Not Quite Paradise: Part 2
Someone had made a game like Dungeons and Dragons and set it on Golarion. And they had gotten a lot of things incredibly close to correct. Not all of it, but more than enough to be more than coincidence, though unfortunately not enough to help me. But still, was I not the only person from Earth to ever visit Golarion?
I utilized all my skills and within a few minutes of setting out to do so, had not only the name of the game’s creator but a private phone number as well. I called. Someone answered fairly quickly. “Hello?” a voice asked, sounding startled.
“Are you the creator of Pathfinder?”
“Who is this?”
“You’re not going to believe me, but I’ve been there. I’ve been to Golarion.”
There was stunned silence at the other end. After a moment, I heard a voice that sounded muffled, like someone not properly covering a phone. “Dad. It’s actually him.”
The phone made some noises, as though someone else had taken it. “You must be Kyle,” an older gentleman’s voice said.
It was my turn to be stunned. “How do you know that name?”
“That is a bit of a long story. Do you have time to listen?”
If I didn’t, I would make time. “Yes.”
“I will make it as short as I can. My father fought in World War 2. His unit liberated one of the German POW camps. One of the prisoners was a Russian soldier, Corporal Kuznetsov, with whom he became friends. They stayed in the area for several nights helping coordinate moving the freed prisoners to places where they could return home.
“One night, his Russian friend told him a fantastic story. He told of how, during the first world war, he had met a young woman who had performed fantastical magical feats. She told him that she had traveled from another world to hunt the Mad Monk, Rasputin. Her Russian was excellent, but she had a terrible American accent, he told my father.
“During a battle, they were attacked by mustard gas. In her haste to protect herself with a magical barrier, she wound up dropping her diary. She and her friends left before he could tell her, so he picked it up. Immediately upon opening it, a letter addressed to him materialized out of nowhere in his hands.”
I began working out the magic required for that. It was doable, if perhaps not something I could do. “What did it say?”
“He opened the note. Inside, in perfect Russian, was a set of instructions. It gave my father’s name and told him to give the diary to him when he met him. Story told, he did just that. Curious, my father opened it immediately.
“A letter addressed to my father appeared immediately when he did so. He opened it and inside were instructions that he pass it down to his child on my twentieth birthday. I also received instructions. Mine were that my own child would receive a phone call from a man named Kyle today at this time and that I should have the diary handy. It was only off by a few minutes.”
“What else was in the diary?”
“Descriptions of cities, organizations and peoples as well as a number of personal details, including some of a very salacious nature.”
Samantha had to be involved. “Can you read me a passage? I think I might recognize the writing style if I hear it.”
“Of course,” he replied. “Just give me a moment to – huh.”
“A letter appeared when I opened it. It’s addressed to ‘Kyle, The American Wizard’.”
“Read it to me, please.”
I heard the sounds of an envelope opening. “I can’t. I don’t recognize the language.”
“Can you scan it and email it to me?”
“Sure, give me a moment and tell me your address.” Less than five minutes later, I was looking at a scan of a letter in Ancient Thassilonian. But even more shocking: It was in my own handwriting. “What does it say?” asked the voice at the other end of the phone.
“It’s a note to me from myself,” I said.
I actually laughed. “You’d be surprised what I’ve discovered is possible. This actually fits consistently with what I’ve learned in the last few days. The gist of the note is that the girl whose diary that is hasn’t been born yet. Apparently she’s my daughter. Beyond that, it’s some advice, which it suggests to keep to myself.”
“If the girl who wrote that is your daughter, then I probably shouldn’t read any of it to you. She’ll probably want to keep certain of these details from her father.”
He might have a point. “Okay. Fair enough. Do me a favor, okay? Exactly two years from today, open the diary again and see if another note appears. I want to ask you to send something to my family about that, but I don’t want to make the decision on the spot. So if it is a good idea, I’ll enchant the diary with another request for you.”
“That sounds complicated.”
“Yeah, time travel’s annoying.”
“I’m still not sure why I believe any of this. I guess I wouldn’t, if I hadn’t seen those letters appear out of nowhere like that.”
“Yeah. I can’t blame you. It’s amazing the things I’m willing to accept these days.”
We said our goodbyes and I turned again to the letter.
“Kyle, as you know, I can’t tell you any more than the bare minimum, for fear of creating a time paradox. But be comforted by the fact that I get as annoyed at time travel as you do. Exactly as much as you do, in fact.
“Do try to remember that my survival may not necessarily mean you will also survive as you may be on a different branching timeline. However, we’re going to assume you’re on the same one as I went through, since I can’t give you any advice at all if not.
“So here it is, my one piece of advice. You need to start carrying around a pair of swords balanced for dual wielding. They need to be on you and easily accessible, but hidden. I will leave it up to you as to how you do so. Hell, make lightsabers if you want and have the resources. But they need to be on hand and light enough for someone who isn’t as strong as Aurora. You’ll know when their time has come and I don’t think you can screw it up. But failing to have them when the time comes will be a problem. Additionally, you can’t tell anyone at all what you’re doing. It would be bad if the wrong people found out. So make them concealable.
“Finally, I must tell you that things will get worse. There are hardships before you. But there is so much worth fighting for and the future gets better. So, no matter what happens, don’t lose sight of who you are. Do what you think is right. And most of all, never, ever give up. Because failing will potentially mean disaster for two worlds.
“So, you know. No pressure.”
After reading that, I had come to one conclusion. Future me is an a-hole. But I’ll show him. I’m going to eat a ton of ice cream and then he’ll have to deal with being fat. That’ll show that jerk.
But he had given me potentially important information. I would need to get a pair of swords. Honestly, I’m not even sure I needed to make them anything all that special. Just make a couple basic but functional one handed swords, something in a twenty-five to thirty inch blade and then stick them in one of those closed tubes architects use to carry blueprints. Boom, done.
But he had suggested light sabers, probably as a joke. Or was it? I mean, blades made out of hard light like that might be beyond my capabilities, but I bet if I tried I could come up with a way to make swords out of molten metal or superheated plasma suspended in an electromagnetic field. The costs, however, might be prohibitive. I would have to consider it. There had to be a happy medium, something that would be cheap enough to make but not a burden for me to carry.
As I prepared for bed, I remembered one last thing I needed to do. I hadn’t shredded my documentation of my older brother’s attack on me when we were younger. It would serve no purpose for him to get blamed for my disappearance. So I ran it through the shredder, ran the scraps through again and then soaked the whole wad in laundry bluing.
What? I take identity theft seriously. You should too. The stuff is like two bucks for a thirty two ounce bottle. The identity you save could be your own.
After tossing my gloves, I sat down to check my email one last time before getting some sleep. My main accounts had nothing of interest, but one of the burner accounts I’d created to send out all those translations and tech schematics did have a new message that looked interesting, so I opened it.
“To the Crimson Scholar,” it began. Yeah, I’m still bitter they never made another season of Maoyuu. “I have enclosed my Skype contact information. Please contact me as soon as possible, any time day or night. During an archaeological dig in the UK, we located another document written at least partially in the same language as the Voynich Manuscript. We were planning to wait until archivists could finish touching it up before releasing the information. However, as it seems that you have managed to decipher the language, we would love to have you take a look at it for us.” It was signed, “Elizabeth Whitworth.”
I looked her up and she was indeed the head of Archaeology at a recognizable university. “What the hell,” I said to myself. “Might as well see what they’ve found.” It was five in the morning over where she was, but she did say to call any time. I fired up Skype and, bouncing the call through three proxies, I dialed her up.
A respectable-looking middle-aged British woman answered. “Hello?”
“Greetings,” I said. While I could see her, she was seeing just my silhouette thanks to some special filters I’d installed on my feed. “You said you wished to speak with me?”
“You’re the Crimson Scholar?”
“I am,” I replied. “Tell me of this document you found.”
“Yes, of course.” She pulled up a page and displayed it over the feed. “This is the first page of a journal we found in what can only be described as a vault discovered in Wales. Most of the writing within the trove was in an older, pre-Welsh dialect, suggesting that it was built somewhere between the years five-fifty and eight hundred or so. This was the only piece of material out of place. The journal is written in two languages. The first is the same as the Voynich document, while the second is another unknown.”
My mind made a logical leap. “And you want me to translate this one because you believe that the ancient Welsh documents will confirm whether I’m telling the truth, thus corroborating my story?”
She looked surprised. “That was part of the reason, though in truth I’m more interested in what the journal says. If the other documents are telling the truth, this could be the find of the century.”
Well, that had me interested. “Okay, give me a moment.” I read through the page. Wow, she wasn’t kidding. This could be huge like Xbox. “‘My brother and I went to visit cousin Gwain today. Her new husband seems like a strong man. Having him on our side against the invading Saxons makes me feel better. But what interested me most of all is that sword of his. After Gwain explained to him that I was a smith, he let me take a look at it.
“‘I’ve never seen a finer blade nor have I ever seen the metal it’s made of. I asked for a demonstration of its strength and he obliged. He took another sword and with a single strike, cleaved it in two. Awestruck, I remarked that surely a blade as fine as that must have a name. He told me that it was called Excalibur.’”
She looked surprised. “You really can read it!”
I was just as startled. “Is this right? Is this really the journal of THE Guinevere’s cousin?”
“It would seem so. Here’s the next page.”
“‘When we returned to the village, I could not get the blade out of my mind. A few weeks later, on my naming day, my godmother came to visit. I told her of the fantastical thing I had witnessed, and she listened carefully, as she is wont to do. When I finished my tale, she regarded me thoughtfully for a moment and spoke. ‘This metal you describe is known as Adamantine. I have seen it on many worlds. You would be blessed to find such a rare material to work. Would that I could give you such a gift for your naming day, but it comes from the sky and is beyond my domain. Ask instead for your own weight in mithral or Summer’s Bronze and I will gift it to you, but know that Adamantine is beyond my ability to give.’
“‘‘Beloved Godmother,’ said I, ‘I understand. Instead will I endeavor to make something just as great using materials you can provide. I will use the techniques of the Byzantines of Damascus to create something new and glorious.’
“‘Wise Titania laughed. ‘Were I any but your godmother, I would strike you down for your arrogance. But as I am your godmother, I find myself intrigued. Show me your power, little smith. Tell me what you need and I will provide it, so long as you ask not for adamantine or foul cold-iron.’’”
“Did you just say Titania?” the archaeologist asked.
“As in, queen of the fairies?”
“I’m as shocked as you, though I’m getting the feeling that there’s something you’re not telling me.”
She nodded. “Perceptive of you. The accompanying documents state that the journal belonged to someone known as the Fairy Blacksmith, born in the ‘Elven village of Dragonlea.’”
It was my turn to be surprised. “Does it say what happened to the village?”
“It was put to the flame by Camelot’s crusade.”
“Apparently, after driving back the Saxons, the Knights of the Round Table set out to wipe out first dragons, then all numbers of non-human species, including elves, dwarves and even giants. It said that a half-elven woman named the Fairy Blacksmith and her brother were some of the last to fight against Camelot’s campaign of genocide, but in the end, even they fell before the armies of mankind.” She smiled. “Obviously, it’s an exaggeration. But it does suggest that there was another race of people that once lived in ancient Britain that was wiped out.”
“What if it isn’t an exaggeration?” I asked. I turned off my visual feature, revealing my face.
“Of course it is. There’s no such thing as elves or dragons.”
I shook my head. “The language this was written in is the language of dragons.”
It wasn’t worth arguing about it. “I’m just relaying what my source said.”
I hadn’t thought that far ahead. “I found the information on the Deep Web.” It was a good lie. Most normal people have either never heard of or knows almost nothing about it, so it’s a mythical land you can use to justify anything. “That’s where I learned the language. I found a hidden spot in the Deep Web where some people were talking about long extinct creatures, including their languages. This was the only one I felt I could get the information I needed to begin learning it without getting caught.”
“So what, some kind of ancient secret society trying to keep ‘the real history’ hidden?”
“Could be. Seemed like a bunch of kids playing around. If it wasn’t for the language, I’m not sure I’d believe any of it.”
“Fair enough. I’m emailing you a scan of the whole journal. If you manage to translate the rest of it, please let me know.”
“Will do. And I promise I won’t go public with any of this. I wouldn’t want to risk those people realizing what I’ve done, anyway.”
“Stay safe,” she said.
“You as well.”
The majority of the rest of the journal was in another language. It looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Aside from that, it looked like research notes. She was trying to perfect the method to make a material similar to adamantine without using adamantine using the same methods used to make Damascus steel.
I suspect that the reason she used a different language is because Draconic isn’t good at dealing with numbers in general and fractions in particular. Dragons don’t have much use for complex math and use a base eight number system anyway. Base Eight isn’t too hard for me or really anyone nowadays, but for someone working back in the dark ages, it likely wouldn’t have been worth the effort.
I took the time to pull out the MP3 player I’d hidden and added the new document to it. I had some ideas for making a compatible screen for it, so it wouldn’t be too hard to read later. I then carefully replaced it and hid the work from my past(future?) self.
The first two days of the paintball excursion went as before. I walked right into the same traps I had fallen for the previous loop in order to avoid a paradox. As if I hadn’t already changed enough. Yeah, I don’t know. Time travel gives me a headache.
The third night, Samantha didn’t come. I waited an additional hour beyond when she had arrived last time and then decided to set off to find her. I strapped on all my knives, grabbed my bear mace and headed off into the woods.
I crashed around the woods for a while, searching for her with no avail. I had just about given up when I stumbled into a clearing and found a black bear fishing in a stream. I froze and tried to back away, but the damn thing roared at me and began to charge.
I pulled out the bear mace and fumbled with it. I couldn’t even get it open. Why the hell hadn’t I removed the overwrap before going into the woods?! In my panic I dropped the can. I cursed in three languages as I desperately sought an option.
It came naturally. I pulled in the power and focused my mind. A bolt of magical force erupted from my hand and struck the bear in the face. I felt vindicated. My academic side also found it interesting that only one bolt had formed, since future me casts the same spell with a result of five bolts.
The bear seemed surprised, but didn’t stop its charge. I pulled out my knives and prepared to go down fighting. The bear leapt at me with a mighty roar and it’s possible I flinched as I prepared to meet my maker. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Okay, yes, I was there, in a physical sense. But my mind kinda checked out for a bit.
There was a loud crash and, after a few moments, I opened my eyes. The bear’s corpse was lying right in front of me. It had been cut in half with a mighty slash. If I hadn’t known better, I would have called it Lenn’s handiwork. It was that brutal.
I looked around, searching for the one who had saved me. I caught sight of the glint of mithral in the moonlight. An extremely beautiful blonde woman in black scale mail armor was standing before me. I was shocked to realize that her body was no longer asymmetrical, though a mask still covered half of her face.
“The two parts of me have worked out our differences,” Samantha said, sensing my question. “So tell me, are you stupid?”
“What?” I asked, shocked.
“I went to all this trouble to give you what you had been asking for. You’ve spent weeks just b$!@+ing and moaning over your situation. So I sent you home through the reaches of time and space. Yet all you can think of is going back. Why?”
It was a good question. And it wasn’t just weeks I’d spent complaining. I had been complaining for years. “Because if I don’t, then things will change. People will die. I don’t know if I can live with myself knowing that I did nothing. One day, I will die. On that day, my twin sister will be waiting for me. I want to be able to tell her that I did what I thought was right.”
“There’s no guarantee that things will be better if you go. There’s no way of knowing if things will work out as you’d like. You may fail and die, and the world may be worse off for your having tried.”
“If I let myself be paralyzed into indecision by what might be, I’ll never be able to act. All I can do is what I think is right and hope it works out.”
“Are you sure it’s not just because you want to see your knight again?”
She had a point. “That might be part of it. But if I knew things would be better without me, I’d live with that. But I can’t know, so I have to do this.”
She smiled softly. “If that’s what you want. Let’s head back to your camp. Once your body is safe, I’ll send your consciousness back forward and reset your current self’s memories back to how they were when I first met you and have my past self come for you as before.”
“Wait,” I said. “We have this perfectly good bear carcass. We should do something with it.”
I took a piece of flesh off the cut section using light magical telekinesis. I then wrote something on a rock with the blood.
“‘Red like roses fills my dreams and brings me to the place you rest’?”
“It was the first thing that popped into my head.”
“Oh. I wanna write something too! Any suggestions?”
“Depends. Do you think Courage would eat pieces of the bear if you bring them?”
“Then write this…”
I couldn’t wait to get back and find out how people would react to a bear with missing forepaws and the message “…the right of the people to keep bear arms shall not be infringed” written on a nearby rock. I had to explain the joke as best I could to Samantha, but I’m not sure she got it. She was willing to believe my assertion that it was a very funny joke, at the least.
As we walked back, I became curious. “Samantha, there’s something else I have to know. Will you answer if I ask?”
“Why I left you on Castrovel?” she asked. I nodded. “That’s a question that requires a little background. Before I answer, have you ever wondered why it was I chose you to go with me?”
I really hadn’t. “I had always assumed it was more or less blind chance. You were letting Courage rest and heard me playing.”
She shook her head. “I told you back then that I had encountered a dark presence in the depths of space, remember?” I vaguely recalled that. I don’t recall if I’ve ever written about it here, but it’s why she’s different. An eldritch horror in the depths of space came to possess her. But it hadn’t considered the possibility that it would be trying to take over the body of a paladin, one who might actually resist him. “It’s too bad it wasn’t Obrek that the creature ran into,” she said, referring to her comrade-in arms from the city of Valor’s Triumph. “He might have pushed it into a little ball and kept complete control. But it wasn’t him. The girl I was could not overpower the will of the being.”
It hurt me to think about how Samantha, no older than I had been when I left Earth, had been all alone with an alien presence trying to overpower her mind and dominate her body. She must have been terrified. “So you chose your battles?”
She laughed again. “Not exactly. It isn’t so much that one of us overpowered the other. In the end, we came to terms with the differences in ourselves. He’s not evil. Not exactly. It’s more that he doesn’t think the way most people do. He’s a nigh unknowable presence with values that are simply so different from our own that they defy explanation.” She sighed. “I’m not explaining this very well, am I?”
“You’re talking about ‘Blue and Orange’ morality,” I replied. Let me explain. Imagine a graph. A simple one would be a single axis up and down. Good and evil. But there is another axis, from left to right. Order and Chaos. Those aren’t precise terms. You could just as easily label them Tyranny and Freedom. It’s a matter of perspective. Perhaps Order and Freedom would be the best way to go about it.
Now that you have both an X and a Y axis, consider this: Most humanoid beings fit somewhere on that singular plane. But what if there were another axis? What if this Z axis were so out there that we couldn’t comprehend it? This is the Blue-Orange axis. It’s an unknowable morality. There are beings who fit somewhere on one of these axes that interact with humanoids, but even then, they generally fall within a realm we can understand once we know certain base facts about what it means to be one of them.
But what if there were beings so far out there that we had no hope of understanding them? And what if they were like us in that they couldn’t understand Good and Evil? Honestly, we’d probably label them evil and be done with it.
So if Samantha had something like that in her mind, then it explained a lot.
“I forgot how refreshing it was to talk with you,” she said. “You understand the weirdest concepts. It’s almost like talking with Gribbletoo sometimes.”
I decided to take that as the compliment she intended. Gribbletoo’s blue-orange axis had Pancakes at one end. No idea what the other end held. Truth be told, I don’t think I want to know.
“What I’m getting at,” she continued, “is that the being could influence the paladin. But it couldn’t completely control her. As such, it wanted out. Taking you with us was its ploy for escaping this body.”
“Me? How was that supposed to work?”
“It didn’t need you, specifically. What it needed was a man with enough charm to make the paladin fall in love and let her guard down. Which meant that it had to be subtle. It couldn’t afford to let her raise her guard. So it nurtured a sense of loneliness in her, making her think finding someone was her idea.”
“I’m still not seeing the end game. How does that allow it to get free?”
Samantha smirked at me. “Well, you see, Kyle, when a man and woman love each other very much, they do certain things with and to each other.”
A lightbulb clicked on in my mind. “It was trying to get your body pregnant so it could escape into the child?!”
“Picking you was a stroke of luck on the creature’s part. You were timid enough to fear the drama that would occur if you pushed the paladin too far too quickly. But you were charming enough that you wormed your way into her heart over time.” She giggled. “All I could think about was how I was going to tear your clothes off and thoroughly ravish you first thing upon arriving on Golarion. Both of us wanted it, though for very different reasons. It was only luck that made the paladin realize the monster’s intentions at the last moment. But even then, she wasn’t sure that she would be able to resist it if you were the one who initiated things, which seemed to be something you were working up to. So you had to be left behind.” Her voice had grown softer as she spoke. Then she whispered, “I’m sorry. It’s all my fault.”
The pain in her voice was almost too much to bear. I could tell just how lonely she felt. Without even thinking, I hugged her close to me. “Don’t be. I should have realized what was going on earlier.” We embraced for several moments before letting go, though I could tell she did so very reluctantly. “I realize now that we never could have been together. But if it’s all the same to you, I’m going to lie and tell anyone who’ll listen that I tapped that ass.”
She looked dumbstruck for a moment, then began laughing. It was a hearty, rich sound that rang through the crisp night air. “You’ll always be one of my dearest friends,” she said. “Are you sure that you don’t want to reconsider your decision to go back? I can’t interfere there without alerting some dangerous foes to my presence, so there’s no guarantee that I can protect you.”
“You’ve already done quite a bit,” I said. She gave me a confused look. “Don’t think I’m not on to you. I’ve had a lot of time to think about how I met Aurora. That was no coincidence, was it?”
She laughed again. “It was also really funny. For such a deep voice, you have such a high pitched scream.”
We walked the rest of the way back to camp in silence. When we arrived, she smiled wistfully. “You know, I didn’t finish telling you why I chose you to go with me.”
“I told you the monster’s reasons, but the paladin’s motive was a bit more focused.” She laughed softly once more. “You know, it’s funny. On this world, there are so many people who profess beliefs in things like justice, who will tell you all about how they would do whatever it takes to protect the innocent. Yet, when you peel back that thin veneer, it’s not true. Don’t get me wrong. Consciously, they fully believe it. But deep down, it’ll be no more than a passing priority at best. But the propensity towards that belief made my search difficult.”
“So you were looking for a good person? It makes sense. You’d want to be near someone like yourself.”
“It’s more than that,” she said. “The paladin didn’t know what would happen to her. She feared that if she lost the battle for her mind, she would become a monster. She wanted to find someone to carry the torch for her. She needed someone who not only believed in the ideals of Good, but would do what it took to make them a reality. In truth, she sought a replacement.”
That hit me hard. A paladin had wanted me to replace her? It didn’t even make sense. “Then why choose me? I don’t respect authority. I’ll sleep with almost any woman who gives me the opportunity. I’ve spent more than my fair share of time thumbing my nose at society’s rules. I’m no paladin. I’m more of a hedonist. I just do things that I enjoy.”
She nodded. “That’s exactly why I chose you. The paladin I was upheld the ideals of Good because it was my duty. I did good things because it was what I was supposed to do. I also believed in helping those in need, but it was almost a ritualistic thing for me. I did good because the being I worshipped expected it. But you… Do you know what I found in your mind when I looked?”
“What was it you found?”
“I found exactly what you said, a man who did things only because he wanted to. A man that did things that he enjoyed. But, in spite of that, or perhaps because of it, he kept doing things that were good. Not because he was supposed to. Not because it was his job. Not because his god demanded it, though yours does and you do seem to care about that. No, I found a man who does good things because he enjoys them. That’s how I knew you’d make the world better in my place, because it was something you’d enjoy.”
I have never considered myself a good person. Hell, I’m sure I’m the poster boy for at least three of the seven deadly sins. I’m talking about Lust, Wrath and Pride, in case you’re not paying attention, though maybe Gluttony in the non-food sense also fits. But especially pride. I’m at least ten times more prideful than anyone I know. Maybe I’m good on a couple virtues as well, but at best that just means I’m not a completely awful person.
She seemed to read my mind. That’s a thing she can do, in case you’ve forgotten. “You’re better than you think you are,” she said. “And you’re much stronger than you know. Even now, you’re here trying to find a way back into what has felt like hell to you.”
“Shall we get this over with?” I asked, wanting to change the subject.
“If you’re sure. I can’t do much to help you once you’re back. This is your last chance to change your mind.”
“I’m not changing my mind.”
“Even with as much of a baby you’ve been about how scared you are every single day?”
What Samantha didn’t understand was that I had always been afraid. My whole life, I’ve lived in a constant state of fear. There’s a part of me that pipes up every time I do anything to warn me of the risks. I just have another part that has always told that part to shut up and forces me to live my life, regardless. I could feel myself smirk as I answered. “I may be a baby,” I said. “But sometimes a baby’s gotta do what a baby’s gotta do.”
She laughed. “I do so very much miss spending time with you. Close your eyes.” She gently grabbed the back of my head and pulled it forward. I felt the soft touch of her lips on my forehead, then she released me. “Take care of yourself, Kyle.”
“I will,” I started to say, but got only one syllable in before the world began to taste very, very purple. Then I passed out.
I awoke to a feeling of warmth on my back, not too warm but instead exactly the perfect temperature. I felt the strong arm around me, heard the soft, rhythmic breathing of sleep and smelled the faint scent of lilacs. I was back.
I carefully extricated myself from Aurora’s embrace and walked over to my bag. I opened it and searched inside. The enchantments made it hard to find what I sought, since it was much deeper inside than before, but I found it nonetheless. Excitement washed through me as I carefully pulled out the crude metal case. Within, nestled in a bed of memory foam – the remnants of a shredded pillow – was my mp3 player.
I just stared at it for several moments, awash with varied emotions. “I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested. I’d like to think that if I was I would pass…” I whispered the first words that came to me. I had been given an out. I could have walked away. But I hadn’t. It wouldn’t have been right. Maybe Samantha was right. Maybe I was stronger than I had given myself credit for.
“Yeah, you did good,” Fleur said. “But does this mean you’re done whining about your predicament?”
“And give up all the fun I have annoying you?”
“Touché.” She stuck her tongue out at me. “Better get back to bed. Someone is waiting.”
I turned and saw that Aurora had stirred. She had crawled over to the foot of the bed and was looking at me inquiringly. In her curiosity, she had forgotten to cover herself with a blanket. In the moonlight, I saw everything.
In the moment, my brain wasn’t functioning properly. But even then, I knew better than to comment on any of the bits my brain wanted to comment on. So, in desperation, I spoke the first words that came to mind. “Huh. I didn’t know you shaved your armpits.” Smooth like buttah.
Aurora’s face went white in horrified realization. She mostly managed to stifle a scream and dove under the blankets.
“Can you just forget you saw that?” Aurora asked after several uncomfortable moments of silence.
“I’m pretty sure that would be impossible, even if I wanted to do so.”
“Oh.” The uncomfortable silence returned.
“Look, I’ll go sleep in my room,” I said, standing. I turned to leave but felt a hand on my arm. I looked back and Aurora had gotten up and stopped me, once more forgetting the blanket.
“Please don’t look,” she pleaded. I closed my eyes and pulled her to me, wrapping her in an embrace. She squeezed me back, burying her face in my chest and conveniently making it impossible for her to notice me sneaking a peek at her glorious backside. “Let’s just go back to bed,” she said.
“Okay,” I replied. “But I’d rather not lay with my back to you anymore.”
“I don’t want to lay with my back to you either,” she responded.
I considered it for a moment. “Well, then I guess one of us will have to lay on their back and have the other rest their head on the first’s chest.”
She giggled. “And I guess you’re volunteering?”
“Mais oui,” I said in a goofy French accent for no reason.
“Well tough. I’ll lay my head on your chest.”
I sighed exaggeratedly. “Well, fine. But you’re going to miss out on my patented Motorboat Alarm Clock.”
I laid back down and Aurora climbed into bed with me, laying her head upon my chest, wrapping her arm around me and pressing her soft body against mine. Carefully, I put left arm around her and rested my hand on her waist.
“I’ll get the blanket,” I whispered, preparing to cast a cantrip to pull it over.
“Wait,” she said, looking up at me. There was a slight tremor in her voice and I could see trepidation in her eyes. She was nervous for some reason. As she closed her eyes and focused, it didn’t take me long to understand why.
Great white feathered wings extended from her back as her halo reappeared, glowing with a very pale light. I was awestruck. “Aurora, those are amazing!” I finally exclaimed after several moments.
“Y-you don’t think they’re weird?”
Of all the things to be self-conscious about. I hugged her gently. “I think they’re beautiful.”
The light of her halo turned to a soft golden and I could see her smile. She hugged me tight. “Thank you,” she said. She stretched out her wings and carefully covered both of us with them. They were comfortably warm.
I lay there for several minutes, just enjoying the warmth of her body and the smell of her hair before a question struck. “So, the wings… is that why you aren’t wearing your other nightgown?”
She blushed. “I was afraid I’d tear it accidently if they came out.”
It was more than that. She’d been working up the courage to reveal that part of herself she’d only recently discovered to me, and she didn’t know how. I was touched that she cared. “You know, that brings up a good point. We’re going to have to modify your clothing so you can pop those out if you need to. And that’s before we even consider your armor, not that it’ll be easy to fly in your armor.”
“You don’t have to go to any trouble on my account.”
“For you, it’ll be no trouble at all. However, now that I think about it, that does bring up another question.”
“Well, I understand now why you aren’t wearing a nightgown, but what’s up with the lack of panties?”
“Well, I, that is…”
I grinned. “You also grew a tail, didn’t you?” I teased.
Her eyes grew wide. “NO!”
“Oh, but how can I be sure unless I see for myself? Though I guess there is one way…”
“Kyle, what do you mean by…KYLE!” she protested, giggling as I grabbed her butt.
“Well, I guess you’re right. No tail here.”
“Then you can remove your hand this instant.”
“Sorry. Can’t. It’s stuck and won’t respond.” I goosed her again, prompting another giggling protest.
I could tell that despite the fact that she was somewhat enjoying this, she was also a bit uncomfortable. I decided not to press the matter and moved my hand back to her waste, softly tracing my finger along her skin the entire way. I could feel goosebumps on her arms where they touched me.
It confused the heck out of my subconscious. She was sending signals that she was open to advancing things further, but at the same time, I was getting clear signals that she didn’t want to, though I’m not entirely certain how to describe them here. I decided that I would give her time, let her slowly acclimate to the idea of further physical intimacy between us. Half the fun was in the chase, after all.
Once she fell asleep, I carefully put on my headphones and flicked on the mp3 player, turning it to random. I almost laughed at the irony as the same song that woke me back in my room played once more, though it was the original and not the metal remake. As I listened, I contemplated the events of the last few days and what they meant.
My entire life, I had been afraid. Everything scared me, so long as it had a horrible potential consequence for me to obsess over. But I had always soldiered on. I refused to let my fear define me. But that had started to change. Things have been so far outside of what I had ever encountered that I hadn’t been able to cope. I suspect that’s why Fleur and I had become two somewhat separate entities. I had stopped listening to her. But that had to change. I wouldn’t allow my fear to define who I am. I would not allow fear to blind me.
This world wasn’t my hell. I wasn’t taken here completely unknowing what awaited me. No, not Hell. This is the future I chose. So I will no longer give in to my fear. I shall move forward doing what I think is right and to hell with the consequences. Fiat justitia ruat caelum. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.
And if those are the words that end up my epitaph, so be it. If those are the words I’m remembered by, then I can live with it. I could certainly do worse than a legal maxim cited by several heroes of history that chose to do what was right instead of what was easy or popular.
So here I am on the road again. Here I am upon the stage. There I go playing star again. Here I go…
Turn the page.
Either way, it ended up being one hell of an infodump, introducing things that had been planned all the way from day one and new ideas inspired as we went along. Some of this is foreshadowing things in the campaign, but one part is primarily foreshadowing the epilogue. Let me make one thing clear though. This world is an alternate Earth, so if I got certain aspects of our world wrong, it's because that's how they are in this one, so deal with it. :P
As for the next section, I've already begun work on it. Hopefully won't take nearly as long. As for a hint of things to come?