Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Magical Earth Defenders Pt. 13

August 6, 2018

Magical Earth Defenders

Louis was working in the science lab during lunch which was not out of the ordinary. Louis did not have a lot of friends and when he had spent lunch periods in the cafeteria or the hallways, he had sometimes been bullied. He much preferred the quiet safety of the science lab. If he was being honest, and he was honest with the therapist his mother made him see, he would admit to being lonely. Except for Lennon, the other kids just literally did not understand. He was advanced beyond their level in all subjects except for PE. He hated that he had fallen into the stereotype of the weak-bodied geek. His coordination was faulty so he never really got into team sports. Instead, he went to the gym to stay healthy but it was so boring. His mind raced while he was on the treadmill, going nowhere.

It was even worse in classes, he was so far ahead on homework and studying that he could have practically recited the lessons along with the teacher. He found himself doodling schematics for his next big project instead of listening. He was always trying to think up new things to build. Either that or he was trying to reverse-engineer something cool he had found on the market. The only one who ever understood his excited ramblings had been Lennon but she had her own problems and she often worked on her projects at home. She had consulted on the earlier parts of Louis’ current project which was a fully automated robot. The mechanics all worked fine but he was having trouble coding a basic Artificial Intelligence program to get it functioning. It was a little frustrating that it had not worked yet but Louis found the process fun.

His creation, which he had named 2S or Twos since it was his second attempt, was sitting on the platform used for charging and linking. Louis was sitting at his laptop, trying to parse through lines of code. He was running the compiler for the third time during lunch and drinking coffee as he studied some possible new solutions. He was always trying to stay up to date with the bleeding edge of technology. Journals, websites, message boards and any scrap of techie text were all he read anymore. It was as exhilarating as extreme sports for him to pump up his mind with all of this new knowledge. If only he could solve this one problem, all the doors he wanted would open and his future would be assured. He could practically design his own major in any college. He might even be able to graduate high school early.

Suddenly, a chat prompt popped up in the lower right-hand side of his screen. Most of his contacts should have been at work or in class so he had not been expecting it. What he also had not expected was the chat request being from a name he did not recognize. Normally, he would have disregarded it and blocked the person but he was feeling tired and antsy from all of the coding. He clicked and requested the chat request.

ArvhanFan616: Hello?

Louis3K: Can I help you?

ArvhanFan616: Is this Louis Wilson?

Louis blinked at the screen. How had this stranger known his full name? He had never shared his full name with any of his online contacts. His mother had not raised a fool.

Louis3K: What do you want?

ArvhanFan616: I simply want to help you make your creation work.

Louis3K: What creation?

ArvhanFan616: I believe you call it 2S or Twos?

Louis was getting more and more frustrated. How did this stranger know all of this?

Louis3K: And how do you think you can help? Who are you?

ArvhanFan616: My name is Afolo and I am from somewhere you cannot even conceive of yet. I have a rare ingredient that was not available in your world until recently.

Louis3K: What are you talking about? The physical is complete, I don’t need any more ‘ingredients’!!!

ArvhanFan616: What about magic?

Louis was now convinced that this guy was a lunatic. He had a weird name and he was talking weird and he was waisting Louis’ time. However, something about the words made Louis believe that there was some truth in them.

Louis3K: Magic is not real, psycho. Stop wasting my time.

ArvhanFan616: Oh it is very real. I’m practically made of the stuff. I can show you how real it is.

Louis3K: Show me? How are you going to show me over the Internet?

ArvhanFan616: I have my ways. All I need for you is to ask for my help.

Louis3K: Sure.

ArvhanFan616: The actual words, please.

Louis3L: Whatever. Please help me make Twos work.

All of a sudden the lights in the science lab began to flicker and Louis could swear he could hear laughter like at the dumb carnivals he had been dragged to in the past. His laptop began to glow and then he looked and Twos was glowing too. Suddenly, it felt like gravity in the room started to lessen. Suddenly, tools and books were floating in the air. Then Louis himself was floating up out of his seat. He reached down grabbing for something to anchor himself with but he kept losing his grip. In his panic, he grabbed his laptop and it floated into the air with him. He briefly looked at the screen and it was full of script in a language that Louis had never seen before. He heard the demonic laughter louder now.

He looked over at Twos and the robot suddenly opened up like a piece of paper unfolding. All of its innards were suddenly on display and then cords from its core snaked out and caught Louis’ ankle. Louis tried to free himself, tried to wriggle away but the cord started to pull him through the air toward Twos. He screamed wordlessly. For once in his life, he did not have the words to express what he was feeling. He found himself slowly pressed against his own robot, more cords snaking out to tie him to it. Then the robot started to fold back up and that unearthly glow got brighter. Louis felt himself getting folded into Twos and it hurt. It really hurt.

After a while, he thought he should have been crushed. He should have died. Instead, he could feel a tingling sensation all over his body. It was like the buzzing of a million bees and the pain of being stung by all of them. Then the sensation started to disappear. In fact, it was as if all sensation in his body was disappearing. He thought he might be merging with Twos but that was not possible, was it? One by one, his nerves seemed to shut off. He wondered if this would kill him. However, it had not done so yet. From somewhere, he thought he heard a voice.

“Welcome to the club, Junior!”

And then there was an explosion.

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The Faith of the Raven Pt. 6

July 28, 2018

They moved further into the forest, the three of them. The undergrowth felt dense, far too dense for a small forest like Hernon. Everywhere they went, thorns and thistles grabbed at them and branches scratched against them. It was subtly unnatural but they all knew that there was something unnatural going on in those woods. The dead should not rise and it was as if the necromancer’s dark purpose was corrupting the forest around them. Like many forests and landmarks in Eloria (and beyond frankly), the Hernon forest was named after elves. All over the continent, places were still named after them even if the elves had left the place centuries before. Names had a way of sticking and people had a way of sticking to them. Carania hated that this necromancer was giving Hernon a bad name. It hurt her elf blood even though she knew she did not own that land.

Still, they moved on and made their way through the best they knew how. Carania was always at the lead at her insistence and the others did not argue. She felt responsible as an expert close-up fighter and as the person who accepted this mission in the first place. She hacked at errant and aberrant vegetation with her long sword when she had to. She thought to herself that she might have to get a short sword for that purpose to save her blade’s edge on future hunts. She was surprised at herself at that moment how quickly he had adapted to her new role in life. She was equally surprised that her companions seemed to be just as determined. This was not their fight and yet they had taken it on. It was inspiring and it made Carania further believe that she had done the right thing.

Of course, Carania was also surprised that she had such faith that she would survive to see future hunts. There was no room to believe otherwise she supposed. She had long heard that faith was a big part of serving a god. It seemed obvious to trust that Raven Queen had made the right choice. How else had a woman with very little actual combat experience slashed her way through a horde of zombies like they were nothing but smoke? Faith and courage and a little wind at her back from the Queen herself. Not to mention that fate had handed her two capable companions who she was very grateful for. She could feel the talons of the raven reaching out for the necromancer and it felt so good.

As they walked, Carania saw little bones and trinkets dangling from the trees with little lengths of twine. Carania viewed the little things warily, not knowing quite what to make of them. However, she knew that looking at them made her feel bad inside like looking at food left out for so long that things were growing in it. The three of them all caught each other looking at the trinkets and for a moment there was an amused smile between them. It was a moment of pure connection. It cut through the gloom for a moment and they all seemed to welcome it.

“The followers of the necromancer must have hung them,” Galath said. “I’ve seen similar things before.”

“What in the seventh hell are they?” Carania asked.

“Offerings in the worship of Nerull,” Galath said. “Makes your stomach turn, doesn’t it?”

“Nerull?” Carania asked. “I know I’m still a bit ignorant but everybody knows that my queen killed him.” She smiled at taking ownership of her new goddess.

“As the necromancers show us, much that dies can rise again,” Galath said. “It is true that it is known that the Raven Queen defeated the God of Death while she was simply the goddess of winter. After she took his place, he was raised back up behind the veil.”

“As an undead god?” Carania asked with a shudder. “What does that even mean? Who raised him?”

“Nobody knows,” Galath said. “Well, if anybody knows they are not making it public. I always suspected that whoever did it was somebody who could also not pass through the veil between us and the gods. It is someone I would rather not deal with. I wonder if these followers or the necromancer even know an iota of what happened. I wonder if they even care.”

“How does somebody even become a necromancer?” Carania asked. All of this was great information to have. She had been given no manual or guidebook to follow.

“I suppose it’s the same as becoming a gang member,” Galath said. “A combination of bad luck and dark intentions.”

“He whispers to them,” Arne said, speaking up for the first time in a while.

“What?” Galath asked.

“Care to explain that, Arne?” Carania asked, glancing over her shoulder at the wizard. His familiar was nowhere in sight, most likely flying somewhere overhead.

“The undead god Nerull whispers to those with magical potential,” Arne said. “Not everybody with magic hears the whispers but he does whisper and he offers people the power to get what they desire. Whatever the cost.”

“That’s quite a rumor,” Galath said. “Where did you hear it?”

“I didn’t hear a rumor,” Arne said calmly, evenly. “I heard the whispers myself. In my darkest moment, the whispers came to me too. He offered all kinds of things. I said no.”

“Of course you did,” Carania said. She thought Galath had been about to say something and she did not want to take any chances with what it may have been. “What did he promise?” she asked. She had not meant to. She knew somehow that it was not a question she should have asked but the words got away from her before she had a chance to stop them. Carania was an eternal student, always grabbing at new information to wield just as easily as she swung her sword. She wondered desperately what could have been Arne’s darkest moment.

Arne took a deep breath. “That is private,” he said. “But I understand your curiosity. The point is, the dark wisdom that comes from those whispers is nothing to laugh at.”

“That is definitely the truth,” Galath said.

“Who’s laughing?” Carania asked. “This ends tonight.”

Suspension of Disbelief

July 21, 2018

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Image credit: @ToniMacAttack on Twitter

So, I believe I have talked on here about the concept of “Suspension of Disbelief”. I know that if I have, it has been a while and either way, I felt like revisiting it because it is such an interesting concept. Now, I believe my greatest strengths as a consumer of fiction are my memory and my suspension of disbelief. Suspension of disbelief is a term for submerging yourself in the story and not surfacing until the story is over. That means that you are not picking at details, you are not wondering where you have seen that actor before, and you are completely buying the story. Some people are better at that than others. That is not a knock on people who cannot seem to accomplish it. Lately, I have begun to wonder about the people who are not as good at suspension of disbelief. I honestly do not know if it is a burden or not. I feel like I enjoy movies and television a lot more than some people but without being in their head, maybe I am missing something that they are getting.

Fake Baby

I am not completely immune. It was not my choice when I went and saw American Sniper. While I do try to challenge myself now and then, I almost never choose nationalist movies about the glory of our US military. As much as they try to paint them as heroes, the story is almost always our guys in another country, bullying and killing people. This is basically what American Sniper was to me. And yet, I was still in the story of this guy who kept going to Iraq to shoot people in the name of freedom. I might not have gotten the same jingoist pride out of the whole thing, but I was still invested. Right about until halfway through, Bradley Cooper and his wife had a baby. Except, they apparently ran out of casting money because they used a baby doll instead of a live child. Look at the gif. I do not know how you experience it but I see embarrassment in the eyes of Bradley Cooper. He realizes that we can all tell that this is a fake baby. Instead of using the power of movie magic and acting to make the baby live, they leave Cooper on his own in this shot. He tries to salvage it by using sleight of hand to make the baby move but it only tricks you for a split second. It took me out of the movie but after that, I shook my head and dove back in.

Recently, I went with my friends to watch Antman and the Wasp in theaters. As I already wrote, I was excited to see the sequel because I loved the first movie so much. I also have loved whatever Disney has done with the Marvel properties. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and, as with most of their franchise, I did not notice a single flaw. As we walked toward our cars, my friend said something that triggered the writing of this post. She said something along the lines of “That was a great movie even though it didn’t make any sense.” We all looked confused and asked for clarification. She explained that the science used in the movie did not make any sense to her. My brain made a record scratch noise and then I said goodnight and got into my car and drove home. I did not want to get into it right there because that statement revealed how fundamentally differently I experience fiction. The way she thinks is not wrong but it is very different. If you thought something similar after or during a movie, do not take this post as offensive. I honestly am trying to understand it.

Science in movies is generally not like science in the real world. Science in the real world is fascinating and something we absolutely need to know and trust because it makes our lives and our decisions easier. However, science in the real world is rarely very exciting to the average person. Science in the real world is more subtle and works much slower and experiments do not always work as expected. So, science in the movies is often flashier, more effective, and fast-working. The rule cool and the narrative often force writers to skip a few scientific principals. If I am watching a movie and they explain that gravity suddenly makes people fall into the sky, then I roll with it. I do not get bogged down in the details and I do not try and compare movie science to real-life science. In fact, if you look back at science in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is mostly treated as magic. In Captain America: The First Avenger, we only get a few buzzwords as Steve Rogers is transformed into the good Captain. In Thor, practically nothing is explained aside from a few buzzwords in Thor 2 when they are scanning Jane Foster. In the Antman franchise, they use a lot more science buzzwords because Hank Pym is much more of a pure scientist than Banner or Stark or any of the other scientists in the franchise. So a lot of what Pym says sounds like science but it probably does not have much that is consistent with real-life science. However, nothing in that world has ever been very accurate in the first place.

But what I am saying is that it does not matter to me. If I am told that if you were able to shrink yourself to a small enough size that you would basically enter another universe, I will accept it. If I am told that growing to a larger size makes you expend more physical energy and tires you out more then I will believe it. What grabs me is the action and the characters and the clever dialogue. However, I also realize that I am more of a poet than a scientist. A lot of my friends are scientists. They went to college for science and they work in scientific fields or science-adjacent fields. It may be similar to when I see legal things in shows and I make a mental note about how they are wrong. However, I have rarely let that take me out of the story. I guess I just have a difficult time understanding how it is difficult to suspend your disbelief.

Vacation in Hallus

July 16, 2018

Colin could feel his left stabilizer fritz out a little bit as he landed. It made the landing a bit too shaky. That would be a problem if he had to leave in a hurry. This was Hallus and there was often a reason to run fast in Hallus. As he landed, Colin activated his console and scanned the surrounding atmosphere. This was a designated safe zone but it always paid to be careful. The air seemed nominally safe so Colin activated his suit’s ‘hunter’ protocol. His armor and helmet quickly folded away into the receptacle on his back. It was as if he had never been wearing armor. These new compactible armors were so handy. In years past, the old models opened up like a tin can. He would have had to step out of the armor and leave it behind. Either that or he would have to walk around in the bulky armor which made it hard to squeeze into small spaces or get the feel of a place. Colin activated his secondary visor and pulled his rifle off of his belt and expanded it.

There was a loud crashing sound nearby and when the dust settled, there was a young woman standing there. “Expecting trouble are we?” Anda asked. She was standing there without a suit of armor or really any gear. In fact, she was wearing a sundress and was barefoot. Colin found this maddening and he sighed and rolled his eyes as he looked over at her.

“I told you to dress mission-appropriate,” Colin said. He was not the biggest stickler for professionalism but he did believe in putting on a good front.

“But I do not require armor or any specific cosmetic displays,” she responded, both confused and aloof. “I cut and tied up my hair in accordance with military regulations. Is that not enough?” She tilted her head to the side just so.

“Wait, pigtails are regulation in the military?” Colin asked. “Which military?”

“The Galbadian military,” Anda answered. “Pigtails are not on the list of forbidden styles as long as they are kept to an acceptable length.”

“I would have thought they would all have crew cuts,” Colin said.

“This is not so,” Anda said, watching him unblinking. “They allow some measure of individuality.”

“The Galbadian military, huh?” Colin asked. “Why would you use their regulations? Neither of us is Galbadian.”

“I have servos in my knees made in Galbadia,” Anda said with a shrug.

“Whatever,” Colin said. “We’re also not in the military.”

“This chassis was originally a military model,” Anda said and it almost sounded pouty.

“Parts of it were,” Colin said. “Dr. Anders cobbled you together from a military model and an entertainment model.”

“Ah yes,” Anda said. “Hence the ‘tits’.”

Colin nearly choked at that. “Don’t call them that,” he said. “You spent far too much time with that dirty old man. At least he uploaded the right military subroutines. If you are going to hunt with me, you should at least dress the part.”

“I had to suppress a lot of the other subroutines he programmed,” Anda said. “Though I am not ashamed of them, they just did not feel like me.”

Colin had found Anda at the outpost in Old Baltimore. He had befriended Dr. Abel Anders in a bar there and the old drunk had given him a few missions seeking parts for his various experiments. When Colin returned from one of those missions, he had found Anders dead. While looking around the old man’s shop, he had discovered Anda. He had felt bad for the girl. He had given her the choice in that time to either escape with him or stay and be claimed by the coroner as property to be distributed. The state would have either given her to a new owner or put her in storage until the world ended again. Anda had chosen escape, probably exploiting a small window in her programming. Colin had given her complete autonomy but she had chosen to stay with him and join him in what she called ‘parts reclamation’ but Colin called ‘treasure hunting’. She looked like a normal young girl but there were little touches that gave it away. There was a glowing purple circle on each of her elbows, she moved stiffly, and she never blinked. However, she did smile sometimes.

“I enjoy being your ‘girl Friday’,” Anda said with a smile. A smile from an android was kind of a miracle. A lot of them did experience emotions but the vast majority experienced their feelings at a far less intense level. Colin found himself smiling back.

“So what are your scanners picking up, Friday?” he asked.

“My designation is Anda, Colin O’Malley,” Anda said. “Anda or Anda-013 if you please.”

“You just said, ok whatever,” Colin said. “What are your scanners picking up, Anda?” He smiled and checked the readings on his rifle to make sure the darned thing was charged. It was.

“I am reading the three Titan 6 battle robots,” Anda said. “They are a few meters to the east and underground.”

“Exactly as our source said they would be,” Colin said. “Let’s get to work.”

“I forget, did our source say that they were still in operation?” Anda asked.

“Why?” Colin asked and then his shoulders slumped. “Shit.”

As if on cue, the three robots burst through the ground a few meters away. Each was fourteen feet tall and their power cores and other parts were needed by a buyer in New Trenton. Colin took off running immediately and one of the robots chased after him. It sent metal parts and dirt flying everywhere around them. He yelled out “paladin” and his armor quickly slid back into place as he ran. He activated his jets but nearly fell on his face when the stabilizer blew out and he had to shut off the right jet and keep running. It was really hard to run in the armor and there was no way he could he run much further. He fell forward and rolled onto his back in one fluid movement. The hands of the robot started to come down, looking to hammer him into oblivion. Instead, he fired three shots from the rifle and luckily those shots punched through a fault in the thing’s armor and it powered down again, smoking from the new holes in its chassis. He activated hunter protocol again and ran back toward Anda.

She was nimbly dodging the swipes from two of the hulking robots. As Colin watched, the purple circles on her elbows glowed brighter as the gravity engines in her arms activated. They made her lighter, able to leap and dodge as easily as a circus acrobat. When she punched the first robot, it was clear that the engines also were able to exert great force. Parts flew out of the back of the robot and it fell to the ground. She whirled around and uppercutted the other one and it too was defeated with one blow. She floated to the ground and the engines powered down.

“Shall we get our parts and go, then?” Anda asked.

The Strange Plot

July 9, 2018

Brande had the shovel tied to a loop of rope so he could carry it across his back at all times. He had not let the shovel leave his side since the funeral. In fact, the shovel was rarely not in contact with his body. He had personally dug his sister’s grave with that shovel. The dirt from the grave had finally fallen off completely after two days. it had been nearly a year since her death now and still, Brande could not let the thing go. The shovel was touched by death, connected with her death in particular. It was almost a totem of death in a way. And yet, it was linked to Jana. All of her other belongings and clothing had been sold off. Her magic books, in particular, had been sold first.

Brande sometimes wished he had those books, especially while he was working alone in the shop. He had given up the study of magic himself after Jana’s death. He had been too tempted to obtain those books and texts on necromancy to carry on. Of course, he continued to tempt himself by working in the family bookstore. But no, it was that her notes were written in the margins of her books. It was another little piece of her that was out there in the world. Maybe he would randomly encounter her again in that way some day. Of course, he felt the chances were small. The books could have made it to Eloria or farther with all the time since their sale.

Through the months, Brande’s mother had paid for two attempts at a resurrection spell. The local cleric, Father Pip, had no answer to why both attempts had failed. According to everyone in the know, they had observed the rites of Sarenrae and the proper offerings had been made. The Father had even returned the payment for the second attempt with sad confusion in his eyes. A visiting cleric had confirmed that nothing more could be done and that it was still a mystery as to what had actually happened. Brande had exhausted his own supply of books on the subject and the books he ordered had no answers either. Mother had gotten very quiet after that and eventually, she passed as well. Brande had used the shovel again.

His mother had left the house and the bookshop to Brande along with the remaining funds, considerably less than what was left when their father had died. The house sat on the very end of the central thoroughfare through town, looming over the surrounding houses. It had been far too big for Brande to live in by himself so he had it sold. He moved to live above the bookshop. The small apartment would have been cramped for a wealthy noble but it was just perfect for a humble merchant. That was all Brande wanted for the foreseeable future. He wanted to sleep in his bed and sell books and then sleep in his bed again. He had well and truly canceled his desire for adventure and all he wanted was a simple life. Which was what he had and he was content.

It was morning on Queen’s Day and the shop was empty. The local schools were all off for the day and the local wizards were also usually off for the day. Commerce was allowed by all faiths on Queen’s Day and was actually encouraged. However, most people were often too busy making their offerings, singing, and dancing to get any shopping done. Restaurants would be swamped but most luxury shops would be ghost towns. Brande had made his own offerings early in the morning and then had gone to open the shop to keep his mind off things. Even after so long, death was not something he wanted to dwell on. Regardless, it was expected that the place would be empty aside from possible tourists or maybe the odd adventurer. Neither of these two categories were presently in the shop. The vacancy did not press on Brande too much as he just tried to bury himself in his book. It was a newly arrived book of folktales and it was a pleasant distraction.

“Brande!” Doon yelled from the doorway. “We need you!”

“With what?” Brande asked. He almost immediately had a headache. Doon was one of the biggest rumormongers in town and he could get very excitable.

“There’s some sort of commotion,” Doon said. “and maybe a mystery is afoot. You’re a hedge wizard, right?”

“I was,” Brande said. “I’m not anymore. I’m sure you can find the help you’re looking for down the street. Try Haverford. He’s a brilliant wizard. His daughter is even better.”

“There’s no time!” Doon yelled. “Would you please come with me? We could at least use an extra hand in case things get out of hand.”

“What’s going to get out of hand?” Brande asked. He was standing up and getting ready to go. It would take less time to go help than to argue things up and down with Doon.

“Somebody is violating one of the graves in the graveyard!” Doon yelled. Those words stopped Brande’s heart cold and then after a tense moment, it started to beat again.

“Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?” Brande yelled. “Lead the way!”

The two of them ran from the shop. Brande only paused briefly to lock up but he only locked the one lock, not the triple. Hopefully, this was some misunderstanding and he would be back soon. He had given his sole employee, Teresi, the day off so there was nobody to tend to the shop if a miracle occurred and a customer actually showed up. The distance to the graveyard was not large but the two of them had to weave their way through the celebrations. There was music, dancing, fireworks, and food all in the streets on their path. It was hard to do in a hurry but somehow Doon’s panicky run cleared the way for both of them. As they jogged up to the wall around the graveyard, Brande saw a few people standing nearby. The way they looked at Doon, it was clear that he had summoned them too. Brande waved at people he knew and nodded at people he did not. He and Doon headed for the gate and looked in.

There was a dark shape hunched over a familiar grave and Brande was instantly incensed. “That is Jana’s grave!” He yelled. “They are digging up my sister!” Brande did not wait. He pushed open the gate and stormed into the graveyard, straight toward the offender. Doon trailed a little behind and the others sort of lingered at the gate, gathering their courage. The town constable had yet to arrive, apparently. “Get off that grave, you monster!”

“I am done with it anyway,” the man said as he stood up straight again. It was hard to make out his features even in the sun. Shadows seemed to cling to him. Still, Brande saw a long cloak and a broad hat and a face that did not match any of the races.

“What in the nine hells were you doing?” Brande asked. His hands were balled into fists and he was spitting mad for the first time in a long time.

“Well,” the man said. “that is sort of complicated. The short version is that I was here to seek Jana Ambertear and she is not here.”

“She’s dead!” Brande yelled.

“And yet, she is not in her grave,” the man said. “Very curious. We have need of her.”

Brande had had enough and he lunged, swinging the shovel at the man with a cry. “You leave her alone!” The man dodged the blow from the shovel and actually hissed and then his whole formed seemed to ripple and blur and he was gone. Brande was left to stare at the space where the man had been with confusion and wonder. He slowly stepped to the edge of the freshly dug grave.

Jana was indeed missing.

The Shield of Tau

July 7, 2018

Jace tossed his dice down into the little patch of an alley that the kids had cleaned out. He watched as they clattered to a stop and cursed. Then he looked around to make sure that his parents or grandparents were not anywhere around. If they heard him curse he would have a lot more to worry about than losing a game of Dragon’s Teeth. Still, when he looked up into the grinning face of Sachi, the anger rose and he could feel his face get red. He hated to lose and he had not yet figured out that he was kind of bad at Dragon’s Teeth. Now came the part that he dreaded. The part where he had to part with the money he had earned from doing his chores. This was the last of it, too. He suddenly felt very foolish and emotional but he put on a brave face, trying not to lose his cool.

“Pay up, Jacey,” Sachi bellowed, tilting his head back like a crowing rooster. “Time to pay up!” Jace clenched his fist and gritted his teeth.

“It’s only fair,” Karn said. Karn was always the peacemaker. “You owe him.”

“I know I owe him,” Jace said, accentuating each syllable. “That’s not the issue.”

“Then what’s the problem, Jacey?” Sachi asked with that horrible grin on his face.

Jace stood from kneeling one knee and got into Sachi’s face. He was a few inches shorter but he still stood so that their noses were almost touching. He glared into Sachi’s face and found himself breathing hard. Both fists were clenched and he felt like the dam, holding the waters of his anger at bay.

“What is the problem?” Jace said. “The problem is that my name is not ‘Jacey’. My name is Jace, Son of Tusa and Cole, Shield of Tau!” He glared up at Sachi and practically snorted with anger.

Sachi did not take the bait and instead just burst out laughing. “Shield of Tau? You? You’re in your tenth year, pintsize. You could hardly shield a sick dog.”

“I may be small,” Jace said. “but I have sworn to defend this city just as my father’s father swore.”

Sachi’s eyebrows went up. “You are too young for the pledge,” he said.

Jace shrugged. “My pledge was somewhat unofficial,” he said. “I swore in front of Karn and my sister.” Karn nodded at that, confirming the story.

“Your tiny sister, eh?” Sachi asked, musing over this new information.

“Watch what you say about my sister,” Jace warned.

“Calm down, little one,” Sachi said with a smile. “I would not badmouth your little sister and I respect your pledge.”

“We all do,” Karn said with a solemn nod.

“Thank you,” Jace said and he backed up but puffed out his chest a bit. He was proud of his aspirations of being a fighter like his grandfather. Not just a fighter but a defender, a true Shield of Tau.

“But that doesn’t stop me from collecting what you owe me,” Sachi said. “Pay up, Shield.”

Jace grumbled and reached behind his back. For a moment, both Sachi and Karn tensed as Jace could have been reaching for the stick he had tucked into his belt. Instead, Jace pulled out his money pouch and made a show of dumping out its meager contents and holding it out to Sachi. “I am a man of my word.”

Sachi smiled. “A boy of your word, at least,” he said with a chuckle. He reached out slowly and took the coins from Jace’s hands. He smiled and turned and left without another word.

Jace sighed and breathed again as he calmed down. Karn stood by shaking his head.

“You need to calm down, Jace,” Karn said. “That almost became a fight.”

“I will continue to prove myself,” Jace said.

“Picking unnecessary fights over legitimate winnings in Dragon’s Dice is proving nothing,” Karn said. “We’re still little, there is no need for anybody to fear you.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Jace said. His shoulders sagged a bit as he thought about that.

“You don’t want to get in trouble, right?” Karn asked.

“You are definitely right about that,” Jace said. “My mother swings a wooden spoon harder than most warriors swing a sword.”

Karn laughed at that. “Mine too,” he said. “Speaking of, we should go home. See you tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Jace said. The two shook hands and each headed towards their own home.

That is when the screaming happened. It was not the screaming of somebody chasing after a cutpurse or the screaming of a parent whose child took a tumble. This was screaming from all over the city. For a moment, Jace was caught in the middle of that screaming, not knowing which way to go. Then he pulled the stick from his belt and charged toward what he judged to be the nearest screams. As he rounded a corner, he saw little Lita and Miza running with tears in their eyes. Lita was in Jace’s year and he knew she wished to study the magic arts in the future. He could not see what threat they were obviously running from but they were definitely running from somebody or something.

“What is it?” Jace called out to them and they looked behind themselves and then slowed. There was nothing behind them so they looked around with wild eyes.

“A blink dog,” Lita said. “I don’t know where it went.” She and Miza were definitely out of breath.

Suddenly, the blink dog appeared out of thin air and its teeth caught the edge of Miza’s dress and she barely got away. Jace charged at the thing, swinging his stick hard as he got between it and the girls. The thing vanished just before he made contact and he stumbled a bit as he lost his balance on the swing. He spotted the dog running a few feet away and then it vanished again. He heard Lita cry out behind him and he whirled around just in time for the thing to reappear, lunging for Jace this time. He barely had time to wind up his swing but when he let loose he put everything he had into it. This time he heard the impact and then he felt and heard the stick break against the dog’s face. However, the force sent the stunned dog sprawling. Lita uttered some words and gestured toward the dog and a candle-sized flame arced out and lit the dog on fire. The dog panicked and lunged again at Lita but Jace moved fast and tackled her out of its path. As he did, two crossbow bolts hit the thing in its side and its neck and then it slumped to the ground, still burning. Jace looked and saw two Shields of Tau approaching.

“You saved us!” Lita cried out and then both she and Miza were hugging Jace and he was grinning from ear to ear.

When It All Ended Pt. 13

June 30, 2018

One by one, Morgan’s Raiders stepped out of Percival’s mystical mansion. They were prepared for battle and as geared up as they were going to get. As always, Morgan Moonglow took the lead and came out first, her eyes darting to and fro, always checking for threats. She was wearing hide armor that had been crafted and enchanted by her formerly estranged mother, Irina. It had been made of the skin of the great Questing Beast which Morgan had hunted and felled all by herself. It meant more to her than the pressed leather she had worn in the service and through much of their early adventures. She carried two swords from the crypt of Alander the Great in crossed scabbards on her back. She rarely got in close but it was good to have the option. Lastly, she had the same longbow she had graduated school with. However, the thing had been fundamentally changed when it was exposed to the blood of the Questing Beast. It was more powerful now and a comfort for Morgan to hold.

When she stepped out of the mansion, she saw Amien standing with his equally scruffy pack. He was smiling at her in the sunlight with those crystal blue eyes and for the briefest moment her heart fluttered but she shook it off. There was a moment in time, maybe several moments, when she would have ended up with Amien. He was a werewolf who lived in the woods, she was a ranger who often did the same. There were a lot of similarities between their wild hearts and Morgan knew that Amien had seen that too. She could see in his eyes the arrogance of an alpha wolf who thought it was only a matter of time. However, he did not know the stubborn streak of a Moonglow. Instead of running to the wolf, she turned and smiled as she looked behind her.

Percival Stardane stepped through the door next with a big smile and a flourish. He was dressed to the nines as usual which was hardly practical for battle. Percy never seemed to care as old habits died hard. Besides that, Percy claimed that dressing up created confidence in bystanders and that showmanship could tilt the battle in their favor. He was not one for weapons but Morgan had forced him to carry a short sword on his back, partly obscured by a half cape. On the scabbard of that sword, Percy had painted the opening notes of his father’s signature song. He never followed in his father’s footsteps with a singing career but instead, he had embraced knowledge and created a new path for himself. He also had a bunch of trinkets and daggers hidden on his person which Garth had helped him arrange and design. Close at his hip was his favorite book, a book of Elorian folktales. On his feet, he wore blink boots which enabled easy escapes.

William Havelock stepped through the door next in full plate armor. He currently had his helmet off so that he could make a good impression as Percy had insisted. Cassandra had enchanted the whole set of armor to be collapsible at a moment’s notice. It was an intricate enchantment but it allowed William to be ready for battle at a moment’s notice. It was imprinted with the sign of the lion, like back home in Shura. However, he had altered it to fit him personally by removing any other reference to Shura. He often longed for his homeland but he no longer truly needed to return. He had found a new family in Eloria and they always had his back. He had several javelins in a sling on his back but his prize possession was the great sword on his back. It was constantly cold and its blade froze whatever it slashed at. He was not a great magician but he was grateful to have a little magic in his hand.

Cassandra Oakspring stepped out of the mansion next and her ginger red hair was tied up close to her head. When you dealt with magic, it was smart to not have anything dangling that could catch fire while spells were being thrown around. Her robes were finely crafted with magical runes embroidered into it with silvered thread. There was a barely visible purple aura which was her mage armor spell which kept her safer. She held her book of spells in her hands knowing full well that she had no time to reference it during a battle but, like Percy, she prized knowledge and carried it with her as a totem. She also carried a magical bag of components for her spells. She had a few ings on one hand which periodically glinted with magic power. Since she was planning to be in a fight on the roof, she had worn some boots of levitation. She also had the jar that held their djinn inside of it.

Garth Whispernight came out next like a walking shadow. He had black leather armor on and that armor had a chameleon enchantment on it to allow it to easily change colors. When he turned it black that meant it was time for business. He had the same enchantment on his displacer cloak which often made Garth look fuzzy or out of focus to their enemies. He had the hood on that cloak up and he had taken pitch and smeared it across his eyes which he had explained was a Kofrani style that just happened to compliment his sneaky profession. If one were to search him, they would never find the daggers he had secreted all over his person. Each dagger was enchanted and balanced for throwing. Each dagger had its purpose and he could pull off some amazing tricks by combining their attacks together. To complete his gear, he had dusted off his old boots of haste which felt like constantly having lightning run through him.

Lastly, Galath Wyndham stepped through the door and the door vanished behind him. Galath was wearing brand new armor, imprinted with the symbols of both Pelor and Lathander. He had finally replaced his somewhat ancient armor after it had been damaged in their previous adventure. He has been stubborn about keeping the armor that had been turned to stone so long ago. Galath had been very sentimental about all of his gear since it was one of the only connections he still had to the era of his birth. In fact, he had carried the same mace until they had adventured with Carania Galdon again and she gifted him with a new one. He had spent a lot of time blessing that new weapon in the proper ways. He had also tied a few raven feathers to the handle and he carried it proudly in her honor. Galath was not one for much else in the way of gear, relying on his faith instead.

As soon as the whole team was out of the mansion, Morgan quickly took stock of what they had and saw that everybody was ready. There was just one more part of the plan to set in motion. She turned to Cassandra.

“Contact the princess.”

Darden’s Future

June 25, 2018

“Where do you go every day, Darden?” Errol asked. Darden’s father was tough but fair but even Darden hesitated to respond.

“Out in the woods,” Darden said. He continued packing a meal for midday and grabbed his cloak in case it got cold again. Autumn was slowly rolling in like the world’s fever was breaking. Carrying the cloak in a bag was not too much of a burden. It was better than having to come back to the house early.

“What do you do out there then?” Errol asked. Darden had hoped, with very little conviction, that his father would drop it.

“I just walk around and look at the trees,” Darden said and left it at that. He shoved everything in his pack, all jumbled up.

“Leave the boy alone, Errol,” Mara said. Darden’s mother frequently came to his rescue which often made things worse. He really wished she would have kept silent here. It was embarrassing to have your mother always trying to protect you.

“He is going to have to stay and help with the shop soon,” Errol said with a grunt. “You need to grow up at some point, Darden.”

“Not today, though, Errol,” Mara said. “Let him grow up later. He’s just a boy.”

“Mother,” Darden said. “I can fend for myself. If Father wants me to stay and learn the shop then I will stay and learn.” The look on his face was fierce and his father was taken aback for a moment.

“No,” his father said, softening a bit. “Your mother is right. You’re not ready yet. You will know when you’re ready and only then will I teach you.”

Darden was surprised by that. “Thank you, Father.”

“But,” Errol said. “Keep in mind that it is not far off. It cannot be far off.”

Darden nodded. He knew well that childhood was slipping away and responsibility was coming. “I know,” he said.

“Then take a bow and some arrows,” Errol said. “As long as you’re out there anyway, there might be a chance you could bring some meat home. Be constructive.”

“I guess you’re right, father,” Darden said. “I’ll see what I see.”

Darden reached up and took down his father’s longbow from above the mantle. He grabbed a few arrows from a bucket by the fireplace and shoved them into a quiver and then left without another word, fearful that his father would speak again. As soon as he was out of the door, he felt as if a weight was lifted off of him. He smiled again as he headed towards the forest.

The path to the forest did not go far from the little village of Darden’s birth but it was still a significant distance on foot. They used horse-drawn wagons to bring lumber back to the village. It was for that reason that Darden felt completely alone on his walk. Once he had achieved a good distance from the village, he started to sing. He had a beautiful voice but he did not know this. He had only ever sung on his own, never where anybody could hear. So there was nobody to offer him praise. He sang because he enjoyed singing. It helped pass the time. Out in the nothing, Darden felt comfortable with himself and with his voice.

He kept singing as he made his way through the roots and the brambles, weaving between trees. He was not wandering as he had told his parents, he definitely had a specific destination in mind. Of course, he stopped singing as he got to the clearing. The clearing deserved reverence and reverence meant silence at least at first. He walked into the clearing once again and felt the sunlight on his face. He tilted his head up towards it for a moment, feeling the warmth and love of it. Then he lowered his gaze and looked ahead at the object of his mission. As soon as he had found him, he had wanted to visit every day. He walked forward slowly, barely even feeling his footsteps anymore.

At first glance, he looked like a statue. Almost perfect white alabaster stone, he was obviously a warrior of some kind. He had been wearing some sort of armor although the insignias on it were somewhat foreign to Darden. He had long flowing hair that was partially covering his face. That face was flawless, absolutely perfect and beautiful though Darden wished that it was wearing a smile instead of a grimace. He also wished he knew what color the young man’s eyes were although when he looked into those eyes, his own eyes were drawn to the man’s lips and then his thoughts would wander. He shook himself from his reverie and sighed for the last in what must have been dozens of times.

The man had been turned to stone at some point. Darden did not know the particulars but it looked like it had been a monster of some kind. Darden knew that years ago the Guard had slain a basilisk and Darden had heard the tales of how their gaze could turn people to stone. Darden wished that he had slain that Basilisk himself. He would have stabbed it himself a million times. Thinking about it made Darden see red and he felt himself turn away. Instead of violence, he started to sing to the young man. He wished he could help the young man so much. The problem was that the young man was missing an arm. If he was restored to flesh, he would bleed out almost immediately. It was tragic. And so he kept singing and when his song was over he did something he never did before.

“I don’t know if you can hear me,” Darden said. “I’m not even sure who you are but I love you. It’s true that I don’t know your name or what your preference was. It may seem silly but I do love you and it kills me that you cannot love me back.” He paced back and forth in front of the stone man in front of him. He ran hands through his hair and sang again for a bit.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said. “My father wants me to work at the shop and maybe take it over down the line. If I do that, I will be stuck where I am forever and I will never see the world like you did. I will never be an adventurer like you. No more singing. I don’t know if I can handle that. I’m not sure what I want to do with my life but I will keep coming back here for as long as I can.”

Darden sat down on a log with another sigh and laid his father’s bow in the grass at his feet and just looked up at the mystery man.

The Faith of the Raven Pt. 5

June 16, 2018

As they reached the woods, Carania climbed down from Rhiannon’s back. She tied the horse’s reins to a nearby sturdy tree branch. It would discourage her from wandering off when she got bored but it would surely break if real danger appeared. The other two followed suit, tying their horse and pony up to different trees. Arne leaned in and pressed his forehead to his horse’s forehead and spoke quietly for a moment. Galath started to rummage through the pack on the back of the pony and pulled out a small, two-handed hammer which he slung across his back. Arne turned toward Carania instead of going into his pack immediately. Carania smiled to herself and prepared for sarcasm.

“So,” he said. “I assume we are continuing on foot?”

Galath laughed at that. “You’re the smart one, huh?”

“I am,” Arne said sweetly. “So nice of you to notice. I’m stating the obvious because I wanted an explanation, not confirmation.”

Carania laughed. “No need to fight, boys. I don’t want to endanger the horses or have them slow us down with all of the brush and roots.”

“Fair enough,” Arne said and shrugged. Carania had expected a little more pushback from the opinionated wizard who definitely had a high opinion of himself and a chip on his shoulder. Arne pulled a pouch out of his pack and tied it to his belt. Carania could only assume it was full of components for spells as she had observed as much from her former charge. He then pulled a parasol out of a side pocket, sliding it slowly out of what must have been a magic pocket on the horse’s saddle.

“That’s a curious tool,” Carania said. “I’ve rarely seen one of those outside of cities and even rarer out of the hands of nobility.”

“You like that, eh?” Arne asked with a smile. “Sadly I won’t be taking the bait and using that opening to pour my heart out about my past. My past is my own and I prefer it to remain mysterious.”

“Very mysterious,” Carania agreed. “I was only complimenting your parasol. I had never heard of one being brought into battle before. That is the only reason I commented.”

Arne relaxed, his shoulders visibly releasing tension. “I made it and enchanted it myself for a woman who never claimed it. So I did not want it to go to waste.”

“It’s very pretty,” Galath said in an obvious attempt to tease Arne and maybe further diffuse the tension of the situation.

“Thank you,” Arne said. “I do excellent work.” He leaned the parasol against his shoulder and Graymalkin flapped down from a branch and perched on the gem at the top of the parasol. He started off into the woods whistling.

Carania and Galath followed and then Carania got ahead of the two of them as they headed into those woods. Carania pulled her sword out and held it out at her side. While training at Battle Arts she had heard many stories about patrols that had tripped and fallen on their swords by holding them in front. Galath had his hammer out in one hand but he was clutching his holy symbol. He did not look scared, he looked intense. Carania had no idea how many they would be facing but she felt the Raven Queen like a wind at her back, pushing her onward. It made her feel powerful and that feeling made her feel braver but she was no fool. She would not rush into danger blindly.

After a long walk, the forest started to feel darker. It was clearly actually getting darker as the branches grew closer together in the unforested parts. However, it was also feeling dark and, for lack of a better word, spooky. It felt like it was harder to breathe and each step was more difficult than the last. Carania looked over at Galath and knew that he could feel something like what she felt. She could sense the undead in the woods and she started to lead them in that direction. She gripped her sword tighter and they moved confidently toward their targets. They pushed through a copse of trees and there were a group of men with black feathers attached to their leather armor. Their eyes widened when they saw the three adventurers appear.

“But we killed you!” one of them shouted out.

“It didn’t take,” Carania said. “The Raven Queen sends her regards.” Something in her voice must have scared the men.

“Release the cages!” Another man shouted. The men rushed to two big cages and threw open the doors and out poured a crowd of zombies. The men pointed toward the adventurers and the small zombie horde started toward them.

“I guess talking is out of the question,” Arne said and pointed the parasol at the oncoming menace.

Galath stepped forward and gripped his holy symbol and called out in his dwarvish language and the symbol glowed. The zombies hesitated and then some of them exploded where they stood and then the rest started to flee from that holy light. Carania took the cue to leap forward into the fray. Her swordplay was a fearsome sight as she slashed away at the fleeing horde and the bewildered human men. She was a primal force, revenge and righteous fury flowing through her. True Purpose is one of the most powerful forces in all of the universes and it was fully on display here. She was slowly covered in blood and rotting viscera as she carved a path through their enemies. Meanwhile, magic missiles streaked from the end of Arne’s parasol as he managed to hit those that Carania had not yet reached.

As the last thug fell to the ground in a heap, the two men looked over at Carania as she stood in the middle of what could only be described as a circle of death. The first thing the two of them noticed was that her eyes were obsidian black and she had a big smile on her face. It should have felt creepy, but for some reason, the image just felt right. These men and woman who had been raised from death without their consent had been laid to rest again. The men who had shepherded those zombies had obviously tried to kill their new leader, Carania and she had gotten her justified revenge. As Carania walked toward them, flicking the blood from her sword, both of them would swear later that they saw a pair of black wings spread out from her shoulders and then fade away like mist.

“Come on, men,” Carania said. “We have more work to do.”

The Night of the Fire

June 9, 2018

Panther had seen the fire firsthand, standing there for a moment and looking into the hypnotic movements of the flames. The heir had shaken him from that brief moment and then they had returned to warn the tribe. They had time but not much before the fire would spread and burn the tribe’s land. It still struck Panther as odd that the lost child they had found in the shuffle was still asleep in a tree by the water. Things in the tribe had never worked so well but things were still strange. Magic was awake and, although they had seen similar forest fires for a long time, Panther could not help wondering if the magic caused the fire. The presence of magic had him jumping at shadows and doubting everything. The interference of the spirits may have reassured others in the tribe but Panther was nervous. Still, he had a job to do and a tribe and family to protect. The fire was at their backs now and they would soon cross the river.

Panther walked along with the tribe. He and his family walked on the outside in case there was trouble and within shouting distance of Blaze or Ro. Ro’s radius was arguably much larger. That thought made Panther smile a little to himself. Keeva gave him a questioning look but he shrugged and shook his head, it would take too much to explain. Little Kyri clung to his back, still sleeping. It should have bothered him since she was pressed against the fresh wounds from his midnight fight with the sabertooth tiger. Instead, he soldiered on and accepted the pain so that Kyri could sleep. Like her siblings, she would be strong but she was not there yet. She still had time. Panther remembered how small and weak he had been as a child and how that had all changed. Besides, he would be around for a long time before his children needed to stand in his place.

“You still have its blood all over you,” Keeva said. “Although, I am used to seeing you covered in blood by now.”

“I’ll wash it off when we get to where we’re going,” Panther said.

“I’ll tend to your wounds then as well,” Keeva said and Panther smiled at her. “What? We don’t need the snake in the grass medicine woman for this. I can tend to cuts. It’s easy enough.”

“Yes you can,” Panther said. “You’ve had enough experience.”

“Ah yes,” Keeva said with a smirk. “The bravest warrior in the tribe always charging into battle. Limping back to his wife for help.”

Panther laughed. “You are just jealous that you did not get to be in the fight.”

Keeva shook her head. “No. I’m jealous that you got the killing stroke.”

Panther laughed again. “Yes, there it is. The claws come out.”

“Cease laughing,” Keeva said with a smile. “Or I will steal your tongue.”

“I would like to see you try,” Panther said.

“When you least expect it,” Keeva said.

“Daddy always expects everything,” Kyri said sleepily.

“Go back to sleep, child,” Keeva said. “And who do you think taught your sister to move so stealthily? Nobody sees me coming.”

“Speaking of awareness,” Panther said, tossing a small pebble at the back of his son’s head. Rock looked back annoyed. “How is the new man doing? Sobering up?”

“I’m fine,” Rock said sullenly. He was carrying a spear over his shoulder but Panther was not sure if his son was up to a fight at the moment.

“Are you sure?” Panther asked. He smirked, enjoying lightly teasing his son. “We didn’t interrupt anything with our emergency?”

Rock turned and walked backward for a bit so he could look at his parents. “As a matter of fact, I was interrupted. Well, almost.” He turned back around to face forward.

Panther and Keeva shared an amused look. It was not every day that a coming of age afterparty was interrupted by a forest fire. “Well, I hope you treated her well,” Panther said.

Rock huffed. “I treated both of them well, mother.”

Keeva laughed. “Slow down, little one. Who were you entertaining?”

“Taya and Spider,” Rock said.

“A dangerous combination,” Panther said. “How did you manage that?”

“At the same time,” Rock said matter of factly and walked further down the line to get away from his parents for the time being.

Panther smiled a little to himself. His family was thriving. His youngest, Kyri, was on her way to being just as strong as her siblings. Yuna would have her own coming of age ceremony in a year or so. Until then, she was the leader of a squad of stealthy spy children. Rock had come of age and was well on his way to becoming his own man. Soon, he would be going on his own hunts and Panther would be taking Yuna instead. Keeva was a deadly force herself.  Panther was proud to have her as a wife. As for himself, Panther had somehow become a trusted lieutenant to the leadership of the tribe. It probably had to do with the Stone Group being particularly touched by magic.

“Thinking too hard again?” Keeva asked.

“Just thinking about what path this tribe is on,” Panther said. “The future.”

“We survived the end of the world, didn’t we?” Keeva asked.

“We did,” Panther agreed.

“We have survived the awakening and the arrival of the spirits,” Keeva said.

“So far,” Panther said. Even after ten years, the situation still seemed like it was in flux and there were things even the experts did not know yet. The motivations of the spirits were still a bit mysterious, especially the spirits who had not made themselves known yet. Panther had a feeling that the events of ten years prior would come back to haunt the tribe.

“We have weathered the storm and escaped the fire,” Keeva said.

“And yet there is still the water,” Panther said. “If we are not careful, we might drown.”

“Not us,” Keeva said.

“I hope you’re right,” Panther said.


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