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Humourous but not Funny
Heavens know my parents could tell you all kinds of stories. Like the time I snuck out to walk to the library during a lightning storm because my mom didn’t want us going outside until the storm had passed. Got pelted with hail for my trouble. Also, grounded. But dammit, I got that book I’d wanted. And six others. Hey, I needed something to do that afternoon and the internet was down, because, again, lightning storm.
It was something Aurora and I would have to work on. I could devote myself to her, but I also need freedom to take the dumb ass risks that sometimes are just a part of who I am. I gotta be me.
Speaking of dumb ass risks, I may have used too much C-4 on the phylactery. Because the explosion shook the entire Runeforge complex like a major earthquake. The cops showed up, telling us that the people on the demiplane two blocks down were calling in noise complaints. Our landlord slipped a passive aggressive note under the door telling us he was jacking up the rent by a hundred a month because we violated the complex’s ‘no party’ clause. And our downstairs neighbors started banging on their ceiling with a broom handle.
No, but seriously, the explosion shook everything, almost knocking me from my feet. Once the rumbling stopped, we checked to make sure that the coffin was destroyed. Destroyed was the wrong word. ‘Rent Asunder’, perhaps. There were pieces of it embedded in the walls. And the floor. Not the ceiling though, which was instead riddled with dents where pieces of stone had bounced off of it.
But regardless, the phylactery was utterly destroyed and all its magic had dissipated. To quote one of the great thinkers of my generation, Cyborg: “BOO-YAH!”
As we reached the central Runeforge chamber, we were nearly bowled over by the Rangers, who were running our direction at full speed. They smelled awful. Like, Comic-Con awful. “What happened?” one of them asked. “The ground shook.”
I couldn’t help myself. “The ground shook? Perhaps you made love?” Aurora made a choking sound. I grinned.
“Well, you see, when a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or perhaps even a man and a high end sports car love each other very much, sometimes the man…”
“Kyle,” Aurora chided.
“Sorry. We may have gone overboard destroying a lich’s phylactery. How about you guys? You seem to have gotten into some s$%*. Literally.” I zapped them with cleaning magic to make my point.
“Thanks. Yeah, we encountered resistance. Before you get mad, we didn’t intend to engage anything, but these demonic ooze things ambushed us and dragged me into the water – if you can call it that. I was lucky that Joei managed to release that water elemental.”
One of the other adventurers blushed. “I was just throwing levers and hoping something good would happen,” she said.
I laughed. “We’ve all been there. Good job, you guys. Now, tell me, what intelligence do you have for me?”
“Oh, right. Here’s the map we’ve drawn. The water elemental is currently in this room. It ignored us after the oozes were gone. It’s probably still in there, furiously trying to clean up the room, not that it will be an easy job since there are pipes still pumping in that disgusting sludge.”
“We’ll go there first and see if we can shut those off,” I said. “Again, excellent job. Get some rest.”
The smell when we entered the halls of Sloth was intense and disgusting. I’ve never smelled anything that bad, and I’ve been in some sketchy as hell gas station bathrooms. The scent seemed to be coming from channels of some horrific effluvium. Calling the place a sewer would have been a kindness.
“Those walkways look slippery,” Aurora noted, looking a bit green around the gills.
“Yeah,” I said. “I noticed that. Give me a moment to prep a spell. We’re going to rise above this.” I pulled out my spellbook and got to work. It was harder than you’d think, and I was surrounded by a bubble of fresh air that would help shield me from the odor. It was that bad, that it was getting through. I can’t imagine how bad it was for everyone else.
Once I was done, I cast the spell, giving each of us about twenty minutes of wall walking. For my next trick, web slinging and sarcastic quipping during fights.
<You already do that second one.>
<Sarcastic? Moi? You wound me, sis.>
We walked up the walls to bypass the dangerous walkways. Well, everyone except Geo, who used the climbing ability to just walk along the walkway without risk of falling. Spoilsport. At least Lenn was enjoying it. I’m sure he’ll have somehow given himself the ability by this time next week.
The massive water elemental was furiously scrubbing the room when we entered. As the Rangers had told us, more disgusting fluids were flowing from pipes high on the wall. I cast a spell to let me speak Aquan, the language of the plane of water. “Hey there,” I said. “Sorry this place is so messy. The old owners were slobs.”
“Filth. Filth. Filth,” the elemental repeated, ignoring me.
“Good chat. Look, we’re going to try to turn off these pipes to stop the filth from flowing, then we’re going to go on ahead and make sure there aren’t any creatures left to get in your way, so you can clean in peace. Once you’re done cleaning, if you head out to the central chamber, one of the other tunnels leads to a place with a likely portal to the plane of water so you can get home. Just ask the mephits when you get there.”
It stopped cleaning and studied me for a moment. “Good,” it said. “Fair trade.” It then went back to cleaning, leaving us to study the levers. Upon inspection, there was a plaque underneath the levers, but it was unreadable due to being covered in filth. Easy enough to fix with a little magic.
Sure enough, each lever was labeled. Once we could see that, it was simple enough to pull them, though we had to have Lenn do it since they were stuck. Once that was done, the flows trickled to a stop. That should do it.
We headed down a fairly narrow hallway, too narrow for Lenn to walk on the wall, so he had to walk in the shallow sludge. We’d have to burn those boots if my magic couldn’t get them clean later. About thirty feet down the hall, it opened up into a round chamber maybe fifteen feet across.
Once Lenn reached the middle of the chamber, he disappeared under the sludge. I reacted quickly, conjuring a trio of small water elementals. “Our friend fell in the muck,” I told them, still speaking Aquan. “Pull him out, quickly!” They clearly didn’t like the idea, but they were bound to my will and did it.
They dragged Lenn up, coughing. “Gross!” he roared. “I breathed in some.”
“Paulie, you got a disease curing spell?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. Let me get him.”
I commanded the elementals to check under the muck for any dangers, then cleaned Lenn with magic. A few moments later, the elementals returned, carrying a magic rod and a bag emblazoned with the rune of Greed. “What did you find?” I asked the elementals.
“Body below. No dangers. This was all he had left.”
“Thanks,” I said. “You did good.” I took the disgusting stuff and let them disappear, returning home. After cleaning both, I checked in the bag and found the wizard’s spellbook, which had been protected from the sludge thanks to the bag’s magic. Nice. At the rate I was going, I would have my own library of spellbooks soon enough.
We continued along, coming to a room where one of the walls had been eaten away by the toxic sludge, carving out a cavern in the sewer. That got me to wondering what would happen if the walls were breached. Were we in some kind of vaccuum? Was their air pressure outside? Was there an indestructible wall around the Runeforge? Scary thought. I mean, I’ve got protection. But what about the others?
I didn’t have long to contemplate the matter, because out of the water flew a pair of giant tadpoles. I recognized them immediately. “Chernobues!” I shouted. “Be careful, their poison is extremely dangerous.” They were Qlippoth, natives of the Abyss I’ve mentioned before. These particular creatures are known to love spreading their filth anywhere they can, trying to destroy mortals and end the existence of sin in a bid to prevent demons from spawning in the Abyss. Basically, a giant turf war between Qlippoth and demons, with us mortals caught in the middle as a strategic resource one side wanted to deny to the other. Of course, these could swim through the air.
“GLORIOUS!” Paulie shouted. Crap. “Come forth, my ancestors! Let us share in the glory!” He conjured an army of ghostly figures, all armed with bows.
When in Rome, do as the Romans. When in the Festering Halls of Sloth, summon things to fight for you. And when the cat man summons his axe crazy ancestors to fight fiends, don’t let yourself be outdone. I don’t think they cover that lesson at Hogwarts.
I conjured a Bralani – a type of celestial I’ve mentioned before – to help me. She popped into existence before me, took one look at the Qlippoth and grinned. “You,” she said to me, “can summon me any time you want!” She turned into a ball of wind and began throwing lightning bolts and blasts of air at the foes. Bralanis love a good fight.
Aurora gave me a dangerous look, one eyebrow raised. “Friend of yours?”
“Never met her before.” I didn’t need to read her mind to tell that she was a bit skeptical about that.
Aurora used her gun rather than risk flying over the water. Geo and Lenntu abused their wall walking to get into prime striking range. Lenn, being Lenn, flew straight at them. When the fight was over, we had to fish him out of the water, again, after he flew right into a wall. I’m getting the feeling that water elementals everywhere are starting to form a union to demand people like me stop sending them into the muck after their friends.
We entered what can only be called the ‘Throne of Sloth’ and, let me tell you, it was a sight. In each corner of the room was a slow flowing pipe, dripping differing colored liquids: red, black, green and yellow. Yep, you guessed it. The ‘Four Humours’. And here I had hoped that stupidity was just an Earth thing. Well, I guess the ‘Four Elements’ were a thing here too, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
On the massive throne sat a corpulent, bloated blob of a man. From his chest erupted a mass of slimy tentacles. “Greetings, foretold heroes. You have done well, clearing out those fools from the other wings. Lord Krune was wise to let you live. I, Jordimandus, his humble servant, bid you welcome.”
Paulie gave him a look and began laughing heartily. I glanced over at him once he’d stopped and he just shrugged. “Don’t mind him,” I said. “He’s strange. Look, we’re not unreasonable. So we’ll make you an offer. You will go with us to the place where your master was putting people in stasis and we’ll do the same to you. Then, once he wakes up, if he wants to come get you, that’s up to him.”
“And let you continue to mess up my home when it’s already how I like it? Sorry, but even if the master wants to see you destroy Karzoug, and yes, he has indeed figured out your target, you can’t just walk into a man’s home and start messing with his things.” He cast a spell, conjuring five babau – emaciated horned demons whose leathery skin weeps an acidic sludge, perfectly fitting for this environment – between us and him.
I laughed. “Interesting words to speak to a group of murder hobos. Well, maybe not hobos anymore. We do own a house. Anyway, a fight it is, then.”
“One moment,” Paulie said. “Tell me, Jordimandus. What would the chief priest of Lissala say if he knew you had consorted with demons? That WHAT WOULD KRUNE SAY IF HE KNEW YOU SERVED JUBILEX?!” Oh, wow. I had completely missed that.
“You’ll never find out!” Krune shouted back. “Attack!”
He conjured more and more monsters to keep us from reaching him, including a hezrou*, a trio of chaos beasts** and a number of varied elementals.
<*Massive, scaly, disgusting demons; **Writhing masses of tentacles whose very touch can cause one’s body to lose the stability of its form>
Honestly, the demons were a wise choice. I’ve already shown a tendency towards using lightning to attack and many demons have a natural immunity to electricity. Devils might have been a better choice, considering our firebug tiefling, but still, it wasn’t a bad choice at all. The joke was on him, however. I didn’t have much left in the way of direct attack magic prepared.
I did have one more summon spell of any merit left. I used it to conjure up a quartet of Lantern Archons. Immediately after doing so, I realized that those would have been great against the nightwing. Oh well, we lived, it was fine. And they were doing a fairly good job of focusing on individual demons to thin out the enemy ranks.
Jordimandus had taken to the air and was raining down damaging spells on us. Honestly, despite the dangerous acid spells he was throwing, I was more worried that he might go all Asylum Demon and try to butt slam us. He was a rather large fellow, after all.
Then he decided to do something stupid. He blasted Lenn with a disintegrating ray.
Our companion cried out in pain, but survived the blast. Geo flipped instantaneously back to Jack. “Master Kyle, I implore you, bring him to the ground so that I might tear out his heart with my bare tentacles.”
His voice, calm yet icy, sent a shiver down my spine. Still, I couldn’t resist. “Will do. But I should warn you, there might be protective magic on him, so you’ll need to repeat the chant of protection when you do so. I’ll teach it to you.” He nodded and I cast the spell to cause my body to emit an antimagic field. “Aurora, alley oop!”
She turned and nodded. I ran towards her at full speed and jumped into her interlaced fingers. She lifted me as hard as she could as I jumped again. Once in the air, Juiz activated the stabilizing jets for a boost.
The look of surprise on Jordimandus’ face as I grabbed his dangling leg was priceless. The look of terror as he realized he was falling, equally so. But I’d bet the best face of all was mine when I realized that he was above me as we fell.
I narrowly avoided becoming a mancake, but still managed to remain close enough to the corpulent wizard that he couldn’t fly away. Stuck on the ground, he couldn’t even stand on his own.
“Wait!” the wizard cried out. “Please, don’t hurt me! I have information you’d find useful. I can tell you how to use the Runeforge! And there’s more about the prophecy that I can tell you! Just please, spare me!”
I gave Jack a look. “Sorry, Jord, can I call you Jord? But it seems my friend Jack here has his heart set on this.”
Jack laughed sinisterly at my inadvertent pun. He then straddled the man and began chanting. “Kali ma, Shakti de! KALI MA SHAKTI DE!” And as the wizard screamed in a mixture of terror and pain, he ripped the writhing, black, be-tentacled heart from the man’s chest.
It was horrifying, but part of me wanted to laugh at the fact that I’d actually gotten him to chant that. Well, that was one more thing off the old bucket list.
<Your bucket list is really weird.>
<There are some things a man just has to do, you know?>
The sounds of fighting died down fairly quickly after that. “Everyone okay?”
“The vile fluids in the corners were alive and attacked us,” Paulie said. “So I killed them. Gloriously.”
“Yeah, that’s probably fine.”
Lenn held up the limp form of a dead quasit. Where had that come from? Jordimandus’ familiar? “Can I make this into sausage?”
“Probably best not to,” I said. “I’m sure it would ruin the flavor of anything you put it into.”
Lenn licked it and made a disgusted face before tossing the corpse away. “Okay.”
Jack held up the slimy heart of Jordimandus. “Can I keep it?”
“Probably best not to. But let’s take a vote. All in favor of burning the demonic heart before something horrible happens, raise your hand.” Everyone but Lenn and Jack raised their hands. “All who instead want to let him keep it?” Just Jack. “The ‘Burns’ have it.”
Jack shrugged. “Was worth a shot. Just curious, really. So tell me, Master Kyle, why did you call me Jack earlier?”
Oh crap, I did say that aloud, didn’t I? “It’s just when your personality shifts like this, you remind me of someone famous back home.”
“Oh? What was he famous for?”
“He was, uh, very curious about the internal anatomy of people and wasn’t one to let a little thing like the fact that people were alive dissuade him from studying their insides.” Well, to be fair, no one really knew what Jack the Ripper’s modus operandi was. So, yeah, no one needed to tell him that I thought he was a few drinks away from murdering hookers out in the fog.
He grinned. “I like it. You may continue.”
We searched through Jordimandus’ things. He had some interesting stuff, but most interesting was the set of notes and one sealed letter tucked into his spellbook. The notes were basic observations, including his suspicions on what would work as catalysts for weapon-making in the Runeforge. For the most part, my guesses had been right. Either he had been bluffing about his knowledge of the prophecy, or it simply wasn’t written down.
The letter was more interesting by far. I touched it and the seal reacted, allowing the letter to unfurl on its own.
To the Star Traveler,
I bid you greetings. My divinations have revealed to me that you shall be facing off against my hated foe, Karzoug, when your time comes. So it is that I have decided to help you. You find yourself at a crossroads. By this point, you realize that you need a weapon made of the Runeforge to continue, but you know not who best to wield it. Of course, you also likely suspect that if one is not attuned to it, one will have trouble wielding it properly, which would also be a mistake.
Long ago, for you at least, the lords of the Runeforge learned a method for discerning what Virtues of Rule one was most attuned to. At least, they claimed to have done so. By taking a person who embodied all Virtues and giving them a drink from the waters of the Runeforge itself, they could see the Virtue that the person’s disposition most opposed. Again, or so they claimed.
In truth, they could see something, but they lacked the ability to decipher what they saw. That is why I am most excited that you have made it this far. You see, the prophecy has stated that you alone would understand these visions. That you alone would have the knowledge needed. So, in the spirit of friendship with one who would bring down one of those opposed to me, I give you this knowledge.
I understand that you will not likely be one who embodies all Virtues, nor is it likely any of your companions will either. But our divinations have revealed that one can still make it work if you can take the lacking virtues into yourself temporarily, though what that means, they did not say.
It is my sincere hope that when I return, I will find you waiting with a hand extended in friendship and gratitude for my aid. It would be unfortunate if you were to forget those who did you favors in the past.
Huh. Weird. Well, it was at least understandable why he might help. And perhaps better to risk us winning than to risk waking to find Karzoug ready to destroy him. It was a simple matter of probabilities. If we lost, then he was one hundred percent screwed. If we won, well, maybe he’d be able to negotiate with us. Bide his time before trying to destroy us.
And, of course, there was the possibility that we’d die even if we won. So yeah, smart money was on hoping we’d win.
I explained the note to the others. Aurora didn’t like it. “Perhaps if one of us did it and told you?” she suggested. “You might be the only one who can break the enchantment, if it’s a trap.” It was a fair point. But I still got the feeling that it wouldn’t work if someone just described it to me. Maybe the vision is dependent on the person, for instance, and I was the one in a million point where the vision would be understandable?
“No, I think it has to be me. Look, we can also just take a guess at what works best. No guarantee, of course, but it’s worth consideration at least.”
“What are the odds it’ll be the deciding factor in our final confrontation?” Lenntu asked.
“No idea. I suspect small, but perhaps not negligible.” I sighed. “Let’s do it. If worst comes to worst, just kill me and revive me somewhere when you have someone who can break the enchantment.”
“I still don’t like it,” Aurora said. “But if you think it’s best, I’m with you. Do you have any idea how to accomplish it?”
I held up Jordimandus’ list of ingredients. “Yeah, I think I have an idea. But it’s kinda disgusting.”
And so it was that about an hour later, I found myself standing before the Runeforge, holding a tankard filled with a mixture of Ethillion, waters from the Pool of Elemental Arcana, ashes from the flames of Wrath, Inib wine and – most disgusting of all – a mixture of the four humours from the throneroom of Sloth. Next to me stood Juiz, holding a small cup filled with liquid from the Runeforge.
I drained the tankard. It took all I had just to avoid throwing up. “The other one, please. Quickly.” I downed the liquid from the Runeforge in a single gulp. You know, it wasn’t that bad. Tasted a bit like Pepto Bismol, which was handy because I really needed some right now.
The world seemed to partially melt away and I saw a formless being standing next to me. “Greetings!” he said, jovially. “I am the spirit of the Runeforge, not that you can understand me…wait, you CAN understand me?” I nodded. “Glorious day! At long last, the master has arrived! I knew you would come. I just knew it! I could sense it in you when you first arrived. That’s why I called out to you.”
So that’s why I had felt drawn to the Runeforge when I first arrived? “Slow down here,” I said. “I’m your master?”
“Yes! You slew the other lords of Runeforge and you can understand me! I am at your service, Lord.”
“What is your name?”
“I have no name. I am simply the embodiment of this place, an amalgamation of seven arcane essences given life. If you wish to give me a name, I will gladly accept it.”
“Fair enough. Vigil, then.” Yeah, I know. Laziness. I promise, I’ll let Aurora name our children if the best I can come up with is Squall Leon or Yuna Rikku.
His eyes widened in awe. “Oh heavens, I think I like that name. Vigil. Yes, that will do quite nicely.”
“Okay then. Vigil, I’ve been told that you can tell me what Runeforged weapon would best suit each person.”
“Well, sort of. I don’t know, myself. But I can show you the form of that which they should contest. None before has managed to understand it, but you are the first to understand me. You are the master. You will understand.”
Well, it was worth a shot. “Show me.”
I witnessed the world melting away before my very eyes. I was back in space, walking among the stars. Nothing was happening around me, but I knew there had to be something. Yes, as I looked, I began to see it.
Constellations. I could see them. My mind overlaid lines upon the stars and it began taking shape. Aurora and Geo were fighting a giant serpent. Lenn battled a boar. Lenntu fought against a massive bear. And Paulie was facing against a wild-eyed goat.
Heh. The prophecy wasn’t kidding when it said I would possibly be the only person who could understand the signs. Not only did I see the constellations, which might be difficult for anyone, but I knew what each of those meant. Because it was in an anime. As to how that happened, I don’t know. But the four humours stupidity had reached across worlds, so why not this?
Aurora and Geo were battling Diane, the Serpent Sin of Envy. For them, I would combine Wrath and Gluttony to give them each a weapon against abjurers. Lenn was fighting Merlin, the Boar Sin of Gluttony. For him, I would combine Envy and Lust – weird, but he does like hookers – to make a weapon against necromancers.
Lenntu was fighting King, the Grizzly Sin of Sloth. For him, I would combine Wrath and Pride, to make a weapon against conjurers. And Paulie was fighting Gowther, the Goat Sin of Lust. For him, I’d combine Gluttony and Greed to make a weapon attuned to fighting enchanters.
That left me. But I couldn’t find a constellation for me. “Vigil, am I not represented?”
“No, Master. You are hard to read. It is likely because of the magic you worked to commune with me.”
“Ah, I see.” Well, truth said, if the others were set in stone, there really was only one choice for me. We needed one, after all. “Okay, take me back. It’s time to begin crafting.”
“Of course, Master. Now that you’ve been attuned, you can touch the waters of Runeforge with no danger, so make use of my power as you need.”
We were back in the room, everyone looking at me like I was crazy. “They can’t see you. Any way to let them see?”
“Oh, yes. If your mind gives me form, I can let them see whatever form you give me. Though only after they are attuned to their weapons.”
“Let’s get working, then.” I crafted each weapon, but before giving them to the others, I cast a spell to allow me to hear their thoughts. I was worried about what effects these weapons would have on their minds. Vigil tried to assure me that they would simply amplify their natural tendencies, but still, I was concerned.
Juiz had been handling the weapons so I wouldn’t touch them after they had been enhanced. With her artificial mind, she would be immune from the empathic weapons’ effects. She gave Lenntu his gun first. His mind was a jumble of competing thoughts, but finally the weapon and his mind attuned. “The path of virtue! Freedom from tyranny and fear. LIBERATION!” Vigil crowed. He didn’t seem to be concerned over what the attunement was, simply exultant in serving his purpose.
Next came Paulie. His mind was also a jumble – which is normal, for the cat man. More than that, it became a cacophony of voices each speaking at once, before ringing out as a number of bells as they all attuned. “I hear many voices!” Vigil marveled. “For some, the path is that of sin. The ability to join together with others and take what they need. PARASITISM! For the rest, it is the path of virtue. The ability to join with others to benefit both sides. SYMBIOSIS!”
Lenn was next. His mind was mostly blank, but it began to attune with an intensity I hadn’t seen. “The path of sin,” Vigil said. “Envy of others, not what they have but who they are and what they can do. JEALOUSY!”
Then came Geo. “There are two minds within, though they are somehow the same and different all at once. For one, it is the path of sin. Taking joy in hurting others to advance oneself. SADISM! For the other, it is the path of virtue. Willingness to do what is necessary to help others, no matter how much it hurts oneself. COMPASSION!”
Aurora came next. Unlike the others, there was no moment of hesitation. She attuned immediately. “The path of virtue! Duty, honor and concern for the well-being of others above oneself! COMPASSION!”
Finally, it was my turn. With trepidation, I took my gun, which I had modified with the power of Pride and Lust, from Juiz. My mind was filled with images. Such terrible images. It was as if I could see the world of the future. With the power I had gained, I could return home and become the greatest person to ever live. Whole nations – no, entire worlds! – would bow down before me. All I had to do was reach out and take it.
I would be a dictator, but I could do so much good. I could end poverty. I could prevent all war. Disease would be a thing of the past. The world would be perfect. It would be difficult. But I could make the world what it truly should be.
I had thought these things before, like many of my generation. Thought that, if the world would just listen to me, just hear my wisdom, then it would be a better place. I had the power to make the world listen now. And with Aurora at my side, I was sure we could truly make the world a better place.
But that would rob people of their free will, their right to choose their own destiny. No, I couldn’t. That was the path of sin. I wasn’t okay with that. Who was I to dictate what was right? Not even God took away man’s right to choose his path. What right had I to do so?
But perhaps there was another way. Not the way of the dictator setting the path, but of the trailblazer, finding one of many paths, clearing the way for others to follow. Some would follow me, and I would hold out my hand to pull them along forward with me. Yes. That I could do.
The images the weapon showed me began to change. No longer did I see visions of rule. None bowed before me. I instead saw myself running forward, and others following behind. And there were those beside me, helping blaze the trail.
And that was the way, wasn’t it? To be the tip of the drill, revolving ever forward, with each step becoming more than we were before. Little by little, advancing with every turn, each person’s dreams revolving together in a many-strand helix, drilling forward to tomorrow. That’s Tengen Toppa! That's Gurren-Lagann! Our drill would be the drill that creates the very face of existence, from tomorrow, to the day after and the day after that, up into an infinite future!
Vigil stared at me, his mouth open. His face told me that I had done something unexpected. “Th-The path of Virtue! The desire to lead only those who wish to follow in creating a shared path to a better tomorrow!