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A Certain Scientific...
I continued my work. I had to focus. I had already bleached my coat and other clothing, so it was time for the dye. “Recoloring my clothes,” I said.
“Kyle. I LIKE black.”
“Then you can change the clothes with the cuffs when you take over the body.”
“Fine,” she said, rolling her eyes. I continued to work in silence for a couple minutes. “Okay, so what’s with the multiple dyes?” She sounded curious.
“A proper wizard’s robe should be adorned with stars and moons,” I stated matter-of-factly. “And if mine happens to have properly proportioned constellations on it, well, then so much the better.”
“God you are such a dork!” she said, laughing. “So what constellations are you going to put on there?”
“Orion, of course. Also thinking Draco, Vulpecula and Fornax, as well as a big Gemini on the center of the back.”
“I’m touched,” she said. “Okay, fine, I’ll allow it.”
Shortly after I had put the finishing touches on my clothes and set them to dry, Aurora burst into the room I had made into my workroom, clearly distressed. “What’s wrong?” I asked, concerned.
“I’m not going to be able to fit in!” she said, burying her face in my chest.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know how to make my clothes explode if I eat something delicious!” she sobbed.
I looked at her face. She was serious. “What.”
“On Earth, when you eat something delicious, your clothes are supposed to explode off of you!” Kira was in stitches. Clearly she knew something I didn’t.
“Where did you hear such a thing?” I asked, though I had my suspicions.
“It was on an anime I was just watching! I got three episodes in when I realized that I didn’t know how to do that!”
I deserve an award for not laughing at that moment, unlike my sister, who would have been gasping for air if she had to breathe at the time. Instead I hugged her close. “Dear, that’s not real. People don’t really do that on Earth.”
She looked up at me, unsure but relieved. “Really?”
I wiped away a tear from her eye. “Really.” I gave it a thought. “Though, I bet if I tried, I could probably make you clothes that explode away on command, if you really, really want. Maybe something in naughty lingerie?”
“KYLE!” Kira said, making choking noises.
Unable to hear her, Aurora gave it a thought. “No, I think that would be dangerous.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “I’m done here, shall I come join you to watch some more?”
“That sounds good. But do you think you can ask Genji if he can have the cook make us some bacon-wrapped mashed potatoes?”
How exactly does one respond to that? “With or without cheese in the potatoes?” I asked.
She gave it a thought. “Definitely with.” I love that woman. Cheese and potatoes. It’s the Irish way. At least, that’s what my dad loved saying.
All in all, our first several days back in Magnimar were pretty uneventful. Geo spearheaded research into the actual location of what the Thassilonians called “Mhar Massif”, but had so far been unsuccessful. Meanwhile, I had been working on crafting gear for everyone.
It was mostly run-of-the-mill magic items, the kind you’d see on any powerful adventurer. I did experiment with making a set of Strikers for Lenn to help him fly better, but apparently it’s impossible to make magitech knee-high leg covers with plane propellers that work with pants. And I’m not unleashing a flying, pantsless Lenn on the world.
My pet project, however, was to solve the problem I had encountered against Lyrie. My SMG had been moderately effective as long as I had adamantine bullets, but I needed something bigger. Much bigger.
The people whose technology was represented in the booklet we’d stolen from the Technic League – the Androffans, or at least so the Technic League called them – had a very interesting solution to such a problem. They had learned to manipulate gravity. Truly manipulate gravity, not like what I’d done to make my jump jets, which used specially focused electromagnetic waves to simulate reversed gravity. A push rather than a pull.
The Androffans were able to do something similar, it seemed, but instead used gravitons. The device described would crush any sort of material into a super-dense pellet and fire it like a rail gun. Well, I couldn’t do that. I had a very rough understanding of what they were doing, but I wasn’t sure how to harness it. The instructions seemed to assume that the person reading them had access to a full graviton lab, which I didn’t. I could probably replicate the facility with my workshop spell, if I knew what it needed. Which I didn’t.
But I did understand electromagnets enough to take a shot at making my own full rail gun. This was easier to say than do, of course. Due to the way a bullet is accelerated in a magnetic gun, the recoil force is lower than in a standard firearm, though the change in momentum is the same, due to time. Which means that they’re much easier to handle than a standard firearm.
All that changes when you’re launching a full sized slug – well, a slug the size of the ones I make for a Pizzicato – at Mach Seven. Sure, it has less kickback than a theoretical standard firearm with the same muzzle velocity, but it’ll still tear your arm off, or at least feel like it did.
That was problem one. Problem two was cooling. Even using an aluminum magnesium boride coating in the barrel and nearly superconductive wiring, there was still enough heat produced in every shot to risk causing catastrophic failure. Without a powerful cooling system, I was stuck at a firing rate of about six shots per minute. That was unacceptable. I needed to be able to fire them at least as quickly as I could cast fireballs. So about ten per minute or so.
The third major problem was portability. Coolant systems are generally heavy affairs. So I had to get that down in size, as well as find a way to fit in some kind of magitech shock absorption system to absorb the recoil. And finally, I had to do all this without spending all of our resources, because other people needed things made as well.
Of course, aside from the monetary portion, most of this is grossly simplified. I’m just trying to give you a general idea of my problems, not go into full detail on everything so you can build one of your own. Half the fun of crafting is overcoming these problems on your own, after all.
When I say that I’m good at this, I want you to remember this: I went from a concept to a fully functional rail gun in four days. In a cave, with a box of scraps.
Okay, I’m lying about that cave thing. Obviously.
Meanwhile, Geo had made little headway on his investigation. But I was done with everything I needed, so I figured I could start helping him the next morning. We’d have our next step figured out in no time. At least, that was the plan.
There’s an old Yiddish proverb: “Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht.” It’s believed to be related to Psalm 33:10, which reads, “The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect.”
Or, spoken more plainly, “Man Plans, God Laughs.”
Aurora and I were asleep in bed when the dream came to me. This is not unusual. I’m usually asleep when dreams find me. This one was very, very vivid. But it still could have been a dream. It seemed like two things from my memory were converging.
It started with a voice. A woman’s voice. “Betrayer. In truth, it was I who was betrayed.” Lightning cascaded, illuminating the face of Lucrecia. Her eyes were covered by a blindfold, but dried blood told me that what lie beneath was empty, disturbing sockets. Her lips were contorted in a snarl of rage. Around her, waves crashed upon the rocky shoals, stirred up by the stormy skies.
“We took in that human. Yet, at the first opportunity, she filled the master’s ears with lies – claims that I had been the reason we had failed to slay those interlopers. That I had been the one who had cause Mokmurian’s failures! That I was the one who had failed to subvert that damnable prophecy!
“And he believed her. For my supposed failures, he brought to life his statue, and tore out my eyes! And look where it got her. Dead at the hands of the one she most wanted to kill.” Her sneer had become something akin to an angry smirk at this point.
“But I still believe in the master’s cause! I still believe in Lamashtu’s will! And at long last, my blind eyes see what others cannot. That sometimes, the Hand of Fate MUST. BE. FORCED!” She reached forth, an ornate dagger in one hand, the motions of the blade churning the stormclouds, calling down lightning from above.
“Return what you have stolen!” a voice called out.
“You’re too late, Champion of Gozreh!” she called back triumphantly. “If you want it! Go get it!” She hurled the dagger into the sea. The gnome, Gribbletoo, took several seconds to decide what was more important, then plunged into the waters.
Lucrecia smiled as she spied several massive shapes churning the water on the opposite side of the shoal. “Now, go forth! Unleash the tides of doom on all who would oppose us!” She then teleported away.
My point of view began panning away, through the clouds, revealing a golden moon. I could hear a familiar song, though for some reason I could not focus enough to place it. Then I felt my consciousness being pulled back downward. I was standing on the shoal once more. Standing before me was a soaked gnome.
Gribbletoo held up the dagger. A massive crack ran along the blade. “She used too much of its power. It is broken. The whole world is BROKEN! I must move quickly, or there will be a thousand years of hurricanes! All life will be scoured from the coasts. I cannot help you with what she has awakened, and I fear it is only the beginning. Wake up! WAKE UP AND DEFEND YOUR CITY!”
I woke up instantly, certain that it had been more than a dream. “Aurora, time to get to work.”
“Five more minutes,” she mumbled, pulling the covers around her.
“No, now,” I said, slapping her backside. I walked to the door to our room and popped my head outside, conveniently outside of the magic field that protected the room from scrying and other eavesdropping. “Juiz!” I called out.
“Acknowledged,” came the voice from the callbox right outside of the door.
“Is anything unusual going on outside?”
“A number of male cats appear to be fighting over the mating rights to a female currently in estrus. Organics can be quite fascinating when it comes to reproduction.”
Right. “But no mayhem or the like?”
“Negative. Was some scheduled for tonight?”
“Not that I know of, but I think it’s coming anyway. Contact Geo, Paulie and Orik. Tell them we’re going on high alert. Then I need you to come help Aurora with her armor.”
“Acknowledged,” the AI’s voice replied.
I returned to the room to find that Aurora had gotten out of bed. “What’s wrong?”
“I think the city is about to be under attack. Juiz should be here in a few moments to help you with your armor. I’m going to prepare spells.”
I threw on my clothes on and began the process of mentally indexing the spells I would use into the ‘slots’ within my mind. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but it was an hour long process for most people that I could do it in fifteen minutes. Aurora and Juiz were careful not to interrupt me, but I could tell that they were curious as to the reason we were doing this. But they just had to wait until I was finished.
Mayhem, on the other hand, never waits until you’re ready.
About a minute before I was fully ready, the entire building shook, as though being struck by a strong earthquake. I managed to keep my focus, but Juiz and Aurora rushed outside to see what was going on. Once I was ready, I rushed outside. I was not prepared for what I saw.
The city was under attack by giant serpents. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. They looked like a cross between a snake and a plesiosaur favoring the snake, with two heads. And they were ridiculously massive, larger than most of the buildings in town. And their bodies were covered in spines, which I assumed were poisonous. I had heard that something like this existed in the ocean near Magnimar, occasionally blamed for sinking ships. The locals called them vydrarchs, but never before had they been said to come on land.
I cast a flight spell. Flight would be dangerous in the building storm, but it was our best hope for coming out unscathed. “Aurora, we’ll need to hit them from the air. Juiz, sitrep.”
“Lenn, Geo and Paulie are dealing with another one near the inn where they’re staying. Orik and the PRL are engaging yet another one near the palace.”
“I believe the expression is, ‘Locked and Loaded’.”
“Let’s rock. Suit me up.” I held out my arms and Juiz wrapped the power armor around me in mere seconds. All I was missing was some of Iron Man’s repulsors and a red-gold paint job. But I guess a railgun was fine, too.
“Shall I begin playing some kind of music?” Juiz asked.
“Something bombastic, with emphasis on bass and brass?” Basically a movie score. It was most appropriate.
“No, let’s go with something upbeat, high pitched and Japanese,” I said sarcastically. Immediately that song from the Fukkireta meme whose name I can never remember began playing. Someone needed to teach Juiz about sarcasm. Unless, perhaps… had she gotten it and decided to troll me? “Juiz, is this the 10 hour version?”
“It is now,” she said, her voice mild and betraying no amusement. I could hear Aurora start giggling. Kira was laughing her non-existant ass off. Unlike the others, Kira could actually remember that there was a video of me on youtube dressed in cosplay singing that on Youtube. We won’t talk about who I was cosplaying as other than to say that I lost a bet.
“Alright, let’s focus. We have giant monsters to kill.”
The first shots against the creature were highly successful. They didn’t hit anything vital, at least none of my shots with the railgun, thanks to the kick I hadn’t had time to get used to, but even then, I had a huge target and almost couldn’t help but hit something. Aurora, on the other hand, had a fairly tight headshot grouping on one of the creature’s two heads.
The creature responded by creating a massive fog bank. That didn’t do much to deter us. It really didn’t take much to guess where it was, because again, MASSIVE, so we were able to fire mostly blindly into the fog at a downward angle and minimize chances we’d hit something unintended.
From my vantage point, I could see that the others were faring about as well as we were. Lenn, Geo and Paulie finished off their foe first, followed by ours and then Orik’s. Damage had been minimal, though several buildings had been crushed in the rampage.
Just when we were ready to start celebrating, all hell broke loose as another half dozen creatures emerged from the sea. Five were clustered around where the Lenn, Geo and Paulie were. Orik’s team was moving to intercept. That left one for us. But I would have traded our one for the other five.
For starters, it was larger than the others. Much larger. And its scales glowed with an iridescent light to my magic vision. Lucrecia, or some other force, had buffed the everloving hell out of this one. Dozens of auras. It was warded against everything.
Almost everything. I fired a round at it and… did no damage. There was no magical ward, but its scales were at least as hard as magically treated adamantine. I couldn’t be certain without getting closer, but they also appeared to be as thick as tank plating.
I switched tactics and hit it with the only type of damage it wasn’t warded against, concentrated sound waves. I’d luckily prepared two spells that could do that much. But they weren’t very powerful, and while it would do some damage, there was no way I could truly take it down like that.
Aurora, meanwhile, continued focusing fire on its heads, with limited success. The only time she scored clean hits were shots into its nostrils. Even its eyes were covered by a clear membrane that shielded against damage and it wasn’t opening its mouths to attack.
From all of this, I could only suppose that the protections were somehow surface only. But they were insanely strong. And it was being careful. Trying to get the damn thing to bite at me so I could toss in a grenade wasn’t working at all. Instead it would just try to slam me with one of its heads.
I was feeling completely powerless. There was nothing I could do. Not with what I had prepared. Maybe if I had spent more money, I could have made a powerful sonic weapon instead of a rail gun. I could have prepared different spells. Or heck, I could have even created just a more powerful, less mobile gun to pierce through its protections.
I was lost in those thoughts when the creature managed to hit me. Through sheer luck, I avoided the spines, but it was enough to send me crashing to the ground among the rubble. For the record, that hurt like hell.
“I’m okay,” I radioed back to Aurora’s inquiry about my safety. “My pride hurts more than anything.” I wasn’t lying. As much as I hurt physically, the pain of being unable to find a way to bring down our foe hurt much worse. “Juiz, separate.”
My power armor split from me. I repaired it and cast a flight spell on it, then told Juiz to take the railgun and keep trying to score a critical hit on the monster while drawing it away from populated areas. More than anything, I needed a minute to think.
“Put me in, coach!” Kira said confidently.
I shook my head. “There’s no way you’ll be able to score a solid hit without getting poisoned. That may end up being our only option, as fairy steel might have a chance at cutting through, but I’d like to consider it a last resort.”
She appraised the spines. “You might be right. Any thoughts?”
I shook my head as I looked out over the rubble. “Nothing yet. Give me a moment.” I had to prioritize my goals. The first was to lead it out of more populated areas and prevent it from doing more damage. Then I could focus on killing it. But, truth be told, it seemed to be losing interest in us. We hadn’t been able to hurt it, and we were too difficult to hit, for the most part, so it was beginning to focus on its rampage.
As I considered it, I looked around me. Then it hit me. I knew this building. At least, I knew what this building had once been. It had been a charming little bakery. They made these persimmon tarts that Aurora loved. I had woken up early every day in the last several to go down there and get one fresh for her.
The man and woman who owned it had three children. The oldest girl wanted to be a knight like Aurora. Their middle kid, a son, was studying to become a baker like his parents. The youngest, no more than six, had once told me that she felt safe because her mother had said people like us were protecting the city.
And now their home was in ruins. I had failed to protect them. Even if they had somehow made it out in time, and I desperately hoped they had, I had failed them. They never should have been mentioned here. They should have lived their lives in peace, untouched by the horrors of the world around them.
And how many others were there in the other nearby buildings that deserved no less? No matter how much stronger I had grown, I still couldn’t do what mattered. I still couldn’t protect those who could not protect themselves. I didn’t have the will to stand anymore. I dropped to my knees. I couldn’t even cry. I just felt numb.
And then I heard a voice.
Shadows fall, and hope has fled
Steel your heart, the dawn will come
The night is long, and the path is dark
Look to the sky, for one day soon
The dawn will come
I turned and saw a matronly woman in the robes of a cleric of Desna standing there. “Kyle…” Kira said, alarmed, but I ignored her. Others who had been cowering in fear had crawled from their nearby places of hiding and joined in the woman’s song. The looks they were giving me were pleading, but also filled with some strange reverence. These people were certain I could save them.
The shepherd's lost, and his home is far
Keep to the stars, the dawn will come
The night is long, and the path is dark
Look to the sky, for one day soon
The dawn will come
“Kyle! It’s important!” Kira said, trying to get my attention. But for some reason, my attention was rapt. Then she joined in, singing with them, her voice a silvery peal in the darkness.
Bare your blade, and raise it high
Stand your ground, the dawn will come
The night is long, and the path is dark
Look to the sky, for one day soon
The dawn will come
I looked at Kira, my jaw hanging open like an idiot. “How on Earth do you know that song?” I subvocalized.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. That song is from Earth!”
What. “Then how did they know it?”
“I have no idea. Not unless someone has smuggled in a shipment of Playstation Fours that we’re unaware of.”
“That just brings up a whole lot of other questions. Unless…”
“It’s not what you think.”
“Samantha has a PS4 in the Dreamlands,” I accused.
“Samantha has a PS4 in the Dreamlands,” she admitted. She and I would have a long discussion about sharing later. Now was not the time.
The crowd had started singing the song over again. I looked around me. Their eyes were hopeful. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t. It’s beyond me. I can’t stop it.” But they didn’t stop. They believed in me. They knew that somehow, I would stop this. But I couldn’t. I needed to find a weak point and I couldn’t! Why didn’t they understand that? “Why can’t you understand?! I can’t see a weak spot! I’M NOT GEO!”
Heh. God, what an idiot I was.
“Aurora!” I called out over the radio. “You and Juiz move to assist with the other monsters.”
“I won’t abandon this fight! And I won’t abandon you!” she protested.
“Not asking you to. I’m asking you to free up Geo to come over here. I need his help. Have Lenn carry him over!”
There was a moment of silence. “Right. On my way!”
I still needed a way to distract the enemy and prevent its further uncontrolled rampage. But what to do? Interestingly, the song provided me with a good answer. “The dawn will come indeed,” I said, chuckling ruefully. Or perhaps not dawn, exactly. Perhaps what this needed was the Morning Star. The Light Bringer.
I used my hat to assume the shape of my past life self, Fleur De Lis, because I needed the body of a dancer. My cuffs provided the schoolgirl outfit. Grade A Zettai Ryouiki, if you’re wondering. I then cast a spell to give myself the aspects of an angel, growing glowing wings of the purest white feathers.
I flew into the air, getting right in front of the creature. “Let there be light,” I said, unleashing a magical burst of light right in its eyes.
I hadn’t thought to use the spell because it wasn’t likely to do enough damage to matter, even if the creature was evil. And it was unlikely to blind the creature, due to the natural reflexes of snakes. But what it would do is enough of both to get the creature’s attention. Which was all I needed at the moment.
I followed that up with a blast of color right at the other head. Again, the creature was too powerful for it to do much, but I just needed to irritate it. And that it could do, even if it resisted the effect.
As luck would have it, I was successful in stunning the creature with the color spray – and I do mean luck, I had estimated that I had perhaps a five or ten percent chance of that working at best. I used the time to peel away in the direction I was leading it and duck behind a building.
“Kyle, what are you doing?” Kira asked.
I just winked and cast an invisibility spell, which I followed by casting an illusion. To observers, I appeared to grow huge – though still smaller than the monster. I then appeared to shoot directly into the sky, a few hairs’ breadth out of reach of the monster. Which is where I put my hands on my hips and began dancing. And singing.
Just like always
I love you.
With your kiss
Take me away.
I will never forget you
My precious memory.
Kira made a choking sound beside me, which I ignored, using my focus to add Dance Dance Revolution arrows to the air behind the illusory me.
Grilled food is only good
For one day
So kick reason to the curb and just
“I understand now,” Kira said, her face in her hand. “It has finally happened. You’ve lost your mind.”
Hey now, that wasn’t fair. I knew what I was doing. I had basically turned myself into a female approximation of what I imagined the first of the fallen to look like, since, you know, he was so good at dealing with snakes. Then I had made a big colorful show to keep the monster’s attention.
And if my pride, which had gotten me into this mess by not allowing me to see the solution, were brought down a peg by having to recreate one of my most embarrassing Youtube performances? So much the better. That was also a reason for using the form of the most prideful being to ever exist as my avatar, a reminder that pride could get in the way of success. The DDR thing was just me being a dork.
Also, it was either that or a giant image of Saint Patrick trying to beat the snake with a shillelagh.
And damned if it wasn’t working. The vydrarch was beyond confused. A few moments later, Geo approached and I passed along what I needed. It took only a moment before he had the answer. “There’s cracked scale seven scales down from where the snakes combine. That’s the only weak spot I’m seeing.”
I used the telepathic interface to radio back, “Do you think you can kill it if you strike there?”
“No, but I think Lenn can break the scale and pierce the flesh. Maybe if you drop in some of your explosives once it’s exposed?”
“That sounds like our best bet. Get him to Paulie for curing the poison afterward.”
Lenn dive bombed the scale after Geo showed him where to attack. As usual, throwing Lenn at the problem worked. The scale fell off and the monster cried out in pain as its blood began to trickle from the wound.
The cost was that Lenn took two spines, getting a massive dose of poison. Geo moved to get him to Paulie, who was already making his way towards us. I was pretty sure they’d make it in time.
All that was left was to take advantage of the situation to kill the enemy. C4 wouldn’t do it. I didn’t have a basis for that thought, but deep down, I suspected it. But that didn’t mean that there was nothing I could do. I had a much stupider idea.
Which meant it was foolproof.
Still invisible, I flew in over the monster and touched down on the area where Lenn had struck. This was made easier because he had broken the spines in the area when he had slammed into them. The illusion I was projecting had been buffered, so it kept going for eighteen seconds after I stopped concentrating on it.
Once on semi-secure footing, I dismissed my angelic transformation and cast another spell I had prepared, the ever-versatile polymorph. My body writhed and shifted, becoming that of a parakeet-sized parasitic creature adept at burrowing through flesh. We won’t go into what it was. I don’t want to talk about it.
<It was really gross.>
<At least you didn’t have to taste the monster’s raw flesh. THAT was gross.>
I burrowed around until I reached the monster’s heart. I was in luck. There was only one. I tunneled into it, opened another path into one of its lungs and then began phase two of my plan.
You see, I’ve been paying a bit more for my intellect increasing headband in order to make it more versatile. Not just a headband that increases intellect, it was a Shifter’s Headband, giving me powerful bonuses when I was shapeshifted. And one of those bonuses is the ability to shift from one form allowed by the spell I’m under into another.
With the spell that turns me into a different humanoid, I can become any other humanoid. With a spell that turns me into a beast, I can become a different beast. With the spell that turns me into an elemental, I could become another elemental. And with a powerful spell that can polymorph me into any one of those, I could become any other, as long as the container I’m within could hold me.
Which meant I couldn’t become a human. Likewise, I couldn’t become a wolf, nor could I become an earth elemental. I would burst the vessel I was in, or be crushed by it. However, that didn’t apply to something like, say, a fire elemental, which is a bit more malleable.
My very substance cauterized the blood vessels entering and exiting the heart. I seared the insides of its lungs as I made my way out. It died of asphyxiation shortly after I pushed my way out of its nose.
<Yet, due to the sterilizing nature of fire, completely sanitary.>
<Only you would say that.>
All the cheering from the onlookers did not help my attempt to gut check my ego by doing something embarrassing. As I returned to my form, I did so with a smirk of victory. From the air, I could see that Aurora and Juiz’s intervention had quickly turned the tide against the remaining lesser vydrarches, so I had time to do something I felt completely necessary.
I used a spell to allow me to project my voice and cast a bright light on a feather, which I tucked into the brim of my hat – I wanted to be illuminated, but not blinded by my own light. “LUCRECIA!” I shouted. “We have killed your pets! We have killed your allies! For your crimes against this city, you will be sentenced to death! But I make you a one time proposal.
“Offer your life to me here and now, without resistance. If you do so, I swear to you that your end shall be swift and without pain. However, if you refuse, I promise you that you will die in agony and despair for your foolishness.”
I wasn’t lying. If she surrendered now, I would end it quickly and without further malice. I just wanted the city safe. But if she made me hunt her down, I was going to make sure she felt the same pain those here had suffered.
A whisper on the wind answered me. “You haven’t stopped my plan. You’ve only delayed it. This city will be laid low, and you along with it.”
“So be it,” I whispered back. Either she was listening in with magic or she wasn’t. I didn’t care. “It may be that your whole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.” And that was the end of the fight. I hadn’t even seen Lucrecia.
After that, we began the hard part. We coordinated efforts throughout the city to put out fires and dig through rubble for survivors. It was nearly midday before we were fairly sure we’d found everyone. On the upside, most of the family from that bakery I mentioned earlier survived.
Unfortunately, the father did not. He died saving one of the children from the falling building. The poor woman was left alone to raise three children in a world with little social support. But, at least I could do something about that. I put in a word and within the day her bakery became a subsidiary of the Voidstrife cartel. She’d have access to programs unheard of elsewhere, including company daycare. And the company would buy whatever bread she didn’t sell daily to feed our workers down at the docks.
It wasn’t much, but at least I could help that much.
When I next went to sleep, I found myself floating above the city. Once more, the song I couldn’t quite grasp was playing within the dream. And once more, I found my consciousness being pulled into the sky, towards the golden moon.
I exerted my will. “Samantha!” I called out. I pushed forward, tearing a hole in the dream and entering the Dreamlands. I felt myself tumbling, hurtling towards the ground. I really hate falling dreams.
I landed with a thud in a comfortable chair at a table set with an ornate tea service. Kira, wearing a striped purple and pink dress as well as a fake cat ears and tail sat across from me. There was makeup around her lips that made her mouth look like a giant grin filled with razor sharp teeth. “Tea, dear sister?” she asked.
I looked down and found that I was dressed in what could only be described as ‘Alice Cosplay’, down to the smallest detail, including the buckled shoes. And I don’t mean I was one of my female past lives, either. I looked like I belonged in the lead of the all male revue of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, is what I’m saying.
Meh, like I was going to let a little thing like that bother me. “Earl Grey, hot, two sugars, one cream.” She passed me a cup along with a small plate with a bit of cake on it.
“Samantha will be back in a moment. She stepped out to speak to the Jabberwock. Until then, enjoy a cake. I’ve been learning to bake.”
I took a bite of the cake. I could taste hints of lemon, cloves and whiskey. “Kira, is this Granny O’Halloran’s whiskey cake?! This is amazing!”
“A close approximation,” she replied, purring. Dreams are weird and so is my sister.
I looked around the room. It looked a lot like I would have imagined the Mad Hatter’s tea party to look in real life, aside from one thing. “Hey, Kira?”
“What’s up with the standee?”
She grinned. “You can fight like a Krogan or run like a leopard, but you’ll never have as many decorations with your picture on it in the Dreamlands as Commander Shepard.”
She shrugged. “Samantha’s obsessed with Mass Effect right now.”
After a few minutes of silently sipping our tea, Samantha entered the room, followed by a towering Jabberwock. What does one say to a Jabberwock? “Yo,” was what I came up with.
He regarded us for a moment, then turned to Samantha, who was wearing a green vest, goldenrod pants and a citrine hat and coat. Of course she was the Mad Hatter. “I cannot say I approve of your pets. Useless humans, the scourge of a million worlds, their minds incapable of functioning once they see the truth of things.”
“These are different. They’ll surprise you.”
He took this as a challenge. The illusion faded and his true form was there before me. A mass of tentacles, eyeballs and mouths, looking akin to some kind of cephalopod orgy. If I had seen this before leaving Earth, it would have left me a gibbering mess. But I had flown through space. I had seen the inhumanities inflicted upon men by other men. I’ve been chased by dragons. I’ve fought the living dead. I’ve been beyond the veil of death myself and seen the afterlife’s waiting room. And I’ve seen what goes into the sausage Lenn makes. You really don’t want to know about that last one.
I took a look at myself in my dress and looked back at the being before me. “Look, I’ve seen enough hentai to know where this is going, but I’m going to have to decline. You see, I’m married and I don’t think she’d approve.”
All motion in the writhing mass stopped. I think it was flabbergasted. Samantha and Kira exchanged a look and then burst out laughing. I’m pretty sure this angered whatever this thing was. “MY FORM HAS MELTED THE MINDS OF GREATER CREATURES THAN YOU, PATHETIC HUMAN!” Its will was intense as its voise resonated in my brain.
I shrugged. “I have no doubt. But I am, as you said, a mere human. My tiny brain can’t register sixth dimensional sights. All I can see is three dimensions, with slight peeks into the fourth. So, you know, squid orgy. I’m sure you’re a very terrifying and/or beautiful squid orgy, but I really don’t have a standard for comparison.”
The being considered it for a moment, then reverted to his Jabberwock form. “Fascinating. Are they all like this?”
“No, this is an abnormality present in an infinitesimally small portion of lesser beings, but its prevalence is abnormally high within the population on his world. Thousands of beings among their billions. Lesser forms of it are even more common.”
“You wouldn’t be interested in selling me one of these, would you?”
“Sorry, I’ve grown fond of them.”
“A pity. Oh well. You know how to contact me if you change your mind.”
“You’ll be the first one I call.” He teleported away with a ‘fwoop’ and Samantha turned to me. “Impressive. I didn’t know you had it in you.”
I shrugged. “Oh, it was pretty easy, considering everything I’ve seen and the fact that my sister drugged my tea.”
Kira choked and shot tea from her nose, sending Samantha into a fit of laughter. “How…?”
“You added extra sugar to counteract the bitter, but miscalculated the amount. That tea was far too sweet. How did you know he’d do that?”
“I didn’t. I just knew you were upset and didn’t want you and Samantha fighting.”
Samantha looked confused. “Why would you be upset?” I started to talk, then she interrupted. “CHANGE PLACES!”
No. I wasn’t doing this. I had come here for a reason and I wasn’t going to be distracted by this Mickey Mouse BS. “I’m good, thanks. As I was about to say, I just want to know why all the subterfuge? You obviously know things. Why not just pop on the radio and tell me when I need to know something?”
She pouted. “You’re no fun, just coming right out and asking.” She pulled out a cigar, lit it and started puffing on it. Bubbles came out. No, I don’t know how either. “Look, I can’t just do things like that. If I interfere, I invite others to interfere. People with our kind of power send out ripples in the very fabric of existence when we do things.”
“Like flailing attracts a shark,” Kira added.
“Yes, that,” Samantha said, booping my sister on the nose. “If someone investigates and thinks I’m doing too much, they’ll also interfere. Worst case scenario, we’re talking the Sandpoint Time Loop on a massive scale.”
I’ve mentioned this before, but the Sandpoint Time Loop was caused by a trio of adventurers who somehow managed to kick off a turf war between Lamashtu and Desna, destroying the village of Sandpoint. But another deity, upset by the destruction of the town, which was a central part of his plans, had tried fixing the town by turning back time in the local area without changing anything else.
As a result of that idiocy, Sandpoint was destroyed an undisclosed number of times before yet another deity, annoyed by the snarling of spacetime had intervened and yanked the trio into another plane of existence righat after another reset, averting the constant repetition and saving the town. The black dragon that had set off their adventure had been killed by some soldiers from Magnimar that had been sent to investigate why the tax collector the Lord Mayor had sent hadn’t returned.
At least, that’s what my sources tell me. Considering that one of those sources is Samantha, I’d take that with a grain of salt.
“Anyway,” Samantha said, “that’s pretty much it. Have I not explained this to you before? I feel like I have. Though, I guess that could have been in an alternate future that never came to pass.” Kira just shrugged at my look. It was certainly possible she’d mentioned it before, though I couldn’t recall. Which didn’t necessarily mean anything, since I have these weird holes in my memory that always seem to coincide with visits from Samantha. I think she does it for her own amusement more than anything.
“But how about when you first came back and helped Obrek and Gribbletoo? Why didn’t anyone interfere then?”
“Well, to be honest, the two of them cause large enough ripples that my contributions got lost in the noise. And while you’re wreaking a lot of havoc yourself, your technology based approach doesn’t cause the ripples it might if you were simply a mythically powerful wizard. So I can’t hide what I’m doing. Which means I’m stuck with the old mainstays, such as mad beggars no one believes, hiding a cryptic message for a person in a dream shared by an entire town or somewhat cryptic prophecies written ten thousand years before they’ll come to pass. That kind of thing.”
“And you can’t just tell me things here and now, where no one is watching?”
“Someone’s ALWAYS watching. Probably that giant pervert, Nodens. And he’ll blab to everyone. Of course, if you had simply chosen to be a cleric who worshipped me, I could answer your prayers more directly much more often without raising any eyebrows.”
“That’s okay. I don’t think Father Alejandro would approve of me converting to another religion and I value his input.” But she had said something interesting. Maybe there was a way I could get her more direct input without revealing that she was helping. I’d have to look into it.
She shrugged. “Suit yourself. Care for more tea?”
“I’m okay. But about that PS4 you guys are hiding here…”
Samantha’s eyes widened. “Oh dear! Look at the time!” she said, looking at her bare wrist. “You’re due to wake up soon and you still haven’t finished your dream! Ta ta!”
I was once more floating above the city, rising towards the golden moon. People were already beginning to wake and get on with their day’s business, but the sky was still clearly dark. I estimated it had to be around four, or maybe five in the morning. Once more, I heard a song that I knew but could not focus on.
When my path upwards reached its zenith, the music stopped and in the distance I heard a single sound, the roar of a lion. And then I awoke, bathed in the soft glow of my sleeping wife’s halo.