn’t want to look and risk tipping my hand.

“And you get mad at me for MY plans?!” Fleur asked.

“Your plans don’t usually involve you jumping out of the way at the last second,” I responded.

“Fair enough.” She got bored waiting, so she began singing.

“Oh it's been getting so hard
Living with the things you do to me
My dreams are getting so strange
I'd like to tell you everything I see.

Do you see the man in the black as a matter of fact
His eyes, focused on his gun
And the girl in his corner let no one ignore her
Cause she thinks she's the passionate one

Oh yeah! It was like lightning
Everybody was fighting
And the music was soothing
And they all started grooving”

The dragon was almost in range to breathe fire on me. But I had to wait a few seconds more. “NOW!” I shouted at last as the dragon breathed in.

And the man in the black said, "Everyone attack!"
And it turned into a Sandpoint blitz

I squeezed the trigger and unleashed a barrage of bullets at the dragon’s face. Arrows and crossbow bolts flew from every direction, slamming into the dragon’s sides. I heard Jasper declare the holy wrath of Abadar upon the dragon and a massive crack was followed by another one of those practice poles Lenn had been using came in flying through the air, smacking the dragon in the wing and causing it to choke on its breath.

But perhaps the most important projectiles came from below the dragon. A trio of javelin sized arrows connected to cables made of interwoven strands of steel and mithral slammed into the dragon’s underbelly. “ON-WARD!” Paulie sang out. “TO GLORY!”

I jumped from the roof and flew off west towards the Sandpoint Garrison. From there, I watched as the cables went taut and the dragon slammed into the side of the town hall. It disappeared down the side and I heard it strike the ground.

I got to a better vantage and began summoning more lantern archons, but it was unnecessary. Geo dove from the roof of Savah’s Armory. As he fell, he drew his dagger across the dragon’s wing, shredding it. His tentacles grabbed onto the large bone in the wing closest to the body and snapped it right in two. Aurora rode up and impaled the dragon with another lance, pinning it to the home across Tower Street from the town hall.

Lenn charged in, axe raised high, aimed at the dragon’s head. I smirked at the dragon as I stopped my casting. “Looks like you’re about to get pwned.” The dragon’s skull offered almost no resistance to my friend’s mighty blow. Its brains splattered all over the street.

Relief washed over me in waves. I began to laugh. It started out small at first, but within a few moments, I was roaring with laughter from on top of the building. Everyone else joined in. We had done it. Against all reasonable expectations, we had slain the giant invaders and a freaking dragon. And even crazier, we had done so with no reported casualties.

I probably would have laughed for ten straight minutes, but a projection appeared before me, that of an attractive ebon-skinned woman. Her face was one I had never wanted to see again. “I warned Teraktinus not to underestimate you. His people paid for his mistake.”

“I warned my friends we should have killed you when we had the chance, Lyrie. So I guess we’re even there.”

She actually laughed. “True enough.”

“So, come to offer your surrender?”

“No. I just wanted to see the look on your face when I told you that we got what we came for. And I wanted to thank you for killing the dragon. Lucrecia wasn’t sure how we were going to manage that.” My look must have betrayed confusion. “Take a look at his left hind leg.”

I didn’t need to look. I had a feeling I knew what I’d find. We’d just given the dragon’s soul to power whatever they were claiming souls for. “We gonna let that stand?” Fleur asked.

“No,” I subvocalized, reaching into my pocket.

Lyrie continued ranting about how we would lose and should give up now. Fleur began singing again as I drew the device from my pocket.

Luck be a lady tonight
Luck be a lady tonight
Luck if you've ever been a lady to begin with
Luck be a lady tonight

I began to smirk and Lyrie trailed off. “What is that?” she asked. I didn’t answer. You see, I knew the spell she was using. She was nearby, but she wouldn’t risk this from inside the city. That meant she was likely in one of maybe half a dozen spots. She couldn’t be invisible, not for the spell to work. So I could narrow it down to four spots. Four spots I had earlier suspected would be useful for the enemy wizard to use as vantage points. Unfortunately, I had only been able to prepare against two of those spots, which meant I only had a one in two chance of this working.

I could live with those odds.

Luck let a gentleman see
How nice a dame you can be
I know the way you've treated other guys you've been with
Luck be a lady with me

I hit the button on the detonator. Even as far away as we were, I felt the shockwave as two charges of C-4 exploded. The image of Lyrie reacted in shock and faded. I grinned. A few moments later, another projection appeared before me, slightly bloodied.

“You! I will make sure you pay for this! Teraktinus and I live, but soon you will not. I will meet you again, but next time will be with the full force of Mokmurian’s armies!” The projection faded.

I looked around quickly, spotting them just in time to see them teleport away. Damn. Oh well, nothing to be really ticked about. We’d done well. Better than well. I had no idea how this would affect the greater war, but we had won the battle with a decisive victory.

I had initially planned for this to be a single entry, but I found myself on page 15 of this with at least several pages to go, so I went back and cut it right at the end of the fight. The next section will be the events between the end of the fight and the next section, a special side story I've been looking forward to posting for a while.

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Attack on the Kreeg Clanhold

We ended up taking Orik, Magrim Emberaxe, Shalelu and Jakardros with us after a quick swing by the fort on our way up to the mountain. That meant we were officially nine, or Fellowship-ready. I’m not soloing a balrog, so someone else will have to be Gandalf. I’ll be the most useless hobbit. Frodo. Yeah, that’s his name.

The trip up to the Kreeg lair was uneventful and we found ourselves looking at a cave entrance guarded by a pair of ogres. We pulled back to the horses. “So, any suggestions on how to take them both out before they can raise an alarm?” I asked.

“Shalelu, Jakardros and I should be able to sneak close enough to take them out simultaneously,” Geo said.

“Polysike, Aurora and I should be ready to support them with bows just in case,” Orik added.

“Perfect, that’ll be the plan. Paulie, you should take up a position over… Okay, anyone know where Paulie went?” I had a bad feeling about this. I rushed over to our vantage point in time to watch the cat man walking calmly over to the ogres.

“Who you?” one of the ogres asked, sounding exactly like I expected.

“You need not be afraid, friends. I come in peace to speak with you about the glories of mother nature,”

“He’s talking about your mother,” one ogre said to the other.

“Don’t talk about my mom!” the other shouted. “She’s the prettiest girl in the Kreegs!” He swung a meaty fist at the cat man, catching him on the side of his head and sending him flying. Paulie hit a tree and lay there for a moment. His eyes were open and just staring out into space.

“We need to help him!” Aurora whispered.

I put my hand on her shoulder. “Not yet. I’ve seen that face before. This could be very interesting.”

The cat reached up and wiped the trickle of blood from his forehead. He licked his finger. “That, my friend, was a mistake!” he sang out. “Ancestors! Let us show them what true glory is! ONWARD!” He said the last word in a sing-song. The whole thing seemed vaguely familiar to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Nearly a dozen translucent spirits rushed out from the cat’s body towards the ogres. Before they could so much as cry out, the giants had been beaten to death in a most violent and bloody manner. Their work finished, the spirits evaporated.

“You notice that?” Fleur asked.

“What?” I subvocalized.

“The ghosts. They weren’t catfolk.” Oh wow. She was right. That seemed important, but I wasn’t sure why. There wasn’t time to dwell on it. We had work to do.

Paulie’s face was devoid of all semblance of thought when we got up to him. “What the hell was that?”

“I visited honor upon them.”

“Visited honor? What? You just killed them.”

“Don’t be foolish! Killing equals honor!”

“Oh, right. I forgot. Honor is a code that states that since history is written by the victors, you need only kill all your enemies and tell everyone you were honorable.”

“Exactly! ONWARD!”

We couldn’t have him at the fore of the group. Just like we couldn’t have Lenn there either. Not if we hoped to hit the enemy quietly and bring them down without raising an alarm through the whole compound. Lenn was easy. He’s used to letting Geo scout, so he just took Geo’s request to guard the rear as his natural job. He knew we’d call him to the front for real action.

Paulie, in this state, however, would take some deft handling. “Paulie, can you keep a secret?”

“It is within my capabilities.”

“Geo alerted me to a number of very recent hill giant tracks in the area, leading away from the cave. I suspect that they’re working with the ogres. Probably a patrol. They could come back at any time. I need someone with a keen eye and quick reflexes to join Lenn in guarding our flank against a surprise attack. Will you take this dangerous job for me?”

He considered. “That sounds like a chance for great glory! Why not take this honor for yourself?”

I leaned in conspiratorially. “Aurora’s staying near party center in order to respond to threats from both sides. I need to stay near her in case something startles me so I have someone beautiful to cling to.”

“Say no more, friend! I shall watch the approach behind us. I may even call out for you so you can join me in earning glory when the giants come!”

“And I will make sure you are aware if any truly glorious fights break out before us.” He grinned at my words and clapped me on the shoulder before moving to join Lenn at the party rear. I breathed a sigh of relief. Thank god Paulie wasn’t nearly as adept at telling when someone was lying as he was at bluffing when we needed him to do so.

We headed into the caverns – large enough for ogres, so more than large enough for our party. Not far inside, we found a bunch of bones decorating the wall. But they weren’t just any bones. “Are these dragon bones?” Geo asked.

“Blue dragon, I think,” I replied. “And carved like some kind of scrimshaw.” Most of the carvings were boring, ogre stories or something. But there were a few worth noting. “Sihedron runes. We’re in the right place.”

The first large chamber we came to had a massive statue in the center. “I don’t think that’s a statue,” Aurora noted.

I used magic to study it for a moment. She was right! It was a giant’s corpse, held in place and kept from decay by magic. And it wasn’t just any kind of giant. “That’s a rune giant!” I gasped.

“A what?” Orik asked.

“The books I’ve read about ancient Thassilon occasionally mention them. One book, the only one with any real detail, said that they were created by the ancient empire to control and enslave other giants. Most scholars seem to believe that they are extinct now. This corpse is probably ancient.”

“Well, then he won’t miss his expensive looking gear.” Orik had a point. The giant was wearing some massive, gem encrusted armor and a sihedron medallion that I’m pretty sure was too large for even Flavor Flav.

“Pull the medallion and I’ll prep a spell to shrink the armor,” I said. “Try to be quiet doing it.”

Immediately after removing the medallion, the corpse crumbled into dust, sending the armor tumbling to the ground. Most of the sound was muffled by the dust, but there was a dull thud as it struck the ground. We waited on high alert for a couple minutes, but there were no sounds of a response from deeper within the caverns. I shrank down the armor and we continued on.

As we continued on, we passed a chamber with a large pit. A coin enchanted with light tossed in revealed smoldering bone fragments. We considered the possibility that Lamatar’s corpse was within, but we didn’t want to risk climbing down until we had gotten rid of the cave’s occupants first. So we decided to come back later if we hadn’t already found Lamatar.

Geo, Shalelu and Jakardros scouted ahead while we were studying the pit. They returned a few moments later. “Careful up ahead. They’re patrolling the cave. We took out the first patrol, but there may be others.” Damn. I hadn’t even heard the kill. I was even more amazed when we passed the bodies of a pair of ogres and a freaking hill giant, which looked to have been killed extremely quickly.

Not far past the patrol, we found what looked like it had once been the main den, but had apparently been converted into a forge. I was disgusted by the conditions. As a trained arcane blacksmith, this was strictly amateur hour bull crap. Ventilation was poor, the tools were crude and the damn ogres obviously had no idea what they were doing. Killing them was no longer just a necessity to protect the people of the region. It was now a service to all blacksmiths the world over.

There were ten ogre workers and some kind of task master. There was little chance to kill them all before anyone could escape to raise the alarm within. And there were two exits at the other end of the room. But I had an idea on how to prevent their escape.

I shared my plan with the others and they agreed to the plan. We would make a fair amount of noise, but at least there would be plausible question about what was going on. If we moved quickly afterward, our enemy would be unable to really prepare properly.

I cast an invisibility charm on Orik and Aurora. They moved quickly and as quietly as possible to block the far exits. Then I told Lenn and Paulie we had giants that needed killing. “GLORIOUS!” Paulie shouted as Lenn charged.

As suspected, several ogres tried to flee, but were cut down by the now visible defenders. The rest died quickly to the party’s brutal onslaught. Sadly, I didn’t contribute much beyond opening with a burst of radiant light that blinded several ogres and seared their very souls due to the evil within. Lenn got the most individual kills and Geo was number one on assists, in case you’re curious.

As everyone’s minor wounds were healed up, I took a moment to look over the ogres’ handiwork. They were making weapons for even larger giants. They’d be moderately effective, but overall were very shoddy. If I had submitted one of these to my blacksmithing instructor, he would have kicked me out of school so quickly that I would have attained infinite mass and/or traveled back in time.

We moved forward quickly and found a trio of annis hags weaving foul magic in a chamber off the main path. Aurora and Lenn both went halo mode and charged in. Not sure about Lenn, but I know Aurora was thinking of the hag Geo had told us about and the state of the bodies she had been dumping. She was at least as angry as I was about that.

The room was too small for more than a few of us to enter, so our other frontline fighters moved in while Paulie, Shalelu and Jakardros took shots from the doorway. I wasn’t certain I could avoid hitting allies, so I watched down the pathway for incoming enemies. As a precaution, I summoned a Hound Archon to act as a wall between me and any oncoming threat.

After a few moments of fighting, one of the hags summoned a cloud of fog and tried to escape, running right into my hound archon, who knocked her to the ground with amazing efficiency. She looked up at me and her eyes showed her complete terror. “Please,” she begged. “Show me mercy!”

“Like the mercy you and your sisters showed those poor people your sister was dumping into the river?” I drew my gun as she cried out in terror. “In the name of the governor of Magnimar, by the authority invested in me to protect the citizens of this region, I hereby charge you with the brutal murders of at least several citizens or travelers in this region. How do you plead?”

“Please! You can’t do this!”

“I can and I will. Your plea has been entered.” I fired my gun point blank, right between her eyes. Blood dripped from a single, perfect wound as the light faded from her eyes. “You have been found guilty. Sentence: Death. Justice has been served.” I turned to the hound archon. “Before you fade, decapitate all three hag corpses.” I don’t believe they have any kind of resurrection power, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

We continued onward and found what looked like an abandoned shrine to Lamashtu. It was a bit curious that the ogres had been worshippers of the mother of monsters and had stopped. Not that I cared. Whatever else they had decided to worship instead was probably just as bad. At this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that they had switched to worshipping a VHS of Deliverance they had found, so anything less unlikely wouldn’t have fazed me.

What did surprise me was the shrine’s guardian. He was obviously a wight. His head was encircled in a crown of ice and his hand was a claw of icicles. But the really surprising part was when he spoke. “Jakardros! I see you have come to join me! I will usher you and your allies into an icy grave so you can come back strong as I did.”

“No!” Jakardros yelled. “Lay down your weapons, Lamatar. We’re going to lay you to rest and return you to Myriana!”

The wight laughed and charged. Aurora stepped in the way and took the blow. It was only glancing, but drew a bit of blood from her cheek. The blood spattered on the wight and it recoiled in pain. Steam rose from where the blood touched the creature.

Aurora took the opportunity to unleash a flurry of her own blows and Lenn charged in as well. I unleashed another burst of light, which also burned the creature. All in all, it wasn’t much of a fight. Nine to one made it fairly easy.

Magrim consecrated the shrine, destroying it. He also consecrated the bones of Lamatar, which we then shoved in a magic bag. Then we continued on deeper in the cave. As we approached what we would soon learn was the final chamber of the cave, we heard someone shout from within.

“Curse you, Lucrecia, you coward! Get back here and fight!”

Fleur growled. “She got away again!”

Within the massive chamber was a massive throne. Seated upon it was a stone giant. If I had to guess, he was maybe thirteen feet tall. In the room with him was one more stone giant who looked like a guard and eleven ogre skeletons armed with ogre hooks.

The fight was chaotic, but this is more or less what happened. Geo and Shalelu focused on the stone giant guard. Aurora, Orik and Magrim focused on the skeletal ogres. Paulie, Jak and I supported everyone where we could and Lenn charged the giant on the throne.

Geo and Shalelu had an easy enough time with it. Geo had been studying for this for years, perhaps even his whole life. Tendons were slashed, kidneys were pulled. Arrows went into the eyes. You know, that kind of thing.

Aurora, Magrim and Orik did the whole “Back-to-Back Badasses” thing. The skeletons didn’t stand much of a chance, especially with Magrim channeling holy energy and Paulie and Jak splintering bones with well-placed arrows.

The real meat of the fight, however, was between Lenn and the giant leader. The giant was apparently the necromancer who had created the skeletons, because he cast a fly charm and took off higher into the chamber. Lenn jumped and swung as he began his flight, managing to score a glancing blow.

The giant laughed. “You are no match for Barl Breakbones!” He flew around the chamber casting spells at us, seemingly at random. Not that I’m complaining. If he didn’t want to focus, that was fine with me.

Meanwhile, Lenn began climbing the wall. Experienced rock climbers will tell you to keep three points of contact at all times. Lenn, on the other hand, looked more like a beast than an experienced climber. But it was effective enough. He got high enough, leapt out and swung, scoring a great hit on the giant, but not enough to bring him down.

Lenn began his climb again, but the giant was smart enough to keep out of jump range. He laughed at Lenn’s frustrated roar. But he hadn’t counted on one thing.


“You’re such a drama queen,” Fleur noted.

“I just don’t want anyone to think I’m doing nothing this whole fight.”

The giant’s head snapped in my direction. He looked on in horror as I dispelled his flight charm. I just waved as he began floating towards the ground with the fragmented remnants of his spell. It was either that or wait long enough for Lenn to get frustrated and decide to grow wings.

As the giant neared the ground, I winked and pointed at Lenn. “DIE! GIANT!” Lenn roared and delivered a falling axe from the turnbuckle. I’m pretty sure the ref didn’t see it. I did and I will never forget the sight of his head flying off of his body, slamming into an ogre skeleton, bouncing and landing right on top of another’s ogre hook.

“GOAL!” Fleur shouted, even if only I could hear her.

With Lenn free to help, the remaining skeletons were brought down in a matter of moments. All in all, it was a fairly good fight. In the end, ogre skeletons are way more fun to fight than actual ogres.

Eff my life that I have an opinion on that subject.

We went through the caves and found more evidence of Lucrecia’s presence. It looked like we had missed her after all. It also looked like the ogres had sent out their valuables in tribute to their new giant masters. We did find some loot, including the equipment the ogres were using. Mostly worthless, but it would be worthwhile to break them down into magicite.

We also found a bunch of equipment that the ogres had stolen from the Black Arrows. It was all stamped with their emblem, so it was quite easy to tell apart from other items we found. “Return this to the Black Arrows?” I asked the others. I got nods pretty much all around. Jakardros looked surprised and thanked us.

We also found a large missive among Barl’s things. It appeared to be written on some kind of stretched hide. What follows is the text of the missive.


Teraktinus indicates that a human town called Sandpoint may hide what my Lord seeks. He will lead several of the People as well as the dragon Longtooth and the human wizard on a raid of the town soon. Prepare your ogre slaves to cover their retreat to Jorgenfist. Be ready to return at my command. You will obey!

“Sandpoint is in danger,” Shalelu said. “We must hurry back.”

“I don’t have any more teleportation spells prepared. We’ll need to return to the fort and sleep. We can port there in the morning. Besides, I think we have time. Give me a sec.” I was a fair scribe and did a quick analysis. As I thought, the ink was fresh. It couldn’t have been delivered earlier than yesterday. I wasn’t entirely certain where the giants’ stronghold was, but I could make some educated guesses. “Yeah, we have time.”

“How much?” Aurora asked.

I did some quick calculations. “If we assume that they started a day closer than here and assume they travel without rest, then they will arrive sometime tomorrow. But I don’t think that’s likely. ‘M’ – Mokmurian, maybe? – seems cautious. They’ll likely travel only at night to avoid detection until they’re closer. Realistically, they should arrive within about four days, maybe as early as two days if my assumptions are fairly off.”

We loaded up with as much valuable stuff as we could carry and prepared to head out. But I had one more thing left to do with the cave. I pulled out a detonator and pressed the button, setting off C-4 charges I had placed in key places within the cavern as we’d gone along. Yes, I can make C-4, now that I have a proper lab and magicite, anyway. My third cousin used to be an explosives expert for the IRA. I spent a summer visiting family in Ireland and learned a few things. My grandfather wanted me to become a priest. My uncle snuck me some whisky. And my new favorite cousin and I spent time away from town blowing stuff up. It was a good trip.

The ground shook as the caverns collapsed. Several of my companions looked at me in alarm. “What? We don’t want anything else moving into these caves. They’re too close to the fort and village.”

Despite the fact that it was out of our way, we went to the Shimmerglens first. The nymph, Myriana, was overjoyed with the return of Lamatar’s corpse. She immediately cast a spell which I recognized as a reincarnation. Despite the fact that reincarnation is supposed to be blocked by necromancy, it worked, but not without cost.

The nymph’s ghost faded away as Lamatar returned, now a kitsune. The fox man didn’t even look over his new body before dropping to his knees. “Myriana?! What have you done?” he sobbed. Jakardros walked over and put his hand on his friend’s shoulder and Shalelu stood next to the two of them during the wordless exchange. “I swear to you, my beloved, that I will serve as guardian of the place for the rest of my life.”

“I really wish that we could do something for them,” Aurora said. “To have been through so much but to end up parted after all…”

“Yeah,” I said. “But we would need a more powerful spell than what we have access to. If she hadn’t become an undead, we could probably raise her. I think Paulie has the spell we’d need and I can get the materials quickly. But this is beyond us.”

“What about the scroll?” Magrim asked Orik.

“Scroll?” Aurora and I asked simultaneously.

Orik chuckled. “I must have spent too much time with you people to even be considering this.” He shook his head. “We were given a scroll capable of resurrecting even those who have become undead in case of an emergency. Generally, we were supposed to only use it if the person in question was believed to have mission-critical information.” He reached into his pack and pulled out a scroll, handing it to Magrim. “If anyone asks, this was what you required as a payment to make our new gun in addition to the cost of materials. If it’s as good as you indicate, the boss won’t likely chew me out for wasting this thing.”

“Orik,” I said. “You’re my hero.” I looked around for a moment before spotting the pixie. “Yap! Front and center!”

The pixie sped out from behind the bush he had been cowering behind. “What is it, you who helped lay my mistress to rest?”

“After your mistress died, what happened to her body?”

“I recovered it and returned it here, to her home, and buried it.”

“Show me where.” The pixie led me to the spot and I dug out the spot immediately using a magic spell instead of hard labor.

Lamatar rushed to me, livid. He grabbed my shirt and pulled my face in front of his, growling. “What the hell are you doing?!” I didn’t respond, instead just winking. The dwarf, meanwhile, walked over and grabbed one of the now scattered bones. He unrolled the scroll and began reading the spell. Lamatar apparently had some basic knowledge of spellcraft, because immediately realized what was going on. He released his grip on my shirt and moved over to the dwarf, his expression hopeful.

After approximately a minute of casting, the spell was complete. Glowing tendrils of magical energy enveloped the bone. They shimmered and writhed all around, expanding into the shape of a woman and coalesced into flesh.

Myriana’s eyes blinked. She stared at each of us in surprise. Lamatar threw his arms around her and the two shared a heartwarming embrace. I couldn’t help but smile. I’ve seen so many horrible things in this world. This was one of those very rare moments where I got to see something that made it all almost feel worthwhile.

Fleur appeared next to me, sporting a pair of fox ears and tail, looking almost like Holo the Wise Wolf. “You think their kids will be as attractive as Samantha said her friend Veil is?”

“…And the moment is over,” I subvocalized, annoyed.

“What? I’m just saying.”

“As I understand it, Queen Velandhrathal is even more beautiful that Samantha indicated. And two, you know the rule.”

“Fine,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Fleur, say it.”

“Yes, mother. No yiffing.”

After several moments of embracing her beloved, Myriana reached out and touched a tree. Leaves wrapped around her in some semblance of clothing. Dammit, I had been so caught up in the moment I hadn’t even noticed that she was naked. And she was hot, dammit!

“I cannot repay you for this gift you have given me,” she said. “But I will try my best. First of all, I hereby decree that all friends of your fortress and the village need fear nothing within my domain. And should someone wish to attack them, my people will help as much as we can.” She pointed to me. “And you. Yap tells me that you are a musician, are you not?”

“I am,” I said.

She reached up and carefully removed a lock of her hair tied with a vine. “Then take this and my blessing, musician. And again, all of you, take my thanks.”

It was more than just hair. It was a token of favor, a sign of a nymph’s blessing. I knew bards who would kill for that, since it was well known to be a type of magic that improved one’s ability to perform. Kinda like the patronage of a leanan sidhe, without the demands of love and devotion. Also, nymphs don’t feed on the performer’s life force like their fey counterparts.

Next time I was in Absalom, I was going to rub this in a few people’s faces. But for now, I just thanked her and drew out my violin. Hey, it’s tradition. You’re supposed to play a song for the nymph. If not before, then after gaining the blessing.

I was feeling a bit nostalgic, so I sang one of the most difficult songs I knew – well, it’s easy to get tongue tied singing anyway – in a brogue as I played along. And I translated it to Taldan as I was doing so. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy. Rocky Road to Dublin had always been difficult to do well even in English. But I had no trouble, at least in part thanks to the nymph’s blessing.

The rest of the party just seemed to take it as a given that since I was acting as if I knew what I was doing, I probably actually knew what I was doing. I don’t need that kind of power.

The song complete, we said our farewells and headed back to the fort. The rest of the Black Arrows were as shocked by our return of the magic items as Jakardros had been. They cheered for us and one of the women – an attractive blond who had been making eyes at me since we’d rescued them – took me off to a secluded part of the fort and very enthusiastically showed me her gratitude.

It was too early to sleep, so I decided to burn my last prepared major spell for the day. After all, preparing it had been why I couldn’t teleport us to Sandpoint right now, so I might as well get some good out of it. As I had been putting my clothing back on, I’d had an idea. It had come to me all of a sudden.

Elastic. I wanted to make something out of elastic.

But what to make with it? Sweatbands might be an option, albeit a silly one. And they wouldn’t serve much of a purpose. But maybe there was something that would. Aurora had been trying to make us into a more cohesive unit and I wanted to help her. Perhaps there was a way to do so using the amazing stretchiness of elastic. It would have to be something at once unifying and showing each person’s individuality to fly with our group, kind of how they used to paint planes with individual designs back in the old days. They were all the same, but at the same time were also unique.

I concentrated, forming what I wanted in my mind’s eye. I decided on Catalina blue for the color as it would clash the least with everyone’s clothing. For the base form, I used something I had made before back home, a simple armband. In fact, one should be sitting in my closet right now, if no one has messed with my old cosplay stuff. The one at home wasn’t elastic. Cloth seemed more authentic, but I had started this wanting to play with elastic, not have to measure everyone I knew to get a proper fit.

For the individual symbols, I used something that I felt fit each person. Lenn’s was something of an Iron Chef/Jolly Roger logo, combining a pair of sausages with a chef’s hat. For Paulie, I used that symbol of his with a Cheshire cat grin laid over it. For Geo, I chose a Chibi-fied Cthulu, not for the tentacles, but because that way lies madness.

For my own, I put together a number of symbols, referencing Voltron, Strike Witches and My Little Pony. I figured I’d make up a reason for those symbols later. The only thing that I really planned ahead was the repeat use of the number five. There are five of us and I felt it appropriate.

Finally, for Aurora, I chose an image I recalled seeing of a bunny dressed as a maid and applied “American Kirby is Hardcore” to turn it into a badass, throwing in a couple of chain guns and an eye patch because Aurora’s a badass and deserves a badass emblem. As for why I chose a bunny? Is it not good enough that Aurora’s hotter than any Playboy Bunny?

Not buying it, eh? Okay, the truth is she has a birthmark on her back between her shoulder blades that looks kinda like a bunny’s head. Not a Playboy bunny profile but a rabbit looking at you kind of thing. She doesn’t need to know I’ve seen it, if she even knows she has it. So I’ll make something up. Hell, better she thinks that I think of naked women when I think of her than tell her I accidentally saw her mostly naked.

I probed it with the magic, and despite being an exotic material for the region, apparently elastic wasn’t an expensive spell from a magic perspective. I could make more than five very easily. I decided to go ahead and make some for the Black Arrows with a black emblem on a silver band and some for Orik’s company with a gold emblem on a red band.

I had one of the sentries go retrieve Paulie, then I cut my hand and worked the magic. It wasn’t too difficult all in all. While waiting for the cat man who I was starting to suspect had once been reincarnated just like Lamatar, I bundled up each set of bands in a piece of cloth.

When the two returned, I gave the sentry the bundles and asked him to take them to Orik and Jakardros. Paulie healed me up, right as rain, and I enlisted his help in gathering our friends.

I went to find Geo. He was doing some sort of horrifying experiment with the alchemist who had arrived the other day.

It was at that moment that I finally recognized the tattoo. It was the mark of a guild, one with a particular reputation for magical science gone mad. He was an Oenopion Fleshforger. They used all sorts of magical and alchemical means to try to create new and better soldiers through the horrifying art of fleshwarping.

It was altogether possible that Geo had joined these monsters. I knew he wouldn’t use their torturous techniques on others, but experiments on himself weren’t out of the question. Far from it, they seemed to be his standard modus operandi. Just where this trip down the rabbit hole would lead, I had no idea. But I wanted no part of it.

I told him to come meet us when he was done, then just shut the door and left. I didn’t want to know what they were doing. None of my business.

We gathered a little over an hour later and I presented them to my friends and allies. They seemed to like them and were amazed at the stretchiness of them. As I was putting mine on, Aurora asked me what the Japanese characters on them meant. I couldn’t very well tell her that they said “Disciplinary Committee”, so instead I said “Those Who Punish the Wicked”. It was close enough. In that moment, I felt that we had all bonded in our common goals.

Those who would prey on others, those who would do harm to the innocent. And especially those with Teraktinus who were planning to attack Sandpoint in the near future. Take notice now. The Disciplinary Committee is coming to teach you the rules of society.

Koi koi.

Special note: What follows are links to the images for Kyle, Aurora and Paulie's symbols. I did the one for Kyle using MS Paint, the other two were hand drawn by the other two players. Thought someone might get a kick out of them.

Got a long work week ahead of me, so plenty of time to write the next section. Hopefully have that one up in the usual time, despite how long it is.

UnArcaneElection wrote:
** spoiler omitted **

While it wasn't technically my initial idea, I rules-lawyered the ever loving poop out of the game and Kyle had to pass a number of high-DC diplo checks to get the GM agree to that one.

UnArcaneElection wrote:
I wonder if ** spoiler omitted **

That's actually something I'm considering. I have several options on the table for Fleur, two of which I have concrete plans to use.

Also, I submitted the next section to the others for review last Thursday, but yet another change in one's work schedule means I haven't actually seen him long enough in the last three days to see if he's read it.

Still, while waiting on that, the section beyond is already under way. Just wait until you see what the GM has in mind for

Shayliss and Katrine Vinder
and the new development with

1 person marked this as a favorite.

To the Shimmerglens and Beyond!

Today was the day, and it was going to keep happening again and again.

I slept a couple more hours before waking again and deciding it was time to get to work. I carefully extricated my arm from beneath Aurora without waking her and took a seat before the fire. I mused that it was good that it was a magical fire, since a real fire likely would have sucked all the oxygen from the room by now. I never would have used the bead had I not tested it before, so don’t worry, I’m not stupid.

(Note in the margin: You chose to get up and work instead of cuddling with the beautiful woman. I heartily disagree.)
(Note in the margin: Shut up, Fleur.)

I prepared my spells for the day, mixing utility and combat spells since I wasn’t sure what we would need today. I left a few spells unprepared in case I needed a specific spell later. But right now, I only needed one specific spell.

A few moments later, I entered into my own private workshop in a temporary demiplane. A number of constructs made of magical force were waiting for me. When I cast the spell, the constructs look like robotic geth, but they take whatever shape the caster’s subconscious deems as a perfect representation for a crafter. I’d imagine that most wizards would probably end up conjuring humans, dwarves or maybe even gnomes. I shudder to imagine the hell that would be a workshop filled with gnomes.

Today, there were nine standard geth and a single different looking one. The different one couldn’t do any normal crafting work. Instead, its job was in deconstruction. It could break down any item into base parts, even deconstructing permanent enchantments into useful material.

I handed the machine the mithral head and Aurora’s old armor. “Turn everything into magicite,” I told it.

“Understood, Kyle-Wizard.” It immediately got to work converting the goods.

I should explain what magicite is. If you haven’t already figured out, I was the one who named it, stealing the name from a game. As far as I know, I’m the only one who has ever used this material. In fact, my spell is the only source of the material I’ve ever encountered.

But what exactly is magicite? Put simply, it’s raw crafting potential turned into a physical material. With this spell, I can convert crafted goods and materials into magicite or turn magicite into new crafted goods or enchantments.

As for its physical properties, it doesn’t seem to have any useful ones. It’s metallic, weighs about the same as steel, but isn’t as strong. It conducts electricity, but not well. Its boiling and freezing points aren’t great. It doesn’t seem to alloy with any other materials. It’s only useful in the context of my spell and the more common spell used by wizards to fabricate things from base materials.

Conversion doesn’t allow me to get more value from a material than I could get from just selling the item and buying the materials I need. I have learned how to use slightly less magicite than I should strictly need for any work to get the same results, though this is exactly the same as how I cut corners using normal materials. It’s almost as if some cosmic Game Master has told me that he would allow me to cheat time, but not money at the game that is life. The main benefit of using magicite is that I don’t have to go to a town and buy materials or worry about finding a buyer for valuable loot we find on our adventures. Hell, I can even convert coins into magicite and back again at a static one-to-one ratio.

As for where the idea came from to incorporate this functionality in my spell, that’s a simple enough answer. I figured that if that Thassilonian spell allowed me to convert my blood into crafting materials or magical components, then there must be a way to do the same with other materials. It was a surprisingly simply puzzle to solve.

I had been doing a bit of work – mostly in my head – on understanding the technological devices I’d read about in the copied tome. It had only been a day or so, but I was ready to create not just my first technological marvel, but a Frankensteinian hybrid of magic and machine.

With the help of the geth, it wasn’t too long before I held it in my hand. I grinned as I looked at my first magitech battery. It was like the silver disk batteries I’d read about and much more powerful than anything we could make on Earth at that size, but there was more to it than that. It contained magical properties and would completely recharge itself once per day by siphoning ambient magical energy. As a downside, they were actually a microscopic amount larger than the normal ones. They’ll fit in normal battery slots, but might be a bit harder to get out. Optimally, one wouldn’t need to do so.

In addition to the battery, I crafted another of my own custom designs. In truth, I wanted to craft something from the tome, but I didn’t have the materials to do so. So, instead of making a rifle that fires focused beams of sound for Aurora, I instead made a Submachine Coilgun* for myself. It would be most efficient as a semi-automatic weapon, but if I needed to put out a wall of bullets, it could do so.

(Margin Note: *A coilgun is a weapon that uses electromagnets to fire a metallic slug – usually ferromagnetic material – instead of using an explosive charge.)

I started off simple with the bullets. I had plans for much more complex materials, but for now I would just use steel slugs. With a simple spell, I could craft dozens of them at once from a small block of iron or steel – not sure if I can use magicite with that weak of a spell. Or I could use the Thassilonian spell to turn my blood directly into bullets.

(Margin Note: Blood Bullets? Are we Deadman Wonderland now?)

My work finished, I left the magical workshop. The sun had just begun to rise and Aurora was still sleeping, so I headed outside to the fort’s training yard. A pair of Black Arrows were practicing archery on some wood and straw targets.

“Good morning, my lord,” one said in greeting.

“A bit brisk today,” I said. “Fog’s starting to roll in.”

The other nodded. “Should clear up by midmorning. So what brings you out here this morning?”

“I was thinking of testing out a new toy I just finished. Mind if I join you for a bit?”

“Not at all,” the first said.

As they watched, I aimed the gun and took a shot. Complete miss. I adjusted the sight and fired again. Closer, but only nicked the edge. I continued on this way until I was confident that I had the sights perfectly set.

I learned a lot in about half an hour practicing. First of all, I’m not a great shot. It’s a lot different firing a real gun than it is firing a game gun. I had gotten by with the muzzle loaded pistol due to using it at very close range, but this was an advanced weapon and I had no excuse not to use it at a longer range. So that meant I would have to practice. Either that or make a laser weapon – which would be much closer to a video game light gun – but a laser essentially burns something and there’s plenty of magic protecting against fire. No, that was a weakness I didn’t want to introduce to my primary fallback weapon.

Once the sights were set, the weapon was fairly accurate. On the softer straw target, I could score hits every five or so shots – probably increase chance of hit to one in two if I were a better shot – at about three hundred feet. On the wooden target, maybe one in twenty were managing to penetrate despite having a similar hit rate. This got much better as long as I was within a hundred and fifty feet or so.

Additionally, the sound of firing was much quieter, but there was still sound. After all, the bullets were firing at a muzzle velocity of somewhere around twelve hundred meters per second – I’ve done the math – so it still set off a minor sonic boom.

And finally, it only does about as much damage as a twenty two. But that’s per shot. I could make a bigger weapon, but I’d have to sacrifice either fire rate or make it a two-hander. Neither was acceptable, so it would be fine. I could enhance its damage with enchantments later, or maybe make explosive rounds or something.

“That’s pretty impressive,” someone said behind me. I turned to see Orik standing there. “How do you make it so quiet? Using a different kind of gunpowder?”

I grinned. “Nope. Not using powder at all.”

His eyebrow raised in surprise. “Then how do you fire it?”

“Well, it’s a bit hard to explain. But effectively I’m using artificially created lightning.”


“Not exactly.” I popped open the gun’s battery casing. “It’s a bit difficult to pull out, let me grab my spare.” I pulled another battery out of my pack. “It uses one of these.”

He inspected it for a moment. “That almost looks like a Numerian Silverdisk.”

That surprised me. “You’ve seen one before?”

“A mercenary I used to run with had one as a lucky charm. I didn’t know they could be used to make guns.”

“They’re what we call batteries. They hold a charge of electricity – which is similar enough to lightning for these purposes. I got ahold of one from a trader for cheap. He didn’t know what he had. I’ve been studying it for months. I don’t know where they came from, but they’re more advanced than what we have back home. Well, I finally figured it out the other day and made a few adjustments to allow it to recharge using ambient magic. And once I had a couple of these, I had to find a use for them, so I made a gun by adapting tech from back home to use these new batteries.”

Yeah, I lied. But I needed to hide where I had gotten the tech from. If the Technic League finds out, there could be trouble. And it wasn’t completely untrue. The coilguns were basically tech I created using knowledge I’d learned back on Earth. I just used alloys and techniques I learned from reading my book to make it work. On a side note, mithral, gold and various trace metals make for an excellent conductive wire. Just in case you’re curious.

I could see the wheels turning in Orik’s head. “Any chance you could make a bigger one?”

“Big enough to mount on the roof of a carriage?” He nodded. “I had a feeling you might ask. I’ve already designed one. Get me the materials and I’ll make one for you, since we seem to be working together a lot. It won’t be as quiet as this one, though.”

In truth, I had designed four coilguns. The first is my little Pizzicato, the one handed SMG. It fires smaller ammunition – all ammunition I’ve designed is a proprietary size, from O’Halloran Coilgun Projectile(OCP) Small to OCP Large – than any of the others and is the only one hander I’ve made. I designed it to look like an M-9 Tempest from Mass Effect because I could. The second is the light machine gun, which I’ve dubbed “Crescendo”. I designed that one to look like a futuristic version of the Thompson and it uses OCP Medium which it can only fire on full auto.

The last two both use OCP Large. The first is the Tremolo, which is effectively a larger version of the Crescendo that can only be used mounted or at least on a tripod. It burns through the belt fed ammunition at an amazing rate – at least on paper. The final one is the Martelé, which is designed to be a semi-automatic weapon with a longer range and more stopping power per round than the other three. And, of course, I designed it to look like an FN P90 because it’s a weapon of war, meant to KILL your enemy.

(Margin Note: You realize no one’s going to get that reference, right?)

“Put together a shopping list for me and I’ll get everything for you as quickly as I can.”

“Actually, the materials I need are fairly hard to find. I’ve made contact with a trader who can get the materials fairly quickly through his network of contacts. Get me the gold to buy them and I’ll have him pick them up.” Again, that wasn’t true. But gold and other valuable metals convert to magicite extremely efficiently, so I’d be able to get what I needed that way.

“Contact your trader and find out how much you’ll need. I’ll see about getting it as soon as I can.”

“Will do. I’ll show your spellcasters how to make more of the bullets from steel ingots sometime between now and then.” I knew exactly how much I would need, but I had to wait at least a day to let him think I was looking into it. He couldn’t give away information he didn’t have.

I spotted Geo as I headed back into the building. He had fresh surgery wounds. If he didn’t want to tell me about it, I wasn’t inclined to ask. It did bug me that I couldn’t recall what the tattoos his visitor had meant. But I had too much on my plate at the moment. I’d figure it out later.

Paulie was trying to sell something to a soldier when I ran across him. He spotted me as I walked by and gave me a wide grin. “Tell me, can I interest you in a wonderful new product?” Great. Apparently he was Billy Mays again.

“Not really. We should start getting everyone together so we can head out.”

“Excellent! Are we going to go back to Turtleback Ferry to hunt down Lucrecia?”

I sighed. “No. We’re going after the fort’s commander in the Shimmerglens.”

“We can make that work. We can sell a lot to a customer who feels indebted to us. Also, I doubt Lucrecia is where I saw her yesterday.”


“I told you all about it, but you were more worried about the dam.” When had he told me about… oh. Fleur swore. In the water. She was the snake in the water he had been talking about.

I flagged down a nearby Black Arrow. “Go find Jakardros and Orik Van Caskerkin and send them to me immediately.” The urgency in my voice must have shown. He ran at a dead sprint.

It took less than five minutes for both to reach me. “What is it?” Orik asked, looking annoyed.

“I just learned that Lucrecia was spotted at Turtleback Ferry last night. I need someone to go check on the town.”

Jakardros nodded. “I don’t think my people are up to it yet. I understand if you need to go, though I was really hoping you’ll be going to the Shimmerglens to look for the captain.”

“I’d really rather not put that off any longer,” I agreed. “Orik, can you and your people check into it? There’s a thousand gold coins in it if you can bring me her head.”

“We’ll look into it.” I could almost see dollar signs in his eyes as he took his leave.

“Meanwhile, we’ll need a couple Black Arrows to go clean the corpses out of the river,” I told Jakardros.

“We can handle that.” I turned to leave, but he stopped me. “Actually, a merchant arrived early this morning. Hoping to make a few gold coins selling us supplies.”

“Do you know the man?”

“Yes. He’s a generally okay person, though I’d keep an eye on your wallet while he’s here.”

“Let’s see what he has.”

The merchant had an eye patch, a hook hand and a peg leg. Yarr. Okay, so not the peg leg. But he did have the eye patch and the hook hand. Which begs the question: Is the hook hand directly at fault for the eye patch?

Jakardros introduced me to the merchant, Phileris. The man had brought a number of weapons and tools, but nothing I was interested in. What I did find myself interested in was his selection of horses. He had several horses to choose from. Most were work animals, but there were a couple fit for bearing riders on rough terrain.

Of those, there was one that immediately caught my eye. There was something about the horse that felt immediately familiar. It was a mare with very light tan – almost a pale yellow – coat. She seemed to be hiding from us behind the rest of the horses.

“You have a keen eye for horses,” the merchant said to me. “But she isn’t going to be very good for your purposes. She’s never let anyone ride her and is very nervous around new people. She’s incredibly brave otherwise though. Never seen a horse stare down a snake.”

“You’re joking,” Jakardros accused.

“Absolutely true. Snake just calmed down and slithered off. It’s too bad she’s just no good around people.”

“I have a good feeling,” I said. I motioned over Aurora, Disney Princess Extraordinaire. “I need your help with this horse,” I told her, explaining the problem.

“I’m sure I can convince her to let you ride given a few days,” she said.

I grinned. “I think I can do better. Jak, you guys have any small animals? Chickens or something?”

“Shalelu caught us some rabbits, which we’re breeding for meat.”

Rabbits? Perfect. “Aurora, would you go get me a rabbit and bring it here, nice and calm?”

She returned a few moments later with a snow white rabbit. I sat down on the ground and had her hand it over, then got some vegetables from the merchant. Then, after having everyone back away from me, I began feeding the bunny and singing softly to it.

It took a couple minutes, but the mare began inching her way toward me, curious. A few minutes more and she was right beside me. Without looking up at her, I gave her a carrot and gently patted her muzzle. The horse actually laid down beside me to get a closer look at the rabbit, who regarded her warily. I held it forward so the two could get to know each other.

Within ten minutes, I was fairly certain the horse trusted me completely. “See, Fluttershy?” I said. “People just need to get to know you better, don’t they?” I put a saddle on her back and hopped up. She looked at me and calmed when she realized it was me. “Let’s do a lap around the yard and see how fast you can go.”

After the lap, she let Aurora feed her an apple. All animals perceive Aurora favorably. She would have made a good druid. Meanwhile, I perused the merchant’s magic stocks. It was mostly mundane stuff, healing potions and the like, but he did have a scroll of a spell that would turn an animal into a stone figurine. I bought that to add to my spellbook in case I needed it.

As we led Fluttershy to the rest of our horses, Aurora stopped me. “What spell did you use to do that?”

“No magic,” I said. “Just intuition. She reminded me of a fictional horse I know, so I went with my gut and acted like I was trying to befriend that horse. I think she has a role to play in the prophecy, based on my vision.” I didn’t tell her that I was starting to suspect that this was going to end with six dead horses and that trying to prevent it would fail or, even worse, might result in us failing to stop a much worse result.

She didn’t seem to believe me. No one understands me.

We headed out into the Shimmerglens and were immediately struck by the signs of decay. I’m not sure how to describe it. Swamps are pretty ripe normally, but they’re alive. This place was very much not so. The only life present was insect life. The plants were dead. The fish were dead. Even the snakes were dead, not that I was complaining.

We might have wandered for hours, but then the pixie found us as we were walking our horses through some muddy terrain. He was about two feet tall, which is larger than I imagine when I think of pixies. His hair was blue and spiky – anime hair, really – and he had large blue butterfly wings. “Humans! Help, please! Mistress in trouble!” His voice was high pitched and annoying, but he’s a pixie, so that’s a tautology.

“Of course she is,” I said. “Just once, I want to show up somewhere, have people rush out and offer to help us with our problems instead of begging us for help with theirs.”

Aurora gave me a look that said, “Be nice.”

“Tell us about your mistress,” Geo said. He thought about it a moment. “Actually, what is your name?”

“I am Yap.” Yap? Really? God, I hate pixies. “My mistress is the nymph Myriana, Princess of the Shimmerglens! She is very ill! Death would have been better! Her sickness is infecting the land. You are friends of Lamatar, her human lover, yes? Please, he would not want her left like this! Have tried everything to cure her forlorn heart! You must do something! I will take you to her!” He said all of this without stopping to take a breath.

Well, that was where we were going. We could use a guide. “We might as well,” I began to say, but only got as far as “We mi-“ before Lenn reached out and grabbed the pixie by the ankle.

Lenn sniffed the now upside down pixie and licked it. He made a disgusted face and tossed it aside. “Gross! You wouldn’t make very good sausage!”

What. I pinched the bridge of my nose in an attempt to stave off the aneurysm Lenn was leading me towards. “Lenn, buddy…we really shouldn’t make sausage out of sentient beings. That’s how ogres do things and we don’t want to be like them, right?” I didn’t mention that I was willing to consider making an exception for Lucrecia. After all, I was considering making boots out of the scales on her ass as sort of a symbolic thing once we found and killed her.

At the word “ogre”, the big guy pulled out his axe and looked around. “GIANT!” he roared. “WHERE?!”

If there had been a table nearby, I would have banged my head on it. Instead, I just sighed and went with it. “Sorry, my mistake. It was just a tree.”

He put his axe back in its harness. “Try not to be so stupid. Trees are not giants.”

“Remind me again why we hang out with him?” Fleur asked.

“Name me one person who can hit things as hard as he can,” I subvocalized.

“Chuck Norris.”

“We’re just trying to kill a few bad guys, not destroy reality here.”

“Oh, good point.”

We followed the pixie through the swamp, making decent time. We would have gone faster, but the pixie didn’t seem to understand that he needed to take terrain into account. I kept getting these urges to pull off his wings to make him understand. Naturally, I didn’t do it, or even say it, but I thought it real loud.

For the most part, the swamp was boring. I’m not a biologist, so there wasn’t much for me to see. The only point of interest is that the swamp didn’t seem healthy, but that can only keep you interested for so long before the delusional projection of your alternate personality starts sounding like a little kid on a road trip. Or maybe that’s a problem only I have to deal with. #JustCrayCrayThings or something. I dunno.

Okay, so there was one interesting landmark we ran across. I saw it and just stopped Fluttershy. “What.”

“That is certainly interesting,” Geo agreed.

“How long has that been here?” Aurora asked Yap.

“As long as I can remember.”

“Okay, I’ve seen maps of the region,” I said. “We’re at least a hundred miles from the nearest shore.”

“Right,” Aurora replied.

“That sounds fairly close,” Geo agreed.

“Okay, so would anyone like to explain to me where the hell that came from?”

“No idea.”


“I’m not saying it was aliens,” Fleur said. “But it was probably aliens.”

“Alright,” I said. “I’m going to go investigate the ship. Anyone coming with me?”

Yes, you heard me right. There was a ship just sitting in the muck of the swamp. It looked old, but at the same time it was more advanced than anything I had seen around Golarion in the time I’ve been here. In fact – and I’m only basing this off of knowledge gained through a weekend on the net after watching Pirates of the Caribbean – but it looked a lot like an early nineteenth century Dutch frigate.

The ship had been mostly picked clean of any treasure, but it seemed otherwise remarkably well preserved. I was curious what kind of chemicals they used to treat the wood, but I lacked the tools to analyze it, so I didn’t bother grabbing samples. The captain’s cabin was the only room of any real interest, since it was the only room with anything in it.

Inside the relatively spacious room was the skeletal remains of the captain, seated at a decaying remains of a harpsichord. The tattered remains of his uniform didn’t give me any indication as to his origins, but the harpsichord held some clues. It was carved with an elaborate scene of a battle between demons and angels, but that wasn’t the only interesting feature. “It’s made of darkwood,” I said. So, not Dutch after all. I wasn’t sure whether I was disappointed or relieved.

(Margin Note: Disalleved, maybe?)
(Margin Note: No, I think that’s what they call it when you get your stomach pumped after trying to commit suicide by naproxen overdose.)
(Margin Note: I hates you, Toki. Seriously.)

“Is it salvageable?” Geo asked.

“No, it appears to be rotting. Probably not worth the effort.”

“What about these?” Aurora asked, holding up several sheets of paper.

I took a closer look. They were sheets of music, slightly faded but otherwise remarkably intact. I read through the score, playing the notes in my mind. “These are amazing!” I said, pulling out my violin. “They’re masterpieces by any point of view. And I’ve never heard any of them. We may have just rediscovered music that time has forgotten.” I played the first song. It was a challenge even for me.

“Valuable?” Aurora asked.

“Priceless, but I’m sure I can sell these to the White Grotto for a fair amount of coin.”

Geo looked out the dusty window. “We should get going before Lenn decides to eat Yap anyway.”

I put the music pages in a protected pocket of my bag and nodded. “And before Paulie starts trying to sell him catsup to make the pixie more palatable.”

Yap led us to his mistress with little incident, but he hadn’t prepared us for what we’d find when we arrived. I had been expecting a beautiful nymph. What we found was an undead horror. There was nothing between her shoulders and forearms. And she was translucent.

What I’m saying is that she was a ghost.

“Yap!” she screeched. “Who are these you’ve brought before me?!”

“They’re friends of Lamatar’s, mistress,” the pixie responded, terrified.

“Is this true?”

“It’s very close,” I said. “We were sent by his friends. They would have come themselves, but ogres killed many of them and injured most of the rest.”

“OGRES!” she howled. “Ogres did this to me! Then they dragged off my Lamatar! He is dead! But when I tried to reincarnate him, the lamia’s foul magic prevented it! I demand that you find his corpse and return it to me!”

“Did she just say Lamia?” Fleur asked. Aurora’s eyes asked the same question when our gazes met.

“Maybe the spell didn’t work because he isn’t dead,” Paulie said.

“LIES!” the ghost roared. “Lamatar would have returned to me if he was still alive!”

“I’m just saying that ogres like to torture people for a while before killing them. We can bring him back alive! And if we don’t, I’ll throw in two free bottles of this powerful cleaning potion and the scrubbing pad absolutely free!”

I grabbed the cat man. “Paulie, you’re not helping! Just be quiet for a…Paulie?”

His expression had gone completely blank. “What is wrong with him?” Yap asked.

“Don’t worry,” I replied. “He does this sometimes.”

A few moments later, a new expression came over Paulie’s face. He took a look at the ghost. “Far out, man. But your chakras are all out of alignment. You should sit down with me for a while and meditate so we can bring your chi in balance.” Okay, so that’s not an exact translation. But it’s close enough.

“What…is wrong with him?” the ghostly nymph asked.

“Well, that’s a subject for the ages. We could discuss it all day, or you could point us in the direction of where the ogres took your love so we can get him back to you sooner rather than later.”

“I do not know. To their den, perhaps.”

“Do you recall what they looked like?”

“Like ogres.”

This was getting nowhere. “You mentioned a lamia?”

“Yes! She was commanding the ogres. She was the one who set up the ambush!”

Lucrecia then. “Then he’s likely been taken to the Kreeg stronghold on Hook Mountain.”

“We’ll need reinforcements,” Geo noted.

“Right. We’ll go get Orik and head up. Best if we can make it during the day. Don’t want to fight ogres after dark.”

“Then you will return my Lamatar to me?” The tone of the ghost’s voice nearly broke my heart.

“We will. But I want you to promise me two things.”

“I will listen.”

“The first is that you won’t take out your anger on any people traveling your lands.”

“I will restrain my anger long enough for you to return him to me. If you do not do so, I make no promises beyond that.”

It would have to do. “Second, if that Lamia comes back into the Shimmerglens, promise me that when your subjects kill her, you’ll send her head to the fort as proof that she’s finally dead.”

The look on her face was terrifying. “I make no promises that there will be enough left of her face to be identified.” I liked this ghost, even if she had just given me a new nightmare.

We teleported to Turtleback Ferry and found Orik and his people helping out with some cleanup. He spotted us and motioned us over. “The townspeople tell us that you all are secretly angels in disguise? And you’re apparently the Angelic Aspect of War?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “I said ‘God of War’. They can at least get their story straight. Also, it’s going to blow their minds when they see what Lenn can do.” He gave me a perplexed look. “Don’t worry about it. Just suffice it to say magic was involved and the ‘God of War’ thing was a taunt to our foe.”

“You’ll have to tell me all about it later. So, what brings you all down here? You find the fort’s commander? Wait, why does the look on your face tell me that I’m not going to like the answer?”

“Ogres dragged him off to their stronghold in the mountain. Gonna need some backup to get him back.”

“He’s probably already dead, you know.”

“Yeah, but the nymph’s ghost – don’t ask – wants him back even if he’s dead. Besides, I’d bet there are an awful lot of scalps to be had up there.”

Once again, I could almost see the dollar signs in his eyes. “Good point. Let’s swing by the fort, pick up whatever reinforcements we can and go kill some ogres.”

From somewhere behind me, I heard Lenn roar. “OGRES! WHERE?!” I turned and saw Paulie trying to give him a headband he’d woven from nearby wildflowers.

Will someone please tell me what the hell I’m doing with my life?

Other players took a little long reviewing, so I'm a bit late with the upload. Next section looks like it'll be fairly long, so 2-3 weeks. Also, for the heck of it, I've uploaded a document into a shareable section of my Google Drive that has the game document breakdown of the different coilguns, in case anyone's curious. I'm still playing around with pricing and whatnot, but that's where I'm at so far.

Turin the Mad wrote:
In this particular case, my thinking is that the 'suit' is 'beastie'. <grin> Several plays on words are involved.

I'm still not entirely certain I get it, but I've moved Malificent up on my Netflix list(I've had the current movie for two months, so it's gonna be a while).

Also, newest chapter has been submitted to other players for review. Barring major required revisions, hoping to post it sometime tomorrow. Over the weekend at the latest.

Tomi Heikkinen wrote:
Crap, was supposed to write irritaTING instead of irritaBLE but you got my point. Welcome back, looking forward to regular postings :)

Had a feeling that's what you meant, though irritable also fit. :P

Turin the Mad wrote:
If you've seen Maleficent ... it fits, in my mind if nowhere else. ^_____^

Ah, that explains it. Haven't seen it yet. It's on my to do list, though.

Turin the Mad wrote:


Well, well, well. Hello, beastie. ;)

Could be the fact that it's past my bedtime, but... Beastie?

UnArcaneElection wrote:
Even though I have just read the Prologues and the first journal post, TOTALLY AWESOME! Looking forward to reading more as soon as I can.

Always glad to hear someone else has been sucked in. The more the merrier. :)

Tomi Heikkinen wrote:
Caught up with the new posts, Poldaran. Your text has a great flow, as usual. And Aurora's even more likeable, and Kyle even more irritable with his explicit and implicit bragging and smugness :)

You think he's smug now? Just wait til the technology comes out. :P

Anyway, since I'm posting anyway, I'm about halfway through the early morning segment(before the rest of the party not using the 2 hour sleep ring wakes up) on the next section. Barring more work-related slowdowns(I spent almost all of last night trying to fix a printer), I'm hoping to have it typed up and given to the other two for review by maybe Tuesday. In fact, I think I'm shooting for an update somewhere in the vague neighborhood of every two weeks.

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The Battle of Turtleback Ferry

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way!

In the omnibus of legends about Thassilon I had been reading, there’s a particular entry that had caught my eye. It was about a creature that sounded like an unholy cross between Nessie and a trans-dimensional horror. Even now, people still spoke of it, but it had been known even as far back as ancient Thassilon. It was said to be older than the gods, the harbinger of terrible storms which it used to capture prey and even speaking of the creature would cause black blood to well up in your throat, preventing you from talking about your experience.

Of course, that last one begs the question of how we know about the creature if it’s true. Unless maybe there’s a loophole in writing about it? I don’t know.

I don’t know, but as the gargantuan creature breached into the shallow water that flooded the town, I was able to deduce some things. It was an outsider – a creature from another plane of existence – but it seemed to have some affinity for the material plane. I could fairly safely rule out the possibilities that it might be a demon*, daemon* or devil*, but couldn’t say with complete certainty that it wasn’t a qlippoth*, though I suspected it had more of an affinity with the Plane of Shadow.

(Margin note: *Demons, Daemons and Devils are creatures generally born of mortal souls in The Abyss, Abbadon and Hell respectively. Qlippoths are native to The Abyss, but aren’t born of mortal souls.)

I would have killed to have a Jaeger, a MegaZord or Voltron handy at that moment. But we had none of those things. We didn’t even have a couple ballistae. Nope, we were on our own, mostly on foot and up against a creature that was literally in the neighborhood of fifty feet tall. Yes, we were living in a science fiction B movie, but instead of a giant woman, it was the attack of the fifty foot dino-squid.

Yeah, you heard me. It looked like someone took all of an octopus’ tentacles and stuck the neck and head of a plesiosaur directly onto them with almost no body in the middle. It almost would have been comical if it hadn’t been so damned terrifying. “You should see if Geo can distract it with a mating dance,” Fleur quipped. I almost laughed.

I analyzed the situation and desperately wanted to be wrong. “It’s not going towards the church. It’s not going towards the church…”

“I think it’s going towards the church,” Fleur said.

I cursed. “Yeah, it’s going towards the church!”

Almost as if cued by my self-honesty, my horse reared up and pulled its reins free from my grip. Aurora tried to catch it, but was too slow and Applejack sped off towards the monster. Yes, towards the monster. The hell kind of horse does that? Apparently the kind of horse I ride.

The yellow blur that was my horse charged forward and spun on its hooves as it reached its target. With a mighty crack, her back hooves connected with one of the massive tentacles. The creature, known by locals as “Black Magga”, roared in pain, the injured tentacle hanging limply at its side.

Of course, against the massive creature, Applejack was still just a horse. Black Magga’s head darted forward terrifyingly quickly, snapping my poor horse right in half. “APPLEJACK! NOOOOOO!!!!” I shouted.

O sisters let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O sisters let's go down
Down in the river to pray

Aurora drew her weapon. I held up my arm. “No. We can’t go in half-cocked. Give me a moment to plan.” She nodded. It took me maybe eight seconds to take it all in and come up with a quick and dirty plan. “I’m going to make you some lances. I need you to make hit and run attacks on the monster. Hit as hard as you can. Cripple tentacles when you can. Do as much damage as possible otherwise. I’m not sure if we can kill it, but maybe if we hurt it enough it’ll go away.”

She nodded. “What about the people in the church?”

“If you can keep it distracted, I’ll try to get them out. Conjure up your horse. I’ll pass along the plan to the others.” I cast a spell to amplify the sound of my voice. “Lenn, disengage from the snake and attack the monster! Geo, once the snake is down or retreats, move to assist him. Paulie, once the snake is taken care of, lead the children this way, taking shots at the monster as you move!” They all signaled their acknowledgement.

If the creature was an outsider, I likely needed to find the right kind of material to really hurt it. My only clue was the attack by Applejack. That had hurt it. Her horseshoes were made of cold iron, so that was worth a shot. I cut my palm and cast my spells. In a matter of seconds, half a dozen cold iron lances materialized, tips embedded in the muddy ground.

I pulled out the wand we had used against the barghest, Malfeshnekor and enchanted one of the lances. No idea if it was necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt. Meanwhile, Aurora hopped onto Starbrite’s back and grabbed the lance. “Good luck and stay safe!” I said in a magically loud whisper.

“You too!” she responded.

She charged off. I turned to see Paulie and the schoolchildren approaching. “Conjure a light on yourself,” I said. “Stay here and keep firing. I’m going to send the people in the church towards you.”

The catman nodded. “Understo-“ He stopped mid-word and stared off into space for a moment.

After a few uncomfortable seconds, I waved a hand in front of his face. “Are you okay?”

He grinned. “I’m super! Thanks for asking!” His voice had changed. It was very…camp.

I didn’t have time to worry about it. “Can you do what I asked?”

“I would be delighted!” he sang, conjuring a light.

I was going to say something, but decided against it. Whatever the hell was going on with him was at best the fifth weirdest part of my day. And I had my own part to play in the plan. I cast the most powerful spell I had remaining. My body was enveloped in light as I began to transform. “Kylemon digivolve to…” The light spread out around my body, altering a number of things about me. I grew a bit taller, only a few inches, my hair lengthened, my facial features became more regal and a giant pair of white feathery wings grew out of my back. Even my clothing had change, now white trimmed with blue and gold. “…ANGEMON!” I cast one more spell, causing my body to glow with magical light.

With a single flap of my wings, I was off like a bolt. Normally, it would have been adjustment to learn to fly, but I had recently upgraded my intelligence amplifying headband and given it the ability to impart knowledge of flight skills. I impacted on the first floor church window with my full weight, shattering the glass with my gauntleted fist.

People shouted in alarm. “Everybody move!” I commanded. “The church won’t last long against Black Magga. Out through the window. Move towards the glowing cat man and then make your way up to the large building past him. NOW!” They might have protested, but the orders of an apparent angel and the simultaneous shaking of the building from a blow by the beast cut that off immediately.

I helped people out through the window, clearing away glass as quickly as I could. It wouldn’t help to have someone die from an infected wound after escaping this damn beast. As they passed me, I noticed that almost everyone had a sihedron mark on their skin. This was all Lucrecia’s doing.

It took just over a minute to get everyone out. I flew up onto the church’s roof and began casting every spell I had that could damage the creature at it. They were mostly ineffective, though it didn’t like the bursts of light.

Meanwhile, the creature cast a mind control spell, targeting Geo. Geo began doing what the creature commanded – it spoke common! – but suddenly he began to shake violently. His body morphed, becoming that of “Old Lenn” and he began fighting Black Magga once more.

We were losing, but we were holding our own and buying plenty of time for the people to escape, but then disaster struck. A heavy tentacle swing struck Aurora and she was knocked from her horse, hitting the ground hard. She twitched for a moment, but it was evident she was unconscious. Starbrite put himself between her and the monster and began glowing blue once more. Black Magga decided that Lenn and Geo, cut off from rescuing Aurora by the building and water between them, were the larger threat.

I tried to fly in to grab Aurora, but got smacked out of the air by a massive tentacle. I flew back over thirty feet. Paulie rushed to me and healed me before pulling me to my feet.

“I can help her,” Fleur said.

“And let you do something insane that has no guarantee of helping? No, there’s got to be a better way.”

“By the time you come up with something, she’ll be dead! Just let me help!”

“No! I will find a way!”

“BUT IT WILL BE TOO LATE!” I roared, startling the cat man. I looked at myself. “Huh.” I was in charge of the body. Next to me was the imaginary representation of my other self, who I like to call Fuddy-Duddy. I just laughed at him. I was going to save Aurora!

“You go, girlfriend!” Paulie said with a laugh. “I know that feeling!”

I gave him a high five and stuck my tongue out at FD. I cast a spell to protect myself a bit from what I had planned. After that, I flew right over to one of the remaining cold iron lances and hit it with the magic wand from earlier. Then I picked it up and flew up, straight at a crackling thundercloud.

“You can’t be serious,” FD said.

“Me? Serious? Not likely. But I’m doing it anyway. Come on, cheer up. This is the most METAL thing we’ve ever done.”

“Yes,” he said. “Metal.” His tone was dripping with sarcasm. “We’re going to die. You realize that, right?” He began singing.

Guilty as charged
But damn it, it ain't right
There's someone else controlling me

Death in the air
Strapped in the electric chair
This can't be happening to me

Who made you God to say
"I'll take your life from you?"

“Oh shut up,” I said. “Only you could make one of the most badass songs in existence into a whinefest. Either do something useful or go away.”

He rolled his eyes. “Fine.” He cleared his non-existent throat. “Daa-da-da-da-DAA-da, da-da-da-DAA-da, da-da-da-DAAA-da, da-da-da-daaaaaaa!” I’ve never heard anyone sing the tune from Ride of the Valkyries sarcastically before. Eh. Close enough.

I continued to climb, reaching the cloud in less than a minute’s total ascent. As I flew through it, I could almost feel the electrons being stripped from my outermost atoms. In short order, I had reached the same electric charge as the surrounding cloud. I stopped my ascent, coasting to stop. As I reached my apex, I laughed.

“Lucrecia, if you’re watching, I want you to pay attention! We’re coming for you next!” My voice boomed through the sky. If she was within a couple mile radius, there’s no chance she missed it. I did a backflip and with a great beat of my wings, I began diving.

As I dove, FD began frantically reciting Hail Maries. Such a drama queen. We were absolutely going to live through this. Probably.

A number of Black Maggas tentacles turned towards me. On each of these, I could see that the tip was some kind of eyeball. She knew I was coming. Good. “I AM THE GOD OF WAR!” I shouted. “I WILL MAKE YOU SUFFER!” Grasping it in both hands, I extended the lance before me.

FD had bought a pair of magic boots to protect us from injury when falling. Because of these, I didn’t hit as hard as I could have. But it was enough to get the message across. It was also enough to break all of the bones in both of my arms.

I would have screamed in pain, but I didn’t have a chance. As my electrically charged body had raced to the ground, I had ionized the air behind me, creating an electrically conductive path from the charged cloud to the ground.

The lance took the brunt of the impact, but a billion volts of white hot pain still shot through me. It sent me flying again, over ten feet. As I flew, I was nearly deaf from the lightning, but still managed to hear the creature roar in agony.

The damage had knocked Fleur unconscious and I was back in control of our body. My vision blurred with blood rolling down my forehead. Lying on the ground, I could see the giant shape moving towards me. I also saw two other figures. On the roof of the building was someone that looked like Lenn. Then another figure stood between me and the creature, a heavenly figure, incredibly beautiful.

“If you want him, you will have to go through me first, foul beast!” Aurora shouted. In Celestial. I wasn’t even aware she knew that language. But that wasn’t the weirdest part. She had a freaking halo.

I would have asked her what the hell was going on with that, but I passed out instead.

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way!

O sisters let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O sisters let's go down
Down in the river to pray

I woke up a few minutes later with Geo standing over me. “Sorry, I used one of your wands to heal you. Hope it’s okay,” he said.

“It’s fine,” I said. I glanced over at Aurora and Lenn. The large man was pestering her about something, though I couldn’t quite hear them. “What’s going on with them?” I asked Geo.

“He wants her to show him how she did something, but I’ve been having trouble figuring out what exactly it is she did.”

“Okay,” I said. “Now what’s up with him?” I asked, pointing at Paulie.

The cat man was standing near the river’s edge. In his hand he held a ball of flame and there was a dangerous glint in his eyes. “Don’t be like that! Come out and play! I just want to light you on fire! It won’t hurt, much!” Then he started giggling.

“He said he saw another snake in the water,” Geo said. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”

Probably a good idea. I looked around further and saw that the rains had stopped and the floodwaters were already receding. Several villagers drew near and began thanking us for helping them. Several of them wanted to touch my coat, others begged me to bless their children. Apparently I would need to be careful where I used the angel spell. I didn’t feel right offering my blessing, but I did agree to pray with them as a compromise.

The villagers filled me in on things they knew about Black Magga. I had already known most of it, but they did pass along their concerns that she had never been seen outside the Storval Deep, which led several, including the town’s mayor, a man by the name of Shreed, to fear that something bad had happened at the dam that held back the massive lake. He offered me a thousand gold pieces to go check out the dam, a place called “Skull’s Crossing” – yeah, that isn’t ominous at all.

I looked at the village around me and declined the gold. “You’re going to have a lot of rebuilding to do after this flood. Your people need the money more than we do. Don’t worry, we’ll still check the dam out.” Geo nodded his approval. Lenn would let Geo speak for him and Aurora would agree that it was fine. No idea whether Paulie would agree, but if he didn’t, I just had to wait something like twelve hours – or minutes, sometimes – and he’d change his mind.

“Thank you, milord. You are most generous. Is there nothing we can do to thank you?”

I thought for a moment. “Offer any support you can to Fort Rannick. They’ve lost a fair number of people to an ogre attack and could use your help. Also, maybe try to get people to get rid of those damn tattoos? Someone’s trying to murder all of you to steal your souls and you’re just playing into it by marking yourselves for them.”

Telling him about the murder plot might not have been the best idea. He stammered for a moment, began hyperventilating and fainted. “It was pretty funny, though,” Fleur commented. I couldn’t disagree with her there.

Several people seemed to want to thank Aurora, Lenn and Paulie, but with the heated discussion between the former two and whatever was going on with the latter, no one was brave enough to approach them.

We left the village to head up to the dam. I was stuck riding on Starbrite with Aurora. Certainly worse fates, I suppose. Still felt bad for poor Apple Jack and now Starbrite was stuck carrying us. I guess I could have gotten a horse from the village, but again, they needed every resource more than we did.

“Also, you get to ride with Aurora,” Fleur said. “Gropey gropey!”

I went right past how inappropriate that would be and went straight for the impossibility. “How exactly do you expect me to pull that off? She’s wearing a full set of armor,” I subvocalized.

"Oh, right.”

As we rode, Paulie kept riding up next to Lenn and floating his fireball above his head, which seemed to irritate the larger man. I stayed out of it, instead contemplating what I’d been told had happened during the fight. I’m still not entirely certain I believe it.

My actions had created a major distraction, which had been a part of Fleur’s plan. “I told you getting caught was part of my plan!” Fleur reminded me.

“Yes, yes, and I’m sure you’re a big guy.”

“For you!” she giggled.

Anyway, while the creature was distracted by my insane ascent, Lenn and Geo had quaffed some healing potions. Lenn had climbed up on top of the church to try to get a good blow at Black Magga’s head. Meanwhile, Aurora, was still unconscious. Paulie tells me that Starbrite had used the distraction to pull a potion vial from Aurora’s belt pouch and had managed to pour it into her mouth. I made a note that next time I had the opportunity I would give that horse some apples or some other treat.

She awoke just in time to look up and see me streaking through the sky at Black Magga. She witnessed my impact and the lightning and jumped to her feet, drawing her blade as she moved to protect me. Faced by the renewed knight, the madman with the axe on the roof, the man carefully slicing at her tentacles from the ground and a sudden fireball from Paulie, she had simply fled. I’m sure my own actions played a part, but I’m not delusional enough to think that I was the one who chased her off.

“It was still completely metal,” Fleur chimed in, interrupting my contemplation once more.

The dam was massive. Sure, it wasn’t as tall as the Hoover Dam, but it was almost as long. If I had to guess, I’d say it was roughly the height of the Glen Canyon Dam, which I’ve visited a couple times. So, let’s say around three hundred feet tall. And it wasn’t made of concrete, instead made of massive quarried blocks, as large as the blocks that the pyramids were crafted from.

Ominously, it had five skulls carved into the face of the dam, which is likely why it was called “Skull’s Crossing”. From where we were, we saw some severe damage to a spot on the dam, likely where Black Magga had burst through. There was a steady stream of water flowing down, but it looked like it was likely less than what it was hours ago.

We left the horses and headed up the massive stairs, which looked to have been carved for use by giants, perhaps the dam builders themselves. If so, that made them ancient, since the dam was supposedly constructed during the Thassilonian era. After the experience in the bell tower, I was a bit wary. Not that I needed to be. Apparently solid stone construction is built to last. Still, it was slow going, considering the size of the damn steps leading up to the dam.

On one side of the stairs was something akin to a railing, with each of the posts being adorned with an actual skull, mostly animal but with a few humanoid skulls among them. Each of these was marked with some kind of drawing of a skull. “Yo, dawg I heard you like skulls so I painted a skull on your skull so you can skull while you skull.”

“What?” Aurora asked.

I didn’t realize I’d said that aloud. “Don’t worry about it,” I said, I turned to our resident giant expert. “So, Geo, any idea what these mean?”

“Not entirely sure, but they appear to be clan markings.” He didn’t seem to be wrong, but it’s not like it told us much more than that the dam was likely inhabited by a clan of some kind of giant, likely ogre or troll.

At the top of the steps, we found a room that looked to be some kind of lair. Smelled like one too. Inside, we found multiple half-eaten corpses, most of which appeared to belong to large felines, though a few smoked human corpses were evident.

As an aside, I can now tell when a cooked corpse is human by the smell. When I get home, first thing I’m doing is posting that to F My Life. Well, second thing. First thing after I go get some tacos. Bastards better still be making Doritos Locos when I get back.

From inside the lair came a shout. “You no bribe me! I smash you for Skulltakers!” From within the shadows charged an ettin, a two-headed giant. No matter what anyone tells you, two heads aren’t better than one. Ettins are generally idiots. So too was this true with this one. Despite having a clear path to charge and Paulie or me, he charged straight at the knight clad in full adamantine armor.

I’ve tried to work out the logic. Maybe he figured that since she was the shortest of us, she’d make the easiest target. Or maybe the blood dragon painted on the armor - the blood red tinge to the armor had faded in some places and grown brighter in others, leaving a design straight out of a certain Bioware series, which may have been a product of my subconscious while creating the suit - offended him. Or maybe he doesn’t like girls. I don’t know. All I do know is that Aurora’s armor neatly deflected the blow.

Aurora returned the blow, cleanly severing one head from the creature’s shoulders. Geo ducked past it and with a quick maneuver pulled its massive arm into a lock behind its body. Paulie launched a small fireball right into…well, let’s just say it probably hurt a lot. Lenn…just stood there. He seemed to be thinking.

I was in a mood. “You no take candle!” I mocked the giant, using a wand to throw a couple force bolts at it. I’m not sure it got the reference, but I’m fairly sure it realized that I was mocking it. It roared and tried to break free to come after me. Aurora tripped it as it wrenched away from Geo and the two of them stabbed it to death.

And again, Lenn seemed to completely miss what was happening. I walked over to him. “Hey, big guy, you missed a fight. We killed a giant.”

It took a moment to register. “GIANT!” he shouted, ferociously swinging his axe into the still twitching carcass.

“A little late there.”

He didn’t seem to hear me. “This giant is already dead!”

“Well, yeah. We killed it less than a minute ago. You missed the fight.” But again, he was off in his own world, lost in his thoughts.

“That must be a pretty empty place to wander. Bet if he shouted, it would echo,” Fleur said.

“Be nice,” I subvocalized, though I couldn’t help but agree a little.

We headed out onto the dam and ran across a small group of ogres. They were trying to damage the dam, but looked exhausted. I recognized the emblem one was wearing. “Kreeg!” I shouted, unleashing my remaining magical flash bang spell on the apparent leader. Geo and Aurora charged the leader and Paulie unleased a large burst of flame, taking down the four subordinate ogres.

Lenn didn’t notice the ogres. Of course he didn’t.

“Hey, buddy, what’s on your mind?” I asked him.

He looked at me. “I want to do the thing Aurora did!”

“Alright, well, how about this. You focus on what we’re doing here and as soon as we finish and make it back to the fort, I promise I’ll sit down with you and try to help you figure it out. Deal?” He considered it for a moment and nodded. “Good. Now let’s go see if we can go find more giants to kill.”

Along the rest of the dam, we found corpses of ogres as well as troll blood, though no corpses. If I had to guess, the ogres had thrown the injured trolls over the edge to drown. As we approached the damaged section, the piles of corpses got larger, as did the wounds they had suffered.

“I think this is where Black Magga broke through,” Geo said.

I nodded. “I was thinking the same.”

We headed into the dam and almost immediately encountered a group of troll survivors. They seemed to be angry. Didn’t matter how angry they were, though. Paulie had fire and I had acid. Lenn even engaged one of them, though he wasn’t really focused on the fight.

There was graffiti everywhere. The same phrases repeated themselves. With Aurora and Geo’s help, we translated the most common words. “Wet Papa Grazuul.” They were always accompanied by crude sketches that looked familiar to me. They almost looked like the illustrations I’d seen of scrags, an aquatic type of troll that would make perfect sense to live in a dam.

We crept along until we caught sight of the scrag. “Lenn,” I whispered. “Charge it and let’s try to bring it down before it can escape. No response. “Lenn. Lenn… LENN!”


“Giant,” Geo said, pointing.

“GIANT!” he roared, charging. The fight was over pretty quick. Apparently what I’d read was true. Scrags don’t regenerate when they’re on dry land. Well, either that or Paulie’s fire had dealt with it. It was hard to be sure. He had been a bit more dangerous than the other trolls, but still easy work.

We continued on, soon finding our way to another large chamber. I’m not sure what the hell was wrong with the dam’s designer, but clearly his mother didn’t love him enough or something because there was a serious skull fetish going on in this chamber. There had been a fair number of polished skulls in the scrag’s lair, but that’s a troll. They collect things like that.

This room had walls covered in carvings of skulls everywhere. And, of course, there was a giant construct made of skulls. And OF COURSE it was a giant scorpion. What did I do? Just tell me what I did to deserve this crap.

The construct charged at the closest target, our scout, Geo. Aurora rushed in to assist, but the creature managed to grab Geo with one of its giant pincers. It tried to sting the knight, but her armor deflected the blow, which meant that she wasn’t hurt by the obviously dripping venom on the stinger.

Paulie and I unleashed what magic we could, but it wasn’t terribly effective. What we needed was Lenn, but he was off in lala land. “Lenn, we could use some help!” The scorpion pinned Geo to the ground. “LENN! Geo’s in trouble!” The scorpion prepared itself, looking as though it would tear Geo’s head right from his shoulders.

“LENN!” Aurora and I shouted in unison. Paulie was just watching it unfold, trying to figure out what kind of fire would make the skulls burn if I had to guess.

Lenn snapped out of his trance and swung his axe at the scorpion, cleaving the pincer holding Geo right off of the construct. “THAT’S! NOT! A! GIANT!” He swung again, burying his axe right in the scorpion’s face. The construct grinded to a halt.

Geo got to his feet, rubbing the raw skin on his neck. “You okay?” Aurora asked.

“I’ll be fine. Let’s just move on.”

We trudged on until we reached the heart of the dam. The room was incredibly large. In the center, we found a pair of magical circles. In one of those was a fiend, an Outsider embodying evil. This one was easily recognized as a devil, a creature of Hell likely in the service of the dark god Asmodeus. And what’s more, this wasn’t just any kind of devil. This was a Pit Fiend, one of the most powerful creatures in all of Hell! This wasn’t the work of just any wizard. Whoever had done this was likely extremely powerful. I suspect that this was the work of one of the Runelords.

I looked at the circles around it. Each set of circles contained three individual rings. The innermost ring was a binding circle, meant to hold the creature in place. The second circle was a summoning circle, meant to bring the creature there. The outer ring was foreign to me. Reading it was like looking at foreign computer code. I could make out the magical equivalent of some “If-Then” statements, but I couldn’t quite figure out what the operands meant. It looked to be some kind of dark magic, likely necromancy.

That would explain the state of the pit fiend. He looked, um, well, I guess the only word that really fits is “desiccated”. Something had been draining the life force from him. In the second binding circle was a pile of ashes. Perhaps he had not always been here alone and his companion hadn’t fared so well?

“Human,” he said in the common tongue. “You will release me from this prison.”

“I’m afraid I cannot commit to such an action at this time,” I responded in the Infernal Tongue, the language of Hell.

He laughed. It was simultaneously sickly and booming. “You know what I am, then, mortal? Then you know that I will honor any bargain. Name your desire in exchange for my freedom and it is yours.”

“I’ll certainly have to think about that for a moment,” I responded. I had no intention of freeing him, but if we could find no way to kill it, perhaps instead we could make sure it was banished from the mortal plane forever by rules-lawyering it into agreeing. I did not want to preclude the possibility of negotiation just yet.

“I have been imprisoned here for millennia. I can wait a few moments. But do not test my patience, mortal.”

I walked over to where Geo and Aurora were watching Lenn. Something was wrong with him. His face was contorted in rage and he didn’t seem to be breathing. It almost looked like the kind of face a constipated person makes while desperately trying to evacuate their bowels. He had gone past red and into a shade of purple usually reserved for royal clothing. Geo and Aurora were desperately trying to get him to stop whatever he was doing, but to no avail.

Everyone has heard of someone who has performed what can only be described as a “grand achievement only made possible by ignorance”. Usually, it’s pretty mundane, like the old farmer who showed up to the Australian ultramarathon in overalls and rain boots, managing to win by running at a slow shuffle for five days straight with no sleep breaks. Sometimes it’s more spectacular, like the martial artist who learned to do the tricks he saw on old kung fu movies, not realizing that those had been done with wires. Hell, people do it all the time when the placebo affect kicks in. You think something should work, so you just make it happen. Nothing too out of the ordinary there.

But then there’s Lenn. From his vantage point on the rooftop, he had seen what I had seen but while I had written it off to an effect of getting struck by lightning, Lenn had no such reason to write it off. And, as a perfect storm, it had been Aurora. Had he seen Paulie or I do it, he would have assumed it was magic and would have just written it off as something he couldn’t do. Even Geo doing it might have been written off as a side effect of his experiments. But, in Lenn’s mind, Aurora was normal. She was just a regular human being like him. So if she could do it, he could too. And it obviously wasn’t a magic item, since she would have just told him so.

So it was, that just as I thought he was about to pass out, there was a strange sound, followed by a light. It should have been impossible. Aurora’s method was easily understandable knowing what I do now but didn’t yesterday. But Lenn doing it was impossible.

Fleur was having a grand time with it. She even started singing. “‘The chances of anything coming from Mars were a million to one,’ he said. ‘The chances of anything coming from Mars…were a million to one…but STILL THEY CAME!”

I’m glad Fleur was enjoying herself. Aurora, Geo and I, on the other hand, just stood, dumbfounded, staring at Lenn’s new halo.

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way!

O brothers let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
Come on brothers, let's go down
Down in the river to pray

Pleased with himself, Lenn calmed down. The rage gone, his halo dissipated as well. That made him angry, so the halo returned. Then he calmed again and it was gone. Satisfied that he could make it come back when he wanted, he grinned. “I DID IT! Just like Aurora!”

“Yeah, you sure did, big guy. You sure did.” Now I found myself having to figure out how the hell Aurora had done it. Not that I had time to think about it right then. Because no one had been watching Paulie.

“Get away from there!” the devil shouted.

“What? You afraid I’ll poke your friends ashes and figure out how to make a fire that can burn you too? I bet you’ll burn real good! I wanna see it!” The cat made a dash for the second circle.

In a frozen moment, the runes came together for me. I could see everything clearly as a copy of the circle hovered in front of my face. The circles powered some kind of mechanism on the dam, though I didn’t know what. They did so by draining the life from the two living creatures within. The creator had been using a pair of pit fiends to power the mechanism for at least ten millennia. That’s why the trapped fiend was so emaciated. His life force was nearly spent. He had maybe one or two uses left in him before he died.

Before I could even call out, Paulie crossed into the circle. The runes on both outer circles glowed and the creatures within cried out in agony. The dam shuddered slightly and I could hear the sound of rushing water.

“Floodgates!” I shouted in surprise. Either in a show of power or a glorious display of shoddy engineering skills, the dam’s creator had opted to give the dam a set of magical floodgates, set to open when the water of Storval Deep rose too high. These floodgates were powered by the life force of two bound devils. It was all in all a wonder of magic and engineering.

It was also ridiculously, unnecessarily complicated. With a bit of engineering, it wouldn’t have taken much to have created a set of mechanical flood gates to do the same thing. He obviously had the construction force to pull it off. But nope, he used a devil-powered design instead.

It’s kind of like using a wireless mouse for your gaming rig when your desk is perfectly capable of allowing for use of a wired one. Sure, you’ve dealt with that pesky wire, but now you’ve got to worry about a battery and have introduced a bunch of interface lag. No thanks.

After a few moments, the spell had drawn the needed energy. Paulie collapsed where he stood. “Pick him up and carry him over the outer circle. Be careful not to smudge the outer circle,” I told the others. I was pretty sure it would take more than scuffing to damage the circle, but better safe than sorry. Meanwhile, I looked over at the devil. Sure enough, that was his last contribution to the dam. All that remained was a pile of ash.

“What’s wrong with him?” Geo asked me once they had Paulie safely out of the circle.

“Life drain. He’ll be fine. Probably just the shock of it. I think he even has a spell to cure himself, though I believe it will burn through some of our supply of diamond dust.”

Geo nodded. “Good to hear. I’m going to look around and make sure there aren’t any more threats here.” He took Lenn with him.

While the two were looking around, Aurora and I checked out Paulie. He was breathing normally and would probably wake up in a few minutes. “Kyle?” Aurora asked.

“What is it?”

“Did you see it too?”

“What do you mean?”

She took a deep breath. “Did I really have a halo?”

“I had just been hit with lightning, so I don’t know how reliable my memory is, but yes. I saw it too. I suspect Paulie saw it as well.”

“Oh.” She looked away.


I was going to ask her what was wrong, but Paulie chose that moment to wake up. “Whoah, bro! That was totally gnarly!”

“Welcome back to the land of the living,” Aurora said, managing to hide that despair I thought I had heard in her voice.

“What happened?”

“You stepped into the circle and became a Duracell,” I said.

“That’s like, whoah. What?”

“The spell drained some of your life energy to power the floodgates. If you have a spell to cure that, you might wanna deal with it now before it becomes permanent.”

“Righteous bro. I’ll go do that now.”

I did the surfer sign for “Hang Loose” and he returned it, though I’m not sure he knew what it meant despite sounding like a surfer to me. When he was out of earshot, I turned back to Aurora. “So, what’s wrong?”

“It’s just…I…”

Lenn and Geo returned at that moment. I knew they had returned because Lenn let us know by shouting as loud as possible. “I want to go back to the fort! I’m HUNGRY!”

“Everything else clear?” I asked Geo.

“As far as I can tell.”

I sighed and turned back to Aurora. “I guess we’re going back. Want to talk about it while we ride?” She shook her head. “Alright, well, if you want to discuss it, we should have time tonight to find a nice quiet corner and discuss it.”

She nodded. “Okay.”

While we rode back, I tried to think about what Aurora was worrying about. I knew it had something to do with the halo she’d manifested earlier. I couldn’t figure out what it was that worried her, so I just tried thinking about how she had done it so maybe I would have answers that could reassure her.

As I put many disparate data points together, I began to get a clear picture. Let me outline them here.

1. She had manifested a halo.
2. She had some strange resistance to certain spells. Specifically a spell that uses devil’s blood as a component.
3. Starbrite was the amazing glow-in-the-dark horse and seemed much smarter than a normal animal.
4. Aurora’s vision had been of angels. Everyone else’s visions seemed tied to something about them.

Let me elaborate more on that last point. As the idea began to form in my mind, I re-examined the vision through a different lens. What if it hadn’t been Heaven telling a woman she had been living well as a human? What if, instead, those weren’t random celestials? What if they were her family? Then maybe the vision was more like a family reunion. And that meant one thing.

Aurora is an Aasimar. The blood in her veins is quite literally the blood of angels.

Fleur cleared her throat. “Wait. That was a lot of celestials, and many different types.”

“And?” I subvocalized.

“Wouldn’t that mean her family is like candy to celestials? We need to get with her before the clouds literally part and some freaking six-winged angel descends from on high to snap her right up!”

I groaned. “Fleur…”


“My days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle.”

When we got back to the fort, there was a visitor waiting for us. Well, he was waiting for Geo, specifically. He had some familiar looking tattoos, but I couldn’t place what they reminded me of. I explained to several of the Black Arrows what had happened in vague enough terms, only getting specific in my description of the dam.

“So, any time it rains, we may have to go activate it? Won’t it kill people?”

“Kill, yes. People, no. Whoever built it only used devils out of ego.” That wasn’t necessarily true. He might have done it so he wouldn’t have to leave people at the dam to monitor it. But it was more than likely ego. “Judging by the spell’s matrix, the amount of power required can be supplied by a pair of chickens. Just have someone go up there and toss a chicken in each circle and the floodgates will take care of themselves.”

“Excellent. Then, if there is nothing further, the Black Arrows will attend to the corpses in the river first thing in the morning.”

I nodded. “And we’ll head into the Shimmerglens.”

After everyone had eaten, Aurora and I returned to the room that had become ours unofficially. I used magic to clean us of grime of battle and travel. She looked like she wanted to talk, but wasn’t sure how to start.

So I took the lead. “You know, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. Truth be told, you’re probably just an Aasimar.”

She looked to be on the verge of tears. “That’s what I’m afraid of!”

What. “But it just means you have a bit of celestial blood. It’s not anything to worry about.”

“Why wouldn’t I worry? That would mean that I’m just like Nualia!”

“Nualia wasn’t just a product of her blood. Most of it was because she had a horrible childhood with a father figure who cared more about using her for his own ends instead of caring about what she…Oh. Right. I guess I see your point. But I still think you’re stronger than she was.”

“What if I’m not?”

I shrugged. “Well, when you get to the part where it’s time for some guy to take advantage of you, I’ll be right here.”

Her eyes went wide. “KYLE!”

“And don’t think that I’m going to let you get away either. You screw up and let me impregnate you and I promise you that you’re going to end up married to me for the rest of eternity.”

After several moments of staring at me, she actually laughed. She hugged me. “Thanks. I needed that.”

“Anytime.” I wasn’t completely joking, but I figured I shouldn’t press my luck.

She turned her back to me. “Will you help me out of my armor?”

“Sure thing, but you can sleep in it if you want. It’s enchanted to be really comfortable.”

“I know,” she said, looking over her shoulder. “But with today’s rains, I figured it might get pretty cold tonight.”

Wait. Wouldn’t it be warmer in the armor? Why would she…oh. “Good point. Let me help you with that.”

You know, her fears weren’t completely unjustified. When I’d met her, she had been well on her way down the path of self destruction. And she didn’t exactly leave the path immediately after meeting me.

Her drinking had always been a problem, but it wasn’t until roughly two months after I met her that things came to a head. She nearly killed me. We had gotten into a fight after I’d told her that I learned that her father was dead. She had been drinking. She punched me and I almost died. One blow, and it was almost curtains for me. I think I almost got off easier than she did, though.

Aurora felt incredibly guilty about almost killing me. She didn’t tell me, but after I woke up, she gave up drinking. Unfortunately, when you’re that deep into the bottle, you don’t just suddenly decide you’re done and climb right out.

The first sign that something was wrong was the mood swings. At least, it was the first I noticed. I think she saw other signs before I did. Next, I noticed that her skin was pale and her hands were shaking. It wasn’t long until her first seizure.

We had been in the woods, looking for another set of ruins when it happened. We were days away from civilization. Despite the fact that I had money to pay for magical treatment to help her through it, I didn’t have much hope that she would survive such a trip. The nights had been icy cold and it had rained for several days. She needed shelter, fast.

I took a magic potion that allowed me to fly, then took to the sky, searching for anywhere we could at least get out of the elements. Luck was on my side and I spotted a cabin not too far away. Once she had stabilized, I put her in front of me on Starbrite’s back and we made haste towards shelter.

The cabin wasn’t occupied, though it was clean if dusty. It looked like it saw use only a few times a year. Still, there was plenty of cut firewood and a small building where the horses could shelter with a fenced in corral attached to it and stream access. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better place in the circumstances, though I would have given quite a bit to have found a witch’s cottage. I had a lot of interesting things I could have traded the witch for her aid, none of which really served me here.

I cleaned out the cabin, using magic to remove dust, checked the cot for spiders and set Aurora down to rest. I reluctantly left her side and tended to the horses. I then gathered up firewood from the bin outside the house and went back in to start a fire in the wood stove and check Aurora’s condition.

It wasn’t good. With her earlier seizure, her rapid and irregular heartbeat, clammy skin, pupil dilation and the tremors in her hands, I knew something was seriously wrong. Sure, I had taken some first aid classes and spent a lot of time online reading about different conditions, but I was no doctor and I had no real medical supplies beyond some fairly basic stuff. Hell, I wasn’t even completely sure what it was she was going through.

When she woke up, she began screaming. After a moment, I was certain I could add hallucinations to her symptoms. I had to magically sedate her and tie her up to prevent her from injuring me or herself. Unfortunately, the magical sedation didn’t last long and soon she was awake, screaming, raging, confused and, as a new symptom, vomiting.

I looked through her stuff to see if I could find a cause. At the time, I suspected a parasite or food borne illness, so that’s where I focused, but I looked at everything, trying to find a clue. It really didn’t take long before I realized what had happened.

As near as I could tell, she hadn’t had any alcohol since I had recovered from being knocked out. With the severity of her symptoms, she was probably going through the DTs. Worst of all, I had no idea how to treat her. Should I give her small doses of alcohol to wean her off of it slowly, or would that make things worse? Was there a medicine I might be able to access through a plant based source to help her out? Maybe I could give her charcoal to soak up toxins in her digestive system?

I had no other ideas, so I made some activated charcoal as I had learned from Youtube long ago. Then I focused on keeping her as hydrated and comfortable as I could, treated her fever, yet another new symptom, and kept her restrained so she couldn’t hurt herself.

While she worked through it, I did what I could to improve our situation. I made snares and left the cabin for short trips to set them. Over the course of a few days, I set a dozen snares, created a fish trap in the stream, gathered a few edible plants nearby and made sure that the horses had plenty to eat. Mostly though, I just sat with Aurora, wiping the sweat from her brow, feeding her broth when I could and making sure that she had plenty of purified water to drink when she asked.

About six days in, she had another seizure. Then she stopped breathing. If I hadn’t been so panicked, I would have laughed. At least now she was going through something I had actually been trained for, though the first step of calling for aid wasn’t available. I managed to pull her back from the brink, though just barely.

She spent several days in a coma. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more scared. I prayed for hours, begging and pleading that she be okay. I wept in frustration. I got very little sleep. I felt so helpless. All I could do was slowly give her ice chips while talking and singing to her, hoping that part of her would hear me and wake up.

Eventually, she did awaken. She was extremely weak, but it seemed that the worst was over. All in all, by the time she was back to full health, it had been over two weeks since our ordeal had begun. Exhausted, I slept for nearly eleven hours on that final day, which doesn’t sound like all that much, but I hadn’t been able to sleep for more than twenty minute bursts for almost two weeks.

Once we had both recovered, we restocked the firewood bin and I left a note thanking the owner for use of his cabin and a few gold coins to pay for what we had used and couldn’t restock.

Before we left, Aurora swore a binding oath to me that she would never again drink to drunkenness. She declared that she would follow the example I had shown her, having no more than a drink or so a day, and even then only rarely. For anyone else, I might have suspected such an oath, but I had come to know Aurora well. She would live by her word. Even if I could not be certain that any drinking at all was a good idea, I had to hope that things would be okay.

At the next town, I paid a cleric to use magic to free her of any damage her illness and long term addiction may have caused. It was an unnecessary precaution, at least that’s what I hoped, but it made me feel a lot better.

So, yeah, maybe she did have cause to be concerned. But I think we’re past that. Everything would be just fine. I told her so as we went to bed.

A few hours later, I woke up on our pushed together bedrolls spooning with Aurora. Sadly, we were both fully clothed. We even still had socks on, though we’d ditched our shoes. She was sleeping peacefully, though I could tell she was still pretty cold. I reached over and grabbed a small bead from one of my coat pockets. I carefully rolled it several feet from us and spoke the command word. The bead transformed into a small campfire.

Aurora stirred. I stroked her head. “Everything’s fine. Go back to sleep.” She laid back down and pressed herself against me, pulling my arm around her. I began singing softly to her. She smiled and a golden halo appeared above her head.

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way!

O sinners, let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O sinners, let's go down
Down in the river to pray

I smiled. “Love you,” I whispered very softly, but she was fast asleep and didn’t hear me.

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Batcat and the Return to Turtleback Ferry

Upon returning to Fort Rannick, we found that most of the Flails of Murderers had left the previous day. Additionally, Paulie, Lenn and Geo had also gone, though those three had left that morning. Orik’s people had gone out to deal with numerous troll sightings. None were in the dungeon. Thought you ought to know.

Paulie, Lenn and Geo had headed out to investigate the reason that the waters of the river had become contaminated. Honestly, I think they should have worked to build water purification until the FoM returned, but I’m guessing that Lenn got bored and they needed to get him out and about.

As we were discussing things with Shalelu, who seemed much less ill now, FoM returned. Magrim Emberaxe had been knocked out during their excursion, thus saving me from having to read another one of his dull as hell reports. Orik gave me a very basic rundown of what had happened.

Apparently the trolls were trying to reclaim their territory from the ogres, who had pushed them out as they worked to claim the fort and surrounding areas. Orik and the FoM had disabused them of the notion that this was their territory. In total, they had seventeen troll skulls – they had to take skulls instead of scalps because trolls regenerate. Someone had once tried to keep a troll chained to harvest their scalp repeatedly to make tons of money, so now troll scalps were worthless to the Potent Rainbow Lions. Either way, believe me when I say that this is a lot of dead trolls.

We decided to wait for the other three to return and do what we could while we waited. I spent my time working on a water purification still in case whatever problem they found couldn’t be fixed immediately. There was a fair amount of scrap iron around, so it wasn’t too terribly difficult to rig up something basic. I’m sure that whatever was happening with the others was more interesting, so I’m going to leave a blank space here and have one of them fill it in later.

(Note: The section that follows appears to be in someone else's handwriting.)
Left behind at the fort, I found that I had plenty of time to myself. Contemplating the wretched state of the filth that live in this world got old, so I instead decided to work on my skills. A few of the mercenaries set up a target and we took turns practicing our marksmanship. The weapons they use are noisy and annoying. But I put up with them anyway. It was better to have competition to drive me to greater heights.

Later that morning, the mercenaries set out to deal with reports of troll sightings, leaving me without competition, so I instead focused on practicing my investigation skills. I managed to uncover a number of interesting secrets. It would amaze you how many of the fort’s soldiers were sleeping with each other. Even more than that, it would seem that few realized that their relationships weren’t exclusive.

I also found evidence that one of the soldiers had been skimming rations and selling them to line his own pockets. He was lucky he had already been killed by the ogres. I would not have been as nice. And with the wizard and knight gone, no one would have stopped me. I guess the militiaman might have said something, but I believe that I could have made him understand. And the giant could be distracted with something shiny.

I’m not sure how I got involved with this ragtag bunch of misfits, but we were working together now, seemingly bound by some kind of prophecy. I don’t know how much I care, but we were removing the filth from the world along the way, so I was just fine going along.

The next morning, we discovered that the water coming down the river was bad, so we decided to go look into it. The militiaman suggested we wait for either the mercenaries or the wizard and knight to return, but the giant and I outvoted him. The big guy was bored, but I could smell that this was more than just a simple case of tainted water. My pride as an investigator required that I turn over this particular rock and see what was underneath.

We barely made it into the woods before running into a troll. I made a note to myself to remind the mercenary captain about the importance of being thorough.

The giant slashed off the troll’s arm six times before the militiaman pointed out that we needed to burn the troll to prevent it from regenerating. Of course, I had already known that, but the giant seemed to be having fun. Some of us hang people from rooftops to learn their secrets, others enjoy hacking up monsters. We all need our hobbies.

As we continued upriver, the stench grew more repulsive. I recognized the sickly sweet smell of rotting human flesh. This was no accidental poisoning. When we found the source, I was certain that we would find evidence that it had been placed deliberately. I didn’t even need to subtle ogre musk to confirm that for me, though confirmation is always nice.

We crashed through the forest – between the giant and my yak, we really couldn’t sneak – until we reached a bend in the river. At the bend, we found a trio of ogres, morons all, piling bodies from a crude cart into the water. They were using steel spikes to anchor the putrid flesh in place so the corpses wouldn’t float down the river. Crude, but effective enough.

As soon as he saw the ogres, the giant charged. He cleaved the first ogre in twain before the others could react. Then, from the forest’s edge came another figure, a green hag. She touched the giant and I could see his muscles immediately fatigue. He was having trouble even raising his axe.

The ogres began laughing at his predicament. That was a mistake.

The giant’s face contorted with rage and he snarled. The ogres took an involuntary step back, but it was too late for them. He charged and swung his massive axe, separating both of their heads from their bodies in a single swing.

Meanwhile, the militiaman and I attacked the hag. His tentacles throttled her and I riddled her with arrows, driving her back. “You’re too late!” she cackled. “Even if you kill me, my sisters will finish the work. This valley will drown and the people of the village will be devoured by the Great One! The coven will serve the master in Lucrecia’s name!”

She probably would have continued talking, but the giant charged her. “SHUT. UP!” he roared, slashing her in half from top to taint. Looking around, he could not find an additional foe, so he began to calm, losing his rage-induced strength. His axe began to slip from his fingers. I walked over and cured the muscle damage the hag had inflicted on him.

“Look at this,” the militiaman called over to me. He was standing over one of the corpses from the cart. I walked over to inspect the corpse. Based on his scent, he had died from a combination of dysentery and a dagger to the chest. But that wasn’t what I was supposed to notice. No, he had been marked with the sihedron, just like so many other corpses we had seen. More sacrifices.

Poisoning the water had simply been a matter of convenience. They had the bodies handy, so it was either feed the ogres or poison the river. They probably did both. I’d bet that the wizard would be glad he wasn’t here.

“What she said…” the militiaman started.

“You thinking Turtleback Ferry is in danger?”

“I think it might be.”

“Let’s go, then. We can deal with the corpses in the water later.”

The trip to the village was a dreary affair, defined by rain and the smell of wet yak. We didn’t see any trolls or ogres, so I suspect that the mercenaries had been earning their pay.

When we arrived in town, people had already begun evacuating to the church. The weak always seek solace in religion when they should be taking the reins of their destiny in their own hands. Of course, there were those who hadn’t evacuated yet.

The town’s schoolteacher had taken her students out on a field trip during the rain for some reason. I will never understand humans. The teacher and her students had returned, but were now trapped near the school with a giant snake trying to eat them. Personally, I thought we should just let it eat a couple of the kids. It’s not like it was criminal scum. It’s just a snake, doing what snakes do. No reason to punish it and it would help thin the herd of the weak, stupid or slow. Either that or we could feed it whoever thought it was a good idea to build a school on the river bank.

Whatever we did, we had to choose quickly before the rising waters swept away all the children. So I followed the other two as we rushed to dispatch the snake, which wouldn’t likely be much of a threat to us.


The rains had gotten heavy when a traveler, bedraggled and caked in mud, banged on the gate. After making sure he was alone, the guards let him in and brought him to us immediately. “Please, milord,” he began immediately. “The rains are too heavy. Skull River and Claybottom Lake are going to overflow. Turtleback Ferry will be flooded and people are going to die. We need your help!”

“I’ll need a few minutes to prepare spells,” I said, glancing at Aurora. She nodded approvingly. “You rest here. We’ll try to save everyone.”

I prepared my spells, with a focus on utility. I had spells that would allow me to repair boats or damaged structures, spells for making whatever we needed out of raw materials – or my own blood if necessary – as well as spells to allow me to teleport short distances and coordinate the rescue efforts quickly. I also prepared a fun little spell that should help me rescue people and raise their spirits at the same time. Finally, I readied a small number of combat spells, since you never know what you’ll need.

We had spent enough time in Turtleback Ferry that I was certain I could teleport us there with no trouble. Aurora used her armor’s magic, turning Starbrite into an image on her armor, which meant I could teleport both us and our horses without straining my magic.

For the record, when you cast a long range teleportation spell, glowing runes surround you like something out of a game. It’s really freaking cool, even if the trip itself is a bit disconcerting. The human brain really wasn’t designed to handle being somewhere and suddenly showing up somewhere else.

We arrived to a torrential downpour, though at least the winds weren’t bad, maybe fifteen miles an hour. We spotted Lenn, Geo and Paulie over near the schoolhouse. They were fighting some kind of giant snake with a group of schoolchildren nearby. They seemed to have everything in hand.

Floodwaters already filled the streets, nearly half the town was under a couple feet of water. Lights in the windows showed that people had already evacuated to the church at the center of town. That could work. It was on a bit of a hill, though it was now at the edge of the water. With a bit of effort, we could somewhat waterproof the church’s first floor and keep everyone safe as we dug channels to turn the water away.

“Kyle!” Aurora said. “Look at the currents in the water!”

“Where?” I asked.

“Over in the lake near the shore. Look at that tree. It’s moving incredibly quickly.”

I looked over past the town’s tavern and bathouse to the lake. A sinking feeling grew in the pit of my stomach as I watched the massive dark shape moving along. “Please be wrong. Please be wrong. Oh, god, please let me be wrong,” I repeated, pulling out my spyglass.

“What is it?” Aurora asked.

I got a better look through the spyglass as the “tree” breached the bank. “That’s no tree!” I gasped.

And then the “tree” roared.

This section is pretty short, but only because the one that follows will be fairly long. That said, between the length of the next section, the fact that it occurs over several setpieces(meaning multiple planning sessions with the others) and certain considerations regarding work, it'll probably be a bit longer for the next update. I'd be surprised if it takes more than maybe Friday after next, though.

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Kyle's Version of the Trip to Absalom:

I woke up early to prepare for our trip to Absalom. After a few minutes of just watching Aurora sleep, I did a quick tour of the fort. For the most part, everyone was feeling a little better, though I’m sure they were all exhausted. A day’s rest, some healthy food and they’d be fine.

Of course, it’s hard to get a day’s rest when Lenn’s busy shouting. I could hear him clear from the other side of the fort. “I LIKE HOOKERS!” He sounded frustrated. I decided to go check it out before he started breaking walls.

I found Lenn in a common area. I froze upon spotting him. In his hand was the statue head we had recovered. “Lenn, why isn’t that head in the jar of oil?”

“IT DOESN’T WORK!” he growled, not answering me.

“Doesn’t work?” I sighed, knowing I needed to figure out what he was on about before I could get the dangerous object back safely in its oxygen blocking medium.

“I keep talking to it and it won’t talk back.”

“What.” Just because it was a head, he expected it to work like that damn shrunken head? That was it. I was going to make an adamantine leash and tether him to Geo. Then my inner troll took over. “Perhaps it’s protected by a code word. We’ll need to find a way to activate it.”

“Tell me how.”

“I’d have to research it, but we can try the most commonly used one. Hold it with one hand by the back of the head and look directly at it. Then repeat after me…” And so it was that at roughly five in the morning, I had Lenn acting out a scene from Hamlet. You know the one, but if you don’t it’s probably not going to be funny to you anyway.

After that didn’t work, Lenn got bored. “This is stupid,” he said, tossing the head over his shoulder. My heart leapt into my throat, but I managed to use simple magic to catch it before it hit the ground. I put it back in the jar, which I sealed and put in my pack. “Out of sight, out of mind” was especially true for Lenn.

We left right around dawn. I promised myself I would put the prophecy’s suggestion of our imminent demise from my head while we were gone. I would try to enjoy myself and show Aurora a good time.

It was around eight in the morning upon arrival. Aurora wondered if the trip had taken time, but understood quickly after I explained the concept of time zones. I was impressed. She seemed to get it faster than people back home. Hell, one of my best friends in high school probably still views time zones as some kind of dark witchcraft perpetrated by the sun god, Helios.

Never let it be said that Aurora isn’t intelligent. She’s well above average, probably in the top fifteen percent back home. But even in spite of her lesser Golarion education, there are some concepts she seems to get on an amazingly intuitive level. Languages, for instance. I have an IQ of over One-Ninety. I can fluently speak and read a half-dozen languages. But I’m amazed by the ease Aurora picks up languages. She has a natural gift and seems to learn them in half the time I do when she feels like it.

Upon arrival, we went down through my favorite shop district – partially to make a few purchases both for the trip and for the return to the fort and partially just to say hello to some old friends – before heading to the orphanage. I always loved to go see the kids. I feel like I have so much in common with them. In a way, I’m an orphan myself.

While there I used magic to restock their art supplies, letting the cleric who runs the orphanage attribute it to a miracle. Then I gave him one hundred and eight platinum coins to pay for education for the kids. I also told the kids a story and handed out all the toys I had been secretly collecting for them on my travels.

Before you ask, no, none of them are mine. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t have any kids yet. There’s only one woman I’ve ever slept with without some kind of birth control. I tried looking her up, but I found that she had died around five years ago. The investigator said he hadn’t heard anything about her having any kids. In her honor, I had already had Chadwick begin building a brand new orphanage large enough to take care of all of the kids the old building held and dozens more. I like to hope that an acolyte of Shelyn would find it a fitting tribute to the love I had for her. I like to think that wherever she is now, she’s smiling down on us.

After leaving the orphanage, we headed for the Voidstrife estate. There, I introduced Aurora to Chadwick, his wife Phoebe and their little one, Alistair, who I also met for the first time. He’s a cute kid, aside from his nose, which he inherited from his father. I was glad to discover that my other two adopted brothers had gone out of town on business, so I didn’t have to put up with them. I shuddered to think about the inappropriate things they would have said to Aurora.

I was startled to learn that Phoebe recognized Aurora. I had known Phoebe had family back in Taldor, but to think that she had been there during Aurora’s victory parade…either way, it was a fun fact to learn and I got to watch Aurora blush at all the attention.

Chadwick informed me that my old teacher, Nepulos, had passed away. He was more than just a teacher. He was a good friend. He was maybe a decade older than I and had the greatest kids. I hadn’t seen them in a year or so, but his son was probably twelve by now and their daughter fourteen. I kinda hope she’s given up on her declaration that she would marry me when she grew up. She was seven when she said it, so I have some faith that it was just one of those things that little girls do, but still. I may be dressed like Dresden, but I don’t need my own Molly.

Nepulos had apparently left me a copy of some advanced work he was doing with an out of town visitor. When Chadwick went to pick it up, however, it had been taken by someone else. And that’s why I was in town. I needed to meet with these people to get the documents. Unfortunately, it was the White Grotto that had them.

Let me explain something. Throughout history minstrels and bards have always had spies amongst their ranks. People love entertainers. They have access to places and people that other people just can’t get at.

It’s a little known fact that every “bardic college” in Golarion contains a group of spies. I know this because the leader of one such group told me so. He didn’t tell me out of the kindness of his heart. No, he wanted me to join the Hidden Grotto, the White Grotto’s secret spy network. When I said no, they drugged me and left me naked in the room of a nobleman’s live-in mistress, who was probably part of the network. I barely got away with my skin intact. I didn’t tell anyone other than Chadwick. No one would believe that’s why I was there, not with my reputation. It did get out that I refused to join the White Grotto, but that was portrayed as a musician not wanting to join a guild.

They didn’t come right out and say that it was the White Grotto who had Nepulos’ notes. They left me a note with a few notes from a song that the nobleman’s mistress had taught me while I was tying sheets together to climb down from her window. As I was leaving, she told me the name of a tavern. I didn’t know the reason and avoided it out of paranoia. That was where they wanted me to go there that evening. If not the tavern, then the square outside it was our destination but either way, we’d be in the right area.

That evening, Aurora and I made our way to the tavern. Outside, I spotted someone familiar, one of the lackeys of the highest ranked member of the Grotto’s spy network that I knew. I hated that slimy toad and had no reason to go ahead with the planned meeting. Instead, Aurora and I made our way straight to the man’s boss. Not that I was fond of him either, but at least I could skip the rest of long, drawn out process he had planned.

We went to the Hidden Grotto’s secret headquarters in the Ivy District, a place I wasn’t supposed to know existed, by the way. I had to show them that I wasn’t playing around and had picked up a few of their secrets as well. I bullied my way past the door guard and we made our way inside.

Marco, the man we had come to see, didn’t seem too surprised to see us. He acted like it, but I could tell it was all for show. He had one of his men show me the first page of the work he had confiscated. It was interesting, to be sure, a clockwork construct with spell casting capability. But that’s not what most piqued my interest. In a simple cipher on the page, there was another message to me. It read, “Nepulos also left you a magically encoded journal. We haven’t tried to break the enchantment for fear of it being destroyed in the process, but we think that whatever is within is what he got killed for.”

I’ll be honest. That piqued my interest. I already knew the answer, but I asked what their price was. Of course, I was right. They wanted me to join them. Marco couched it in terms as joining the guild for Aurora’s benefit, but I knew what he wanted. I sign the contract, I make the deal with the devil and I’m a spy.

I weighed both sides. Would what was in that journal be worth what they asked for? Would they only want what information I turned up on my own or would they require me to go into dangerous situations to get intelligence they specifically needed? The way he worded it, I was just supposed to keep an eye out for things they’d want to know, but I couldn’t really know if that would change.

As if my conscious thoughts weren’t bad enough, my subconscious decided to chime in as well. “Covert ops has its perks. You travel, make your own hours and expense most of your meals. The downside? Lots of people want you dead.” I only saw the image of Michael Westen out of the corner of my eye, but heard his voice clear as day.

Great. Okay, then. “And what do I get out of this? If it’s just the schematics, then the price is too high.”

“We’ll give you access to more than just that. As a member of the college, you’ll have access to a number of resources that will help you on your journey, including rare magical texts that even the Pathfinders don’t have.”

That certainly sweetened the pot. But was it enough? Without moving my head, I shot a glance to the imaginary super spy standing next to me. “Work around spies for a while, and you learn to be careful when it looks like you're getting what you want. That's when you tend to let your guard down - get careless.” So, a healthy level of paranoia was called for. But what should I do? “For a spy, getting someone to lie for you serves a number of purposes. It's less about the lie itself, no matter how useful it is. It's more about how it changes your relationship with your target. Once a guy lies for you, for better or for worse, your fates are tied together.”

Alright. I needed to define our relationship in a way where I had some power. Marco has influence both in the main and shadow organizations. I needed to make sure everyone knew that he was the one who came crawling to me. That way, if I needed an out, Chadwick would have something to work with to help protect me.

“Still not enough,” I said aloud.

“Then tell me what I have to add to sweeten the deal enough to make you accept.” I smiled at Marco’s statement. He was playing right into my hands.

And that’s how the portly recruiter for the White Grotto and its less known companion, the Hidden Grotto, ended up lighting a flaming bag of doggy-doo on the doorstep of the Pathfinder’s Grand Lodge on a busy street in front of any gods watching and a large number of eyewitnesses.

Of course, he had to get his own cheap shot in and made me audition to join. I told the man who brought me the documents that I would play a song for Aurora and if he wanted to count that as an audition, then that was fine. Obviously, I killed the audition, performing “Con Te Partiro”. I also managed to make Aurora blush, so big bonus there.

The designs were amazing. They were from a construct called a clockwork mage. Whomever the visitor was, he had destroyed one and was trying to figure out how to make them from the remains. Nepulos had already filled in a lot of the details, but they were unfinished. Whatever had gotten him killed had happened before he could finish.

It was the most complex construct I had ever seen. It used something called a “wand crystal” to emulate spell casting and if I was reading it correctly, it could do it at a nine CL output. I’ve talked about it before, but let’s go into greater detail.

All spells require a certain amount of magical energy input into them to cast and most spells can be given more energy for greater effect. Most wizards don’t worry about the actual numbers, but my scientific background requires me to classify. I could go on and describe things in more complex scientific terms, but instead I’ve decided to couch things in gaming terms. I mean, I’m a wizard. If that doesn’t sound like it calls for game terms, you’re not from my world. So I call each of these discrete steps “Caster Levels” or “CL” for short. A simple bolt of force requires an input of one CL. Making that two bolts requires a two CL increase, for a total of three CL for a single spell.

The amount of energy required to get a greater effect is not static. For each discrete increase in power, you have an increase in input require that is roughly
110% of the last increase in power. So if one CL requires 1 unit of power input, two CLs has a power level of 2.1, three requires an input of 3.31, four is roughly 4.64 and so on.

Each spell matrix has a minimum input required to generate an effect as well as a maximum amount of extra power you can put in to overcharge it for greater effect. The force bolt described above can accept up to nine CL of input, yielding five force bolts. At that point, however, you’re slinging 13.58 units of magical energy. But the spell at that point is no more complex, it’s simply stronger.

More complex spells require a higher minimum power input to get off the ground. I’ve talked about more complex spells before, giving them a “spell level” that corresponds to their complexity rating. I often use the two terms interchangeably. Anyway, back on topic. A bolt of lightning 120 feet long has a complexity rating of three. As such, it takes a CL of 5 to cast. On the upside, it has a lot more power to throw into damaging a target, so it does a lot more damage than a simple force bolt. Indeed, though it’s more complex, it does damage perhaps more efficiently, dealing roughly the same amount of damage as five force bolts – which again took 9 CLs of power to get – making up for the drawbacks of complexity.

Wizards are the masters of efficiency in this regard. We cast complex spells with a lower CL input required than sorcerers, who don’t necessarily understand the spells and just brute force them into existence. Nevertheless, without modification to the spells through complex adjustments known as “Meta-magic”, the maximum output of a spell is the same for both.

With that primer in mind, wand crystals allow the construct to channel a nine CL output, but the constructs are limited on the complexity of the spells they can emulate. Where I could use that nine CL to burst out a spell with a complexity rating of five, the wand crystals can only emulate spells of up to complexity three. What’s more is that they can only store up to two spells of complexity one, two spells of complexity two and one of complexity three and all have to be from the same school of magic.

On the other hand, what they lack in variety, they make up for in staying power. I can only mentally prepare a few spells of complexity one before I have to sacrifice “slots” used for more complex spells. The wand crystal could cast complexity one spells it had programmed into it all day. More complex spells “overheat” the matrix and are more limited, but it’s still very powerful. Hell, its power output is equal to my own current level.

That said, my own power level has been going up at a rapid pace. Way back when we first met Lenn, Geo and Paulie, my reliable output was at one CL. Since then, it has gone up to nine. In ten years of study, I had only managed to achieve a starter level, but now my magical output was pretty amazing.

I’ve started to wonder if perhaps it’s because I’ve been stuck in so many life or death situations. Try to follow me here. Back in Absalom, when casting spells for practice, you try to improve slowly but surely. It’s like increasing the weight on your barbell by two pounds every couple months. You’ll see muscle growth, but it’s slow. Whereas now, I don’t have time to modulate the amount above my current known level I throw out. I just heave as much as I can and hope I don’t hurt myself. It’s more dangerous, sure, but it damn well seems to work faster.

I studied the schematics for several hours, doing work in my head that would have taken most people three chalkboards. I mapped energy pathways, gear placements and whatnot else, then began making my own adjustments for efficiency. As I worked, I realized that I could change it even further. I could make it more than a protector. I could make it into a second skin.

As I worked on the possibilities, I realized that I could turn myself into the steampunk version of a space marine. That meant I needed a gun. And that’s something I could make.

I used an illusion spell to show everyone what I was thinking, humming the Jimmy Neutron theme while doing it. Aurora seemed especially impressed.

Actually, I think Aurora had been enjoying herself all day. I kept catching her staring at me when she thought I wasn’t looking. It was most evident when we were at the orphanage. She was sitting there, with one of the little kids sitting in her lap, a wistful smile on her face and just watching me. I really wanted to sing “Eyes On Me” and declare my love for her then and there, but we had already talked about it and I knew that I didn’t have a shot. Plus, it would have been unfair to do so when the kids were watching.

While we played Settlers of Cataan, she just relaxed in a way I hadn’t seen before. She cut loose and laughed deeply as we played and joked through the afternoon. No one got why I laughed when Chadwick said he had “wood for sheep”, but that’s okay. I’m used to being misunderstood.

And when we sat there watching Marco light that bag of dog poop on fire and run away, she was crouched almost shoulder to shoulder with me, close enough that I heard her giggling – yes! Giggling! – as he lost his sandal and had to go back.

That night, when I told her that I had arranged for her to sleep in the guest room next to me, she insisted that she be allowed to share my room. That didn’t bother me at all, so I showed her my room and told her we could have someone move another bed into the room. She then insisted that my bed was more than large enough for both of us. This was true. It’s bigger than a California King and could easily hold the two of us. Hell, it can hold me and four young ladies – don’t ask – so I know that it can fit the two of us with plenty of spare room. Nonetheless, it felt like she was sending me conflicting messages. Was she interested or wasn’t she? The fact that she changed into her slinkier nightgown wasn’t helping me decide. So I just hoped that she was planning to take the initiative and jump me.

I remembered one thing that I had been meaning to do and took momentary leave by telling Aurora I was off to look for a servant to bring in a basin for washing our faces. Then I went and found Chadwick. The two of us went to our workshop and I handed him my special magic wand. “Use this one me after I cast the third spell.”

First, I used a spell to make myself larger. Then I used a spell to increase my muscle mass. Finally, I cut my palm and used a spell to fabricate something, using my own blood in place of the requisite materials. The price paid, blood swirled and formed into an exquisitely crafted set of armor made just for my knight. Chadwick used the wand on me once and I used it several more times to cure the damage before the self-enhancements wore off.

“Kyle, is this adamantine?!” Chadwick asked.

I grinned. “Damn straight. Also, the padding is a material from back home. We call it memory-foam. After a few wearings, it will mold perfectly to the wearer. It will also wick away sweat and heat.” He seemed impressed. “You can copy the spells out of my spellbook, though you’ll need knowledge of a material’s construction to make it.”

I returned to my room and climbed into my ridiculously comfortable bed and realized just how much I had missed it. Don’t get me wrong, the beds at the Rusty Dragon are fine, but they’re not made of an alchemically-derived foam developed thanks to funds from a traveler used to better beds than found anywhere in the world. Sadly, Aurora was already in bed and asleep when I laid down. She was on the far side of the bed, her back to me. I sighed softly in disappointment and went to sleep.

The nightmares came as they always did now, but they were a lot less severe than normal. And, as had happened a lot lately, they disappeared in a lilac-scented haze and were replaced by a comfortable sleep.

I awoke maybe three hours later to an even stronger scent of lilacs and a soft warmth on my left side. I opened my eyes and realized that Aurora was pressed against me, her head on my bare chest and her hand on my stomach. My arm was around her, resting on her side. In truth, I had long dreamed about waking up with her like this, at least since nursing her through her near death from alcohol withdrawal. I think that might have been when I realized I had fallen for her.

But dammit these mixed signals were driving me crazy.

“Just wake her with a kiss and ravish her. She’s only sending mixed signals because she wants you as much as you want her but doesn’t know how to say it,” I heard a voice say.

I glanced over and saw her sitting there in the kind of lingerie you only see on supermodels in the really good underwear catalogs. And she had the body to match it. Anyone who looked at her would tell you that the woman sitting at my bedside was a nine or a ten. Yet, no matter how hot she was, she was one woman I’d never sleep with, because she was me.

Once again, Fleur de Lis is the name I gave the other me. When I was stuck in that form, I had practiced all the little moves that many women learn naturally to draw and hold gazes and the result was that Fleur was a sexpot. She always wears the most sensuous clothing, her hair is always just so and her hips sway in just the right way as she walks to hypnotize anyone that sees her pass.

I’m not saying that she could bed any man she chooses. I’m saying that she could bed anyone she chooses, male or female. But that’s not really important. What is important is what she represented to my mind. She’s the manifestation of my subconscious, my baser urges unfiltered by self-control or more than basic, primal morality. She’s the part of me that doesn’t care about the consequences, the part that lives in the moment and does whatever the hell it pleases.

Even before I started having these strange and probably psychotic visions of fictional people coming to talk to me, she had been there. Even before I got turned into a woman, she was a part of me. She’s simply just a part of me. At one point, we were indistinguishable. We truly were one person. But at some point, I disassociated and she became a separate entity within my mind. She started out as just a little voice in the back of my head. When I went back for the Chelish ambassador’s daughter, she had been there. She was there for every seduction as well as many non-sexual risks I took. Introducing bungee jumping to Absalom? All her. I never went along with the idea, but she had suggested it. Even slapping Ameiko’s ass had been her idea.

Don’t get me wrong, the decision to go along with her ideas is all on my conscious mind, but she was still a part of it. And now she had turned her attention towards Aurora. Not that I’m surprised. If there’s anything in the world I want more than everything else, more than even going home, it’s Aurora. I want her to love me like I love her. But I don’t think it’s to be.

“Don’t give me that. Can’t you see? It’s obvious that she wants you to make a move! Grab her ass! Tear off her clothes! Quit waffling, you moron!” I was suddenly taken back to the time I had yelled the very same thing at the TV while watching “Ah! My Goddess!!” Had I really turned into Keiichi Morisato? Was I that blind? Was I really missing just how much this girl with me loved me?

No, I told myself. She’s just trying to get in your head. She knows what you know and is using it to make you do what she wants. Ignore her.

Fleur rolled her eyes at me as I pulled the book out from under my pillow. I conjured a small light, large enough to read by but small enough not to bother Aurora. Sure enough, it looked like a book of fairy stories, just as Marco’s minion had said. But I could see the inconsistencies immediately. He was right, it was an enchanted tome. And I knew how to break the enchantment and find what was hidden.

It was actually quite simple. I just had to find the first inconsistency to figure out which of the predetermined passwords Nepulos had used, then speak the password. That took less than two minutes.

I can’t even begin to tell you just how awestruck I was by what was inside. I think the best way to describe the book is to call it a textbook, though that doesn’t even do it justice. It was filled with schematics, equations and element diagrams, describing materials I had never even heard of. Whoever had written this had access to technology and science perhaps hundreds of years beyond current earthling understanding.

And what was even more amazing is that whoever had owned this book had no idea what he had. He focused on the simplest of things. More complex concepts were completely devoid of the owner’s notes. I could be wrong, but I think the owner of this was some kind of graduate student, or at least the equivalent. He could understand the basics, but he didn’t have the background to understand anything more.

I, on the other hand, have a background in physics, chemistry, math and technology needed. I’ve mentioned that I was a freshman in college when I left Earth. I’ve also mentioned that I have a greater than one-ninety IQ. What I haven’t mentioned is that I had been studying college level curriculum online since middle school. I maintained a lazy image. I was always watching anime or cartoons, but at the same time, I was also always reading and expanding my mind. They say that people are actually quite horrible at multi-tasking, but I must be the exception, at least when it comes to video entertainment and studying. You don’t believe me? I have three peer reviewed papers in major scientific journals and was about to submit a patent for a new kind of computer chip that would probably be in every mobile device at this point if I hadn’t been taken to Golarion. Look the articles up. And if someone found my papers on the chip after I disappeared, you’re welcome.

The book described weapons, space suits(!), cybernetic implants and various and sundry gadgets. What’s more is that the math and other tech implied things that were far beyond what was actually inside. Hell, if I applied the principles within, I’m pretty sure I could create a functional warp drive. Yes, that’s what I said. Faster than light travel. The only problem is that nothing in the book described anything close to the type of power source I’d need to actually run the damn thing. At least, nothing I could use that would be small enough to fit on a ship. I’m sure that if I hooked it up to enough planetary based power plants, I could make it produce a large enough “bubble” to move a large vessel, but that wouldn’t do me any good. Not even anti-matter would provide what I needed. The problem would be power generation.

And the tech was merely the beginning. I had spent ten years studying not just the practical aspects of wizardry, but also its theory. I’m certain that with a little time, I could create a hybrid of magic and technology unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Hell, even while lying there, I had worked out a way to improve the batteries described within into magical ones that recharged once per day by drawing energy from the magical field that surrounds everything.

And I managed to do all that while Fleur sat there trying to convince me to put away the book and do something to or with the amazingly beautiful girl asleep next to me. But I used my skills to focus on what I was doing. I wouldn’t have even realized anything was going on if Fleur hadn’t suddenly stopped singing halfway through “Kiss the Girl”.

I looked up from the book and Fleur was standing right next to the bed, grinning like an idiot. That alarmed the hell out of me, so I set down the book. “What?” I sub-vocalized, a bit alarmed.

“Way to go, champ! I was afraid you didn’t have it in you!”

What was she talking about? And why did she suddenly remind me of Bob the skull? At that moment, I suddenly realized that my left hand was touching something warm and soft yet tantalizingly firm. I squeezed softly and Aurora let out a soft moan. I turned my head slowly and realized that my hand was firmly on Aurora’s beautiful backside. She wasn’t awake, thank God, but still.

In my defense, I panicked. I want you to remember that. Never forget that what happened next wasn’t planned. It was an accident. I swear it was an accident. Please, you have to believe me.

I yanked my hand away and up. It got snagged on Aurora’s nightgown, also yanking it up. Fleur cheered and Aurora stirred slightly. I sat there in shock just staring at Aurora’s now bare chest. Still asleep, Aurora’s arm wrapped further around me and she pulled herself closer to me, pressing her bare flesh into mine.

Still trying to get comfortable, Aurora kicked her left leg over me and now my thigh was directly in her crotch, separated only by the thin fabric of her underpants. My brain may be good at multi-tasking, but a million thoughts at once was far too many for even me. I just sat there, mouth agape, staring. I probably would have sat there, unable to react, until Aurora woke up if I hadn’t noticed something in the faint light of the magical illumination I had conjured earlier.

Aurora’s torso had a number of wicked scars on it. “Battle injuries?” I subvocalized. I craned my neck and looked at her back – not once did I stare and her almost naked behind – and found almost nothing. Every one of these injuries had hit her while in combat. At no point had she been running away. She had stood and faced her foes.

Without thinking, I reached out and touched the scar on the top of her left breast. Let me correct that. My fingers touched the scar. The palm of my hand touched something else. It wasn’t on purpose. It just kinda happened. It might not have even occurred to me that I was groping her had she not let out another soft moan and pressed herself harder against my thigh.

I jerked back my hand and took a few deep breaths. I then slowly pulled myself away just enough to allow me to use some light magical telekinesis to pull down her nightgown once more. Her stomach was still bared, but that would have to do. I pulled the covers up over us, extinguished the magical light, and just lied there, staring at her beautiful face, breathing in the soft scent of her hair and listening to the soft, contented sound of her breathing.

Fleur sang “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” before disappearing.

We lay like that for maybe half an hour before Aurora stirred. I saw her eyes open. She laid there for several moments, trying to assess the situation. “Sleep well?” I asked softly.

All of her muscles tensed. It felt like it was all she could do not to catapult herself out of the bed. “I- I must have gotten cold in the night,” she stammered.

Oh. So that’s what it was. She wasn’t horny. She was cold. “Well, we have several hours til dawn. No reason to get up yet. If you think you’ll still get cold, feel free to fall back asleep here.” I did the best I could to hide my disappointment, but I’m not sure I was entirely successful.

She just nodded and laid her head back on my chest, this time moving closer so her full head and not just her cheek was on me. It didn’t take her long to fall back into a deep slumber.

I laid there for another hour, reading one of the other books the Hidden Grotto had provided – an omnibus of Thassilonian legends – before getting out of bed. I didn’t want to. Of course I didn’t. The woman I loved was in my arms. I didn’t want to get up at all. But I had to. It was either a long cold shower or more fondling and I already felt guilty as hell. Also, those legends were really creepy. I was simultaneously turned on and mildly terrified, which was really confusing my body.

Yes, I said shower. Of course we had magically powered indoor plumbing.

After my shower – which did absolutely nothing to help, I might add – I headed downstairs. I found Chadwick having breakfast. “Did the other book have anything interesting?” Chadwick asked after I greeted them, using our old signals to confirm that the room was shielded against scrying.
I nodded. “I need you to deliver a message to Marco for me.”

One of his eyebrows rose. “Oh?”

“It was a Technic League textbook, as far as I can tell. Tell Marco that it’s imperative that they not learn that we know anything about tech. My name is especially not to be mentioned. If they find out we got ahold of that book, there could be war. And if they understand even half of the tech inside the book, if there is war, we’ll lose. It won’t even be close.”

“Surely it can’t be that bad,” Chadwick said.

“It’s even worse,” I said. “I’m working on figuring things out even now. We need to get agents into the Technic League as soon as possible to assess the threat. Don’t give me that look. If I’m going to do this spy thing, I’m going to do it right,” I answered his gaping look.

While Chadwick went to make the arrangements, I began working on bringing together everything that had been running through my head since I had first cracked open the book. In my mind’s eye, I could see formulas and schematics fill the air around me. With swipes of my hands, I moved things, ordering my mind through this mental projection.

Fleur appeared and began helping me. “Let’s get down to business to defeat the Huns!” she sang out. As we worked, I joined her. It took us nearly four songs in our Disney medley before something began to take shape.

It was humanoid in form and glinted in the sunlight streaming in through my giant window despite being nothing more than a figment of my imagination. It had a faceplate made of green plastic and metallic plates in a number of key spots, though much of it was made of a mesh supported by a sturdier frame. It almost looked like…

“Silver Crow,” Fleur finished the thought that was forming. It was fitting. I had created this in my mind and Silver Crow was in effect a mental model. But it was also pure coincidence. I had simply taken the base design of the Clockwork Mage and altered it into something more futuristic, replacing all of its metal parts with pure mithral and covering up the clockwork with a mithral/carbon nanotube mesh.

But the pure metal glint just wasn’t me. “A little help?” I asked Fleur. She nodded and manifested a rebreather and spray painted the whole thing for me. What was left was black with a number of visible circuit patterns in a royal purple. She then pulled out the green faceplate and replaced it with one of a purple-tinged clear material.

We both looked it over when she was done. After a moment, she said what we were thinking. “It’s missing something.” I had to agree with the part of myself she represented. Something was missing. But what? As I considered, she suggested something. “Try putting it on.”

I concentrated for a moment and imagined myself in the suit. The inside was missing a Heads-Up Display. It also lacked an operating system I could work with. “When in doubt, ask yourself What Would Tony Do?” Tony Stark had given his suit an AI. I considered what I’d learned and I’m fairly certain I could create something like a quantum computer small enough to implant in the suit. From there, I’m pretty sure I could create my own AI.

I imagined the implantation of an AI core. A HUD began booting up. Words scrolled across my visor. "I saw you in Heaven and heard of your glory. You saved our world from the fallen angels. I saw messiah standing, Standing before me with no words. Nothing but ‘hope’. When we lost dread, a Demon was laughing. But now you are showing us wonder. Giving your love. With awe, down on my knees again. I've got to know you're the one. The only one reveals the world..."

I grinned. That was what I needed. More than just an AI for the suit, but a true AI assistant. And I already knew that this one would suit me. “Then this is what we’ll create,” I said. “Juiz, provide me with some music. I feel like singing.”

A woman’s voice responded. “Understood. Noblesse Oblige. I look forward to your continued services as a savior.”

Chadwick returned perhaps a half hour later. “So, you still planning on showing me your new masterwork spell? Or was that it last night?”

“Creating matter out of nothing more than a blood sacrifice and magical energy? That was cool and all, but it wasn’t my work. That was simply application of old Thassilonian magic. My spell is all me.”

“Then let’s see this spell.”


In the workshop, I cast the spell for him. It wasn’t flashy. A door simply appeared before us. We opened it and he helped me carry Aurora’s new armor inside. Inside was a clean, futuristic workshop. The walls were lined with robot bays. We set the armor on a workbench and robots sprung to life, nine of them.

Chadwick jumped. “What the hell are those?”

“We are geth, Chadwick-Creator,” one of the robots said.


“Relax. They’re here to help us craft things. They’re skilled assistants in all types of crafting. I’m sure I can even use them to help create technological devices.”

“That is well within our parameters, Kyle-Creator.”

I beamed at my adopted brother. “Shall we get to work?”

He still looked dubious, but we got to work. With the help of Chadwick and the geth, we got eleven days worth of work done in a single day.

When we finished, I had a servant move the armor to the spare room next to mine. I also had someone find out where Aurora was for me. She was in the bath, so I had time alone with my thoughts. Not a good place to be. I couldn’t let her see me worrying.

I used a spell to alert me when she was returning. When she was almost there, I began singing the more uplifting section of Let It Go. She didn’t need to know that the whole point of the song was that the singer was lying to herself. It just sounded good. Then I sang a couple other songs and took her hand to dance with her. It was a lot of fun.

Afterwards, I showed her the new armor. She was amazed by it, which made me incredibly happy. Almost as happy as I was that she would be much safer in the new armor, which would not only protect her more but also allow her to be incredibly comfortable, even sleeping in it if necessary.

As I helped her into her adamantine plate, I was thinking about her scars. I wished I could make her even better armor, perhaps reactive armor or force fields or something. As I considered the options, Aurora spoke. “Kyle, you don’t have to go back to Varisia.”

That startled me. Did she not want me around her? Had I made her mad? Not that I could blame her. I did what I could to keep my tone neutral. “Oh?”

“I mean, it’s not that I want to get rid of you. It’s just that since we’ve come here, you’ve been so relaxed and at peace. It’s like night and day. It hurts me to see you so scared all the time. And it would only be until we took care of whatever is going on, then I could come get you.”

So she was worried about me. I felt relieved. “I’m afraid that it would be no good,” I said as I continued to work. “I would be a wreck worried about what might be happening with you all with no wizard to both overcomplicate and solve problems that require semi-phenomenal, nearly-cosmic power.”

“We could get another spell caster if it would make you feel better.”

I began to laugh inside as the image of a grinning Salarian appeared in my mind’s eye. I managed to keep from laughing aloud, keeping it down to a smirk. “Sorry. Has to be me. Someone else might get it wrong.”

“But you seem so happy here.”

To some degree it was true. But mostly, it was just a front. So I just nodded. “A vacation has done me good. But I have to continue this journey. If I leave this unfinished, if I allow someone else to complete this task, then I feel that I might never move forward. Perhaps it’s unfair that I have to involve myself. So what? This world isn’t a fair place. I’ve known that since I was ten, when I discovered just how much people even on my own world were suffering from poverty and disease. All I could do then was send part of my allowance to charities that were trying to help. I did the same thing with the orphanage here once I had the ability to do so. So what?

“It’s not enough. The world still isn’t nice, it still isn’t fair. People who don’t deserve it suffer and die every single day. So what? So somebody ought to do something about it. For the first time in my life, I have one such problem in front of me and the power to put my foot down. The power to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘This ends here. You will hurt these people no more. Not on my watch.’ I know it’s not like I’m solving all the world’s problems. People who don’t deserve it will continue to suffer and die. But if I can do this much, if I can make the world a bit better place by stopping whomever this foe is, I have to do it. I can’t allow it to continue, no matter the cost to myself. So I must press on, whether it’s stubborn pride, altruism or fear of never growing beyond what I am today. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. After all, I have to be close in case you get cold again.” I did my best to keep from grinning as I said the last part.

“I wish I had your certainty. I don’t think I could do something like that. I’m just doing my duty. As a knight, it is my job to protect the common folk. It’s a fine duty, but I envy your conviction.”

I did my best not to scream in frustration. I was getting tired of her not seeing what an amazing person she was. “Alright. That’s it. You and I are going on a side trip, oh Hero of Taldor.”

She tried to protest, but I would have none of it.

I took Aurora to a house in a poorer part of town. Chadwick had told me about this family. The father had lost his leg working as a mercenary. His two sons – ages fourteen and sixteen – worked outside the home to support the family, since the father could no longer find work. His daughter – age nineteen – kept the house during the day and worked in the evenings at a tavern. His wife had died some time back from one of those many illnesses we had long ago turned into a non-issue back home. Or maybe she had gotten a splinter and died of infection. It’s hard to recall the specifics, since so many people die of so many ridiculous things around here.

Even with three people working, they weren’t pulling in much. When the girl, a pretty blonde, answered the door, I was struck by how malnourished she looked. At that moment, I swore to myself that we wouldn’t leave this place without rectifying their situation. I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish it yet, but I knew I had a few options that might work. I just needed to learn more of their situation.

In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t change much. Thousands, perhaps millions, would still go hungry this night. What difference could I make? I’d bet that I could make great change over time, but doing this would bet but a drop in the ocean. It wouldn’t make a difference.

I’m drawn to recall the story of the Star Thrower. You’ve probably heard the motivational speaker version of it. Yeah, on the beach full of millions of starfish dying, picking one up and throwing it back into the ocean wouldn’t make any difference to the endless beach. But for that one starfish, it would make a world of difference.

And that would be enough. For today at least, it would be enough. I would change the world one day, but today I would change the stars for one family.

The beautiful young woman led us to her father. I was moved when he struggled to his feet – well, foot, since he was missing a leg – and saluted Aurora when he realized who she was. As he told Aurora his story, I watched her face. For this, I was rewarded with spotting the very moment when she began to realize that she too had thrown starfish back in the ocean, in her own way. She doesn’t like to think of herself as a hero, but today she was forced to see that, at least to some degree, she very much was.

The blonde girl returned from the kitchen with some stools and a couple tankards of watery mead. She then asked for my help in the kitchen. She said she needed help reaching something. Now, she was short, perhaps an inch or so taller than Aurora, but I didn’t really buy it. It didn’t take much to see what she really wanted.

Well, I guess, if I’m being honest, I suspect she was trying to trap a wealthy husband. But that wasn’t going to happen. I had taken my dose of bachelor’s snuff that morning. And I guess it’s unfair to assume that she was a gold digger. It’s entirely possible that she’s a fan of my music and really wanted to show her appreciation. Or maybe it’s considered an honor by the young women of Absalom to have sex with me for some reason I’m not aware of. Or maybe she was just horny and thinks I’m hot.

Regardless of the reason, once we were in the kitchen, she pointed out something on a top shelf that she claimed to really need. When I turned around, her dress was on the floor. Normally, I would have at least shown the prudence of finding a better location. But today wasn’t normal. My veins burned with lust after accidentally seeing and mostly accidentally touching Aurora’s naked flesh.

I pulled a blanket from my magic bag, used my bracers to turn my clothing into a couple almost nonexistent strips of cloth and took her right there on the dirt floor. Twice in twenty minutes. I was actually a bit surprised, I usually last longer than that. Then again, my mind’s eye replaced the young woman with whom I was lying with an image of Aurora. No amount of thinking of baseball or something else boring would have helped. My partner seemed to enjoy herself as much as I enjoyed myself.

Once we were done, we put our clothes back on and returned to where Aurora and the disabled veteran were talking. Aurora looked annoyed with me for some reason. I’m tempted to believe that she’s jealous, but that’s probably wishful thinking. I really wish it wasn’t, but we had a discussion about us and she said she wasn’t interested in a relationship, so I’ll have to assume that’s still the case until she says otherwise.

My brain was firing on all cylinders for the first time since that morning’s incident. The solution to the family’s situation was obvious. I pulled out a piece of paper and jotted down a quick note and handed it to the man. “Take this to the temple of Abadar. There’s a cleric there who will regenerate your missing leg. Don’t worry about payment. I have an account with them that should have enough funds in it to cover it.”

The man blinked. “My lord, I don’t know what to say. This is a generous gift.”

I held up a finger. I wasn’t done yet. I pulled out another scrap of paper and wrote another note. “After you’ve taken care of that, go see this man. Tell him I sent you. He runs a small mercenary group that works as guards for warehouses and local merchants. Someone with your experience will have little trouble getting hired with him.”

Tears filled the man’s eyes. “Milord! I can’t accept all of these generous gifts,” he said.

Aurora stepped in. “I wouldn’t argue with him. He’s not known for taking no for an answer when he gets like this. Besides, it’ll make both of us happy to help you get back on your feet.” She smiled. “I can make it an order, if you need me to do so.”

The man shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, Lieutenant. I will accept your aid gladly. Thank you. Both of you.”

I then pulled out a small pouch of coins. Yeah, I know, I carry a lot of pouches of coins. I have a lot of pockets and this way, if I get pickpocketed, I won’t lose everything. I glanced within and it held maybe fifty coins, maybe a two-thirds gold to one-third silver split. I handed it to the blond girl. “There should be enough here to feed the four of you for at least a few weeks. No, don’t even think of refusing. I insist.” I turned to her father. “Just do a good job. That’s all I ask.”

After we left, I asked Aurora if she was upset, since she seemed to be. She denied it, but I could tell she wasn’t being completely honest. I’m guessing that being face-to-face with poverty wasn’t sitting well with her. I mean, the other option was that she was jealous and I want that far too much to believe I’m not just seeing what I want to see.

We stopped back by the mansion to say goodbye to Chadwick, Phoebe and Alistair, then we returned to Fort Rannick. In hindsight, part of me really wishes we had just stayed in Absalom.

Sorry this took longer than I thought. My USB stick fell out of my bag because I forgot to zip the inner pocket and it took me a few days to find it. Was between my bed and dresser, in case you're wondering.

"The Manly Adventures of Orik" portion of the next section has been reduced to a quick conversation as I just couldn't find a way to make a bunch of troll fights worthy of their own special section. One of those things that is more fun to play than to describe. About half done with the next portion, so hopefully done either over the weekend or about mid-week next week at the latest.

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Aurora's Observations on an Absalom Trip:

After everything that has happened, I wasn’t prepared for what my trip to Absalom with Kyle would be like. He has been on a downward spiral ever since we tangled with Aldern Foxglove. No, maybe it was even longer than that. Maybe he’s just getting worse. He always was skittish, even when I met him. I’ve never heard anyone scream that loud over a few goblins.

So it was with some trepidation that I agreed to go with him when his adopted brother sent him a letter requesting that he come home immediately. Apparently something Kyle had been searching for had been found, though the letter didn’t elaborate. I suspect that was done as a security measure and that Kyle had long ago suggested it.

Whatever it was, if Kyle knew what was meant, he wasn’t talking about it. If I wanted to find out, I had to go with him. That part I was fine with, since I needed to stay near him to protect him as I had sworn. What worried me was that in Absalom I wouldn’t have any support if he became a danger to himself. Without me, however, he would be in even more danger. So I steeled myself and agreed to go.

Before we set out, Kyle asked me to wear a cute dress instead of my armor. I compromised with him and wore a chain shirt under a good tunic. We teleported to Absalom shortly before dawn, but when we arrived it was perhaps an hour or two past dawn. When I asked Kyle about it, he tried to explain something called time zones. I think I understood the gist of it, but the finer details were beyond me, at least that early in the day.

I wasn’t asleep enough to miss the marked change in Kyle as we walked through town. It seemed almost like all the weight had lifted off of his shoulders. He walked taller, he smiled fuller. Even his eyes seemed to shine brighter.

And I wasn’t the only one to notice it. As we walked through the streets, people smiled and waved as we passed. Most of them seemed to recognize him. One man, a butcher, even came out of his shop, his shirt completely covered in blood, and shared a joke he had heard with Kyle. My companion laughed and countered with a joke of his own. We all laughed and continued on our way.

Kyle led me into a shop that smelled of cinnamon and fresh baked bread. When the woman working the counter, a matronly sort with her hair pinned up to keep it out of the food, saw us, she immediately rushed over and gave each of us a hug.

“I wish I had known you were going to be here today,” she said. “I’m sorry, but the cinnamon buns aren’t done yet.”

Kyle made an over-exaggerated show of remorse, dropping to his knees. “Why, God, why?!” Then the two shared a look and laughed. I suspect that this was a ritual they shared. “If I pay now, do you think you can have your son deliver four dozen of them to the usual place?”

“Of course,” she said. He handed her a pouch of coins. She didn’t even count it, trusting him in a way I’ve never seen a shopkeeper trust anyone.

We visited several other shops. Each shopkeeper greeted us as dear friends. One man even hugged both of us. Along the way, we collected a number of items, including blankets, sacks of grain and toys. Most of the purchases were to be delivered, but we still ended up with our arms full of sacks.

We approached a nondescript building and Kyle took a moment to alter his appearance with his magic hat, winking at me while he did so. Then we went inside. I was surprised by what we found.

The first room was a chapel of some kind, with shrines to a number of deities. I said a prayer to each of them, thanking them for allowing us into their home. Meanwhile, Kyle approached an older man wearing the robes of a cleric.

“I have a delivery for you,” Kyle told the man.

“What is this?” the man asked.

“Blankets, food and other necessities.”

The cleric narrowed his eyes. “Who sent these?”

“There are some who call him the Lord of the Dance, while yet others call him the Master of Mysteries. There are even some who call him… Tim.”

The cleric laughed. “Set them in the corner over there. The children will be happy to know he hasn’t forgotten them,” he said with a conspiratorial wink. Children? What did he mean about children? Before I could ask, the cleric smiled at me. “Shelyn smile on you, child,” he greeted me as Kyle went to the next room.

“Thank you,” I said. “What is this place?”

His face betrayed his confusion. “You haven’t been told?”

I shook my head. “No. He didn’t tell me.”

He smiled mischievously. “The answer lies through that door,” he said, pointing. “Go on, have a look.”

I walked over to the door and carefully opened it, half expecting some kind of joke at my expense. Within, I spotted children of varying ages. I almost came to the conclusion that perhaps Kyle had fathered these, but the ages of a few told me that he hadn’t. All of them were wearing fairly utilitarian clothing, but it was all in good repair and clean.

The children, perhaps three dozen in all, were playing a game of some kind. I wasn’t familiar with it, not having much of a history of playing games as a child. It was, however, obvious that they were having a lot of fun.

Kyle walked past me, approaching the only child not playing. Based on the splint, the boy appeared to have broken his leg. He sat down next to the boy and they watched the game for a moment before Kyle spoke. “That looks like it hurt. What happened?”

“I fell off the roof.”

Kyle let out a whistle. “That’s a pretty high roof.”

“I landed on someone, so all I broke was my leg. Headmaster says I could have been killed.”

Kyle nodded. “For every choice we make, there is a natural consequence that follows it. This was yours. But it doesn’t have to be all bad.” He produced something from his coat pocket. “With your leg broken, that means you get first dibs on the new book I brought you kiddos.”

The child looked shocked. “You brought us a book? No one ever brings us anything. Why would you do something so nice?”

Kyle winked at me and began to sing.

“It doesn't matter now
If you are sad or blue
Cuz cheering up my friends
Is just what I am here to do!
Cuz I love to make you smile, smile smile!
Yes I do!
It fills my heart with sunshine all the while!
Yes it does!
Cuz all I really need's a smile, smile, smile
From these happy friends of mine!”

No sooner had he begun to sing than the game stopped and all attention was on him. He began throwing around magic, filling the room with exploding colors and other illusions. The sound of children’s laughter filled the room. Despite his disguise, the children were all calling his name, so he dispelled that illusion.

I’m not sure where he was pulling them from, but toys appeared in Kyle’s hands and were passed to each of the children, who eagerly took them. As the song continued, the children joined in. When it was over, each child had a toy of some kind. A few were playing with their new toys, but most of the children were trying to get Kyle’s attention.

Once he had managed to get them to calm down enough, Kyle began to talk to them as a group. “So, have you all been good?”

“Yes!” they nodded emphatically as they spoke.

“Well, then I guess I’ll just have to let the man with the cinnamon buns come by after all. Here I was hoping I’d get to eat them all.”

Cheers erupted from the crowd. “Tell us a story!” one of the kids shouted.

“A story, you say? Well, how about I tell you one with the pirates, a giant and a princess? A story about true love and an evil prince?”

“You already told us that one. Tell us a scarier one!”

“Not too scary,” one of the younger children begged.

Kyle made a show of stroking his chin while he thought. “Scary, but not too scary, huh? Okay, how about I tell you the story how a prince, one of the noblest of all paladins, fought against his inner rage and fell into darkness? It has demons, the undead, betrayal and plenty of action. Have I told you that one before?”

I could tell by the look on his face that he knew full well he hadn’t, but was asking them as something of a courtesy. The children all shook their heads to indicate that they hadn’t heard that one and I took a seat on a bench behind the group of children.

“Okay, so, where do we begin? Perhaps we should begin by knowing a bit about our prince. His name was Arthas and he was the son of King Terenas, who had ruled his nation during the war with the demonic Orcish Horde…”

Kyle was a masterful storyteller. He did voices for each of the characters and acted out many of the combat scenes. Even I found myself hanging on every word of his tale. I didn’t even notice when the little girl, perhaps around six winters old, crawled onto my lap until she spoke.

“You’re so beautiful,” she said to me. “Are you an angel?”

I shook my head. “Sorry dear. Just a knight.”

She looked a bit disappointed and we continued listening to the story. When it was over, the children cheered and asked Kyle for another one. “I wish I could,” he said. “But it seems it’s time for our snack.” He appointed two of the older children to make sure that each child got one of the treats and went to speak to the cleric. I wasn’t sure if I should follow, so I kept my distance, though I could still see and hear what was going on.

Kyle handed the man a sack of coins. The man opened it. “So much silver here…wait, these are all platinum coins! There are so many here!”

My friend nodded. “Over a hundred. Enough to pay for education for these children for the next several years.”

“But, it’s too much!”

Kyle shook his head. “No, it’s really not as much as I would have liked to give. Please, don’t worry about it. Just keep making sure that these kids are well taken care of. Tell me, is there anything else they need?”

The cleric shook his head. “Nothing. Their needs are met by the generous yearly donations of your family. Your brother has even taken the time to get several of the children apprenticeships, while yet others have been accepted into the Arcanamirium thanks to the recommendations of both of you.”

Kyle smiled. “Well, then how about art supplies? Writing tools?”

“I must admit that we are running low on both ink and paper.”

“Really? Loan me the key to the supply room. I want to go see how bad it is.” He took the key and disappeared off into another room for a moment. When he returned, he laughed. “I’m not sure I would call that supply dwindling, padre.”

“What? The shelves were almost empty when I last checked.”

“Come see,” Kyle invited him while winking at me.

The shelves were stacked to overflowing with paper and inks of various types. “It’s a miracle! Shelyn has gifted us with the tools we need to teach these children about the glorious beauty of art.” I suspected that something else was going on. I looked at Kyle’s hands. His left palm showed signs of a recent cut, evidence that he had used his own blood to fuel a spell to fabricate all the paper and inks in the room. He caught me looking and held up a finger to his lips, asking me not to say anything.

As we were preparing to leave, the children begged for another story. Kyle told them we didn’t have time for another story, but was willing to compromise and sing one more song. While he sang, the cleric sat next to me and struck up a conversation. “You’ve found one of the good ones,” he said. “You’re very lucky.”

“Lucky? Me? Why?”

“You two aren’t together?”

I choked on my own saliva. “No! We’re not like that. We’re just really good friends.”

“My apologies. Master Chadwick told me that Master Kyle had fallen in love with someone. I assumed you were the one.”

I didn’t want to continue the discussion further. For some reason, it made me feel uncomfortable to think about it. Maybe uncomfortable is the wrong word. Embarrassed, maybe? “Don’t worry about it,” I said, deflecting it.

Once we left the orphanage, we made our way towards the Voidstrife home. As we walked through town, people greeted us as we passed. Men made jokes about Chelish ambassadors, young women flirted with him and people of both genders asked when his next concert would be. It was surreal, like he had gone out of his way to make everyone his friend. Now that I think about it, I think he’s doing the same thing in Sandpoint. Everyone knows us, of course, but Kyle has taken great effort to begin learning the names of everyone, if only to greet them by name as he walks past them.

The Voidstrife home was a mansion in one of the nicest districts in Absalom. Servants greeted us as we strode straight through the doors. I followed Kyle to a large sitting room, where we found a man and woman. The man was reading a large tome while the woman was playing with her infant son.

The man looked up from his book. “Of course it would take me finding something to help your research to get you to travel home.”

“Not true. You also had to send me teleportation scrolls. Look, I can’t help it if my research took me halfway across the known world.” Kyle’s voice was indignant.

“At least I didn’t have to resort to telling you that the Stavros sisters were back in town.”

Kyle grinned. “I’m not sure your lovely wife would approve of you and me running off to take those two out for another raucous night on the town, dear brother.”

“I still can’t believe you managed to convince that guard captain to let us all leave.”

“To be fair, I don’t think it would have worked if you hadn’t managed to find where Diana had thrown her undergarments.”

“Once I figured out the direction of the wind, it was simple enough to realize that it had landed on that lion statue out in front of the inn.” The two laughed and embraced. I rolled my eyes. Men.

The young mother chided them. “Kyle, you’re being rude by not introducing us to your companion.” She walked over and greeted me. “My name is Phoebe and he’s Chadwick.” She held up her child. “And this is Alistair. Please forgive my husband and his brother for their lack of manners.”

“No offense taken. Your baby is adorable.”

“Thank you,” the woman said, beaming. She looked at me for a moment. “I can’t help but get the feeling that we’ve met before. Tell me, what is your name?”

She didn’t look familiar to me at all. “Aurora Calwen,” I said.

She thought for a moment and her eyes went wide with surprise. “Kyle! You didn’t tell us you were travelling with the Hero of Taldor!”

“I did so.”

Chadwick intervened. “Actually, brother, I think your exact words were that you were traveling with ‘Aurora, a courageous knight whose skill at arms is matched only by her beauty and the exquisite detail the Creator put into sculpting her magnificent ass”.

I was both flattered by his assessment of my abilities and outraged at the other things he had written in the letter to his brother. It was one thing when he made jokes like that to me, but another entirely when he said them about me to others. I looked at Kyle. “What.”

His eyes grew wide as he looked at something behind me. “Oh my god! A demonic duck!” I turned involuntarily. There was nothing there. When I turned back, he was still standing there. “Oh, right, I have to run away after I distract someone. Oops.”

His sheepish grin made me laugh in spite of myself. “Alright,” I said, “I’ll let it pass this once. But we may have to talk about this later.” He nodded his understanding.

“I’m still not satisfied,” Phoebe said. “Why didn’t you tell us who you were traveling with?”

“I told you everything I thought was important,” he answered. “Anything more might have put Aurora in danger if someone had intercepted the letter.”

It was a fair assessment. And I don’t like talking about it much either, so I have no problem with him not disclosing my identity to his family. I said as much to Phoebe and asked her not to worry about it. She decided to let it drop. There was one thing bugging me, however. “You said that you recognized me. How?”

“I was in Oppara visiting my cousin when you were paraded through the streets. I saw your face then, though I was around sixty or so feet away.” That made sense to me.

We took a break for lunch, which consisted of several small but decadent courses, then Kyle and Chadwick began discussing the reason Kyle was in town. “Let me get straight to the point,” Chadwick began. “I caught wind of one of our former instructors receiving a visitor over the last several weeks. Their discussions were kept private, hidden behind a wall of magic that no one we could afford could get through. And that’s saying something, since we can afford just about anyone. Well, a few days ago, the instructor was murdered. The visitor was killed by guards as he tried to flee the scene.”

“Which instructor?” Kyle asked.

“Nepulos,” Chadwick responded. Kyle’s eyes went wide.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Instructor Nepulos favored lessons on advanced mechanical constructs,” Kyle explained. “He only taught the rudiments, but he was probably one of the foremost experts in the field in the whole world.”

“Kyle was one of his favorite students,” Chadwick added.

Kyle shrugged. “I know a thing or two about robotics,” he said. “That’s the field of study involving the design, construction, operation, and application of machines capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically. They’re a pretty big thing back home. While they’re not the same as magically powered constructs like golems and such, there is some overlap.”

Kyle likes to tell me that there’s no magic on his world, but then every once in a while, he’ll mention something like this. I asked him about it later and he said that it’s simply a much more complex application of simple principles we use here on Golarion, like those behind a grain mill powered by water or wind. His world sounds amazing, yet at the same time terrifying.

“So how does this relate to me?” Kyle asked.

“Apparently Nepulos had spoken to another professor saying that he wanted to get you a copy of his notes on the work he was doing with the visitor. I went to go get it for you, only to discover that it was missing, as were the originals confiscated from the visitor. As I was leaving, someone bumped into me. Checking my pocket, I found a note. It told me that if you wanted a copy of the visitor’s work with Nepulos, you would need to meet with them, soon. The meeting is this evening.”


“That’s the part I’m unsure of. The note just has a number of musical notes. I was hoping they’d mean something to you.”

Kyle looked at the note Chadwick held out, then hummed the notes. “Yeah, I know where this wants me to go.” He sighed. “I’m supposed to look up Lord Valy’s mistress.”

Chadwick grimaced. “That was the time you came home with half a dozen hired brutes on your tail with all of your clothes in a sack over your shoulder, wasn’t it?”

“How the hell was I supposed to know that she was the mistress of a Viscount? I thought she was his daughter. And what the hell was he so mad about anyway? It’s not like it was his wife.” I’ll say one thing about Kyle, his stories are never boring, though mostly I just shake my head when I hear them.

We spent the afternoon hanging out, chatting and playing a game from Kyle’s homeland that he had reconstructed from memory. There were a number of hand drawn pieces and cards. He broke down laughing at one point when someone was offering to trade lumber for wool, but none of the rest of us got the joke. I’m assuming it doesn’t translate well.

That evening, Kyle and I headed to the meeting place. Upon spotting our contact, Kyle pulled me into an alley. “I know who we’re supposed to meet with. That’s one of his lackeys. Let’s skip the step where we’re supposed to follow his agent through town and just head directly there. The fewer people who know of the meeting, the better.”

We made our way through town quickly, coming at last to a nondescript building in the Ivy district. Kyle knocked at the door. A moment later, a hidden panel opened and I heard someone inside speak. “State your business.”

“You know good and well what my business is. Open the door and let me speak with your master or I’ll create my own door.”

A few seconds later, there was a click and the door opened. We were led to an opulently decorated room where a pudgy man sat behind a massive desk. “You really should have gone with Vincent,” he said to Kyle. “He was supposed to provide you with dinner, fine drink and beautiful company. We have a few new students who were very excited to meet you.”

“You should know by now that I can’t stand Vincent. Now tell me, Marco, what exactly do you have and how much do you expect me to pay?”

The large man, Marco, clapped his hands and a door behind him opened. A man who looked a lot like a shorter version of Lenn walked in carrying a wooden chest. He placed it on the desk in front of us and left the room. “Go on,” Marco said. “Open it. Inside is the first of a dozen pages, all of which I have. We’ll continue discussion once you know what we’re talking about here.”

Kyle opened the chest and unfurled the scroll within. I stole a glance at the scroll, but wasn’t able to decipher much of what it held. It was clearly plans for some kind of construct, but beyond that, it was beyond my understanding. I suspected that I would probably be able to more or less figure it out if I could see the rest of the pages, but with only one, I was at a loss.

My companion, on the other hand, seemed to understand it completely. He did his best to hide his excitement, but I had spent too much time with him to miss the little tells. “Alright, I’m interested. What’s the price?”

“All I ask is that you take a seat at the table. Join us.”

Kyle’s expression soured. “After what happened last time? No, I’ll have to pass. Name a different price.”

Marco made a sound of feigned shock. “Then join us in an unofficial capacity. Carry the card. Wear the pin. Name us during performances and give us occasional contributions of music. I’ll have one of our people drop by once in a while to hold up the illusion that they’re continuing your education. In truth, they’ll just be stopping by for appearances. You won’t be beholden to us in any capacity other than to try to make us look good.”

“And what do I get out of this? If it’s just the schematics, then the price is too high.”

“We’ll give you access to more than just that. As a member of the college, you’ll have access to a number of resources that will help you on your journey, including rare magical texts that even the Pathfinders don’t have.”

“Still not enough.”

“Then tell me what I have to add to sweeten the deal enough to make you accept.”

Kyle’s grin was devilish. “I think I know just the thing.”

Less than an hour later, we were outside the Pathfinder’s Lodge, watching our very large companion light a paper sack full of dog waste on fire before banging on the door and running away as fast as his legs could take him. “There,” he wheezed. “Do we have a deal?”

Kyle nodded. “Have someone bring the documents over to the manor house in an hour or so and I’ll fill them out there. But for now, let’s get out of here before those men stomping out that bag realize what’s going on.” As we walked home, Kyle explained that he had gotten the man to do it because of what it represented. By getting someone to lie or commit a crime or prank for you, you change the dynamic of your relationship. It was about power. Not sure I understand it, but he said he learned it from Michael Westen, assuring me that this settled the matter.

Not long after we reached the Voidstrife mansion, a man with purple splotches on his face was brought before us where we sat in the study. Kyle made a disgusted face upon seeing him. It seemed that they had some kind of history. “Please read and sign the contract,” he told Kyle, handing him a small case with several sheets of paper in it. Kyle quickly read it and, finding it to his satisfaction, signed. “Good, now for the final formality. I’ll need you to perform for your audition.”

“What.” Kyle didn’t expect this.

“It’s merely a formality.”

“I am not auditioning for your guild. You wanted me.”

“Then I guess I’ll tear up this contract and you’ll never get these blueprints.” I began to suspect this was another power play like the one Kyle had enacted on the other man.

Kyle considered it for a moment. “Let’s not be hasty. Perhaps there is a compromise here. I will not play for you, but I never pass up a chance to play for a beautiful woman. If you just happen to hear me and judge my performance, then I can’t be held accountable.”

The other man made a show of thinking about it. “I guess that will be acceptable.”

Kyle nodded. “Good.” He turned to me. “Aurora, will you allow me to play a song for you?”

I wasn’t expecting that. “Will I be sufficient?”

“No other woman’s beauty compares to yours, so I believe that you will suffice to fill in for the role of beautiful woman in this charade.” I felt my face flush at his flattery, despite suspecting that he was teasing me. I simply nodded.

He pulled out his violin, tuned it quickly and began to play and sing a deep, soulful melody in a language I had never heard before. I asked him about it later and he told me it was a song in a language called Italian, and said it was about a man telling his lover that he would leave his home to travel with her. Once he was finished, he handed me a purple lilac. I have no idea where he got the flower, but it smelled pretty good.

The splotchy faced man was satisfied with the performance and gave Kyle another tied satchel. “These are what you wanted, as well as one of the books from our library that you might be interested in. I’ll have one of our members in Varisia come check up on you to make sure that you are continuing to uphold guild standards. You can turn this book back in to him or her when you’ve finished with it. The others are yours to keep.” He paused. “Oh, and Nepulos’ wife said that you had loaned this to him.” He handed Kyle another book. The title made it sound like a book of fairy stories.”

Kyle took the documents and, after having a servant escort the man out, headed to the library, asking me to follow. Upon arriving, we found Chadwick and Phoebe. “So,” Chadwick began, “Any luck?”

Kyle nodded. “Pay dirt.” He spread the papers all over the table. There were over a dozen very detailed diagrams. “Let’s see if these are any good.”

All four of us pored over the papers. Phoebe was the first to give up. Unable to make heads or tails of it beyond recognizing some particular parts of constructs, I soon followed, sitting with her and taking the book she offered. Chadwick joined us about an hour later.

Servants brought us dinner, a soup of some kind filled with vegetables and some kind of pickled meat. We supped and chatted quietly while Kyle continued analyzing the documents, oblivious to anything else going on. After a while he began fixating on a particular page, staring at it and forgetting to blink. Ten minutes later, I almost intervened, but Chadwick stopped me, shaking his head.

Kyle stared at that page for another hour, or maybe longer. I finished my short book on the history of Absalom’s Arcanamirium. An interesting read, but not really helpful in any way. Then we continued chatting while waiting for our fixated friend.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kyle’s lips spread into a wide grin. “BRAIN BLAST!” he shouted. A servant handed him some parchment, ink and a quill without prompting. Apparently this wasn’t the first time this had happened.

Kyle got to work immediately, jotting down schematics of his own, talking to himself as he worked. “Yes! It’s so simple! I simply have to shift the aetheric pathways to account for phase variance in the crystalline matrix. I’ve been so blind! I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before! A quick re-routing of non-essential subsystems through the positronic converter and we’ll have triple the power output in the flux capacitor.”

“Do you have any idea what he’s saying?” I whispered to Chadwick.

He shook his head. “I doubt even he has any idea what he’s saying. He’s probably making up words to stand in for concepts he doesn’t know the words for. Once he has it down, he should be able to explain it well enough.”

“Has this happened before?”

Chadwick nodded. “Every time he figures out a way to adapt magic to mimic the uses of technology from back home. He won’t even remember anything he’s said. Last time I asked him what a flux capacitor was, he started talking about something called a ‘jiggawatt’. He seemed amused. I recommend sticking to the facts about what he has on paper. Asking him about the things he said while working can only lead to further confusion.”

As he finished, Kyle proudly called us over to look at his work. He even tried explaining it to us. “I suspect that you all won’t get it from me just explaining, since it’s based on things from back home. So I’ll combine show with tell. I’ve made changes to the construct. Some are cosmetic, others are structural. But the largest is paradigm, the very way we think of what we’ve looked at. And that is the part I don’t think you’ll understand, not without seeing. So allow me to show you.”

Kyle began casting a spell. It was immediately apparent to anyone who had studied magic that it was an illusion, so I wasn’t surprised when the area around him was filled with the appearance of a number of strange objects. The very ground appeared to have changed, taking on a metallic look. He stepped onto a platform. I could hear the clank as the metallic boots closed around his feet.

He held out his arms and I could hear a strange whirring sound. Numerous mechanical arms reached out from around him, beginning to encase him in various metallic plates, some using extreme heat and even lightning to fix the plates together. It took almost a minute before it was done, but before we could see the finished product, the lights in the room went out.

The lights flickered on and off, focusing first on his legs and then moving slowly up his body, reaching his head before finally illuminating the whole room. He was clad in clockwork. In Kyle’s hands was an illusory weapon of some kind.

Kyle remained silent for several moments, allowing us to take it all in, before finally smirking at us and speaking. “Hell. It’s about time.” At the last word, a crystalline visor slid over his eyes.

He gave us a few moments to admire his illusion, then took careful aim at a wall with his weapon and fired. I heard a number of shots, though I can’t quite tell you how many rounds were fired. The wall showed signs of massively powerful impacts. He then fired a small canister from the weapon’s lower barrel. It exploded on impact and would have taken out the entire wall had it been real.

Satisfied that his point had been made, Kyle dismissed the illusion. The wall returned to normal as well. “Now do you understand?”

I was more than a little impressed by the destructive capability of what Kyle was proposing. A couple squads of men with those weapons could hold off entire regiments of traditional soldiers. Each would probably cost more than training and feeding a hundred men, but the investment in a few of these specialists would be a well worth the cost. With a single platoon under my command and favorable terrain or fortifications, I could have held off the entire Qadiran army without any other support.

Chadwick, however, wasn’t completely convinced. “I am impressed by the weapon. I take it that it’s just a representation of a weapon from your world? But for the cost of turning one of these things into armor, you could build a second and have two of them to protect you.”

Kyle nodded. “I had considered that. However, you must understand something about my culture to understand why this idea is worth it. In every culture, there is a group of warriors considered so far above others that there is no comparison. Aurora, you once aspired to join the Ulfen Guard, one such group. Among groups of the devout, Paladins are these warriors. On my world, we have commandos. These are specialists who are called in when all seems lost, who employ tactics meant to turn their disadvantage in numbers into an advantage.

“My nation takes this to another level, giving these dangerous men and women the tools and equipment to succeed against overwhelming odds, no matter the cost of outfitting them. It is no surprise, then, that when we look to the future, wondering what it will hold, that we have come up with this, the future of commandos. Clad in mechanized, weaponized armor and wielding insanely powerful weapons, each of these men is an army unto himself. The space marine is who you turn to when the forces of evil stand against you. This might be the closest I can get with my current access to technology, though I have been working on a spell that might allow me to make my own high technology items. Even if it doesn’t work out, it’s okay, though. As a wizard, I can use magic to emulate many of the functions I can’t put into the armor, from invisibility to flight and beyond. The weapon will give me the ability to overcome my natural limitation on the number of spells I can bring to bear in a day and the armor will be able to take much of the damage I would otherwise take for me.”

“But wouldn’t it still be safer to have two defenders than this?” Chadwick pressed.

Kyle shrugged. “I like it better this way. Besides, there’s more. I’ve proven that I can use magic to synthesize materials I understand but don’t necessarily know how to make from rawest materials. Aurora, you witnessed that this morning. I had given up on being able to bring the true power of technology to bear because I had no idea how to get the materials I would need. Now? Well, it’s going to require some experimentation, but I think I’ll be able to do things that no one would consider possible. And that’s before we consider my new spell.”

“New spell?” Chadwick asked, intrigued.

“Quite possibly my greatest work. I’ll show you later.”

I think I understand why Kyle would be so insistent in turning the clockwork construct into armor, even if Chadwick doesn’t. By wrapping yourself in armor, you put something between you and the dangers all around. Kyle wanted to be wrapped in that safety. I wear my armor almost all the time unless there’s a reason not to. I almost feel naked without it. About the only time I take it off is to sleep or bathe.

The only reason wizards don’t wear armor, aside from the weight, is that it can interfere with your spellcasting. I’m sure Kyle’s got that figured out, so I’m not going to worry. But the technology he spoke of gave me pause. “So, it’s only theoretical that you might be able to make a weapon like that gun you showed us?”

His grin reached from ear to ear. “Not at all. I’m absolutely certain I can make that. What I’m saying is that what I’ve shown you is my worst-case scenario. It’s possible that I could end up replacing the base chassis with something FAR more deadly. I just don’t know what I can and can’t do yet. Lasers, a magnetic mass driver, plasma-caster... all of them are potential options for me and those are just what I’ve thought of thus far.” I didn’t really know what any of those things were, but they sounded impressive.

We spent hours chatting before we all decided to go to bed. Kyle had arranged for me to sleep in the room next to his on the second floor, but the thought of sleeping in another room made me uncomfortable after the incident with the ghoul at the Rusty Dragon. I could never forgive myself if I wasn’t there to protect him. When I explained it, he just shrugged and led me to his room.

The bedroom was massive, larger than the common room in the Rusty Dragon. It had a window from almost floor to the vaulted ceiling and an enchanted chandelier filled the room with light. He had several armoires made of cedar, likely all filled with clothing and a gargantuan mirror dominated much of the wall between the armoires. The third wall was almost completely filled with bookshelves.

The fourth wall was dominated by an immense four posted canopy covered bed. The curtains were made of black silk patterned with the stars of the sky and must have cost a fortune. Everything in the room was freshly cleaned. I could even smell the freshly cleaned bedding.

I will never again use my own room growing up as a reference for the decadence of nobility. Kyle’s room was to mine what mine was to a peasant’s.

Kyle grinned at me. “I know, it’s a little much. But at least there’s room. I’ll have some servants move another bed in here for you.”

I shook my head. “That seems silly. Your bed is larger than the tent we share. There’s no reason we can’t both sleep in it.”

He shrugged. “Far be it for me to try to talk a beautiful woman from sharing my bed. I’ll go see about getting someone to bring up some warm water and a basin so we can wash our faces before going to sleep. You can change into something more comfortable while I’m gone.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Knock before you enter?”

“Sure. You know, actually, I can have someone draw you a bath if you’d like.”

“In the morning,” I said. “I didn’t sweat much today.” He left and I allowed the magical servant help me out of my armor and into a nightgown. When he returned, I washed my face and brushed my hair before heading to bed.

I pulled back the curtain. The bed was massive. Upon laying down, I sunk in a little. It was quite possibly the softest bed I’ve ever used. It felt like I was lying on a cloud.

After a few minutes, I could see the lights in the room shut off, though I wasn’t sure what the mechanism was that allowed someone to put out the lights. I then saw Kyle pull back the curtain on the far side and climb into bed. “Good night,” he said to me before pulling up the covers and going to sleep.

After a few minutes, I could hear the slow, rhythmic sound of his breathing, which told me that he had indeed fallen asleep. I knew it would only be a few minutes before the nightmares started, so I slowly inched my way over. He whimpered softly at the images he had begun to see, so I sat up and reached out with my hand, stroking the top of his head. He seemed to calm somewhat, though I could tell he was still having a bad dream.

In truth, I had been doing this for some time, though always seated next to his bed. I didn’t like how much he was suffering in his sleep, so I sat in silent vigil next to him, trying to offer him some comfort, always relieved when he stopped dreaming and fell into a deeper sleep.

As I said, I usually did this from either a chair next to his bed, seated on the side of his bed or sitting on the hard ground next to his bedroll. Never before had I done so from within the same bed. It was so soft and the pillows so inviting that I couldn’t stop myself from laying down less than an arm’s length away as I continued stroking his brow, trying to reassure him.

I don’t know when it was that I fell asleep, but I awoke perhaps a couple hours later. The first thing I noticed was the soft sound of his heartbeat. The second was the gentle touch of his arm around me. It took several moments to realize exactly the position I was in. Somehow, during the night, I had lain my head upon his chest.

It wasn’t unpleasant. In fact, I felt more comfortable and relaxed than perhaps I ever had. I think this mostly was the result of the overly comfortable bed, but perhaps some small part of it was that I had probably not been held while I slept since I was an infant. I must again admit that I didn’t find the experience unpleasant.

I didn’t even realize he was awake until he spoke. “Sleep well?” he said softly.

I was suddenly very aware that the unseen servant had helped me into my skimpier, more satiny nightgown. The fabric felt almost nonexistent. I could almost feel his bare skin through the clothing. I felt my face flush and I stammered out an excuse. “I- I must have gotten cold in the night.” It was a flimsy excuse. The blankets were soft and far more than adequate for keeping me warm. But it was the best I could come up with at the moment.

“Oh,” he said. He sounded a bit disappointed. “Well, we have several hours til dawn. No reason to get up yet. If you think you’ll still get cold, feel free to fall back asleep here.”

Not wanting to show any further how flimsy my excuse was, I closed my eyes and allowed the sound of the beating of his heart to lull me back to sleep. No, it wasn’t at all unpleasant.

I awoke several hours later, alone in the giant bed. Through the seams in the curtains, I could tell that the sun had risen. I decided to get up, get dressed and see if I could locate Kyle. When I opened the door, a handmaiden was waiting for me.

“Greetings, Milady. Lady Phoebe asked me to convey you to the dining hall to join her in morning repast.”

I was fairly hungry, so I nodded. “Where is Kyle?” I inquired as we walked towards the dining area.

“Lord Kyle and Lord Chadwick are in their workshop.”

Phoebe and her child were sitting at a massive table. Alistair was sitting in some kind of special chair that I had never seen before, not really accustomed to being around children. “Kyle made it for him,” she said, realizing what I was looking at. “The little table slides in and out to make it easier to get Alistair out when he’s done eating.

We had a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs and some kind of custard-bread topped with fruit and sweetened whipped cream. We told stories for a while, enjoying ourselves. It had been a long time since I had sat and just chatted with another woman.

An older woman came down to breakfast after a bit. Phoebe showed her a lot of deference, so I followed suit. She introduced me. “This is Mother Voidstrife, my mother-in-law. Mother Voidstrife, this is Aurora Calwen, Kyle’s knight-protector.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed as she looked me over. After a few moments, she spoke, “She seems adequate. But tell me, girl, are you truly the hero Kyle’s letters said you are?”

That seemed to be coming up a lot lately. “I am the person people call ‘Hero of Taldor’, but I wouldn’t call myself as a hero. I was just trying to help other people survive.”

She nodded. “And will you do the same for Kyle?”

I answered without hesitation. “I have sworn my life to protect him and I meant it. Whatever I do, I will always prioritize protecting him and nothing short of my own death will prevent me from accomplishing my duty.”

A smile slowly spread across her face. “This one will do. Kyle has chosen his protector well. Please, Aurora, stay with us as long as you want. I have a meeting with some friends, but I’m glad I had a chance to meet you.”

After breakfast, Phoebe took me to a room that featured a massive bath, larger than public baths I’ve visited. “It’s fed by a hot spring,” Phoebe noted. “We wash at the pipes over there and then soak to relax.” It was a strange setup, probably created by Kyle, but it worked well. We relaxed in the tub for about an hour. I told her about my concerns with Kyle and she took it all in. She didn’t really have any advice, but it was nice to be able to talk about it.

After our bath, I put on my freshly cleaned clothes and went looking for Kyle. He wasn’t in the workshop, so I went back to his room. As I approached the door, I heard him singing. It was a song I’d never heard him perform before.

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry

Here I stand
And here I'll stay
Let the storm rage on!

I quietly pushed open the door and saw him singing to the mirror, holding a hair brush in front of his face for some reason. He spotted me and tossed the brush softly on the dresser then held a hand out to me, motioning for me to take it.

A little wary, I reached out and took his hand. He pulled me to him and began leading me in a dance as he continued to sing, following the song he had been singing with another. I found that I was enjoying myself despite how silly it all was.

Once the second song was over, Kyle grinned at me. “Remember how you gave me your share of the treasure and asked me to use it on whatever gear I thought you needed? Well, I made you something.”

Intrigued, I followed him to the spare bedroom where he was going to put me the previous night. Inside was an incredible looking suit of armor, made out of grey metal with a slight red-tinge. I inspected it for a few moments. “Kyle, is this adamantine?” He grinned. “How?”

“Same way I filled the room with art supplies,” he said.

“It’s made of blood?”

“Not exactly but kinda.” His explanations weren’t always thorough.

“When did you make this?”

“Remember when I went to get a servant to bring some hot water? I did it then. I enchanted it this morning.” He hadn’t been gone for but a few minutes. By the gods, that was insane. “Want to put it on?” I nodded, unsure of what to say.

He helped me into the armor, which fit perfectly. Not just well, but perfectly. It was almost like I was wearing a second skin. Not only did that speak to his skill with armor, but to the time he had spent studying my body. I found myself blushing.

As he put my helmet, an open-faced winged helmet, I nervously decided to bring up something I had been considering while he worked. “Kyle,” I said, “you don’t have to go back to Varisia.”

“Oh?” he asked, his tone neutral and his eyebrow raised.

“I mean, it’s not that I want to get rid of you. It’s just that since we’ve come here, you’ve been so relaxed and at peace. It’s like night and day. It hurts me to see you so scared all the time. And it would only be until we took care of whatever is going on, then I could come get you.”

“I’m afraid that it would be no good,” he responded, continuing to work. “I would be a wreck worried about what might be happening with you all with no wizard to both overcomplicate and solve problems that require semi-phenomenal, nearly-cosmic power.”

“We could get another spell caster if it would make you feel better.”

His lip curled into that at once debonair yet infuriatingly cocky smirk he gets when he thinks he’s saying something profound. “Sorry. Has to be me. Someone else might get it wrong.”

I was getting frustrated. Couldn’t he see I just wanted to keep him safe? “But you seem so happy here.”

He nodded. “A vacation has done me good. But I have to continue this journey. If I leave this unfinished, if I allow someone else to complete this task, then I feel that I might never move forward. Perhaps it’s unfair that I have to involve myself. So what? The world isn’t a fair place. I’ve known that since I was ten, when I discovered just how much people even on my own world were suffering from poverty and disease. All I could do then was send part of my allowance to charities that were trying to help. I did the same thing with the orphanage here once I had the ability to do so. So what?

“It’s not enough. The world still isn’t nice, it still isn’t fair. People who don’t deserve it suffer and die every single day. So what? So somebody ought to do something about it. For the first time in my life, I have one such problem in front of me and the power to put my foot down. The power to draw a line in the sand and say ‘This ends here. You will hurt these people no more. Not on my watch.’ I know it’s not like I’m solving all the world’s problems. People who don’t deserve it will continue to suffer and die. But if I can do this much, if I can make the world a bit better place by stopping whomever this foe is, I have to do it. I can’t allow it to continue, no matter the cost to myself. So I must press on, whether it’s stubborn pride, altruism or fear of never growing beyond what I am today. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. After all, I have to be close in case you get cold again.” He winked at me.

I let that pass. His flirtations aside, I hadn’t expected that. All I had been seeing was his suffering. I hadn’t seen the determination to press on, hadn’t understood his motivation. In fact, in that moment, I think I understood him better than I ever had before. “I wish I had your certainty. I don’t think I could do something like that. I’m just doing my duty. As a knight, it is my job to protect the common folk. It’s a fine duty, but I envy your conviction.”

He seemed surprised. “You’ve already changed so many lives. Or have you forgotten, oh great Hero of Taldor?”

“I really wish everyone would stop bringing that up. I’m no hero.”

“Yes, you are,” he replied. “And I can prove it, if you’ll let me.”

This would be good. “Fine,” I said.

“Excellent,” he replied. “I’ll go get some information from Chadwick and we’ll make a short side trip before going back to meet up with Lenn, Geo and Paulie.”

About an hour later, we found ourselves in one of the poorer districts of town. It wasn’t the crime riddled slums, but it was certainly a far cry from the area Kyle’s adopted family lived. After searching for a bit, Kyle finally knocked on a door.

The door was answered by a fairly lovely young woman with blond hair of about nineteen winters in a rough-spun dress. Her face was covered in soot from having spent time working the hearth. She seemed wary of us at first, but immediately warmed up when Kyle introduced himself.

After she invited us inside, Kyle asked if we could speak with her father. She nodded. “He receives so few visitors. If it weren’t for me and my younger brothers, I doubt he’d see much of anyone.”

She led us through the house - which was small but kept clean and ordered – to the bedroom where the entire family slept on furs on the ground. A balding man was seated at a small table. Immediately I noticed that he was missing his right leg.

He immediately spotted Kyle. “My lord, please allow me to express my thanks again for all you and your brother have done for us.”

Kyle nodded. “Anything that has been done was all Chadwick’s idea. But I will gladly relay your thanks.”

“Thank you, my lord.” He turned to his daughter. “Bring our guests refreshments and something to sit on.” Once she left the room, he returned his attention to us. “Now, please tell me, what can I do for you today? Did you have more questions?”

Kyle shook his head. “This trip isn’t for me. It’s for her.” He pointed at me.

The man looked at me for a moment, then his eyes went wide with an expression of shock. He grabbed his cane and immediately struggled to stand, saluting me. “Lieutenant Calwen! It’s an honor, ma’am.”

That startled me. “I’m sorry,” I said. “But I don’t remember meeting you.”

“I’d be surprised if you had, ma’am. I was a sergeant in the Red Eagles. I only saw you for a few moments that day. I saw you cut down three men without even stopping long enough to let them fall. You saved my life, and the lives of many of my comrades.”

I returned the salute and asked him to sit, which he did with some difficulty. His daughter returned with a couple stools and a few tankards of mead. The mead was of fairly poor quality, but I didn’t want to mention it. We chatted for a few moments before the young woman returned once more.

“My lord, I am sorry for the intrusion, but there is something in the kitchen I cannot reach. Might I trouble you for some assistance?”

Kyle nodded. “No trouble at all. I’m sure these two have war stories to swap, so I’m sure I have a few moments to come help you out.” Judging by the expression that flashed across her face, the girl seemed awfully pleased with his response for someone just needing a bit of help in the kitchen. I’m not sure why, but I really found myself loathing that girl right then.

Kyle followed her to the other room while the sergeant and I continued discussing what had happened during the war. He had lost his leg in the final major battle of the conflict with Qadira. His position would have been overrun, but apparently my retinue and I had cut down those attacking them as we made our way to the city to meet the onslaught from the inside.

From the other room, I thought I heard giggling. And something that sounded like much more than giggling. But the girl’s father made no indication of having heard, so I decided not to say anything. Instead, we just continued talking.

About fifteen or twenty minutes later, Kyle and the young woman returned. Her hair looked a bit mussed and his shirt was half untucked. He also had a bit of soot on the tip of his nose. For some reason, it made me want to punch him. But I stayed my hand. We could discuss it later if it still bothered me. It really shouldn’t bother me. Why did it bother me?

Kyle revealed that he had learned the details of the family’s situation and offered to help them out. He gave the man the name of a cleric he had prepaid – Kyle apparently gets regular disease removals as a precaution – who would regenerate the sergeant’s leg and deduct the cost from Kyle’s balance. He also gave them the name of a man who ran security for a merchant company who could use another good guardsman. It wasn’t the best work, but it was relatively well paying and safe enough. With Kyle’s word of recommendation, the job was almost assured.

At first I thought that the girl had asked for his help and seduced him to get it, but the look on her face told me that she was surprised at what he was offering. The man tried to refuse, but I could tell helping him was important to Kyle, so I strongly suggested he take the offer. Out of respect for me, he accepted.

Kyle then handed the girl a small pouch of coins, mostly silver though it contained a few gold, and told her to go to the market and buy enough food for the week. When they both protested, Kyle told them to consider it a hiring bonus, as another good employee for that company would pay dividends to the Voidstrife family in the long run. I could tell it wasn’t true, that Kyle was only saying what needed to be said to get them to take the money and get something to eat. They both looked like they hadn’t had a good meal in quite some time. By the smell of it, the soup on the hearth was likely a watery turnip soup.

Both of them thanked us profusely when we left. As we walked back to the Voidstrife mansion, Kyle turned to me. “You seem upset. Is something bothering you?”

“No,” I lied. I mean it was nothing. I was mad over nothing. It couldn’t be what it felt like. I couldn’t be jealous that he had had sex with that doe eyed little strumpet. Cuddling up with him last night really hadn’t meant anything. I was just tired and had passed out. It really didn’t mean anything. I wasn’t jealous, right? Right? No, I couldn’t be.

I shook the thought from my mind and considered instead what I had seen while I was here. Kyle’s influence had spread throughout Absalom like a web. With the help of his family, people in need were finding jobs, orphans were gaining a safe place to grow up as well as an education. Phoebe even said that crime in Absalom was the lowest it had ever been.

Perhaps Kyle was right. Perhaps I had been looking at it the wrong way all along. If all it takes to be a hero is to stand up and do what you can with what you have where you are, then maybe it was okay to be considered a hero. I had fought with everything I had, though I’ve always felt it wasn’t enough. But maybe I’m wrong. I had met one man at least who would never stop thinking of me as a hero.

So, if Kyle wants to continue to fight, I’ll support him. I’d rather he be somewhere safe and happy, but I can honor his wishes. And when the nightmares hit again, I’ll be there to gently stroke his brow and assure him that it’ll all be okay. Though, maybe I’ll make sure I do it from a chair from now on. If we all end up heroes because of it, then so be it.

We said our goodbyes to Kyle’s adopted family then he used the remaining scroll to return us to Fort Rannick. Paulie, Geo and Lenn were gone. Orik’s company had dealt with a relatively major troll incursion. And it was raining quite hard.

That turned out to be the biggest problem. I didn’t know it at the time, but it didn’t take me long to find out.

Kyle's version of events is complete and just waiting for approval from other players. Hoping to have it up later today or tomorrow. Mid next week at the latest. After that, we'll have another installment of THE MANLY ADVENTURES OF ORIK followed by Bat-Paulie's Investigation Log. ^_^

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Investigation of a Thassilonian Ruin

I woke up again a couple hours before dawn. I laid there in silence watching Aurora sleep for about ten minutes, then got up and decided to see how things were going with the fort. I probably would have stayed longer, but it really wasn’t all that comfortable on a bedroll on the stone floor.

I went out onto the second floor landing and looked out over the walls at the forest. In the moonlight, I could see a chill mist rolling through the woods. I wasn’t alone on the landing. Two others were out there, standing watch. They looked rather chilled.

I built a small fire, carefully shielding it so that the light wouldn’t mess with my companions’ night vision, then brewed up a couple cups of tea for the two standing watch. They were grateful for the warmth and the caffeine seemed to have quick effect.

After they had sipped down their beverages, I pulled out my violin and asked if they would mind if I played. Neither objected, so I walked over towards the edge of the landing and began to play. Over the course of an hour or so, I played more than a dozen pieces from a set I call my “Starscapes” set. Each song is soft, soothing and hopeful, perfect for playing while others might be sleeping.

As I played, I became aware of a soft golden light glowing in the bell tower above. It wasn’t the flickering orange of a torch, nor the blue-white of magic light. No, it was golden and pure, like a crystal clear note turned into light rather than sound.

I smiled softly. I had seen light like that before while playing. The first time had been when my playing had attracted the attention of a passing lantern archon, a floating orb of light that acts as a scout for Heaven’s armies, among other things. The second was when a pair of lyriaken azatas, not unlike small holy fairies, joined my playing. One of my band’s performances even managed to draw in an angel with a glowing halo to watch us. We ended up doing a full set encore that evening for an audience of one.

In case you’re wondering. No, I didn’t hit on him. Since it was a him.

What’s important is that each of them projected the same kind of light, though I know that lantern archons can control the color of their light completely. I’ve heard that a summoner, one of Samantha’s friends by the name of Gribbletoo, had once used a bunch of lantern archons as stage lights for one of his magic shows.

Once I had finished playing, I decided to go up and say hello to the celestial being who had listened to me play. Imagine my surprise when I reached the tower and found no celestial, but instead Aurora. She had fallen asleep leaning against the wall. Her lips were curled in a small smile.

I reached over and brushed a bit of hair from her face and whispered. “Aurora, wake up. You missed the celestial.”

She frowned. “I missed what?”

“There was a celestial up here,” I said. “If you didn’t see it, you must have slept through it.”

She shook off her sleepiness. “Weird,” she said. “I woke up and you weren’t there, so I went looking. I came up here and heard you playing, so I decided to stay and listen for a while. I don’t know when I went to sleep, but I don’t remember seeing anything strange. I do remember feeling really happy, though.”

I nodded. “A lantern archon,” I said. “Or maybe a cassisian angel.” The latter is a small angel that takes the form of a winged helmet, in case you haven’t studied the upper planes like I have. I gently touched her shoulder and smiled. “No worries. I’m sure we’ll run into other celestials some time. You’ll see one eventually.” I didn’t want to bring up the winged woman from the previous day, but I was sure I’d see her again.

She nodded and we went back down to the landing, where I prepared her some tea and a small snack for her and the guards. While they ate, we all sat in silence and watched the glorious sunrise.

Not too long after the sun had risen, the others woke up and we sat down for a proper breakfast. Well, the others ate. I just had a cup of tea, a special blend a teahouse in Absalom makes for me. It’s not exactly Earl Grey, but it plays the part well enough.

We watched from the table we had moved out onto the landing as Orik moved around commanding his units. He was a damn sight different from when we had first met him. His people followed him as though he had been commanding them for years, though we knew it hadn’t been nearly that long. Aurora watched intently and I could see ideas forming in her mind.

Truth be told, I was getting jealous with how intently she was watching him. I almost began suspecting she had a thing for him, but I came to realize that it wasn’t him she was watching. It was the fluidity of his followers, the machine precision in which they followed his orders. So I wasn’t surprised when she spoke up.

“I’ve been thinking,” she said. “We’ve been facing greater and greater threats. Eventually, the way we’ve been doing things isn’t going to keep working.”

“What do you have in mind?” Geo asked.

“If we are going to keep working together, perhaps we need to begin training together. We each have strengths and we’ve done a fair job cobbling together ways to use what we know of each other to best function in battle, but I think we still have a lot to learn about and from each other so we can maximize our ability to use our strengths to overwhelm our foes.”

She had a point. We were working like a pickup jazz ensemble, randomly drawn from an audience. We were decent players, but we didn’t know each other, not well, anyway. So the music we’d put out had been decent, but if we were going to keep playing, it made perfect sense to work towards interweaving our abilities into a coherent quintet.

I wasn’t the only one who agreed. “It’s not a bad idea,” Geo said. “We did much the same back in the militia. And that was with people who had known each other all of our lives. With our group, we come from such different backgrounds that we can learn a lot from one another.”

I can’t say I was hopeful that we’d accomplish more than a basic increase in our ability to work together, but if we did, it would be a sight to behold. We had one big group of bunny-ears lawyers here. If we could turn ourselves into a cohesive team of bunny-ears lawyers, we might just be unstoppable. And perhaps, just perhaps, I had a few ideas of my own to contribute. With my help, maybe we could shift all the way from bunny-ears lawyers straight into crazy awesome.

I just need to figure out where to find a metallic purple traffic cone named Sheldon.

We talked for a few moments more before one of the fort’s soldiers interrupted us. “Milord,” he said, addressing me. “I apologize for interrupting, but you asked to be notified when the Pathfinder awoke.”

It was finally time to get ahead of Lucrecia and the forces of her master, this Mokmurian. I grinned. “Thanks, Tovar. I’ll be there momentarily.” He saluted me and returned to his duties. “So, shall we go either rob or destroy a mountain?” I asked the others.

“I’m not sure about destroying a mountain,” Geo answered. “But if this place is what Lucrecia was looking for, it certainly seems to be in our interest to get to it first.”

We found the Pathfinder where we had left him, resting on one of the giant cushions that had belonged to Lucrecia. Someone had brought him some bread and broth as an easy meal since he had been so injured, though his injuries looked to be mostly cured. I suspected that the cleric in Orik’s unit had already visited him.

He looked startled to see me. “The adopted scion of Voidstrife? What are you doing here?”

“There was this thing in Cheliax,” I lied. I feel no compulsion to be honest with Pathfinders. “So I decided to visit sunny Varisia for a bit. Got mixed up in some bad company and we decided to earn a little reward for taking back this fort from all those ridiculous ogres. You?”

He looked at my companions. His eyes widened almost imperceptibly when he noticed Paulie, but then he quickly turned to the next person. “Wait. That scar, that armor…you wouldn’t happen to be Aurora Calwen, would you?” he asked Aurora.

As usual, Aurora didn’t respond well to being recognized by a stranger. Even with her armor on, I could sense her muscles tensing. I gently tapped her arm to get her attention then shook my head slightly. She forced herself to relax. “Yes, this vision of loveliness is indeed Aurora Calwen,” I said. “The large man is named Lenn and the Manus Teuthida there is known as Geo.”

“Manus Teuthida?” Geo interrupted.

“Squid hand,” I replied.

“Ah,” he nodded sagely.

I turned back to the Pathfinder. “Finally, the cat man you seemed to recognize goes by Paulie. Now, if you would be so kind as to tell me how you know him we can get to the part where you introduce yourself.” My tone indicated that I would accept no lies or attempts to weasel out of answering.

His eyes went fully wide at my terse words. “I-I am Bartholomew of the Pathfinders. As for your friend, I do not recognize him, only the symbol he wears.”

Paulie’s ears perked up at that. “Go on,” I said.

“I saw it in a report. Eight of our investigators went missing after entering some kind of tomb. A second team was sent. All they found were their corpses, completely desiccated. They were standing around a sarcophagus. That symbol was carved into the lid of the sarcophagus.”

Well, that was unexpected. Also, if Paulie turned out to be Cat-Dracula, I was going to be pissed. “Okay, so tell us about the ruins you’re currently investigating. We think that some bad people might be looking for them and we want to get there first.”

He shook his head. “You have time, unless they’ve already located the password.”

“Password?” Geo asked.

“There are instructions to speak the password to open the vault,” he said.

Password or no, we were getting in. “How good was the wizard you brought with you?” I asked.

“We didn’t have a wizard,” he replied.

“Okay, your sorcerer. Did he or she have and magic nullification spells?”

“We, um, didn’t have a sorcerer.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Okay, what did you have for arcane magic?”

“We had a bard.”

“A BARD?! Do you people pick your parties out of a hat? Does your leadership just send whomever isn’t currently too drunk to stand? HOW THE HELL DO YOU GO ON AN EXPEDITION TO A RUIN MADE BY AN ANCIENT CIVILIZATION RULED BY WIZARDS AND ONLY BRING A BARD?!”

The man looked terrified. “I-uh-we…”

“Choose your words carefully. I will break your legs if you try to defend that choice,” I said. He just sat, dumbfounded. “And is this ‘bard’ still at the ruins?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. We were attacked by wild animals and got separated. I didn’t want to run into the creatures alone, so I came here for help.”

I sighed. At least that was a sensible decision. “Grab your things. We leave for the ruins in half an hour. And if you aren’t healthy enough to travel, I will smack you with the healing wand repeatedly until you are.”

As I turned to leave, Aurora put her hand on my shoulder. “Kyle…”

I shook my head in disgust. “A. BARD,” I spat, then walked past her, mumbling about the stupidity of it all to no one in particular.

The journey to the vault took a few hours. On the way, we encountered a small pack of dire wolves. One of them had a Pathfinder identification tag stuck in its teeth, much to Bart’s sorrow. Yes, I’m calling him Bart. And yes, because it rhymes with fart.

We found the bard, or at least, what was left of him, at the entrance to the ruins. Bart collected his ID tag and Lenn helped dig him a quick grave. Meanwhile I began studying the puzzle before us. I immediately saw the solution, but waited until they were done saying prayers for the dead before calling Bart over.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t even find their notes,” he said. “So, unfortunately I don’t have the list of words we’ve already tried.”

“That’s fine,” I said, exasperated. “I’ve already solved it.”

“That quickly?” Paulie asked.

I nodded. “It’s an old and very simple puzzle.” I gave Bart a look. “Do you read Thassilonian?”

He actually looked indignant. “Of course. Regardless of what you seem to think, we weren’t completely unprepared for this task.”

“Then go on, read the inscription over the door to my companions and explain to us all your interpretation of the words.”

He rolled up his sleeves and approached the door. “’Beyond this portal lies a repository of prophecy. By order of Krune, none may enter without permission upon pain of death. If he has granted you permission, then speak, friend, and enter.’”

“Explain to my companions what that means,” I prompted.

“Krune is the name of one of the Runelords, rulers of ancient Thassilon, though I’m not sure what virtue he represented.”

“Well deserved rest,” Paulie supplied, without prompting. I looked at him and he did not seem to know how he knew that either.

“Anyway,” Bart continued. “He obviously intended this place to be secure, so he shielded it with a password of some kind. Only those allowed entry would know the code.”

“That could be,” I agreed. “But you assume that he isn’t lazy. That’s something you need to understand about human nature. We’ll go to great lengths to expend as little effort as possible. In this case, it’s not a secure password but the threat of penalty that keeps out the unwanted.”

“Then what’s the password?” he asked, confused.

“The ‘password’ is right on the door.” Yes, I did in fact make finger quotes. I don’t care that he wouldn’t understand them.

“There’s no password there.”

“Look again. It says, ‘Speak FRIEND and enter’.”

“How does that help us?”

I face palmed. “Bart, what’s the Thassilonian word for friend?”

“Midreh,” he said. Immediately, the door began to open.

“The prosecution rests, your honor,” I said to no one. Of course, I knew that there was no way that was the only security, but now we had a way in. We could take the rest as it came.

And it came at us with a vengeance. In the first room, a trio of statues attacked us. They were taller than a Lenn – giants, really. There’s not a whole lot to say about the fight itself, it was pretty textbook. Lenn smashed one, hitting it so hard that its head flew off and knocked another from its feet. Aurora jumped on the downed one and actually stabbed it to “death” with her blade with the help of Paulie’s barrage of arrows. Geo and I finished the last one with a combination of magic and brutal tentacle action. What I’m saying is that it looked like something out of a bad hentai, but not the part where the alien demons attack the schoolgirls. No the part right before that where they’re terrorizing the convenience store because they wanted some ramen or something.

There is one odd thing that happened. At the beginning of the fight, one of the statues that awoke was standing right next to Paulie. There was an excellent chance for a surprise attack on our healer-slash-archer. But it walked right past him like he wasn’t there. Well, no, that’s wrong. It had to step around him, so it obviously knew he was there. It just didn’t care for some reason. I filed that information away for later.

There were a number of offshoot rooms from the main foyer. Most of them were uninteresting, containing little more than thousand year old artifacts that we could sell to the highest bidder. Bart wasn’t happy about that.

“They belong in a museum.”

“So do you,” I replied. “But you don’t see me attempting to curate you. You’re not my type, of course.” Heh. I’m so clever.

“What does that even mean?”

I just rolled my eyes. Look, understand that I completely agree that many of these artifacts belonged in a proper museum, once confirmed to not be doomsday weapons. But what he meant was that they needed to go into the Society’s personal collection. And I’m just not letting that happen without making them pay through the nose. I know it’s petty to hold a grudge because they wouldn’t let me read their books, but it’s kind of a big deal to me.

One room stood out, however. It was a large room that we entered after passing through a massive arch. Inside, there was a large heptagonal mirror on the floor surrounded by seven mithral statues each inscribed with a symbol. The symbols on them looked familiar. It took me only a moment to realize that they were the symbols I’d seen at Brodert Quink’s place. I think these were meant to represent the Runelords.

But if that was the case, why not the symbols for the seven deadly sins?

An orange sign appeared on the floor in front of me. “Beware of holding with both hands.” I looked around to see if anyone else noticed it. No one else appeared be able to see it, so it was another message only for me. I think it was telling me to cut out the mental masturbation.

Fine. Be that way, whoever you are.

We walked around the room and saw very little of real significance aside from some ancient Thassilonian writing on the wall. “And lo, shall a time come to pass when one of the great leaders shall face those who would stand against them. Beware the Man Who is Many, whose journey is both the longest and the shortest. Beware the Heavenly Avenger, the sword of the righteous. Beware the Giantslayer, who was once another man. Beware the Desperate Man, who searches for someone he once lost. And beware the Star Traveler, former companion of the *text unreadable* and wielder of a great and terrible new magic.” There was more, but the text appeared to have been purposefully damaged and unreadable.

We continued looking around the room for several minutes before Paulie walked across the mirror to get a closer look at one of the statues. He wasn’t the first to do so. In fact, pretty much everyone but me had already walked across it. But as soon as he reached the middle, the mirror began to glow with a pale blue light.

Paulie leapt from the mirror immediately, landing in a three point stance. Immediately I recognized his “Batman” mode. “Everyone, back away from the mirror,” I said. “Make your way toward the entrance.” I put myself between the group and the mirror, ready to dispel any magical effects that came our way.

As we neared the archway, the light began to pulse, faster and faster. “RUN!” Bart shouted.

I felt a metal clad hand grab me by the coat and looked behind me as the group dashed to the arch. Just before we reached it, I noticed that there were glowing runes all around the arch. “WAIT!” I tried to shout, but it was too late. We passed through the arch and suddenly I found myself standing alone in a white room.

A deep voice spoke. “Hello, Neo. Welcome to the world of the real.”

I wasn’t amused. “Okay, why am I suddenly in the Matrix loading room talking to Morpheus?”

The bald black man in the long coat and shades shrugged. “Don’t ask me. You’re the one having a psychotic episode.”

Of course I was. Which meant this wasn’t Morpheus. It was more communication from the part of me that I had suppressed, the part of me that was actually enjoying this whole thing. “Hello, Fleur.”

The figure before me pulled off his glasses and rolled his eyes. “Aww, you’re no fun!” a sweet, feminine voice whined. “I didn’t even get to offer you the choice between the blue and red pills.” Morpheus shuddered and morphed into a beautiful woman.

“What happened to your hair?” I asked. “Wasn’t your hair the same color as mine?”

“I just think our female form looks better as a blonde. Don’t you?” She twirled, spinning her mid-thigh length skirt and ending in a pose that gave a lovely view down the front of her criminally low-cut blouse. I nodded appreciatively.

Look, yes, I’m attracted to my female self. And yes, I’m okay with that. Look, it’s not like we’re talking about that old “would you ever” question about sleeping with your time-travelling self. In my opinion, the time traveler is still a separate person with different life experiences despite sharing much of a common background. But Fleur isn’t separate. I call her “she” all the time, but only because it would be confusing saying “I” for both parts of a conversation.

I know it’s confusing. All I’m saying is that you can’t make me feel ashamed for basically looking in a mirror and saying “Yeah, I’d do me.”

“So, what the hell is going on?” I asked.

“We seem to be in some kind of pocket reality or something. I’m not entirely sure why.”

“Maybe it’s a vision of some kind?”

“That would explain the chair.”

The chair? What chair? Before I could ask, she stepped aside, revealing a very strange chair indeed. It was six legged and each leg was a pony. Yes, those ponies. One of the unicorn legs was broken and each of the others showed various degrees of damage. “I wouldn’t sit on it,” I told her.

“Are you calling me fat?”

“Look, we both know we’re eating way more than our body needs. So, yes, a little.” She faked a pout and we both laughed. It’s okay, you don’t have to fake a laugh. It’s magic ring humor. It’s fine if it goes over your head, though it really should go on your finger. “Look, there’s a remote control.”

“OOH! I WANNA DO IT!” she squealed in delight. “Huh. There are only four buttons, just as many buttons as lights. Also, each has a drawing of one of our friends.”

“I wonder what that means.”

She looked at the chair and then the remote. “It can only mean one thing.”

“What’s that?” I almost immediately regretted asking because she began singing.

A true, true friend helps a friend in need
A friend will be there to help them see
A true, true friend helps a friend in need
To see the light that shines from a true, true friend

“What.” She winked and tossed me the remote.

Geo needs your help
He's trying hard, doing what he can
Would you try, just give it a chance
You might find that you'll start to understand

I pushed the button on the remote for Geo and instantly found myselves on a massive plain. Corpses of stone giants littered the ground as far as the eye could see. On top of the largest mound stood two Lenns. One was the axe wielder we knew, but the other wore Geo’s clothes. This had to be a vision of Geo’s transformation like before. The two men were laughing like giddy schoolchildren. Schoolchildren standing on a pile of corpses covered in gore.

I attempted to talk to them, but they didn’t seem to see me. So we were doing the Ghost of Christmas Past thing. Cool story, bro. “Next one?” I asked Fleur.

Lenn needs your help
He's trying hard, doing what he can
Would you try, just give it a chance
You might find that you'll start to understand

I tapped the button and we found ourself in a room in a strange ruin. Lenn was walking around looking for something, looking completely lost. He almost didn’t notice the gnome, who dodged quickly to avoid being stepped on.

The gnome also seemed confused. “This isn’t the right place. This isn’t the right place at all.”

“You have something on your face!” Lenn bellowed matter-of-factly.

“Oh heavens me,” the gnome said. He pulled out a piece of paper and wiped his face. “I was eating pancakes. Must have gotten lost in thought.” He handed the crumpled sheet of paper to Lenn. “Here. You may need this later.”

Lenn licked the impromptu napkin. “Mmm. Boysenberry. That would go good with sausage!”

I tried to get a look at the paper, but Lenn didn’t notice me here either.

The gnome watched my attempts. “You’re taller than I expected,” he said, looking right at me. He then looked at Fleur. “You’d make an excellent lovely assistant, my dear. But no time for auditions. I must continue on. I’m searching for the fabled underground lingonberry springs of the place called IKEA.” Then he was gone.

“I don’t want to be a lovely assistant!” Lenn said. He still didn’t seem to notice us.

“Didn’t we jokingly tell Samantha that IKEA gets its syrup from a mythical underground spring?” Fleur asked me. We had. I nodded. “You don’t think that was…”

“Nah, it couldn’t be. It was just part of this weird hallucination we’re having.”

“Right. That has to be it.”

“On to the next?”

Paulie needs your help
He's trying hard, doing what he can
Would you try, just give it a chance
You might find that you'll start to understand

We arrived in a place not unlike the ruins we had been exploring all day. Only this time, there was no signs of the wear of aging. Paulie, maybe a year younger, was unconscious and strapped to a table. A lazy looking man was regarding him from a nearby chair with a servant of some kind standing next to him. “There’s no doubt about it. My magic is never wrong. He is one of those from the prophecy. But I can find no trace of the others.” He was speaking in Thassilonian.

“Lord Krune, is it possible that one of the other Runelords is shielding their location from you?” Ah, so the man was the Runelord of Sloth. Of course he was.

The man laughed. “It is a concern, though I do not believe I am the target of the prophecy. Alaznist or Xanderghul seem more likely targets. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be cautious. Take him to the eastern vault. Have them place him in a slumber chamber until we have located the others and found a way to be certain who they’ll oppose.”

“Yes, my lord.” The servant rang a bell and two large men entered the room. At the servant’s direction they began to carry the limp form of the cat man away.

“Wait,” Krune called out. He held up a medallion with the symbol Paulie wore. “Place this on him. There are facilities we may need to take him to later and I want the guardians to know that he is there on my orders.”

“Of course, my Lord.”

Krune continued studying a book on a stand before him. I looked over his shoulder and realized he was reading the prophecy. This version was much longer and much of it was in pictographs, which I didn’t quite recognize. I think one of them looked like a white dragon of some kind, but I could be wrong. But I could definitely make out the ending that had been missing from the text in the ruins, though the part about the companion of the Star Traveler still had a smudge on it.

“These five are dangerous and may very well prove capable of slaying a Runelord, but their chances of survival while doing so are only as great as the chances of two men creating life without a woman.”

So, they were going to die stopping a Runelord. And Paulie was one of them. And there were five of them. And Star Traveler sounded an awful lot like me.

“Well, crap,” Fleur said just what I was thinking.

“I know, right?”

“Let’s worry about it later, okay?” she said. “There’s still one more button on that remote.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Aurora is in trouble
We need to get there by her side
We can try to do what we can now
For together we can be her guide

We found ourself in a golden citadel. I looked out a massive nearby window and gasped. “It looks like the moon!” The stars were incredibly vivid, just like when I’d been traveling through space.

Fleur immediately tried to do a moon jump and fell flat on her backside. “Aww! They have normal gravity here!” She pouted and I pulled her to her feet. “Do you hear that?” she asked.

I decided not to comment on the silliness of asking yourself if you heard something and just nodded. The sounds of an angelic choir had begun to fill the air. Not knowing what else to do, we followed the sound until we came to a large door. Standing at the door, looking unsure as to whether she should enter, was Aurora. I gently put my hand on her shoulder. She didn’t seem to notice, but gathered the courage to open the door and step on through.

Inside the room, over a hundred voices erupted in cheers. The applause was thunderous. Aurora jumped, though perhaps not as high as I had. As the cheering continued, I examined the crowd. There were celestial beings of all types, from the tiniest Lyriaken Azata to a majestic Solar Angel. From the temptation-prone Peri to a good dozen disciplined Archons.

As the applause died down, Aurora managed to regain her composure. “Wh-what is this?”

A matronly yet incredibly beautiful angel smiled warmly as she walked over and enveloped Aurora in a hug. “We just wanted you to know how proud of you we are,” she said.

“Me? Why?”

“You’ve fought so very hard, child. You’ve saved so many. And we can tell that your greatest deeds lie before you, not behind.”

“I’m not strong enough,” Aurora said, burying her face in the angel’s shirt. “I’m no good at all.”

“You’re wrong about that,” a draconal Agathion said. “You’re stronger than you think and much better than you know. And I doubt we’re the only ones who have noticed.”

“I don’t know about that,” she said, looking away.

Without thinking, I walked over and leaned in close. “I’ve noticed,” I whispered in her ear. She suddenly blushed and looked around, but she still couldn’t see me.

“Slap her ass,” Fleur whispered in my ear.

“The hell is wrong with you?” I asked myself.

“Come on! She wants you to do it even more than you want to do it. And if you won’t do it now, then as soon as we get back you take her out behind the ruins and take care of it.”

“We’re leaving,” I said. “I apparently can’t take me anywhere.”

“Fine,” Fleur said, pouting. “Push the fifth button.”

“There’s no fifth button… huh.” Suddenly, there was a fifth button. I’m certain it hadn’t been there earlier.

The townspeople need you
They've been sad for a while
They march around, face a-frown
And never seem to smile
And if you feel like helpin'
We'd appreciate a lot
If you'd get up there and spread some cheer
From here to Canterlot

I suddenly found myself back in the farmlands near Sandpoint. I was next to a pair of farmers on horseback. Actually, the horses didn’t look like farm stock. They were much finer. “Holy crap. It’s Rarity!” I said to Fleur. Even she seemed a bit choked up at seeing our old horse.

The woman riding Rarity was talking to her companion. “It sure was generous of those folks to loan us their horses, eh, Horran? And that magic they used on us must have cost a fortune. I’m just glad we’re on our way to Sandpoint to get this malady right cured. Don’t you think so too, Horran? Horran?”

Lettie Guffman barely managed to turn when the ghoul that used to be Horran leapt from Shadowmist’s back and knocked her from Rarity. His taloned left foot dug into Rarity’s neck, killing her instantly.

Shadowmist, true to Aurora’s command, rushed to protect Lettie, but it was too late. Horran had snapped her neck. The horse barely managed to escape his own demise and had to flee. There was no one left to save. I couldn’t blame him.

At this point, I was unsurprised to notice a winged woman standing in the tall wheat nearby, still as a statue. “Hey, Fleur, you see that?”

“I know, right? We should have had them stay with us. We may have been able to save Lettie and Rarity.”

I gave her a flat look. “No. The woman in the field.”

She turned and looked. “What woman?”

I turned back. The winged woman was gone. Of course she was. And somehow, my other half hadn’t seen her. Well, crap. Maybe I was going crazy. I decided to let it drop and looked at the remote. “So, any other visions, spirit?”

“I do have this great vision I’ve cooked up that involves Aurora, a public bathhouse made of marble and a bottle of Herbal Essence, but I think we’re starting to get sent back, so I guess we just finish the song. Sing with me?”

Damn. I kinda wanted to see that. I mean, it was just a harmless fantasy wrapped in a psychotic episode. No harm there, right? Oh well. “Sure,” I said. Then we began to sing.

A true, true friend helps a friend in need
A friend will be there to help them see
A true, true friend helps a friend in need
To see the light that shines from a true, true friend.

It took my eyes several moments to adjust to the dimmer room when I returned. “Kyle, are you okay?” Aurora asked. Her face was inches from mine.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Perhaps you should perform mouth-to-mouth to make sure I’m breathing.” I could feel Fleur grinning as I said it.

“He’s fine,” Aurora said, sounding a bit relieved.

“What happened?” I asked.

“We went through the archway and you all just disappeared,” Bart said.

“You didn’t?” Geo asked, intrigued.

The Pathfinder shook his head. “I’m not sure why. Maybe because I was the first through?”

It was possible. Maybe he’d made it through in time. But does that mean the visions were real? Eff it. I don’t care. “Alright. Geo, get your saw. We’re taking some of that mithral.”

“Is that safe?” Aurora asked.

“Probably not,” I said. But I’m pissed off at these damn Runelords. We’re taking their s$*@.”

As we entered the room again, I glanced at the mirror. The reflection had changed. No longer were the statues reflected as generic statues, but each now showed a specific Runelord. I recognized Krune and Alaznist, but I took in the different faces in case I needed them later. It was difficult. One of the statues – likely the Runelord of Lust – was a voluptuous woman in the hottest outfit I’d seen in a long time.

And then the statues got off their pedestals and tried to kill us. The fight was brutal. Mithral is much stronger than stone. But Lenn is stronger than Mithral. Exploding Mithral, however, is stronger than Lenn. Yeah, I said “exploding mithral”.

Someone had coated the statues in a chemical that reacts with air. The magic of the statues had prevent it from contacting air, but once we destroyed them, they would explode. “Throw oil at them!” I shouted, remembering something from Burn Notice. “Preferably not lantern oil,” I added.

In the end, Paulie had a fair amount of work to heal our wounds and we only managed to save one of the heads. The rest of the mithral was a loss. Even then, I had work ahead of me to remove the explodey outer layer.

“Let’s go,” Lenn said. “I want pancakes!”

I froze. “What.”

“Taste this,” he said, handing me something from his pocket. It was a sheet of paper covered in syrup stains. There was some kind of alchemical formula on it, so I passed it over to Geo.

“Where did you get this?”

“From the gnome.”

“What gnome?” Paulie asked in his gravelly bat-voice.

I held up my hand, asking for silence. “Geo?”

He continued looking at the formula for a moment. “It appears to be for some kind of alchemical pancake batter. It reacts with the air to instantly create a perfectly cooked and deliciously warm pancake.”

I couldn’t take it. I sat down and began to laugh. “Kyle? What’s wrong?” Aurora asked as she put a hand on my shoulder.

“It’s a pancake recipe! Of course it’s a pancake recipe! It really was him!” My laughter echoed through the ruins as it took control of me.

Everyone exchanged concerned glances. “Care to share the joke with the rest of us?” Geo asked.

“Lenn met Gozreh’s champion! You were killing giants, just like you wanted! Aurora met a bunch of angels! And you,” I said, pointing at Paulie. “I’m not even sure what to make of what you saw. But it was a damn sight better than mine! I got to watch a farmer and a horse get killed by a ghoul! AHAHAHAHA!”

They all looked shocked that I had also seen what they had seen. No one knew what to make of it, so they gave me time to calm down before we started making our way out of the cavernous ruins.

As we neared the entrance, we found ourselves standing against dozens more living statues. I heard Fleur curse. “Man, screw this day.” The statues raised their weapons and prepared to charge. Suddenly, I had a moment of clarity.

“Paulie, get between the rest of us and the statues.”

Despite my earlier breakdown, he immediately did what I said. My voice must have sounded very certain. Or maybe he’s crazier than I am. With him in the way, the statues hesitated. “What do I do now?”

“Repeat what I say precisely and with authority.” He did as I asked. The statues lowered their weapons and returned to their places.

“Well, that certainly worked,” Geo said, impressed. “What did you say?”

Bart answered for me. “‘These people are with me. Stand down immediately.’”

“How did you know that would work?” Aurora asked.

I shrugged. “I didn’t. I suspected it might since none of the other statues today have tried attacking Paulie. And then there was his vision. I suspect he’s been given permission to be here. I must admit that this opens more questions than it answers.” I sighed. “I’ll tell you all everything when I have it figured out. But for now, let’s get back to the fort. I have a headache.”

When we returned to the fort, we found that every member of the Black Arrows was ill. “What’s going on here?” Aurora demanded of Orik.

“I told them not to eat those fish we found in the barrel. They didn’t listen.”

“Poison?!” Geo asked, alarmed.

I prepared a spell and checked some of the remaining fish. “No. It’s just gone bad. They’ll probably be ill for a day or so as long as we give them plenty of rest and fluids. Also, feed them each a bit of charcoal. It should help.”

“Charcoal?” Orik asked.

“Yeah, it should trap the bacteria and help them get rid of it.”

“The what?”

I sighed again. I wanted to be somewhere where even a twelve year old would understand the basics of how infections work. “The sickness.”

He motioned for one of his men to get on it. “Oh, and this came for you while you were gone. Not sure how the messenger found us.”

He handed me a small package bearing the Voidstrife seal. I opened the package. Inside was a pair of scrolls and a note. “What does it say?” Aurora asked.

“My adopted brother says that it’s very important to return to Absalom as soon as possible,” I said. “Want to go check out my old stomping grounds?”

“Is now really the best time?”

I shrugged. “Paulie, you’re probably going to be stuck tending the ill for the next day or so, right?” He nodded. “Geo, you’re going to want to take care of Shalelu, right?” He also nodded. “And Lenn, you’re going to make pancakes, right?”

“YES!” he agreed enthusiastically.

“So yeah, we’ve got a day or so of downtime. How about it?”

She thought for a moment. “Sure. But will it be that quick?”

I grinned. “Teleportation scrolls. He said it shouldn’t take more than half of a day or so.”

Bart peeked his head in the room. “Did I hear you say you were teleporting to Absalom? Can I come with you?”

“Sure,” I said. I didn’t add that I was leaving him in Absalom whether he wanted or not.

“I’ll go get my stuff.”

“Take your time. We’re going first thing in the morning. I’m sure it’ll hold til then and I’d rather not start dealing with it until I’ve rested. So, for now, I’m going to go play a few songs and get some sleep.” I turned to Orik. “Do me a favor and figure out the best configuration of two hundred pounds of rations to keep the fort well fed until we can get a proper resupply. I’ll pick up some supplies while I’m in Absalom.”

“Pancakes!” Lenn yelled.

Pancakes indeed. With lingonberry syrup and a side of meatballs. “Remind me next time we’re near a proper kitchen and I’ll show you an old favorite dish of mine, sausage dipped in pancake batter and deep fried.”

I bid them goodnight and headed off for bed. Just before falling asleep, I detected the soft scent of lilacs and drifted off into one of the most peaceful sleeps I’d had in ages, completely lacking in dreams.

I can't describe just how happy I am to be back to writing this. Next two entries will be from a side story(meaning minimal Lenn, Geo or Paulie involvment) that I already have written. I just need to go through and edit it since it was originally intended to be put out at the end of Hook Mountain, but now that I know more about what's coming up, the campaign GM and I have decided it fits better here.

I hate to bump this with no content update, but I ran across something that made me think of the campaign and had to share.

Looks like Kyle and Aurora made it home after all.

I'm considering talking to my friends and seeing if I can get together with them individually to work on completing the story without the crunch because it's making me really sad not to have finished this one. I can usually find a few hours a week with each of them, just not both at the same time.

I misclicked and accidentally closed the window on my first reply. If this one is incomplete because I run out of time, will finish later.

Turin the Mad wrote:
We gotsta know!

The short of it is that while the campaign isn't dead, it's on indefinite hiatus. My friends' work got taken over by new owners and their schedules have been messed all to hell because of it.

One of them is on a random schedule that now leaves him waking up around the same time I go to bed. I'd gladly stay up late once a week to play, but there's never any guarantee that he'll have a day off the same day I do, which means it isn't as feasible as I'd like.

The other has dropped all pretense of regulating his sleep schedule and now gets a seemingly random 5-14 hours of sleep each day. I had been keeping that in check by waking him for games on the weekend and scheduling lunch preparation for all three of us such that he stayed up until his normal bed time, but it hasn't been happening.

They've talked about finding new jobs due to the odd schedules and hour cuts they've had, but it hasn't happened yet because they'd rather b$~#$ and watch Youtube streamers than actually go put in applications. That said, I'm optimistic that it will happen, hopefully in the next few months. As such, I've been working on side stories to intersperse in between actual session stories, so when we get back going, I should have a steady stream of stuff to post.

I've also been working on custom technological(we'll be adding in the Tech guide sometime after the game resumes...even have a side story to introduce it) and magi-tech items inspired by Kyle as something to do while waiting. Some custom spells too. Not all of them will make it into the campaign. Many will end up being saved for use in future campaigns that build off this one(the Formian ranged weapons, for instance). And I still need to fine tune them for balance. That said, if you're interested, I could make a thread in the House Rules forum about those.

Also, if anyone's been playing some Heroes of the Storm, that's more or less what I've been doing with my time if you want to game sometime. I even got bored and worked out Kyle as a HotS character as a thought exercise. Highlights: One of his Heroic Abilities allows him to rebuild or fortify defensive towers and walls. He attacks extremely quickly using his magi-tech gauss SMG, but has a fairly high miss chance on his auto-attacks.

Anyway, that's more or less where we are for the time being. I'll try to keep you more up to date if something changes. Thanks for your patience and interest thus far.

Thurmin wrote:
KBrewer wrote:

Time for a new guide, this one for the Blockbuster Wizard:

Oh, I'm trying out instead of Google Docs - I'm running into issues with them destroying the quality of images embedded in PDFs. Please let me know how good/bad the document quality is for you. If it's suitable, I may start storing my guides in Dropbox instead of Google.

I'm not able to view the file, has it been moved?

Yeah, the dropbox got inundated. Someone copied it over to another site. I think it was linked a couple pages back.


ZanThrax wrote:
Here's a link. I copied it into my SkyDrive; that'll let people access it until KBrewer can rehost.

synjon wrote:

Magical Lineage on Shocking Grasp sounds interesting. At 1st level, you can make the range close instead of touch for free - still better than the 15' of Burning Hands, plus you're doing a d6 instead of a d4 damage. The drawbacks I saw was 1) you're still only affecting a single creature (but with more damage); 2) close range is still close enough to end up in combat. It won't be until 3rd level that you can go to medium range and 3) now you can't put Lineage on Fireball.

One other thing I'm confused about is damage caps. RAW, most of these spells have damage caps (5d6 for Shocking Grasp, for example) - yet, I see in the various guides people talking about damage levels well above the cap. Obviously, I'm missing a rule here that allows damage above the cap. Does it relate to bonuses to caster level or is it from metamagic (or both)?

Thanks again.

Intensify Spell metamagic gives you an extra five levels above the cap that your caster levels can increase the bonuses. When you also consider that people will often add in empower dice when talking about spell damages on the forums, it can make the number of dice look huge.

Also, I had another thought. Assuming I'm understanding correctly and you're GMing: If you're allowing retraining, you might consider allowing him to take something like Combat Casting at level 1 and retrain it at level 7 or so. Traits aren't technically allowed in the retraining rules, but as long as it isn't PFS, I don't see any real reason to disallow it as long as you let everyone else know that it's an option.

synjon wrote:

I wonder how it affects the build if you forego the Burning Hands spell, & just use Magic Missile/Ray of Frost for the 1st few levels, (until Fireball becomes available, at least). This way, you reduce the need for Combat Casting, as you can remain out of combat more since MM has much better range. Also, the Intense Spells ability will help at least some with the damage output for those 1st few levels, given that MM is an evocation spell. Spell Focus & Spell Specialization can wait until 3rd/5th levels, respectively then - Toughness would probably be the most likely feat choice for 1st level in that case.

Any thoughts on this idea? And any input on my earlier question regarding Magical Lineage?


Having Magical Lineage(or the other one that does more or less the same thing, Wayang something or other) is rather huge for a blaster. I'd definitely not skip it. That said, if he has a spare feat sometime between levels 1 and 7(to use empower in 4th level spell slots), then he won't really be using it until then anyway, so picking up Extra Traits should be fine. I'm not sure how likely he'll be to have a spare feat by then, though.

Magic Missile/Ray of Frost won't make for a very effective multi-mob slayer, but it should be alright otherwise.

Scythia wrote:

Worst backstory?

"I'm the (identically statted) son/brother of my last character."

Even worse when they go from being Bob to Bob Jr., or Rob. A player in a LARP I was in pulled this three or four times. Each time just going right back to what he had been doing, assuming he knew all the same people (including being angry at whoever caused the last character to die, if it was foul play), and so on. I can only assume that the Camarilla must have decided to embrace an entire family's males en masse.

Maybe he was roleplaying Rogue Legacy. I'd just be glad he didn't roll Coprolalia.

Ross Byers wrote:
leo1925 wrote:
Majuba wrote:
Also, the 'hundreds-meter spaceship' might not have been built planet-side.
Probably yes, but what does this has to do with the power requirements?
A spaceship needs a lot less power to move around in space than it does to take off from a planet's surface. Therefore, the generator of a huge spaceship might still have a relatively modest power output if it was built in space and never intended to land.

And that's before you consider that it might be getting its primary power by using a smaller generator to create some kind of technobabble phenomena that it then uses to power its primary processes.

Like compressing a bunch of dark matter into a black hole and using that as the main power source. Or something like that.

Bandw2 wrote:
Alleran wrote:
Bandw2 wrote:
still no weapon you create will have charges it is simply incapable of doing so.
There is nothing in the rules that says this. Please don't make unfounded assertions.
there is even less to suggest the weapon CAN be made with charges. Normal is a relative term, and I think a weapon does normal damage as an unpowered variant of it's weapon.

Based on what I linked above, unless you can use the spell to make a Sun Blade(insert whatever magic weapon you want here), I think you're out of luck entirely.

Poldaran wrote:
Alleran wrote:
Bandw2 wrote:
a technological weapon only does normal damage of it's type when on, thus the shadow weapon would have to be turned on, same if you used shadow weapon to create a frost weapon, you then have to spend a standard action to turn frost on.
Correct. You cast the spell, you get the weapon. You activate it, it works per normal. If it did not then it would be violating the text of the spell, because the copy has to be capable of doing the damage of a normal weapon of its type when summoned. The copy is not timeworn unless you're creating it that way, so those rules don't apply.

Depending on how you interpret this part of the Tech Guide, it could be moot. You might not be able to do it at all.

technology from the future (or even the present-day real world) in a fantasy setting should be handled in a manner similar to magic items elsewhere in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

If not, then I would have to ask how it also plays with Fabricate, since it seems if one works, the other should as well, in theory.

And that might be for the best, since using Shadow Weapon to get a monowhip, for instance, you're effectively getting the option of a 70,000g weapon for free for minutes at a time for the cost of a standard action and a 1st level spell slot.

More or less what I figured.

James Jacobs wrote:
Poldaran wrote:
Because it came up in another thread, here's a question for ya. How do technological items interact with spells like Shadow Weapon and Fabricate?
They should interact as if they were magic items, since they're balanced and priced as if they were magic items.

That's more or less what I thought. Thanks.

You know, it took me three mentions of 20 page backstories to realize that you all were saying that they were too long. I kept thinking "Yeah, that's kinda short." :P

Sadly(for purposes of sharing entertainment), so far I haven't seen any truly horrible roleplaying yet. I've had experiences where the guys I play with(when RL doesn't somehow preclude our ability to game) do things that make absolutely no sense from a meta perspective but end up being entertaining roleplay. Like the time a guy threw a Runestone of Power at a giant floating eyeball because he couldn't identify it but was told by a mothman sent by the party's patron that it would be helpful in the upcoming encounter.

Because it came up in another thread, here's a question for ya. How do technological items interact with spells like Shadow Weapon and Fabricate?

chaoseffect wrote:
What is the most ridiculous name you can think of for a mercenary company?

Another thought occurs. You could seek a name in a commercial campaign. I once ran a WoW guild with some friends that we called "Messin' With Sasquatch". So maybe a mercenary company called "Hangry Moments", "The Men Your Man Should Smell Like" or "The Most Interesting Men in the World".

chaoseffect wrote:
What is the most ridiculous name you can think of for a mercenary company?

We used the Gamemaster's guide's random generation table to name a mercenary company. Our first attempt yielded "Potent Rainbow Lions".

Alleran wrote:

Debauchery Tea Party?

(Note: I cribbed it from something else. Internet cookie if you know what.)

I'd have gone with DDD, since the in-universe history of the name is great.

Alleran wrote:
Bandw2 wrote:
a technological weapon only does normal damage of it's type when on, thus the shadow weapon would have to be turned on, same if you used shadow weapon to create a frost weapon, you then have to spend a standard action to turn frost on.
Correct. You cast the spell, you get the weapon. You activate it, it works per normal. If it did not then it would be violating the text of the spell, because the copy has to be capable of doing the damage of a normal weapon of its type when summoned. The copy is not timeworn unless you're creating it that way, so those rules don't apply.

Depending on how you interpret this part of the Tech Guide, it could be moot. You might not be able to do it at all.

technology from the future (or even the present-day real world) in a fantasy setting should be handled in a manner similar to magic items elsewhere in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

If not, then I would have to ask how it also plays with Fabricate, since it seems if one works, the other should as well, in theory.

And that might be for the best, since using Shadow Weapon to get a monowhip, for instance, you're effectively getting the option of a 70,000g weapon for free for minutes at a time for the cost of a standard action and a 1st level spell slot.

James Jacobs wrote:
I don't honestly know how much real-world power is needed to power a nuclear resonator or a vortex gun. :-)

A lot, if I had to guess. :P

chaoseffect wrote:
Ashiel wrote:
Helcack wrote:
It's great and honestly I enjoy it so much more than the boring magic weapons that Paizo puts in a lot of it's books. Just don't tell the munchkin's about shadow weapon spell as now it can summon Monoblade's and Monowhip's
Hahaha, that's a funny thought. :P
As a munchkin I find this to be very relevant to my interests. Thank you for that.

Not to rain on your parade, but wouldn't they be non-powered ones and thus relatively useless?

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I was doing a little wiki walking tonight that made me think about this thread and the sub-discussion about heredity and sorcerers.

Sorcerers are very common on the island of Hermea,[3] where pervasive social engineering by the gold dragon Mengkare nurtures the development of arcane abilities.

I don't have the books referenced, but following the links to Hermea, Mengkare and the Glorious Endeavor, it sounds like there is at least a way to nurture the growth of sorcerous talent to some degree through a breeding program(!). I'm still processing what I read, so I can't say just how much bearing it has on the discussion here, but it sounded interesting.

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