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483 posts. 1 review. No lists. 1 wishlist.


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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.

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.

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.

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.

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. ^_^

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.

Chris Kenney wrote:
Aelryinth wrote:

Continual Flame is at will ability of Torch Archons. it costs NOTHING to do massive amounts of Continual Flames. You could light a city in a day or two by Calling up an Archon or two and having them drop CF's where instructed for a nominal fee.


In addition to the above, you also can't actually do this - Summoned creatures can't use spell-likes with an expensive material component (or, more likely, won't.) Continual Flame requires 50 gp of ruby dust.

That's why he said "Called", not "summoned". He's proposing using one of the longer lasting binding spells that actually bring the creature to you.

richard develyn wrote:
Certainly two humans (say) who do not have any of a particular bloodline in their genes cannot produce a sorcerer of that bloodline.

Unless you're exposed to a particular catalyst while pregnant(or the baby is later). Or the baby is destined for greatness. Or one of the many things that cause sorcerers to pop.

I think it's like Aasimar. Having it makes it possible, but there's absolutely no guarantee, even if both parents are Aasimar.

Zark wrote:
We disagree on some stuff and that is cool. I think we should drop this.

We are derailing things a bit, perhaps. Aight for now, though I reserve the option of discussing this particular topic further in other threads if it's brought up there at a later time.

Zark wrote:

I meant using the abilities on their own. Counterspelling may not seem to be terribly OP, but regardless of Dispel Checks this ability is very powerful, especially when the PC faces a Boss with this ability (boss being higher levels than the PC’s) or when the PC’s fighting creatures that cast spells that can easily be Counterspelled. This ability can easily kill a blaster that mostly relies on adding meta magic to low level spells such as fireballs.

As for Quick Study, we seem to agree. I just want to point out that I’m in no way saying it is too good to use in battle. It is actually rather awkward to use in battle, the problem is more that it can be use before and after the battle. The balancing factor of the class is its limitation. Removing the limitation is to remove the balance. Pearls of power are cheap and add Quick Study and you have a full arcane caster that is far better than the Sorcerer. As pointed out by Deadmanwalking, the wizard is still probably just as good as the Arcanist (or even more powerful).

Ultimately, a boss with the ability will be ridiculously powerful even if you put a limit on the number of times per day. Bosses are generally by default the highest example of the 15 minute adventuring day. Even with a limit of 1+Cha/day, that's still 3-5 spells a higher CL boss will be able to semi-reliably shut down. On the other hand, they're giving up the ability to Quicken spells against you. Balancing for use by a nova-ready boss seems silly to me.

As for blasters, I hadn't considered a possible interpretation that it would be the level of the unadjusted spell that determines the level of the spell needed to be expended as part of the action. If so, then that might screw over blasters a good bit. But I'm going with the interpretation that it's dependent on the spell slot used to cast the spell. If that's incorrect, then that's something that needs to be addressed. If not, you're still expending a valuable resource(spells) to only have a chance at countering something. It does incentivize the heck out of boosting your caster stat if you're building a counter-spell focused arcanist.

Are pearls of power usable by the Arcanist? I thought that they'd be forced to use the Runestone of Power instead by the way their spells work. Not much better, but twice the cost, so at least there's that. That said, if they put an X+Cha/day limit on Quick Study, I don't think it would significantly weaken the class. Realistically, how often will you need it more than 2-3 times a day anyway?

Aside from that, if it doesn't represent power creep over the wizard, I can't really call a full arcane casting class power creep.

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LazarX wrote:

The only opportunity you'd likely be able to get that as a deadite would be when you're up for Pharasma's Judgement.

Which means at that point, no matter what happens, you're not coming back to tell the tale.

The epicness of the tale is in defying impossible odds. You don't get remembered forever for going quietly into the night, you get it by running like hell and getting lucky enough on a res to escape in the nick of time.

Or you hope it amused Cayden enough that he tosses you a resurrection in the nick of time and makes you into his new champion or something.

Zark wrote:

I specifically thinking about the Counterspell and Quick Study Arcanist exploit. Both need a nerf.

At limit to how many times per day Quick Study can Counterspell can be used would be a simple fix.

Actually, I think a lot of the Arcanist exploit should come with a limit of uses per day. Just like the Oracle.

Doesn't the action on Quick Study prevent it from being used with the Counterspell Exploit(or did you just mean using it on its own)? Also, successfully countering still requires a Dispel Check, does it not?

Counterspelling doesn't seem too terribly OP, especially since you're using up your limited number of spell slots on a less than sure thing. As for quick study, it might be a bit powerful if you can find a way to get the points to use it often, so I'll give you that one.

I'm not sure if this is meant to be a compendium where we all discuss our house rules or if it's supposed to be about the specific rules a particular table has come up with, but here's my addition. If it was meant to be the latter, please accept my apologies.

raverbane wrote:
Overall, I really enjoy the Technology Guide and I think it will add a lot to our games. There are a few things that I don't see eye to book spine with and making a few house rules.

In ours, the tech is being adapted by an Earthling who has only read about it. Along the way, a few adaptations are being made, including the addition of power displays. We're also considering bio-locks to prevent enemies from stealing our weapons to use against us.

The first is Aetheric Batteries. These are built into the device and recharge once per day as long as you aren't in a null-magic zone. Still debating price, but leaning towards 10x the cost of a regular battery. This is to adjust for the fact that we don't really have access to generators.

The second is a spell accessible only to one character at the moment which allows the creation of temporary extra-dimensional technological crafting lab. It also allows for faster crafting of all magic or technological items since the GM for the campaign wants to allow crafting to be viable without adding in too much extra downtime in game.

The third is a whole new class of construct: Magitech constructs. Based on a hybrid of clockwork and robotic constructs, they're highly modular, allowing the implantation of numerous technological gadgets. This was purely for making an Iron Man suit, more or less.

Some of these might show up as artifacts when we run Iron Gods. The GM for that hasn't decided.

Out of curiosity, has anyone worked out a system for creating and pricing AI? We're leaning towards using Leadership as the way to get one, but constructing one has also been discussed, though we haven't come up with a pricing scheme we're happy with.

Zark wrote:
Arcanist –I like the concept and it fills a much needed niche, a more flexible spontaious caster, but my gut feeling fells that is overpowered.

While the exploits seem stronger than Bloodlines and bonus feats/generic school powers to me, I'm not sure I'd call it overpowered, at least not compared to the sorcerer or wizard.

The lower number of spells per day(unless you go school specialist) really feels like it could hurt a fair bit.

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Conumbra wrote:
So, a friend proposed an interesting wrinkle to this problem. Why hasn't someone (a government, an extremely wealthy individual, etc.) contracted out a caster (or cast the magic themselves, assuming said wealthy person is an arcane caster) to create permanent teleportation circles to link various parts of the world in exceedingly rapid trade? Surely they'd make their money back long term.

Convenience vs. Security, I'd imagine. If there's no physical way to block it(like Stargate SG1's iris), there'd be nothing to do to prevent a hostile army from porting over en masse short of a garrison large enough to neutralize each wave before the whole area is overrun.

Edit: That said, you could mitigate the threat by having the terminus be outside of a city, preferably far away enough to allow a smaller garrison to put out an alert and give the city time to respond. You'd still end up with a hostile army in the middle of your nation, but at least it wouldn't be too bad. Other options include having a central outgoing terminus in a trade hub that has teleportation circles that output inside the same nation's borders, but near the edge, since they're one way devices. It wouldn't be quite as convenient, but it would address the security issue.

In a modern setting, the sheer volume of freight would make it impractical to use since you'd have to transport to the circle, load into smaller conveyance(a cart of some kind, probably) and then load back into a larger freight vehicle. In that case, circles would be relegated to personnel transport(and the occasional overnight type package). You'd need something on the level of an elf gate that you could drive whole trucks through.

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Tiny Coffee Golem wrote:
Poldaran wrote:
Splode wrote:


Gods don't have to like everyone.
So what you're saying is that slapping Pharasma's backside as you get resurrected may be a bad idea even if it's totally in character?
Totally worth it

"Let me tell you about how I got my first mythic tier..." :P

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Splode wrote:


Gods don't have to like everyone.

So what you're saying is that slapping Pharasma's backside as you get resurrected may be a bad idea even if it's totally in character?

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deusvult wrote:
Kill off enough of Golarion's peasantry and serfs, and the labor will have to be made up by SOMETHING. Magical technologies would be a ready answer for every day applications once there are no longer enough slaves/peasants/serfs to go around to empty all the chamber pots, harvest all the grain, etc.

That would make for a great arc villain for a larger campaign.

Latrecis wrote:

"No, you are not torturing that goblin for information."

"No, you are not lying to the merchant about what you did to his daughter. At least I am not lying for you."
"No, you are not animating the dead bugbear to help us fight <blank>"
And so on.

That's why you never ask the paladin for permission. Forgiveness is easier to get.

chaoseffect wrote:
I don't really see how it's any more viable then roaming around killing s*#& for their money as per most adventurers. And those guys end up richer than Bill Gates in the long run, as per the rules.

I don't know if I'd say it's that far. They seem like they'd be more along the lines of a Powerball winner at 20th if we're comparing their ability to buy bread at retail price.

And while you might have to murderhobo quite a few villains to get there, at least you wouldn't be selling your own children.

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On a semi-related note, the redesigned PRD looks rather nice. Now I can work on stuff at work without having to drag my Tech guide with me.

Since you're hinting at all sorts of things for the AP, I'm curious if there are plans to have the gravity and radiation based rocket launchers hinted at in the weapon's description make an appearance.

James Jacobs wrote:
Poldaran wrote:

Yay! It's here. I'm saddened that power armor is an artifact, but at the same time, the ASF was too high for me to use it for my plan anyway. I'll have to talk to my GM about using the section about making tech versions of magical items to reskin my previously planned clockwork construct armor into "power armor".

Aside from that, loving much of the stuff in here.

It's basically an artifact because the total gp cost went over 200,000 gp. Same reason we made the autodoc an artifact.

I figured it was probably something like that. It's not like I could get the ASF down enough to make it viable for a wizard anyway without just investing in an ungodly number of still spell rods.

James Jacobs wrote:
Rocket launchers should have the touch ability.

And the rocket launcher goes back on the table. Just when I thought I'd made a decision.

Askren wrote:
Now here's the important part: I really need to make sure that no matter what, the PCs don't decide to hunt him down between Book 1 and Book 2. We all know that them checking his house in Magnimar or his family manor before they should is the easiest way to bring the entire narrative crashing in on itself, so if they do head that way, I'll need to rope them back in with the murders.

You'll want to make him seem a bit off right now, but not dangerous. Not yet. Definitely a bit creepy. But if you play it off as him just being a bit strange since his wife died, you'll make it sound like you're setting him up to do something crazy to try to bring his dead wife back.

Alternatively, set him up as an obvious red herring. Aldern was too forward, maybe even a bit grabby or something. She kicked him out. A few days later, she noticed that someone was following her and whatnot, but never got a look at who it was. At the same time, from a different source, mention that Tsuto(or his body) has escaped(gone missing). Make it sound ominous, but don't give them anything more than that.

If done right, they should dismiss Aldern for now, figuring he's just a red herring. They should spend the between books 1/2 looking for Tsuto, who is conveniently hard to find. And later, when the letters start appearing, let each of them contain a single symbol from the Minkaian script. Symbols for words like "Love", "Eternity", "Family" and such.

Then, when the time is right, they find Tsuto's body. With another note attached. "Now, no one will stand between us, my love." or something like that. And the Minkaian symbol on that one? Regardless of what it means, someone remembers..."Wait. Didn't Aldern Foxglove have that symbol tattooed on his arm?"

Drakol wrote:
- Personally, there are a few deeds that do not work with Slow Firing (Dead Shot for example), however the Techslinger gives the ability to use Deeds with Heavy Weapons. Did they really think about this at all?

Some deeds will work with slow firing weapons and others won't, I'd imagine. Also, I could have sworn that at least one heavy weapon wasn't slow firing.

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Troodos wrote:
Guess I'll have to house rule it in, whats the point of getting to be a cyborg if you can't be General Grievous?

You could just start out with a Kasatha to get the required number of limbs.

James Jacobs wrote:
Once you have the laser pistol, you can make it a +1 laser pistol using Master Craftsman.
James Jacobs wrote:

An inferno pistol can't deal "weapon damage." It deals fire damage, and any additions to that from Deadly Aim or sneak attack or whatever is the same type of damage as the type generated by the weapon.

So in this case it's all fire damage.

Is the possibility of a +1 Flaming Laser negated by the fact that it's not technically a projectile weapon(ditto for the other elemental enchants and the other technological beam type weapons)? Because if not, I could actually see sometimes using the elemental enchants now.

Yay! It's here. I'm saddened that power armor is an artifact, but at the same time, the ASF was too high for me to use it for my plan anyway. I'll have to talk to my GM about using the section about making tech versions of magical items to reskin my previously planned clockwork construct armor into "power armor".

Aside from that, loving much of the stuff in here.

Steven "Troll" O'Neal wrote:
jimibones83 wrote:
Poldaran wrote:
I just want to know why UPS is holding my package in a small town in Arizona for this long.
I noticed the same thing a few times recently and then I'd just get my package all of a sudden. It seems like Paizo is shipping them UPS but then UPS hands it off to another carrier at some point if it will save them cost. I'm not positive, it just seems kinda like that's whats going on.
UPS sometimes uses the USPS for some deliveries when it's cheaper.

I don't have a problem with that. I just wish they'd post when the handoff was made in a timely fashion and give me the new tracking number.

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StarMartyr365 wrote:

I may have to do questionable things to get this and the ACG now because waiting until payday next week is out of the question. I put a bunch of campaign development on hold until this came out so I could follow Piazo's lead and not reinvent the wheel.


There's always plasma donation. And it would be a fun kind of coincidence to buy a book with rules for donating plasma with extreme prejudice by donating plasma at a clinic.

I just want to know why UPS is holding my package in a small town in Arizona for this long.

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