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An American Wizard - The Backstory of Kyle O'HalloranFollow

#1 Feb 27 2013 at 4:18 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
Since /k/ is down and I don't know when, or if, Kirby's going to fix it, I'm transcribing Kyle's journal here. This is the first of those. Note: Anything in parenthesis should be taken to have been written as a footnote in an actual book.

In the event I never make it home, I want my reader to know that I’ve written copies of this in both English and what the locals call Common, though it’s also known as Taldan. If you find yourself trying to use my work as something of a Rosetta Stone, then ignore this foreword and any footnotes, as they will be different between the two. In both versions, I’ll make these footnotes to try to explain things that I feel you might not understand. Obviously, in the Taldan version, many of these notes will be regarding pop culture references I might make. And believe me, I make a lot of them. Here, I might explain things I’ve come across that would be second nature to any halfway educated person on Golarion, but people back home won’t understand.

Oh, and one more thing. That Lovecraft stuff everyone thinks of as crazy but awesome fiction? At least some of it is real. In my travels, I’ve encountered two of the creatures the mythos describes. I really hope that some of the worse stuff isn’t real, but I can’t discount the possibility that it is.

Just thought you ought to know. Sleep well, kiddos.

The Story Begins
Like many of my poorer choices in life, what sets the entire chain of events that led to me coming here off was a girl. I was nineteen at the time. I found this group on the net, folks who did some extreme paintball games. I mean, really extreme. They lasted four, maybe five days, involved camping, digging your own foxholes and even things like improvised paint mines and recon drones that were little more than a camera taped to a radio controlled plane.

It was part LARP, part paintball. We were assigned game personas. I was Lance Corporal John Cullen of the third space warfare division. Yeah, you read that right. We were doing some kind of space type game. My team even required us to wear armor in the style of that one movie. The one where they fight the giant bugs and have to use an entire clip of ammo just to kill a single enemy. If you haven’t seen it, it was pretty decent, but not nearly as good as the book. My armor was made from creatively put together floor mats from a 1997 jeep and some supplies gathered from various unused backpacks I had lying around. It wasn’t the best armor, but by far it wasn’t the worst looking stuff either.

The enemy was dressed in very different costume. They were playing the role of some kind of aliens. Face paint was required for them, but they also wore armor more in the style of some kind of space Roman legion. Those who put the effort into it looked pretty badass. Also, cold. It was early spring, we were in the Colorado woods, and they were wearing skirts, because that’s what a Google search for “Images of Roman Centurion Armor” produced.

In addition to the armor, I had gone all out. I bought a new tent, enough DEET bug repellant for a month in the wilderness, a two week’s supply of MREs and enough concealable knives to set off every metal detector in any airport in the world. Because bears, you guys. We were in the woods in spring, and I wasn’t going to risk being completely unarmed in case of bears. I also brought some snare wire, a collapsible shovel with a saw edge, one of those magnesium strips for fire starting and a flare gun in case I got lost. Of course, there were also the little things like the canteen and water purification tablets, but if I go on about all the little things we won’t get on with the rest of the story any time soon.

One final piece of equipment I brought with me was my violin. It had belonged to my grandfather and was handed down to me when he died. As kind of an obligation, I played it in our school’s orchestra when I was in high school, but I really didn’t get excited about playing until I saw some videos of folks playing covers of video game songs. I figured that I could do that, so I pulled it out of the closet. I never got around to actually making the videos, but I learned the songs. I figured that I might be able to impress some girl with my playing while on this trip and score, so I brought it with me. It spent the day in a locked trunk chained to a tree at my campsite, but I would do a little playing during the evening when it was too dark for paintball but too early for sleep.

I didn’t expect that playing like that would attract any girls to my camp since it turned out that my estimation of the number of girls who would attend was a ridiculous overestimate. Only seven showed up out of a hundred total players and they were all spoken for. Still, I figured it was worth doing if only to kill the monotony of the night. I did that and sat by the fire looking up at the night sky.

Space had always fascinated me. I watched all the movies and TV shows set there that I could. As a city kid, this was the clearest view of the night sky I’d had since that one blackout where I spent four hours on my parents’ roof just staring at the sky, imagining what it would be like to be out there.

Now, I said I wasn’t expecting my playing to bring any girls to my camp, so you can imagine my surprise on the third night when out of the woods stepped the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. And I’m including those airbrushed images of women from the magazines. I didn’t recognize her, so I figured she was a late arrival. Believe me, if she had been at orientation, I would have remembered her. She was a blonde bombshell standing around six feet tall with a face like an angel and the body of a pinup model. And what’s more was her costume.

Let me tell you something about me and costumes. To me, a costume is a multiplier. It enhances whoever wears it in a way that accentuates their natural features. A cute kid in a good costume is adorable. A manly man in a good costume is a badass. And the sight of a beautiful woman in a good costume will steal my breath away every time. With this girl, I almost had to struggle to breathe.

She was wearing this black scale mail and a black hooded cloak. Regrettably, she had a sensible pair of pants on. She was also wearing this gold mask that covered the right half of her face, gloves covered in strange symbols and a freaking turtle-neck under her armor. What I’m saying is that the only skin she was showing was the left half of her face, but believe me, it was enough to get my heart pounding.

What’s more is that she hadn’t skimped on her costume. The scale mail and mask were both made of actual metal and she had even gone so far as to make her ears pointed, kinda like an elf. You couldn’t see the seams on the prosthetic. I figured that even Hollywood would have trouble recreating what she had going without CGI touchups.

After staring for what must have been far too long, I invited her to have a seat and offered her an MRE and some Earl Grey tea. Yes I started drinking it because of Star Trek, so hush. I know, I also figured she was on the other team, but let’s face it, I didn’t care. I would have given her all my team’s secrets in exchange for a kiss on the cheek.

I know, I sound like someone who had never even seen a girl naked, but I had and more. Her name was Melissa and she was a high school student I was tutoring the previous spring. Don’t look at me like that, she was eighteen and it was her idea. She was trying to convince me to help her cheat on her Trig final. You know what? That’s just making it sound worse. Suffice it to say, she passed. Let’s move on and not speak of her again.

The girl sitting at my fire thanked me for the food and tea and introduced herself as Samantha. She started telling me about herself, that she was from a distant world, stranded on the far end of the galaxy trying to find her way home. As she talked, I figured she was telling me her character’s back story. It really didn’t matter what she was saying, I was enraptured just listening to her speak. After she was done, she asked me about myself. I couldn’t remember the story of the character I was playing, so I winged it. I told her about my life and added a quick “and that’s when I joined the Mobile Infantry” to the end.

A few hours of talking later, she told me that it was time she went and got some sleep. Before leaving, however, she kissed me on the cheek and asked if I was doing anything the next night. At that point, I could have been scheduled to save the life of the real life president and I would have told her I was free. She told me to come to her camp two miles to the west if I wanted to join her on her journey home. I’m sure by now that you know what I figured that meant. I did suspect that it might be a trap to capture me in the game, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

The next day went rather well. During the morning, I managed to take out four people attacking our stronghold from my hidden position underneath a bunch of debris. In the afternoon, when it was our turn to attack, I took out several defenders guarding the base’s weak side before getting taken down by a paint mine. While I was disappointed that I didn’t see Samantha during the game, it didn’t upset me to be out of the game since the mine gave me a great excuse to go hit the showers before my date that night.

The campsite showers were heated, thankfully, and I was glad to be free of all that dust, sweat and paint. I shaved as well, leaving a well groomed goatee. As usual, the aftershave burned like **** on the couple spots I’d nicked myself. Once again more or less fit for polite company, I headed back to camp.

Once I arrived, I had a quick snack and pulled my spare pair of boots out of the trunk. They were black leather military surplus and quite comfortable. Looking at them, I had an idea. I decided that since she was wearing all black when I met her, I’d dress to match. Then I thought about that line from A Knight’s Tale and almost had to go back and take another shower, this one cold. I muddled through changing by chanting a Homer Simpson mantra – “Think unsexy thoughts. Think unsexy thoughts.”

Once finished changing, I evaluated what I was wearing. Awesome black boots, heavy duty black cargo pants, tight fitting black t-shirt. I didn’t have a mirror, but I didn’t need one to know I looked good. I mean, I didn’t have the washboard abs, but I wasn’t bad looking either. I’d always had an easy time putting on muscle, so my shoulders, pecs and arms looked good, I’d just never been able to lose those last couple percentage points of body fat needed to show off the abs. Since I figured that losing that extra fat meant giving up my Dr. Pepper entirely, well let’s just say I could live without the washboard stomach.

I put a knife in each boot and hid another one under my belt, once again because I would be walking through the forest at night and I wasn’t taking any chances on bears. Then I grabbed my black duster and wide brimmed fedora. I know, you might have expected a cowboy hat with that coat, but that obviously means you don’t have the same taste in anime I do. Sure, it should have been red to match the character, but I preferred black. I also had some yellow shades to match, but since it would be dark, I stuck them in the coat pocket.

Finally, I put on my silver pendant. Made it myself by melting down old silver coins in a mold. Needed it back in high school to dress up as a video game character for a Con. If you’re surprised that I cosplay, you haven’t been paying attention.

I grabbed my spare messenger bag, the other one being covered in paint, and stocked it up with the essentials: First aid kit, bear repellant, a flashlight, a digital camera, my MP3 player and some MREs, since I thought I might be expected to bring dinner. I also left my collapsible shovel inside, since it might make a handy tool against bears. I know it sounds like I’m obsessing about the bears, but better safe than sorry, right? I also grabbed my violin in case she wanted me to play for her.

I secured my campsite and headed off in the direction she’d told me. It occurred to me that I hadn’t gotten any specific landmarks to look for or anything more than “two miles west”, but I decided to go for it anyway. Almost three hours later, it was dark and I was prepared to head back to my camp. I figured it must have been some kind of joke someone was playing on me. I was sure that somewhere nearby Samantha and her boyfriend were having a great laugh at my expense. As I turned to head home, however, I heard her voice.

“There you are,” she said to me as she stepped out of the brush. “I didn’t think you were coming.” It could have been hopeful thinking, but she sounded relieved to see me.

“Of course I came,” I said, trying to sound smooth. “I just got a little turned around in the woods is all.”

“I’m glad you made it. Come on, we have to go find Courage and get going. We have a long trip ahead of us.” Confused, I asked her who Courage was. “Our noble steed,” she replied. Oh, so she had a name for her car. I was cool with that.

We walked for half an hour or so. She led me through the woods like she could see as though it were the brightness of day. I noticed that she walked a bit funny, as though she had hurt her hip, or perhaps because one of her legs was a bit longer than the other. It slowed us down, but I was too polite to say anything. Suddenly, a rustling of nearby vegetation set me on high alert. Something big was just ahead of us. I’m sure you know what I thought it was, so I’m sure you understand why I grabbed my knife and put myself between Samantha and whatever it was.

She just laughed. “I appreciate your desire to protect me, but mine’s bigger.” She held out her hand. In it was a large painted ball. “Oops,” she said. “Wrong one.” She showed me her other hand, which held an everloving ******* sword. Where in God’s name had she been hiding that? And the ball for that matter. I mean, she was well endowed, but she certainly wasn’t stuffing her bra with that thing.

The thing that burst out of the woods wasn’t a bear. I wasn’t sure what it was. It looked like a cross between a horse, a bird and a reptile. It was bigger than most bears, ****, as large as an elephant and had giant slimy wings. If I hadn’t used the facilities before heading out this way, I would have messed my pants.

Samantha, however, calmly stood her ground, blade at the ready. She seemed to be staring down the charging monster. Suddenly, it screeched to a halt. She walked up and thumped it on the nose. “What did I tell you about charging? Next time I pull out the riding crop.” The thing shrank back. My fear addled mind perked up at the words “riding crop”.

I wanted to ask her a million questions, but all I managed to say was “Bwuh?”

“This is Courage,” she said. “He’ll give us a ride through space to find my homeworld.”

My mind raced. Only two possibilities existed in my mind. The first was that someone had slipped me some LSD, probably mixed it in with the paint in that mine. The other was that everything she had told me the previous night had been the honest truth. In one, none of this was happening. I was probably back at camp tweaking out. In the other, I had the opportunity to go into space with an amazingly beautiful girl.

“Alright,” I said. “But how are we supposed to survive out in the cold of space with no air, food or water?”

“Oh, right,” she replied. She reached into a small pouch on her belt and pulled out the same ball she had been holding earlier. “Hold this.” I stared at the ball, trying to figure out how it had been stuffed in such a tiny bag. She rummaged around the pouch for a bit before pulling out a necklace and a ring. “The necklace will deal with the cold and lack of air, while the ring will make it so you don’t have to eat or drink while we’re out there.”

I was about to protest, but then realized that I was planning to get on the back of a beast that could supposedly fly us through space. I decided that if the ring and necklace were the point where my credulity broke, I had bigger problems. It was either believe it all or believe in the acid trip theory. The acid trip theory had zero chance of leading me to getting laid, so I just shrugged and put on the jewelry. She took the ball back and stuffed it into the far too small pouch.

I did ask one question. “What’s with the ball?”

“In case of emergency.” I decided that I was probably better off not knowing. She vaulted up onto the back of the creature, into a saddle I hadn’t noticed before. She held out her hand to help me up. I took it and she yanked me up behind her.

I didn’t think too hard about the fact that she was clearly stronger than I was. Instead, the only thing that went through my mind was Hank Hill’s voice saying “the spot behind the driver is called’***** seat.’” I’m not sure why.

“Put your feet in the stirrups and hang on. It’s a bit of a rough ride until we clear the atmosphere.”

“Hang on to what?”

“Me, silly,” she said, reaching back and booping me on the nose. No, seriously, she said “boop”. I wasn’t going to judge. She had just told me to put my arms around her. If this was a dream, I didn’t want to wake up.
#2 Feb 27 2013 at 4:19 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
We were about a hundred feet in the air when I realized that this thing didn’t have seatbelts. Do you realize just how horrifying that thought is when you’re that high up and climbing higher? I have to wonder why you never saw Perseus tying himself to the Pegasus after his first flight. I’m glad Samantha was wearing armor, because I’m sure I would have cracked her ribs right then if she wasn’t.

I wish I could describe in breathtaking detail what it’s like to leave the atmosphere, but my eyes were shut tight as we climbed through the sky. I’m sure you’ve all seen videos from NASA launches, so you probably know it as well as I do. What I can tell you about is the feeling of near weightlessness that came over me. Just suddenly feeling the pull of Earth’s gravity lessen until you can’t feel it anymore.

That’s when I opened my eyes. After blinking a few times, I looked down and saw it below me. I know you’ve all seen photographs, but I tell you that they don’t do the sight justice. A single tear came to my eye. That’s when it hit me. This was really happening. I was really in space. Since it was along the path we were flying, I asked Samantha if we could make a short stop on the moon before continuing. Because, come on, being the first human to walk on the moon since the seventies, that’s just something you can’t pass up.

She agreed and we looked for a spot near one of the previous landing sites. Eventually we found one, thanks to my time staring at space photos allowing me to recognize some of the landmarks nearby. I was pretty sure the landmarks told me I was near the Apollo 11 site, which was later confirmed upon landing and finding that the flag had been blown over, just as Buzz Aldrin had said.

The flag was terribly faded thanks to the harsh UV light, but even then, I couldn’t just leave it lying like that. Humming The Star Spangled Banner, I picked it up and carried it back over to its original spot and replanted it. I mused to myself that perhaps someone would notice what I’d done when the next lunar orbiter flew by to take pictures. That thought led to another one. Maybe there was a way I could let people know I’d been here.

I opened my bag and looked at what I had to work with. I grabbed my digital camera in its waterproof bag, the collapsible shovel and, from my first aid kit, one of those shiny emergency blankets. I also grabbed a scrap piece of paper and a pencil. I wrote a quick note with my name, the date and approximate time and shoved it in the camera bag. I then used the camera to take some pictures. I’m most fond of the one of Samantha and myself with the Earth behind us. I then shut off the camera and returned it to its bag.

I figured that with what the radiation had done to the flag, I had to give the camera some protection if I wanted it to be salvageable if someone ever came to investigate. I used the shovel to carefully scrape together a small mound of lunar regolith over the camera bag. Then I covered the mound with the reflective blanket, weighed it down with rocks and used some other rocks to spell out “CAMERA” at the base of the mound. I then enlisted Samantha’s help to use some more rocks to make a large smiley face. She had been bored waiting for me to finish what I was working on, but she seemed pretty amused by the smiley face for some reason.

After we were done, she buried a ball like I had buried the camera. When I asked her why, she simply said that “If I ever come back this way, I might need one.” She was completely serious about it, so I just nodded as though I now understood.

Before we took off again, I got some rope from Samantha. Again, I had no idea how she was keeping so much in a tiny little pouch on her belt, but I was asking this while on the moon with no breathing apparatus other than a shiny necklace so I didn’t make an issue of it. I use the rope to tether myself to Courage’s saddle. No way was I going to risk floating off into space.

As we left the moon and began our journey away from Earth, I pulled my MP3 player from my bag and loaded up my “Instrumentals/Symphonies” playlist and offered Samantha the second ear bud. As luck would have it, the first piece that played was the main track from that one anime. I can’t recall the name, but it’s the one where it’s basically a retelling of the story of Hercules in space, the main two characters are a Mary Sue and a Gary Stu and they spend an inordinate amount of time on things like scenes of the ship docking but you don’t care because this music is some of the most breathtaking you’ve ever heard. It was fitting as we flew through space to be listening to that particular track. At least, I thought so.

We flew fairly close to Mars. I considered having Samantha stop by one of the working rovers so I could get my picture sent back to NASA, but at the speed we were already going, it would have taken an hour to slow down enough to land. I guess I just had to settle for what I’d left on the moon.

My MP3 player was one of those ones with the little screens, so I also had a few movies and TV episodes on there, including those episodes of that one cartoon for little girls that my friend had bought me as a joke since I watched a lot of cartoons. Turns out I enjoyed the cartoon. Brohoof, yo.

I had a little solar charger for it I had bought specially for my paintball trip, so we recharged it any time we were close enough to a star to do so. That still left a lot of time with us having nothing to watch or listen to, so we passed much of the time talking and telling stories. Some stories were ones we’d made up ourselves, others were myths from our cultures, while others were stories of things that had happened to us. Samantha told me about how she had battled to protect the city of Valor’s Triumph as a paladin of Ragathiel, what she called an “Empyreal Lord” but I came to think of as a High Angel. She told me that she had renounced her faith, but was hesitant to elaborate on why, so I didn’t press her on it.

I ran out of interesting personal stories quite quickly in comparison, but I did have a resource to draw on. I had watched a lot of TV, read a lot of books and played more video games that I could remember. So I told her stories from many of my favorite shows, books and games. Over the course of our journey, I think I ended up telling her the entire main plot of Babylon 5. It’s not like she was going to see it, so I wasn’t too worried about spoilers. For some reason, though, she really liked the Darkwing Duck stories. I’m not sure I’ll ever know why, exactly.

On our flight through space, once in a while we would stop on habitable planets to give Courage a chance to get some food and for us to stretch our legs. While stopped, we often would find things to do to get some exercise. Often, this included teaching each other about different fighting skills we had learned. She taught me proper techniques for fighting with a knife. I taught her everything I knew about martial arts. Sure, my highest belt was a yellow belt, but I had six of them. That’s right, I started and dropped out of five martial arts before I was eighteen. The sixth, judo, I had taken almost two semesters. I would be taking a third next fall, but that was only if I was back in time to register for classes.

Other times I’d show her various games from Earth. She always had the right ball for the game, or at least something similar enough. Even knowing what I know now about Bags of Holding, I’m still not sure how she had so many. And I definitely don’t know why she carried that many.

Once in a while, we’d encounter some kind of threat. Some of these threats were simply beasts. I was actually relatively helpful against these. Other times we encountered what can only be described as monsters. Samantha handled these on her own unless she thought it would be more amusing for Courage to handle them. By far, however, the most dangerous encounter we had was with the spaceship.

We were entering a system to look for a place to rest a bit when a laser beam shot past us. Based on the violet color, I suspected that they were using krypton as the lasing medium, but I might have been incorrect. It really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Courage was at a reduced speed, which meant that we probably couldn’t get up to faster than light speed before they shot us since he took so long to get up to speed.

Since they didn’t fire again, I assumed it was a warning shot. I convinced Samantha to slow Courage down further so we could try diplomacy. A smaller craft exited the larger one and the pilot motioned for us to follow him. We did so and ended up in some kind of cargo bay. Samantha, in a bit of foresight unusual for her, cast a spell on both of us so we could understand our hosts.

They arrived with heavily armed guard. Their uniforms violated at least two or three rules on the Evil Overlord list, so I suspected that we might not be dealing with good people. Surprisingly enough, however, I found that they were human. They seemed as startled by our shared race as I was. They demanded to know why we had entered their solar system. I explained that we simply needed a stop to feed Courage.

They didn’t buy it. They separated us and took us to different interrogation rooms. The inquisitor who came to visit me was a humorless sort. He seemed to think that we were advanced scouts for an invasion fleet. I made the decision that I couldn’t give these paranoid nutjobs any real info about Earth, so I lied. Not only that, I nested a lie within a lie. I knew that if they dug deep enough, they’d manage to unravel my hastily constructed lie. So I made the first one seem outlandish. I claimed to be a famed writer within the United Federation of Planets(yes, I was cribbing from Star Trek to help my lie) and that Samantha was my half-Vulcan bodyguard. I told them that we were a warp capable civilization from the far reaches of the galaxy and that I was researching other cultures for a book I was writing. It was exactly the kind of lie that one might think up on the spot and I left it full of holes for him to pick at.

And he did, but he didn’t pick any that I had considered. He scoffed at the notion that anyone could break the faster than light barrier with a ship. He told me that only a shantak like the one we were riding could truly go faster than light. Besides, if we did have FTL ships, why were we on the back of a shantak?

My mind reeled at hearing that word. I’d read about shantaks in something Lovecraft inspired, plus I’d seen one on that anime, you know, the one where all the horrors of the mythos are instead portrayed as schoolgirls(and one creepy boy)? Also, the lead, who had a pet shantak, kinda reminds me of Samantha, now that I was thinking about it. That thought sent a chill up my spine.

This was the part of the lie where I was supposed to fumble around and finally “admit the truth”. My performance was aided by the fact that I was genuinely flustered by that revelation. Finally, I “broke down and admitted the truth”. I told him that we had taken a shantak because they were a lot harder to track than a warp-speed starship. I told him that we were running from our people because Samantha was the daughter of the Vulcan ambassador, engaged to be married to a Vulcan of high standing, but instead she had fallen for one of the groundskeepers at Starfleet Academy(me, in case you hadn’t guessed) and that we had run away together. I swore that everything else I had told him was true.

My performance must have convinced him, because he began asking me more about our culture. I told him that we were a peaceful people, but could be provoked to war if other races insisted. I told him about our recent war with the Dominion(Sisko is the greatest captain ever and to **** with anyone who says different).

Thanks to remembering something I saw on Burn Notice once, I did my best to use the questions he was asking me to determine what I could about him and his culture. As far as I could tell, his culture was more or less xenophobic and, for lack of a better word, ****-tastic. It was imperative that we escape.

It was only when they put both of us in a force-field protected cell that I considered that Samantha couldn’t have possibly told the same lie I did. I cursed myself for not working out some kind of shared lie beforehand. Turns out that it was unnecessary.

She spent the entire time she was interrogated talking about pancakes.
#3 Feb 27 2013 at 4:19 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
Yeah, I didn’t believe it either. But she explained that she was doing an impression of this gnome she knew. She figured that I would come up with something to talk them into releasing us, and that it was better if she not say anything to jeopardize our escape. So she talked about pancakes. Then she pulled out a sack of marbles(again, I have no idea where she was carrying them) and tried to convince someone to play with her.

After a bit, the ship’s captain came to talk to us. She told us that we were being taken to their homeworld for study and further interrogation. Samantha’s expression changed immediately. In an instant, she went from being cute and quirky to being pants-sh*ttingly terrifying. Her eyes grew wild. Her lip curled into a slasher grin. I thought even the mask looked more menacing than normal. She spoke a few words and suddenly the room had become pitch black.

I heard the sound of Samantha’s boots in the darkness, followed by the sound of something hitting the force-field. Suddenly the captain screamed in agony and I could smell burning flesh. The darkness faded and Samantha was standing next to me, holding something in her horrifically burned right hand. “I took her communicator,” my companion told me. “Can you use it to open the cell?” I remembered seeing the security officer use his hand held communicator to open and close the cell when they brought me in, so I nodded, sure that if I had a few minutes I could figure it out if it wasn’t coded.

I noticed the corpse of the captain and realized that the force fields must not be a solid wall, but instead seemed to function by doing damage to anything that tried to pass through. The fact that Samantha had reached through disturbed me a bit. The fact that she barely even registered her burn disturbed me even more.

**It took a few moments, but I managed to open the cell by upgrading our prisoner status from Red(dangerous criminals) to Blue(ship’s personnel on administrative punishment) and setting off an evacuation order. Since the ship thought we were valuable crewmen on minor punishment, it figured it was best to lower the field to let us out since the crew was abandoning ship.

I’ll never figure out why it took so long, but that was the moment security busted in. They charged at us with devices that looked like stun batons. Samantha opened her left hand and suddenly it became dark again. In the blackness, I heard a brief struggle and then Samantha stood over two corpses, both cut in half, her hand once again clenched, her right hand holding that sword she’d been carrying in the woods. Its blade was on fire.

I knew that we’d likely never outrun this thing while Courage was accelerating, so I suggested we disable the ship while we escaped. Samantha agreed, so I pulled up a schematic of the ship. Thankfully, the communicator’s interface was intuitive, so I was able to navigate its menus pretty quickly.

We followed the map to a point marked “Missile Bay”, Samantha bifurcating people along the way. When we arrived, we saw numerous missiles mounted on a conveyer. I interfaced with one using my handy device and bypassed the system safeties before ordering it to launch in two minutes.

Two minutes later, we were back in space on Courage, flying away when we saw a bright flash. Hey, how was I supposed to know that those missiles were nuclear? I’m still impressed that Courage got us out of there in time.**

Okay, so everything between the penciled-in stars… that was all a lie. I wish it had happened that way. That way makes me sound like I actually helped. No, what really happened was that security busted in almost immediately after Samantha had killed the captain and handed me the device. Samantha just shrugged at their arrival and opened her hand. Suddenly it was pitch black again. I heard that familiar sound of something pressing through the force field, followed by two short screams and Samantha speaking words in a language I couldn’t recognize, even with the spell helping me understand all languages.

When the lights came on, what was left of the two security guards lay on the floor and Samantha’s burns were healed, though smoke was still wafting off of her hair. She broke the panel outside the cell with a swift punch from her gloved hand and the field shimmered and disappeared. We did go down to the missile bay and I did consider destroying the ship with one of the missiles, but it was a no go.

Let me tell you something about real life. It’s not like Star Trek. The ship’s computer doesn’t helpfully enable you to do things like what I wanted to do just because you have the captain’s communicator, not if you don’t have the proper security codes. No, it actively fights you. And you can’t hack it like they hack computers in Hollywood. I mean, maybe if we got on their planet and I was able to slip away and learn enough about their culture to use some social engineering attack to trick someone into giving me their codes. Then, maybe I could make it work. But now? Not a chance.

So Samantha decided that the only safe way to escape was to kill everyone inside one by one. Now, I had no problem with that. I was willing to help. But she decided it was too dangerous for me. I had to admit it. As surprised as they all were that she was able to get through the force field, the remaining foes would likely underestimate her. Me? Their approximations of my level of skill would likely be overestimations.

It was at that point that I realized that if this were a mission in a video game, I would be considered The Load(if the internet’s still a thing when you’re reading this, look that up on TVTropes if you don’t know what that means). I just hoped that when the time came for me to make an actual contribution, it would be so epic that I would instantly redeem myself in the eyes of the player. Or at least enough to make me feel better about myself, since I wasn’t a character in a game.

Samantha told me to wait in the missile bay. I agreed. However, as she was leaving, she came up with a better idea. At least, she thought it was a better idea. If I had been given a choice, I would have called it a horrible idea. However, she didn’t ask for my input. She just turned and spoke the words to a spell, pointing her hand just to my left.

A large piece of ice missed my head by mere inches before slamming into the wall behind me. Apparently the ship was designed to deal with collisions on the outside, not the inside, so the force of the impact tore open a hole in the wall larger than me. Moments later, I was blasted out into space, watching as the doors inside closed behind Samantha.

I had a problem. I was flying away from the ship. Samantha might have trouble finding me. Luckily, I had grabbed some kind of fire extinguisher in my flailing to find a handhold. I used that to slow myself down enough to avoid drifting any further away before expending the last of the gas. Now, stuck here with my ring and pendant keeping me alive, I had nothing I could do to help.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I did have the communicator still. So I figured I might as well see what I could do with that, figuring that surely there had to be something useful to be done with no security codes required. After a few minutes of fiddling, I determined that the only functions that didn’t require codes were actual communication functions. So, nothing better to do, I flipped on the ship wide intercom.

Doing my best impersonation of HAL 9000, I sang Daisy Bell. It was something to do other than contemplate the fact that I was floating in space with no protection other than “a magic ring and necklace”.

After I had finished, a voice crackled over the communicator. “Excuse me, sir, but your friend here wanted me to request that you sing something a bit more fun.” I looked towards one of the windows and saw Samantha waving at me. I gave her a big thumbs up. As I considered what to sing next, I heard the voice from before screaming as Samantha advanced on the terrified crewman. I didn’t quite make out what he was saying, so I imagine it was like that one liner from Commando(“Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last? I lied.”).

I thought about some of the more fun songs I knew. “Re: Your Brains” was up first, followed by “Weasel Stomping Day”, “Why does the sun shine?” and the theme from My Little Pony. Every once in a while, I’d spot Samantha near one of the windows. She’d wave at me or strike a pose. As I finished the last of those songs, she even blew me a kiss.

Well, I had to respond to that somehow. So, after internally jumping for joy, I did the only thing I could think of. I ad-libbed new words to the most flirtatious song I could think of. I apologize in advance for what you’re about to read.

Samantha, Baby(to the tune of Santa Baby)
Samantha baby, stab that guy right below the knee, for me
I've been an awful good boy, Samantha baby
So hurry up and finish the fight.

Samantha baby, I can’t wait to see you again,
Well I'll wait here for you, Samantha baby
So pick me up after the fight

Think of all the fun we’ve missed
Think of all the stuff not on our naughty list.
Next year we don’t have to be quite so good
But right now deck that guy with your fist.

Samantha baby, I think you’re hot and really that's how it ought
to be, Samantha baby
So hurry up and let’s fly off into the night.

Samantha, honey, there's one more thing I really should say, I pray
that you’ll agree to be mine, Samantha honey
So hurry up and finish the fight.

Come with me and you will see,
We really could sing a perfect harmony.
I really do believe in you
Let's see if you believe in me

Samantha baby, forgot to mention one little blip
A ship
I think it’s coming this way, Samantha baby
We don’t have time to finish your fight.

A few moments later, Samantha and Courage swooped out of the cargo bay and grabbed me. We flew off, just barely getting up to speed before the enemy craft could catch us. How did she react to my song? I got a lingering kiss on the cheek and she fell asleep with her head on my shoulder. This was a triumph. I’m making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS. It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.

That day changed the dynamic of our relationship. Not completely, but enough to make a difference. It wasn’t that she viewed me differently. What had changed was me. I had become less passive about expressing my feelings to her. From that point on, when I took her hand she held mine as well. When I kissed her, she kissed back. She smiled whenever I called her by a pet name or whenever I told her that I loved her. All in all, things were pretty great.

Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t sleep together. Well, okay, in the literal sense, we shared a bedroll a few times, but in the more biological sense, it never happened. Not that I didn’t want it to, I just never made a move in that direction. I was still afraid of rushing her. Looking back, I suspect that she probably wouldn’t have minded if I had, but to a kid head over heels whose relationship was progressing, it wasn’t worth jeopardizing our slow and steady progress to rush it. Those few months were bliss.

During our year or so together, I had heard stories from her about her friends. She told me about her old life, about the hardships she had endured. She even told me about how she had been taken by the dimensional shambler, only avoiding the horrifying fate it had planned for her because it had already been wounded by her friends, allowing her to kill it after waking.

There was one story she had asked me not to ask about, however. She wasn’t comfortable telling me about how she had lost her faith and ended her time as a paladin. I had chalked that one up as too painful and let it be. I was surprised when she brought it up. (Since you’re reading the English version of this, you’ll see the full story within. I’m marking the parts that won’t show up in the other version in big “XX” marks.)

We had landed once again to allow Courage a chance to feed. I set up camp while Samantha did some scouting, hoping to find some locals who could tell us where we were. I cleared a spot for camp and began gathering wood for a fire. As I set up the tent, I began singing again. A few words into the song(Something from the nineties, had been pretty high on the charts. Not telling you anything beyond that. It’s my memory, dammit.) Samantha’s voice sang out as well. We sang together until the end of the song, then I could see on her face that she was excited about something. I asked what it was.

“We’re on the planet Castrovel,” she said. “That means we’re only a few hours from home.” I offered to strike camp so we could continue on, but she shook her head. “It’ll still be there in the morning. Might as well start out fresh.” She produced a bundle from within the pouch at her belt. “Besides, I got a new ball.” I nodded sagely.

We played what can only be described as Calvinball. If you don’t know what Calvinball is, well, just imagine a game where the rules are ill defined at best and change whenever a whim strikes a player. I never knew who was winning, but after about an hour, Samantha told me that I had, in fact, been the victor with a score of Q to Twelve. I’m still not sure whether I had the Q or the Twelve. What I am sure of, however, is that Samantha declared that the winner deserved a reward.

She made me promise to close my eyes and not open them until she said I could, no matter what I heard. I agreed. A few moments after closing my eyes, I felt her lips pressed on mine. What I didn’t feel was the familiar touch of cool metal. She had taken off the gold mask that always covered half of her face. I desperately wanted to open my eyes, but I had promised not to, so they remained shut.

A few moments after the kiss, she let me open my eyes. She had replaced the mask. On the side of her face that I could see, she wore a wistful smile.

I started a fire, one of man’s oldest sources of comfort, and we sat together next to the flame for hours, just enjoying each other’s company. After a while, she asked if I remembered asking about why she was no longer a paladin. Unsure how to answer, I simply nodded. She asked if I was still interested in knowing. I nodded again.

She told me the story, reminding me first of how she had become stranded far away from home and spent years wandering through various planes of existence before finally making her way back onto the Material Plane(which is where our physical universe is located). Upon returning, she realized that she was nowhere near home. In time, she found a shantak and convinced it to carry her home, promising to protect it from the many things it feared in exchange for safe passage. That’s what led her to the place where she lost faith in the one she worshipped.

XX After some time together, she and courage landed on a small planet that the locals called Serenity. She landed in a squalid town just outside a large marsh. After some investigation, she learned that this town was one of many that had recently lost its independence after an invasion from a nearby nation. Seeing how these people lived broke her heart.

That evening, she was approached by members of the local resistance movement. They asked her to join them in fighting off the invaders and winning their freedom. She agreed. To her mind, this place was why Ragathiel had allowed her to be dragged away. She was meant to help these people. This is where it all made sense.

Unfortunately, she was wrong. She fought alongside the resistance for months, leading up to a final confrontation between the resistance cells throughout the nation and the occupation force in a rocky valley whose name she never learned. They were outnumbered three to one, but Samantha was sure that they had the gods on their side.

The resistance was slaughtered in that battle. Samantha was the only survivor. She was furious about what had happened. As cliché as it seems, she found herself standing upon a precipice in the rain, raging against the heavens. She even cast her holy symbol over the edge, though she kept her sword since it was a useful tool in addition to being the blade of a paladin. XX

After she completed her story, I thanked her for telling me and we sat in silence for a bit. All in all, it had been a good day, topped off by her telling me perhaps one of the most intimate secrets she held. When we fell asleep together next to the fire, I was content. Or perhaps, I was elated. I was just plain happy. I was…

Really surprised when she left me the next morning.
#4 Feb 27 2013 at 4:20 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
Let me explain to you something about the magic ring I was wearing. In addition to making it so I don’t need any food or water, it also makes it so I only need about two hours of sleep per night. But just because you only need two hours, doesn’t mean that you won’t happily sleep more. So it was that night. I woke up a couple times that night to find her still sleeping, her head on my chest. Seeing this, I contentedly fell back asleep.

I was awoken that morning by the sound of wings. Samantha wasn’t where she had been. I got up in time to see Courage flying up into the sky with her on its back. I watched for several minutes as they ascended into the sky. After I could no longer see them, I took stock of the campsite. She had left me my messenger bag, the stuff I had inside the bag and my violin.

I didn’t even see what was stalking up to my camp until it reached the edge of a clearing. By then, it was too late. When I saw that massive beast, all teeth and claw and muscle, I knew I was done for. I froze. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t scream. ****, I couldn’t even **** my pants since I hadn’t consumed anything in months. Part of my brain snapped. I did the only thing that came to mind.

I closed my eyes, denying what was about to happen. Then, I sang. “I’m not even angry. I’m being so sincere right now. Even though you broke my heart and killed me.” I heard the beast begin charging and tensed up in preparation for my impending demise.

A few moments later, somehow unharmed, I slowly opened one eye. Standing between the beast and myself was a figure in intricate armor made from what I later learned was dragon scales. She(yes, she…it’s apparently my fate to be constantly saved by beautiful women) was wielding the biggest hammer I’ve ever seen. I mean, if you were to take this thing to a county fair, you wouldn’t need to ring the bell to win a prize. Just lifting it would get you the giant teddy bear.

She made short work of the beast with a powerful yet somehow graceful strike with her hammer. Afterwards, she turned to me. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” she demanded.

With all the eloquence I could muster, I replied. “I. Uh. Bwuh?” Then I fainted. Because I’m a brave man.

When I awoke, I was in a clean and elegant room in a city of some kind. My things were on a table across the room from the bed where I lay. After a time, a gentleman of approximately middle age entered the room. I quickly noticed that he wasn’t human. He was, in fact, an elf. His ears were pointed like Samantha’s but were more pronounced. He asked me about myself and how I had come to Castrovel.

I considered lying to him, but decided to be honest. I told him everything, much as I’ve told you here. He just listened until I finished. When I was done telling my story, he offered his sympathy and told me that there was a wizard in town who might be able to help me get home. Considering I had just been dumped, I figured might as well go visit the family, so I asked him to take me to the wizard.

At some point during the conversation, I realized that I was speaking and understanding his language. Now, I don’t mean like I did with that spell Samantha had cast on me, where everything translated into English automatically as I spoke. I mean that I was literally speaking a language that I somehow knew, even though I had never taken the time to learn it. And this wasn’t the only language I had somehow picked up. Somehow I knew at least four languages in addition to English. None of them were languages from home. ****. So much for an easy A.

It took a few days to set up an appointment with the wizard, so I spent that time learning a bit about the culture of my hosts. The gentleman I had spoken to was some sort of public official. Something like a minister. I forget the exact word for his station, but it really doesn’t matter. He shared his home with his wife, a woman of refined elegance, and his daughter, the woman who had saved me. I wasn’t in a state to really notice how beautiful the girl was, but looking back, I think I missed an opportunity to truly appreciate my strange gift for finding myself in the presence of extremely attractive females.

In exchange for the hospitality of my hosts, I played some music for them. They seemed pleased to hear songs they had never heard before. They told me that if the wizard couldn’t help me, I could surely make a fine living as a musician living on Castrovel. Had I not been heartbroken, I might just have stayed. But as it was, I was determined to make my way home.

The wizard we visited was old, aged in the way elves age. Which is to say, gracefully. We talked for a bit and I learned that he was well over four centuries old, but he looked to be around middle age. He had been studying magic for at least three centuries and had attained a level of mastery exceedingly rare in the world. I was lucky. Had I found myself anywhere else, it’s quite possible that I never would have found someone who could send me home.

We haggled on the price for a bit. The magical effect I was looking for was a powerful one. It would even normally require him to cast it twice, once to get me where I was going and once to get him back from there, so that would double the cost. Thankfully, he had discovered a way to imbue a relic made of gold with the magic, so that he would not have to travel with me. The amount required ran about half the cost of the second casting, so it was economically feasible. I would even get to keep the depowered gold afterwards, so it was even more economical. All in all, it worked out to about twenty-six hundred gold pieces.

As you can imagine, I didn’t have that much money. I was certain that the family helping me wouldn’t want to spend that kind of money either. So I started haggling. I didn’t have much in this world’s currency, but I had a few gadgets this world had never seen. I was able to reach an agreement that the wizard would perform the spellcasting and supply the gold in exchange for my MP3 player and the solar charger that went with it.

That’s right, I was getting a trip home and gold worth over three hundred thousand dollars in exchange for two objects worth a combined total of less than one hundred and fifty dollars. To be fair, I had over six billion dollars worth of songs(mostly legally purchased) on the MP3 player by RIAA math. So I guess it was an even trade when you think about it.

He told me that it would take several days to prepare the artifact, so I spent that time with my hosts, singing for my supper as it were. I also spent a lot of time thinking about how things would be when I got home. I mean, I would be the first earthling to have traveled so far and returned. I’d be like Travis Walton, except people would believe me once the evidence I’d left on the moon was recovered. I’d be an overnight celebrity. I think there’d only be three or four more recognizable stars than me…and Oprah would probably be two of them. Certain phrases kept swimming around in my head. Book deals, movie rights, Nobel prize(I figured that since they gave one to a guy just for getting elected, I would certainly be eligible for crossing half the galaxy and returning)…all were mine for the taking when I returned.

Two days later, I met with the wizard once again and he made the final preparations for the spell. He needed to know as much as he could about the destination. I told him the major basics about Earth: Third planet from the yellow sun, a blue planet, one moon. He then needed more specifics on where on the planet I wanted to go. Made sense, didn’t want to go home only to end up in People’s Republic of Best Korea or whatever they were calling themselves now. I told him I was from a small town named Marana originally. I figured that would be the best place to end up since I still had family near there. He nodded and input the information into the spell as he cast it upon the small gold sun statue.

Let me tell you something I know about powerful wizards that I didn’t know back then. They generally have a number of permanent magic effects on them at all times. This wizard in particular had a permanent enchantment on him like the one Samantha had cast upon me to allow me to understand and speak other languages. This effect works by converting the words as they pass between your ears and brain into something you understand and as they pass from your brain to your mouth so that you speak the appropriate language that you’re trying to speak. All you hear is the language you’re used to communicating in.

So it was that “Marana” became “Thicket” to his ears. Thanks to a fun number of coincidences, it was enough to keep me from going home. Instead I ended up in a forest on Golarion. Turns out Golarion is also the third planet from its yellow sun, is a blue planet and has one moon. Turns out there used to be a village named “Thicket” in the country of Isger in the Inner Sea Region of Golarion. It was wiped out during some trouble with local goblinoids. Had the translation error not occurred, I would likely be on Earth right now, since I haven’t found a Marana here.

But it did. And that’s how I found myself in a burned forest, face to face with a hungry goblin.
#5 Feb 27 2013 at 4:20 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
Let me explain to you what a goblin is. First of all, I’m going to assume you’ve heard of Family Guy. Now picture Stewie, but a bit taller, somehow bouncy, green and with a row of dagger like teeth. With that picture, you’ll have a more or less accurate image of a goblin. Upon seeing me, its lips drew back in a bloodthirsty grin and it drew its crude sword. I ran, screaming like a six year old at a Freddy Krueger movie.

Now, understand, this is generally a very poor reaction when faced with a predator. Running just gets them fired up to chase you. Unless you have a specific planned avenue of escape, such as a nearby tree to climb, bolting will often just let you die tired. Now, I may be fairly strong, but I’m no runner. I wasn’t going to have the stamina to keep ahead of this thing for long. If I had been thinking, I would have realized that only some sheer luck would save me.

Since I’m writing this, I’m sure you realize by now that I somehow made it out of there. I didn’t even see the paladin as I exited the tree line onto the road. But he had heard my screams and had come to my aid. The goblin didn’t stand a chance. A single slash of his scimitar and the **** thing was down.

I heard the attack and turned to see what had happened. Then I ran straight into a wooden cart that I swear hadn’t been there before. Lying flat on the ground, I heard the sounds of laughter. When my head finally stopped spinning, I found myself surrounded by half a dozen armed men. Okay, to be fair, two of them were women. But you discern the difference when surrounded by people wearing banded mail with their swords drawn. I bet you won’t be able to tell the difference either. So there.

Anyway, the leader points his sword at my throat. “Tell me why I should not cut you down where you lie, bandit.”

As I’ve proven before, I wasn’t great at answering things like that under pressure. Thankfully, another voice came to my rescue. “Come now, John. What kind of bandit would be running from a single goblin. And what is with these strange clothes? To think this is a simple bandit denies the facts before our eyes. Come, let’s put away our swords and talk like rational people. Can’t you see the poor man is terrified?”

The leader considered for a moment. “Perhaps you’re right. I’m holding you responsible for his conduct.” He sheathed his sword and walked away.
A steel plated hand was offered to me. I took hit and was pulled to my feet surprisingly easily. “Thank you,” I managed to stammer.

The figure before me was slight of frame, yet surprisingly strong and about the same height as me. He wore what appeared to be a light plate mail and a helmet that revealed the full of his face. His silver hair seemed to blow in a breeze that wasn’t there and strange blue markings seemed to swirl just beneath his skin. His smile was genuine. “Greetings, friend. I am Calais. Who are you and what brings you to this place.”

“My name’s Kyle. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly where I am, but I am here because the spell that was supposed to send me home sent me here instead.”

“Truly? Well, you are in the nation of Isger. I hope that puts you near to your home?”

I shook my head. “You’re going to have to be less specific than that. I’ve never heard of the nation of Isger.”

He seemed surprised. “Well, then you’re in the inner sea region.” My look must have betrayed my remaining confusion. “We’re on the continent of Avistan.” I was still confused. “On the planet Golarion.”

That one I knew. I face palmed. “Well, then, Calais, I seem to be approximately half a galaxy away from home. I’m not sure how the spell put me here, but I guess now I’m stuck here, unless you know a way for me to get to Castrovel so I can go speak to that wizard again?”

It was his turn to be confused. Over the next several days, I traveled with him and the others, telling them of my journey. They told me of themselves. Apparently this region was involved in a major conflict with armies of goblins and the six who had pulled weapons on me were a group of soldiers sent from a nearby nation to help protect the refugees from banditry and remaining goblinoid threats. Calais was a traveling paladin of the goddess Sarenrae who had come to help defend the helpless in the region as well, so they had joined up.

I still couldn’t figure out why I had been sent here instead of home. That epiphany wouldn’t come until years later. But this wasn’t too bad a place to be. I learned much about the world around me from those who I traveled with. I invoked my best console role playing game skills and asked as many questions as I could think of, absorbing everything they would tell me. I knew that I wouldn’t be sure what information might one day be useful, so I learned everything I could.

For instance, did you know that there are multiple planes of existence? Calais had an ancestor from another plane. That’s why he looks so different. Seems like his great-great-great-great-great grandfather had married a Djinni. I sh*t you not, according to the family story, it’s almost verbatim how Keiichi met Belldandy in Ah! My Goddess. It’s actually kind of heartwarming to think that something like that really could happen.

Despite our somewhat off-putting introduction, I also came to call the soldiers friends. That’s why I winced when the captain told me that this was his last tour before retirement. Sure enough, he took a shot to the throat two days later. And that was just the beginning of what shaped up to be a very bad day. It was also the first day I ever killed someone.

We were moving along a road between a small village and the larger town where I was to leave the group to seek out any knowledge of a wizard who might be able to help me get home. The attack came out of nowhere. First indication we had that something was wrong was the crossbow bolt embedded in the captain’s neck. The soldiers and Calais drew their weapons immediately and we were swarmed by bandits.

I’m not a professional soldier like these people, but I’ve always been a gamer and have taken lessons in numerous martial arts, though as I’ve mentioned before, never sticking with one long enough to really master it. So I drew one of my knives. I got into a fight with a guy wielding a short sword and, while I didn’t manage to beat him, knocking me down distracted him long enough for someone else to embed an axe in his back.

The woman who had saved me, Emily, had been one of the people I had spent the most time talking with. I knew quite a bit about her. I knew that she had two younger brothers. I knew that she had a fiancé waiting at home. Her favorite flower was the lily(I’m still amazed at the fact that not only does this world have humans, but it has many of the same plants as back home). She would eat shepherd’s pie every day if allowed to, though she liked to top hers with goat’s milk cheese.

She knew about my distrust of clowns and that the first girl I had ever asked out had turned me down when we were thirteen, but agreed when I asked again when we were fifteen. She knew that my violin was given to me by my grandfather, who had died when I was young, and that it had belonged to him, relegated to a shelf after his arthritis had made it impossible for him to play until the day he found out I was interested in learning to play. She even knew that I enjoyed putting cottage cheese seasoned with garlic powder on my pizza, even though she had never heard of pizza before I mentioned it.

She was like a sister to me(I have three sisters back home, a younger brother and a trained ape-man who my parents insist is my older brother). Which is why it upset me so much when I watched her die. She had offered me a hand to help me up after killing that bandit when a bandit came up behind her. With a sickening crunch, his blade bit through her armor and emerged through her stomach, splattering me with her blood. I still remember the look of surprise and pain on her face and the startled cry that escaped her lips.

Now, I need you to understand something about me. I’ve always been a big guy. You know, tall, fairly muscular, that kind of thing. In part because of this, I had always been one to stick up for my friends. I’ve gotten into a fair few fights because someone I knew had been the target of a bully. Something primal in me just can’t stand to see someone I care about hurt. So, it was completely in character that I jumped to my feet and grabbed the nearest object available, which happened to be the folding shovel in a pocket of my messenger bag(I always wore it, though my violin case was in the wagon). With a flick of my wrist, the shovel was locked into an open position. I struck at the bandit, intent on wiping the smug smirk off of his face.

Things started out okay. I knocked the sword from his hand pretty easily. A smack to the leg through him off balance, causing him to stumble. The third, however, bounced harmlessly off his helmet, at worst causing a bit of a ringing in his ears. Turns out those shovels aren’t meant to be used as bludgeons against men in metal armor.

Gauntlets versus unprotected faces, on the other hand, well that’s a weapon that works just fine. One blow sent me spinning to the floor. The only thing that saved me was the bandit seeing that his fellows were having trouble against Calais. The paladin had slain several foes already in one on one and two on one combat. Surrounded as he was by multiple foes, the outcome was less certain. Still, he was likely to take most of them with him, that’s how good he was.

My opponent ran off to help bring down the last of the friends I had just made and I was left on the ground, my head spinning. I half watched as I tried to regain my bearing. Calais cut down most of his foes, but a lucky strike from my former opponent had finally brought him down. I’ll never forget the sound of that man’s voice as he laughed at my fallen friend.

“It is over, paladin. Die quickly so I can rifle through your belongings for something of value.” He flipped his sword and prepared for a two handed downward strike, intent on ending Calais’ life once and for all.

Things seemed to go into slow motion as I lumbered to my feet, drawing my boot knife as I stood. I’m not sure if it was the blow to the head or gift from on high, but I suddenly heard Bonnie Tyler singing “Holding Out for a Hero” in my head. I started charging at my foe and threw the knife as I did so, aiming for the gap between his helmet and his mail shirt. Of course, as awesome as it would have been if I had managed to hit my mark, I instead managed to hit him in the helmet. The knife bounced off, doing little more than startling him. But it bought me the extra second I needed.

I impacted him with the force of defensive lineman sacking a quarterback. The force of the impact sent his sword flying and the two of us hit the ground. In the superior position, I pulled the helmet from his head and began striking him repeatedly in the face, determined to crush his skull with my bare hand. He hit me square in the chest with his gauntlet, sending me tumbling off of him. We both leapt to our feet. He drew a backup dagger and charged at me.

Now, I wish I could say what happened next was that I pulled something from my past martial arts training and sidestepped his attack while putting him into an arm lock. Or maybe that I had dropped low and tripped him with a leg sweep. But alas, in that moment, my martial arts dabbling abandoned me.

What did stick with me, however, was years of television. So I did the only thing I could. I swear that I’m not making this up, though I wish I were. With a mighty cry of “That’s my purse! I DON’T KNOW YOU!”, I acted. If you have the same TV watching background I do, you probably know what happened next. The bandit, however, had never even heard of television, much less watched it. So it came as a big surprise when my foot struck him in the manly bits.

You always hear stories about how adrenaline affects you in moments like these. For instance, there’s that one time the mother lifted the burning car off of her children. Or the time the guy rolled the helicopter off of the pilot to save his life. Now, you can add “the time this one guy punted another man five feet into the air with one kick” to the list.

His eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed to the ground. I then kicked him in the crotch a few more times. Okay, so it was more of a stomp than a kick. Then, deciding that it might not be possible to kill someone with kicks to the nuts, I stabbed him in the face with his own dagger. Then, remembering an episode of some show about real stories from the emergency room where a guy survived sticking an ice pick in his hear, I grabbed a nearby weapon and decapitated him to make sure. Somewhat fittingly, it was Emily’s axe I used to do the deed.

Satisfied that he was dead, I surveyed the scene. All my friends were down, the only one possibly still breathing was Calais. All the bandits were dead too. I rushed to Calais side to survey his injuries. Things weren’t looking great. If I didn’t do something quickly, he was going to bleed out.
I cut the straps from his armor and got to work tending his wounds. I used up pretty much everything in the first aid kit in my bag and still had wounds to tend to. I ended up cutting strips of cloth from a blanket I found in the wagon and using those(thoroughly sterilized by soaking in alcohol, of course) to dress the remaining wounds after I stitched them up.

Satisfied that I had done all I possibly could for him, I carefully moved Calais into the wagon. I didn’t want to move him, but I figured it would be better than leaving him on the cold ground. I covered him with another blanket and then started searching for my shovel. Someone had to tend to burying these bodies. Might as well be me.

About the time I located the shovel, the adrenaline wore off and the realization of just how close I had come to death sank in. I dropped to my knees and vomited, even though I had nothing in my stomach but acid to vomit up.

Edited, Apr 1st 2013 4:12am by Poldaran
#6 Feb 27 2013 at 4:21 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
After completing that act, I began the work of digging graves. It took over a day, though it would have taken longer had the ground not been fairly soft. For the bandits, I dug fairly shallow graves. For the soldiers, I dug the full six feet, give or take a few inches. I only stopped to start and tend a fire to give me light to work by, and to check on Calais, occasionally wetting his mouth with a few drops of water. He was still unconscious, but I detected no fever or any signs he was taking a turn for the worse.

It was midday the next day when I finally finished burying the last person. I considered marking the graves with crosses made from whatever I could scavenge, but I figured that it might not be proper to mark their graves with the symbol of my religion. I also considered using their swords as gravestones, but figured that just lead to them getting dug up and looted since I showed that they might be buried with valuables. I ended up settling on simple stone markers. For the soldiers, I marked the stones with their names, using pigments I made from some berries I found nearby.

I checked on Calais again. There was still no change to his condition. I had to decide whether to continue on the path we were traveling before or to turn around and head back to the village a few days behind. I decided on heading forward, rather than back, and hoping for the best. Before we left, I said a prayer on Calais’ behalf. I knew he was a devout sort, so I prayed to his goddess, asking her to help him.

I then kneeled in front of the graves and said a simple prayer for each of them, asking whatever god or goddess they worshipped to carry them safely to their eternal reward. For Emily, I also said a prayer for her family, asking that their deity help them through the troubling news of her death when they received it.

Something about all this prayer opened a floodgate within me. For the first time in years, I said a prayer for myself. Something beyond the short and sweet “Please watch over me, amen” that I often recited before bed. Kneeling on the grass near the road, I made the sign of the cross and clasped my hands tightly. Tears brimmed in my eyes as I prayed aloud. “Lord, it’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to you. I’m truly sorry for that. But I come to you in my hour of desperation, begging for your guidance. I know that you set tasks before us to test us, but I fear that this trial you have lain before me is too much for one such as me to bear. I’m not ready for any of this. My life has not prepared me to bear this burden. I should be at home, facing tests of character. Perhaps I should be growing through the loss of a single friend or even a couple friends to a tragic accident, but to lose so many in such a short time, while also fearing for my life, I’m not sure I can do this. I should be at home, worried that I might fail a test, or worried that I damaged my car, or stressing about how many nights of ramen noodles lay before me in order to get that new game I want. My biggest fear should be that a professor doesn’t like me.

“Instead, I’m halfway across the galaxy on a world so very different from my own, a world filled with monsters the likes of which I’ve never seen. A world where magic is a real thing, where the strong prey on the weak with only minimal interdiction by those in authority. I’m a student, not whatever this takes. It’s too much. Please, I’m begging you. Send me home. I can’t do this. Please, help me. I’m so alone. Please…”

Now, when you’re praying and thinking no one can hear you, you certainly never expect anyone to respond. Nonetheless, I heard a voice. “No, not alone.” I nearly jumped out of my skin. Turning to the sound of the voice, I saw Calais sitting up in the wagon.

I quickly made the sign of the cross and said, “Amen.” I then stood and admonished my friend for risking tearing out his stitches.
He simply laughed and removed one of his bandages. I saw that the wound had miraculously healed. “One of the perks of being a paladin. I have magic hands.”

Realization dawned. “Oh crap! Should I not have buried them?”

He laughed. “No, there are limits. I think they’d be grateful to you for the care you’ve taken.”

“So, what do we do now?”

“Let’s continue on to the town we were originally headed for. There should be some other Chelish soldiers there. We can ask them to deliver news of what happened here to the families. Then we’ll figure out where to go from there.”

“Sounds good to me.”

We headed to the city of Elidir. It was small by our standards back home, but for this world, it was a fairly large city with a population of over ten thousand. The city had a few interesting sights, but the one that was most memorable to me was the slave market. Apparently slavery is legal in many of the nations of this world.

I watched as a convicted criminal was put up for auction and was sickened by the way that they treated the poor man and others like him as cattle. At my request, Calais looked into the nature of the man’s crimes. Apparently, the crime that had led him into his predicament was simple theft. I made a note to myself to familiarize myself with the local laws as quickly as I could.

We first located some Chelish soldiers to deliver the news of what had happened to their patrol, then found an inn. It was a clean sort of place, which was good. I was still going to use up the last of my DEET spray before sleeping in the bed, but at least I didn’t have to eat the food and risk any kind of illness.

It was also a time I could finally relax and wallow in self pity. While on Castrovel, I had been upset that Samantha had left me and certainly had enough time to mope about it. However, the city I was in was so full of wonder and I was so excited at the prospect of going home that it hadn’t really hit me. Now, I had not only lost her, but was unsure if I’d ever get home.

I’ve never been a fan of beer, but the taproom in the inn had a supply of mead, so I tried that out. I have to admit that it wasn’t bad. Those ancient Germanic folks had a great sense of taste for folks who dressed in animal furs.

The Innkeep had noticed my violin case when we rented our rooms(by the way, the fact that Calais had sprung for two actual rooms is indicative of the wealth he carried. Most patrons slept in the common room on spare furs). He told me that it had been a while since they had been visited by a bard and offered to give me next drink free if I’d play something for them.

Calais had offered to pay for anything I drank that night, but I didn’t want to rely completely on him. If nothing else, doing this would help me feel like I could make my way in the world, so I agreed. I took a minute to tune my instrument, then finally decided on what to play.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I mostly know music from video games(also a few anime themes). Most people back home wouldn’t take playing of those very seriously. However, I wasn’t back home and these people had never heard the music I was about to play. “I’m going to play for you an arrangement of two pieces of traditional music from Skyrim, a land very far from here.” I began to play, first performing The Dragonborn Comes and following that with Dragonborn, complete with the lyrics. Yes, I know the full lyrics even though I don’t know the language(“Dovahkiin, Dovahkiin, naal ok zin los vahriin, Wah dein vokul mahfaeraak ahst vaal!” and so on and so forth.). ****, I know the lyrics to at least a dozen anime theme songs and I don’t speak Japanese beyond knowing how to curse a bit and ask how to get to the bathroom.

The real problem was playing the violin and singing at the same time. It’s a bit difficult to hold the instrument with your chin and sing at the same time, but it can be done if you’re willing to practice at it. What’s important is that the patrons apparently enjoyed the performance and the Innkeep handed me a drink with the offer of another if I’d perform more after I finished my current tankard. I announced my next arrangement as a tribute to friends who had fallen recently and performed Celes’ Theme(complete with the melancholy refrain when she tried to kill herself) followed by Aeris’ Theme(I refuse to call her Aerith). As I played, I thought of everything that had happened recently and the profound sense of loneliness I felt. It was all I could do not to tear up. Thankfully those pieces didn’t have any words.

Calais had remained at our table and had been joined by a small group of religious looking folks when I had gone to retrieve my violin, so I took a seat at an empty table after my second performance and drank my next tankard in silence, surely looking a bit sullen. Now, I’m a fairly large guy, so the alcohol was just barely beginning to affect me after I finished this third tankard. I didn’t suspect I was hallucinating when an extremely beautiful young woman came and sat across from me, but I’m sure no one would have blamed me if I had suspected that she wasn’t real.
#7 Feb 27 2013 at 4:21 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
She was wearing a robe of some kind that was tight in all the right places, adorned with a brooch that had a familiar looking symbol upon it. It took me a moment to realize that the symbol was the same one the people sitting with Calais were wearing. Just my luck. I found myself imagining that this was a religious conversion attempt.

Turns out I was wrong. Aside from telling me that her symbol represented the goddess Shelyn(whose portfolio includes love, beauty, art and music) when I asked, she didn’t talk much about her religion. I did find out that she was an acolyte training to be a full fledged cleric and more about her history with the church, but those were details about her, not about her religion. In turn, I told her about myself. It might have been the alcohol, but I told her everything.

As we talked, I saw sympathy in her expression. At first, I thought it was pity, but there was more to it than that. Not that I’m too proud to accept other people’s pity when warranted, but this wasn’t quite that. Looking back, I think it was because I was a musician. It’s not like she had any reason to believe I hadn’t composed the pieces I had played, so the sadness they contained must have looked to her like a bleak melancholy within my soul. It’s also probably why she asked me to play something more hopeful.

Not one to deny such a simple request to a pretty girl, I agreed. However, as I tried to stand, I found that the fourth tankard had begun to have a much greater effect on me than the last several. Dizzy, I sat back down and explained my situation to the young woman. She told me that it would be a simply situation to remedy and asked me to remain a moment. Not trusting my ability to go anywhere anyway, I agreed.

She walked over to where Calais and the others were sitting and spoke to a muscular man sitting across from my friend. His brow furrowed as she talked with him and his expression conveyed volumes about his apparent disapproval, but he agreed in the end. He walked over and placed his arm on my shoulder and spoke some words in a language I didn’t know. A surge of energy rushed through me and I suddenly felt like I was mostly sober once again. I thanked the man, who just grunted and returned to his seat.

My lovely companion told me not to worry about her brother’s reaction, explaining that he was just a bit protective and didn’t like that she was talking with some strange man. I almost felt relieved until I remembered the time I had had to flee out of Angela Perkins’ window while her older brother, who had walked in on us somewhere around second base, went to get his shotgun. Now that I think about it, I never did get that shirt back.

Feeling better, I stood once again and pulled out my violin. A quick look at the Innkeep, who nodded his consent and I began to play. I won’t tell you what I played, but it’s a song that starts out a bit melancholy and builds to a grand, hopeful crescendo at the end. Sure, it would have been better if I’d had accompaniment from someone playing a trumpet and a nice set of timpani, but it worked out just fine. Better than fine, actually. A few minutes later, I found myself in my room, alone with an extremely beautiful girl I had spent my evening talking with. And yes, her brother had glared at me as we left.

I won’t tell you all the lurid details, but it was her first time. Yes, I was deflowering a member of the clergy. Something about the very corrupt nature of that demanded that I make sure I do it right, so I took my time and we spent most of the night getting very little sleep. Things went well up until the fifth time. (No, I’m not saying that just to brag.)(Okay, maybe I am. You try not to brag in the same situation.) She had grabbed hold of my hair and was holding on for dear life, screaming things I’d best not repeat when I felt her grip on my hair release.

At least, I thought she had let go. Moments later, she started screaming in terror. I looked at the hand she was staring at and realized she was holding a large clump of my hair. She hadn’t pulled very hard, at least not hard enough to have done that, and I hadn’t felt it being yanked out. She pulled away from me and I sat stunned for a moment. I reached up and gave a slight tug on my own hair. It came out easily. I suddenly felt very dizzy again and had a splitting headache. The dizziness threatened to make me vomit, so I rushed over to the chamber pot(disgusting, I know). I barely made it in time to prevent the bloody vomit from spreading all over the floor. Seeing the blood, my companion began screaming for help.

I sat down on the floor and contemplated my symptoms. Each alone might indicate a number of things, but considering them all together along with the past year traveling unprotected through space, my mind settled on one inevitable conclusion.

I had radiation sickness.

As I was coming to this realization, I heard a loud crack and the door splintered inward. I looked over to see my bedmate’s brother. He had kicked in the door and had his sword at the ready. Either he was up standing watch or he had slept in his armor.

I’m pretty sure he would have cut me down if she hadn’t jumped in between us. I suddenly found myself desperately searching for a window as she tried to explain to him that I hadn’t done anything to her, but was suffering from illness of some kind. I think the fact that I vomited again helped prove her point.

She put on some clothing and helped me get dressed as he examined me for any normal signs of sickness. While inundated by his barrage of questions, I started crunching numbers in my head. I remembered reading somewhere that nine hundred milliSieverts was around the high end of expected radiation dosage for about a year in space for an astronaut and that you would need an exposure of around twice that to end up with the symptoms I was experiencing. I could be wrong on that as I was only reading about it out of curiosity after watching an episode of 1000 Ways to Die, so I can’t say I was really looking at it in a truly scientific light. I wanted to say that wouldn’t result in the effects I was experiencing, but I could be wrong on that.

Nonetheless, I was experiencing the effects of moderate exposure, somewhere in the two to six Gray range. I think. Haven’t had access to the internet or a doctor who understands the concept to confirm it, so I could be off. All I knew was that I needed some kind of treatment.

I tried to explain to them that I was suffering the symptoms of a known illness, but their language lacked the words for the concept I was trying to explain. I settled on calling radiation “Bad Light” and explained that it had a poisonous effect on humans. The girl suggested that magic might help me, but they didn’t know anyone who could magically deal with poison.

Calais, roused by the commotion, came to see what was happening. After being briefed, he told us that he had heard of a witch that lived outside of town who might be able to help me, but that help would likely be costly. I said, “I can pay for it. After all, I still had that golden artifact that the wizard had used to contain the spell that teleported me here…” As I spoke, however, I came to a realization. I had been carrying that in my hands when the goblin had attacked me. “Crap. Nevermind. I dropped it when fleeing the goblin.” Well, I still had the amulet and ring from Samantha. Perhaps I could barter one of them for the cure.

The witch was much kinder than expected, though she lacked social graces as one accustomed to being alone might. Explaining to her that I had been exposed to a poison over time that might also lead to further disease thanks to the long exposure and that I might have inadvertently exposed my female companion to the same poison, she told me that she did indeed have the magic I would need to cure us. She told us the cost in gold and I blanched. It was far more than any of us had. Thankfully, her interests included planar travel, so I was able to convince her to take the amulet that protected its wearer from heat/cold and allowed them to breathe in any environment in lieu of a gold payment. As I understand it now, one spell purged me of any remaining radiation and another cured the damage caused, hopefully putting my cancer risk back to normal.

Cured, we returned to the inn a few hours before sunrise. I was surprised when I was joined once again in my room by my lovely companion. We were too tired to continue what we had been doing before, but she informed me that she still wanted to fall asleep in my arms. I certainly wasn’t going to argue.

Awaking around noon, we headed down to the common room(well, not immediately, if you catch my drift). Calais and my companion’s brother were discussing their plans when we approached. The other group was continuing on their journey to help those affected by the Goblinblood War. Calais mentioned that he had an uncle in Absalom who might be able to get me into the Arcanamirium, a prestigious school for wizards and that he was willing to travel with me there if I wanted, since it was likely my best shot at getting home.

We had to make a choice. I could either stay with the beautiful young woman, she could travel with us to Absalom, or we would have to part company here. I was torn, but ultimately I decided that I couldn’t make the same mistake that had gotten me here in the first place. I had to go with Calais to Absalom rather than following the beautiful woman. Unfortunately, she made the same decision. She also had to continue on her journey. Leaving her goddess’ service to follow me wasn’t an option. Both our parties decided to wait one more day before departing, partially out of the practical consideration that our little adventure with the illness had cost us the travel time afforded by the morning’s light and partially to allow us to say goodbye.

The second night was bittersweet, enjoying each other’s company but knowing that when morning came we would be departing, possibly never to see one another again.

The next morning, they left early. Calais hadn’t woken when they parted, so I ended up with some time to myself. I used that time to shave my head, since bald was certainly a better look for me than having some patches of hair missing. Then I sat around wistfully thinking about the beautiful young woman I had just let go. Thinking back, I still wonder what she’s up to, which brings up an interesting thought. It’s not like we used any kind of protection. I have to wonder if somewhere there’s a child out there who looks a lot like me. That might be something to look into once my magical ability gets good enough to do that kind of search.

When the paladin finally awoke about an hour later, we departed, heading southeast towards the Andoran capital Almas, where we hoped to book passage on a vessel to Absalom.
#8 Feb 27 2013 at 4:22 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
We didn’t speak much for the early part of the day, but when we stopped for lunch, I finally broke the silence.

“Alright,” I said. “Let’s go ahead and get this over with.”

He looked confused. “Get what over with?”

“The lecture you’ve been preparing since yesterday.”

He thought for a moment. “Well, it would behoove you to take better care of yourself. After all, you knew that you had been exposed to this poison and hadn’t taken any steps to remedy it.”

Frustrated by how he was ignoring the topic, I lashed out a bit. “No! The lecture about how I’m a horrible sinner and will burn in the fires of damnation for sleeping with a member of the church.”

He looked genuinely confused. “Did you force yourself upon her?” I shook my head. “Well, then I’m not seeing a problem. Unless she had taken some kind of vow of celibacy that you helped her break. But even then, your sin in that would be minor. I’m confused. Why did you think I would object to your actions?”

Now it was my turn to be confused. “You mean that it’s not a sin?” I was an Arizonan boy raised by a conservative Irish Catholic family. While I was liberal enough to not view marriage as a requirement for certain activities, this was something different. Sleeping with a member of the clergy had to be at least as bad as corrupting a pastor's daughter. It was worth at least a lecture if I got caught, dammit.

He laughed. “Has this been the source of the dark cloud hanging over you this morning? Truly, perhaps some few gods may take offense with dallying outside of wedlock, but I think you’ll find that mine is not a religion that is really all that concerned with the daily lives of folks who aren’t harming, or at least risking harm to, anyone else. Though, if you’re determined to feel bad about the encounter, perhaps you can consider her feelings.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, so I asked him to clarify. “Well, it’s just that, as an acolyte in the worship of Shelyn, her actions indicate that she had fallen in love with you. Being apart from you is likely breaking her heart.”

That startled me. “What?! But we only knew each other for a short time!”

“You are both at an age where one might fall in love a dozen times a day. It will pass, but perhaps all the more painfully due to the time you shared. For one who always has stories to tell, you surely know one where this kind of thing has occurred?”

My mind immediately thought of Romeo and Juliet, focusing purely on how tragically that one ended. I shuddered at the thought and tried to put it from my mind. Of course, my subconscious mind had to add in the fact her and my names started with a letter exactly the same number of places away from the corresponding character in that story. I tried to assure myself that it was simply a coincidence.

I tried to change the subject. “How is it that one who looks no older than I know so much?”

He laughed again. “Truly you think our ages the same? Perhaps then it would surprise you to learn that I am actually seventy three years old?” Once again I found myself surprised and asked him how that could be. “My people reach adulthood at the age of sixty. I am still scant more than a child, but I suspect I have many more years under my belt than you, my friend.”

“I see,” I responded. This world was going to take some getting used to.

Our trip to Almas was pretty uneventful, aside from a group of bandits that Calais handled easily. Once we arrived, we booked passage on a ship bound for Absalom. The boat was much smaller than I had expected and we ended up without a room of our own. I spent some time trying to explain the benefits of citrus to a sailor who appeared to have advanced scurvy, but he didn’t seem very interested.

The first thing that struck me about Absalom was that I had never seen a city of that size(For reference, I learned later that the city had a population of almost 304,000.) that didn’t have any skyscrapers. Sure, it had a number of large buildings, but nothing like the skyline of a similar city at home. The view of the nearby Kortos Mountains, however, gave me some great scenery to enjoy.

The city is comprised of fourteen smaller districts, each governed by its own district council. Calais’ uncle kept a modestly large home in the Ivy District, named such for its tree lined streets, so we headed there, passing through several other districts on our way. It struck me just how different each of the districts was.

The three story house we approached wouldn’t have looked too out of place in a well to do suburb back home. From the outside, I guessed that it was approximately the equivalent of a seven bedroom home with spacious kitchen, dining and living rooms. Considering that I wasn’t sure they’d have running water, I was uncertain as to how many bathrooms they might have.

The door was opened by a gentleman whose race I didn’t recognize. He looked almost human, but had an inhuman beauty to him. Calais introduced him as Wyran, his uncle’s dedicated manservant. I later learned that he was an aasimar, a race of beings with mixed mortal and celestial ancestry. He recognized Calais immediately and led us to the master of the house.

Calais’ uncle was a man of strange contradiction. He was at once fat and bald, yet also somehow wispy and had flowing hair. Let me explain. He was overweight, to be certain, but there was still a slightness to his frame. And his head was visibly balding, yet his hair was long and pulled back into a ponytail that seemed to flutter ever so slightly in a wind despite the fact that we were indoors. Combined with his glasses and the robes he dressed in, it made him look like a cross between a wizard and an aging hippie.

Calais introduced us and I learned that his name was Hanuun. I was invited to tell him more about myself, so I related to him the story of my trip to Golarion and then to Absalom. He was a jovial sort of man and laughed often with a deep, bellowing guffaw at the more entertaining parts of my tale. After my tale, Calais asked him to help me find a wizard who could get me home, or if barring that, he would help me get into the Arcanamirium so I could learn how to get myself home.

Hanuun shook his head regretfully. “Alas, m’boy, I don’t believe anyone here knows the magic you would need to make your trip home. And I’ve had a bit of a falling out with my old colleagues at the school. Lord Gyr, especially, would block my efforts to sponsor anyone right now.”

“Surely there is something you can do, Uncle,” Calais pleaded.

“There is one option, perhaps, but it’s not a guaranteed success and will require a lot of hard work on your part, young Kyle. Are you interested?” He looked at me pointedly.

“I’m not afraid of a bit of hard work. Just as long as you aren’t going to ask me to fight bandits or something like that. Eventually they’re going to get wise to my groin kicks and I’m afraid of what will happen at that point.”

He chortled at my remark. “Nothing so dangerous as that. No, I was thinking that perhaps I could teach you the basics of wizardry. You could stay in one of the guest rooms and study with me for the next six months or so, then take the entrance exam. If you do well, they would let you in regardless of your connection to me. I don’t know how successful we’ll be with so little time, but it’s worth a shot. Are you interested?” I nodded my agreement. The next day, studying began.

Hanuun was pleased that I already knew how to read and surprised at just how quickly I learned what he taught me. His pessimism quickly turned to optimism over the first few weeks as we worked.

My concerns about restrooms were unfounded. They did indeed have three of them, though they housed only baths and not other essentials one would find in a modern home. The baths were filled using a magical bottle that conjured endless water from nothing, then the water was heated by tossing in rocks heated in the oven. It all seemed kind of labor intensive, so I began drawing up plans for a better system in my spare time.

I showed my plans to Hanuun and he was intrigued, to say the least. After considering it for a few days, he asked me to help him construct the system. Over the course of the next three months, we spent approximately six hours a day on studying, then Calais would come over and we’d spend the next six hours working on installing the home’s new centralized plumbing system.

It wasn’t too difficult, considering my twenty first century knowledge, Calais’ strength and Hanuun’s ability to shape the stones of his house with magic to allow us to run pipes from the attic to various tubs and sinks as well has his ability to use magic to fabricate any part we needed as long as I could give him an adequate description. It was also made simple due to the fact that there were no electrical wires running through his walls either.

When we finished, Hanuun had plumbing. It was a fairly simple system, to be honest. Two tanks in the attic would be filled each morning using the magic decanter. One was placed next to the oven’s chimney, which we altered a bit to allow the rising heat to warm the water. We also used the light of the sun to heat the water further. The other tank was filled with water that was allowed to remain cool. Pipes from each ran down through the walls to the two bathrooms and kitchen. Gravity does the work of getting the water where it needs to go.

Of course, Hanuun bragged about it to some of his neighbors. I wouldn’t be surprised if half of the houses that own one of those decanters have similar systems by now.
#9 Feb 27 2013 at 4:22 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
Once we finished the water system, I focused on my studies in earnest. Hanuun was amazed with how quickly I learned what he was teaching. He told me that I was chewing through the lessons faster than any apprentice he had ever seen.

Before you think that I’m some kind of amazing genius, I should explain something. Most of the lessons we went through were meant for people who very little education at this point. Someone like me with thirteen years of public school(Fourteen if you count pre-school) and a year of eighteen credit hours each semester of college was outside what they had planned for. I am amazing, and I am a genius, but I don’t want to give you the wrong impression about this whole thing.

So it was that I passed the entrance exam with flying colors. I managed to impress many of those on the recruitment board, which I thought was pretty cool. Unfortunately, impressing them meant little towards helping me pay for tuition and the supplies I’d need. I was forced to sell off almost everything I had left. I kept only my violin, since it held sentimental value, my messenger bag, since it wouldn’t sell for much anyway, my clothing(especially my duster, since I love that thing) and one boot knife.

Hanuun offered to let me stay with him as thanks for the work I’d done, but I still had to cover my food and tuition expenses. With what I’d made, I had enough for about two years. To put it into perspective, it could take anywhere from two to twelve years to complete my schooling. I immediately began to think of ways to earn money while I was going to school. I started out by spending time at the Arcane Exchange, a magic shop near Hanuun’s house, trying to devise ways to use magic items to create equivalents of modern comforts we had back home. In the first two years, I really didn’t come up with anything big, though I did manage to figure out a way to create air conditioning sometime later.

What really ended up paying for most of my tuition came as a bit of an accident. Over the course of the first year or so, I made several friends. The first was Scott. He was kind of a douchebag, but he was the kind of douchebag that one doesn’t mind hanging out with. I know it’s hard to explain, but think about people you hang out with. I’m sure there’s probably someone you know who is a bit of an ***, but still fun to be friends with. Then there was Kerric. He was Scott’s friend and was the opposite of the other man, reserved, a bit shy, but a good friend nonetheless. I made another friend, Auris, in one of my classes. He was a teenager and was at about the same level of studies as I was, having entered at a much younger age than I. A bit talkative, that one, but he had some interesting magical theories.

Finally, there was Nerina, beautiful, brown haired Nerina. Nerina with the blue eyes that you could just fall right into. Nerina with boom in all the right places. Baby got back, is what I’m saying. Also, legs that just wouldn’t quit and a chest to match the buns. Also, she has these little dimples she gets when she smiles that still make my knees quake just thinking about them.

I first met her while in the Arcane Exchange. I was so lost in thought that I hadn’t noticed her. I can’t be sure that I remember what I was thinking about, but I believe it had something to do with trying to devise a way to create a magical trolley system for easy travel through Absalom. All I know is that she approached me.
Again, I was lost in thought and didn’t notice her. I’m not sure how long she stood there before saying something. I don’t precisely remember what she said, but I do remember turning and seeing her, which is followed by all thought leaving my brain and me making a bit of a fool out of myself. Eventually I recovered and we began talking. Her voice was sultry and somewhere in the mezzo-soprano range and she had an ever so slight accent that served to amplify the sexiness of her speech.

Our conversation quickly turned into a half-flirting, half verbal sparring match between us and led to us having dinner together. She had a quick wit and a sharp tongue to match her stunning body. We were quick to become friends, but I quickly found that she wasn’t interested in more than that. Still, we developed a rather close friendship, filled with that constant flirtation and innuendo that seems to permeate some male-female friendships.

What’s probably most important, however, is that Nerina could both sing and play something called the mandolin(it’s like a soprano version of the lute, in case you had never heard of one either). Scott was also a singer and could play the piano. Kerric had a way with the trumpet that could set your hair on fire. And Auris could play drums, though he had never seen the setup I proposed to him, in the style that many bands use back home.

So I found myself with a band, but I needed to adapt things so that we could make use of the songs I knew from home. I got together with an instrument maker and between my knowledge of the instrument and his skills, we had an acoustic guitar for Nerina put together rather quickly. Putting together a set of drums followed after. They paid for their own instruments, of course, since I was the only person in it for the money.

Thankfully, my time in the school orchestra(It was an experiment to see if there would be interest in that sort of thing at the request of our new band teacher from back east.) had been supplemented with an elective in Music Appreciation and Classical Music Studies(We just called it “Music”) that had taught me how to compose and pick out notes just by listening to them, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to create sheet music for some songs I knew(Of course, I had to adapt the music to some different instruments). About five weeks later, we had practiced enough for me to feel confident that we could do well.

Our first gig was at a bar of some kind, playing for tips. It had a bit of a rocky start, but we really hit our stride during “Devil Went Down to Isger”. We made something on the order of several silver pieces each. It wasn’t bad, but it wouldn’t be enough on its own, even with weekly performances.

Two things worked together to improve our fortunes greatly. The first was that quiet, unassuming Kerric was an extremely shrewd manager. He booked us weekly gigs all over town. Eventually, as taverns saw that business boomed with live entertainment more energetic than the average bard, he managed to work that into a bidding war between a couple taverns. This resulted in a contract to play once weekly for four gold pieces each at one of the largest taverns in town.

The second was what kept us that contract. People in town loved the influx of new music. Just like back home, anything from far away was considered exotic and worth checking out. And, of course, you can’t get more exotic than music from beyond the stars. Add in the fact songs can actually form an addiction-like response in people to the fact that I come from a world where we recognize this and can mathematically predict which songs have a high chance of scoring said addiction to the fact that I’m unscrupulous enough to use this and you have cover band that plays almost nothing but chart toppers, even if the set list contains a ton of one hit wonders. People ate it up.

Not to say there weren’t any snags. Special mention goes to the time that we performed our cover of “Love Bites(So Do I)” and the crowd thought Nerina was confessing to being a vampire. I barely managed to head off a fatal case of lumber to the heart for her by convincing the crowd to use sunlight to prove or disprove her status as a member of the undead. It was an awkward night and we retired that song from our rotation immediately.

We became pretty famous in the city. After a year of playing, we even got the attention of the patron of a large orchestra. We ended up agreeing to a joint show with them, which meant six months of preparation to allow the adaptation of songs I knew into a larger scale performance.

During the time we prepared for the big event, we still performed at the tavern, and that’s where one of the most interesting events of my life began to unfold. It was three weeks before the big concert when, after a particularly energetic performance when some guy in the crowd started hitting on Nerina. It wasn’t just that he was hitting on her, but that he was being a self-entitled jerk and a bit of a pig about it. So, seeing as how I’m not the kind of person to let that go unchallenged, I jumped down from the stage that they had erected for us and told the guy to knock it off.

He looked familiar, but I thought nothing of it. Our confrontation escalated until it came to blows. I’m not sure who threw the first one, but I threw the last. He went sprawling to the ground. Another man, much larger, rushed at me. I recognized the clothing he wore as similar to that worn by bodyguards of nobles. I realized that I must have just knocked out his client, so I tried to apologize, but he’d have none of it. Since this man was larger and reliably much more competent a fighter than I, I did the only sensible thing. I kicked him in the jewels and he crumpled to the ground next to the man he was protecting. We then took off since we didn’t want to deal with those two once they recovered.

Naturally, we didn’t get paid for that gig.

I didn’t think much of it for a while and the week was more or less normal. Then, the day of the next performance, I received a package. The attached note read “From a fan.” I opened the package and found a belt inside. It was an elegant item and matched my coat rather well, so I tried it on.
Immediately after putting it on, I felt really dizzy. I managed to recover after a moment. I looked to the ground in case the room started spinning again and noticed something new. Well, two somethings. I rushed to a mirror. Staring back at me was a beautiful woman. I looked down to confirm, checked on certain things to see just how far it had gone and then took off the belt to see if removing it would revert the changes. Glancing at the mirror after removing the belt, the same stunning woman stared back at me.

I saw the figure in the mirror’s mouth move and heard myself say, in a sweet and feminine yet utterly horrified voice, “Aw, sh*t.”
#10 Feb 27 2013 at 4:23 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
Warily, I went to see Hanuun. He was a bit mirthful at my predicament and explained that I had been the victim of a prank by a classmate. Apparently it was a common enough practice that there were even rules in place to prevent it from getting too out of hand. The first rule I needed to know was that the same person couldn’t prank me again until I had retaliated. So I had time to figure out who it was and plan from there.

The second rule was that since the prankster had chosen a permanent condition, I had the right to petition the school to cure me after one year at no cost. The third was that any prank could do no lasting actual harm. Apparently replacement of my reproductive organs wasn’t considered actual harm.

First thing I did was ask Wyran to send a messenger for Kerric, who I believed could be trusted to be discreet. When he arrived, I explained the situation and asked him to tell the others that I couldn’t make the performance due to illness. I told him that he was not to mention my condition to anyone as it might interfere with my plans for revenge later.

After he left, I sat down and thought for a bit. After the initial shock had worn off, I decided that I really wasn’t all that upset about the whole thing. I mean, it was interesting from a scientific point of view. When I make it back, I might be able to get one **** of a book deal out of this event alone. So, cha-freaking-ching, baby. In that light, I guess I could deal with not being able to pee standing up for a while.

I stepped over to a mirror to admire my new body. Now, normally, I’m not bad looking. Sure, you won’t see my face and ripped abs on the cover of Men’s Health any time soon. Mostly because at sixteen percent body fat, you really can’t see my abs. Anyway, the point is that normal me looks decent.

Female me, however, is a bombshell. Sixteen percent body fat on a man is relatively fit. On a woman, you look like an athlete. I wanted to fling a discus, jump some hurdles, or maybe even find a nice pole to dance on. And my face was gorgeous, my angular features having given way to soft, gentle ones with just a hint in the eyes that I was dangerous.

I stared at my face, and other things, in the mirror for a bit before deciding that I would need some new clothes. When I went to speak to Wyran about it, he had already anticipated my needs. A dressmaker and cobbler had already been contacted. They arrived after I had taken the time to eat a small breakfast, mindful that the female body doesn’t burn quite as many calories as the male body, all else being equal.

I picked out several flattering dresses(and some other required undergarments) and a single utilitarian smock before asking the dressmaker if she would be willing to make something custom for me. We hashed out the details and she promised it just shy of a week later. As for shoes, I was fitted for some flats in several different styles and colors as well as a single pair of black military boots that I insisted on, despite protests about not putting dainty feet like mine in such things. I requested that the boots be altered a bit, with buckles and laces to match my special outfit.

In one of my new outfits, a simple floral dress and some flats, I headed out into the city. At first I was self conscious about all the heads I turned as I walked by, but I found myself getting used to it after a bit. I did a bit of browsing while acclimating myself to being in public. While shopping, I picked up some ribbons for my hair because I was pretty sure that was a thing I would need to get used to and a coat with far too many buckles and snaps. I made a note that I would have ask Wyran to teach me how to deal with the ribbons, since he had been the one to help me get my hair into a nice ponytail.

After getting used to everything, I began looking into who had done this to me. I discreetly asked around a bit before discovering that the only person who sold cursed items like the one that had been used on me was a shady dealer who operated near the docks.

I returned home and changed into a more conservative dress and donned my smock, making sure that I had my component pouch and other items I would need for spell casting in case I ran into any unsavory characters at the docks. I also arranged for Calais, who didn’t know my situation, to be in that area, knowing that if worst came to worst, I could scream for help and have a paladin come running. I would have just had him escort me, but I didn’t want my tormentor to know what I looked like, so I needed to avoid being out in public with people I knew.

Well, there was another reason I needed to not have the paladin with me, and that was because I was likely going to have to threaten the dealer to get any information out of him and I didn’t want the presence of a paladin undermining my threats of torture.

When I reached the area, I approached the weasel faced man and plainly declared what I wanted to know. He sneered at me and lewdly told me, in graphic detail, what I would have to do to get that information. Now, in apparent proof that the mind is at least partially the plaything of the body, I had in fact suddenly found myself checking out men, but I was still uncomfortable with that whole thing and it was going to be a cold day in **** before I was going to indulge this man in particular. So I made my threats. I’m not going to go into too much detail about what I said, but the words *******, glass and rock salt were involved.

He didn’t budge. So I left to formulate a new plan. Deep in thought, I bumped right into someone. It was Kerric. “The **** are you doing here?!” I asked.

“I ran into Calais. He told me you had asked him to be in the area, so I suspected you might need help.”

“You idiot! We can’t be seen together…” I trailed off as a deliciously evil thought occurred to me. “Scratch that. Let’s go find Calais.” With the puzzled look on his face, I just grinned. “You happen to know of any abandoned warehouses near here? I think I have a way to make this guy talk.”

“Yeah, I know of one.”

“Excellent.” We reached the paladin and I explained my situation. I told him a bit about what I had planned.

“I can’t condone torture,” he said flatly.

“I’m not asking you to. I’m asking you to help me make the guy so scared that I’m torturing him that he believes I might actually be doing so. Come on, no one’s actually going to get hurt, aside from maybe the headache he’ll have when you guys knock him out and detain him. After I’m done, we’ll turn him in to the paladins of Abadar so he can get punished for his smuggling. Think of it as doing our civic duty with just a small detour along the way.”

“You’re running dangerously on semantics here.”

“Yeah, I know. But it’ll all work out. Trust me.” I found out where the warehouse was and asked them to detain our subject and take him there. I then went looking for an alchemist’s shop, since they would have the ingredients I’d need. After that, Hanuun was able to fabricate the props to my specifications and freeze enough water into ice for my needs.

I met them at the warehouse. It was a bit dank and certainly dark, perfect for my needs. The subject was tied up and sitting in a chair in the center of the room. “I don’t suppose you’d care to tell me what I want to know, would you?” He responded by spitting at me. “Alright, we’ll play it your way.” I turned to my companions. “Leave his hands bound and hang him upside down from the ceiling while I set up.” Once the guy was hanging, Calais looked at my equipment and seemed alarmed. I grabbed a piece of ice and pressed it to his skin. “Trust me,” I whispered. “This is all he’s going to feel.” The paladin nodded.

“You can’t do this to me!” the man screamed. “There’s a paladin here! He’ll never condone torture!”

“Well, that is a conundrum. Calais, what do you have to say to that?”

“I have pressing business elsewhere. Do I have your word that you won’t harm this man?”

I held up my hand. “Scout’s honor.”

“Well then, I must leave,” he said. He walked away, the interrogation subject screaming for him to come back the whole while. When he was out of sight of the subject, he stopped and watched from a vantage point shielded from view.

“Now, we’re all alone. Let me show you something.” I opened a canister and showed him the powder within. “This stuff here is called thermite. It burns hot enough to turn steel into butter. Watch.” I used the thermite to burn right through a steel bar I had brought. “Since you lack the benefit of coming from a world where medical knowledge has reached a fairly advanced level, let me explain to you how pain works. Within your body is a complex system of nerve fibers which allow you to feel things. Like if you cut yourself, your nerves send a signal to your brain that you’ve been injured. Under certain circumstances, however,” I emphasized my words by lighting the blowtorch I had gotten Hanuun to make for me, “your nerves are destroyed before they can send that signal. A thermite blowtorch, for instance, burns away the nerves before you can feel any pain. You’ll go into shock and just feel cold. You’ll smell burning meat. Then, only then, you’ll begin to hurt. Isn’t science fun?” I walked behind him. “Care to tell me anything?”

“Go to ****! You can’t do this to me!”

I shrugged. “Well, I tried. You saw it, didn’t you?” I asked Kerric. He nodded in full view of the man. I pulled the sheet off of the table sitting next to the man, just out of his field of vision and grabbed a piece of ice. “Here goes,” I said. I turned the torch on a piece of pork sitting on the table. It began to sizzle and I poked him with the ice.

He screamed in anticipated agony. “I’ll talk! Please, just stop!” I pulled the blowtorch from the meat and stopped touching him with the ice. “I sold the belt to Chadwick Voidstrife! Please, just don’t hurt me anymore!”

I turned off the torch and replaced the sheet over the table. “Calais, you can cut him down and turn him in to the paladins of Abadar now. He had enough contraband on him to ensure several months in prison. Don’t forget to heal his wounds first.” I walked around to the front of the man. “Once you get out, I want you to use your skills to earn an honest living. If I ever find out that you’ve been smuggling cursed items again, I will find you and we will continue this discussion at length. Understand?” He nodded. “Good. Have a great day!” I said with my sincerest smile. He just babbled incoherently.

I later found out that he had tried to tell the paladins of Abadar that we had tortured him, but Calais’ word that he had not been harmed aside from the blow he’d taken while resisting detainment was enough to convince them that the man was lying. Sometimes I really love semantics.

Now that I had a name to work with, I began researching. The man we were looking for was indeed the man I had punched. He was also the son of one of the richest families in Absalom. They even had a large estate in the Petal District(The wealthiest district in Absalom). He had resources. But I had the rules on my side. He couldn’t do a **** thing until I actually returned fire. That was how I would win.

I worked through the night. The next morning, I gave Kerric music for the songs I wanted the group to play and asked him to tell the others I had hired someone to fill in for me while I was ill. I had the bartender send a letter of apology to Chadwick, offering him a free bottle of wine if he came to our next performance. Then I waited.

On the evening of the next performance, I donned my special made outfit, laced up my boots and checked myself out in the mirror. The dress went down to about mid thigh and the socks went up almost that high, leaving the barest hint of skin. The whole outfit was trimmed with black lace and I had a scarf tied under the collar. I looked like I belonged in a manga. It was perfect. I donned a velvet hooded cloak I had purchased and used a tiny bit of magic to turn it red. I headed to the tavern.

I took a seat near the front. As my friends prepared to play, I looked through the crowd. He was here. I smiled a bit to myself and motioned for the bartender to snuff out most of the lights. All that was left was a single candelabra by the bar and some magical lighting on the stage.

The group began to play and Scott started singing.
“Hey, who’s that in the woods?
Why, it’s Little Red Riding Hood!
Hey there Little Red Riding Hood,
You sure are looking good.
You’re everything, a big bad wolf could want!”

He let out a howl and I illuminated myself with a light spell. My red hood was drawn up. The performance as I walked onto the stage and began to play with them electrified the crowd. After the cheers died down from the song, I approached the center of the stage and introduced myself.

“My name is Fleur de Lis, and I’m glad to be here!” The room filled with applause and more than a few catcalls. “Now, I’d like to sing a special song for a special someone. Please be a great crowd and make a path to the man the lights choose.” I cast a spell to summon a number of small dancing wisps of light and directed them around the room until they settled around Chadwick. I motioned for Nerina to follow me. As we walked, she began to play the song I had designated as the second song of the night to Kerric. If you’ve watched the same movies I have, you’ll recognize the song(It’s called “In Time” and it’s by Mark Collie, assuming I recall correctly).

“I can hear what you're thinking,
All your doubts and fears,
And if you look in my eyes, in time you'll find,
The reason I'm here.

And in time all things shall pass away,
In time, you may come back someday.
To live once more, or die once more,
But in time, your time will be no more.

You know your days are numbered,
Count them one by one,
Like notches in the handle of an outlaw's gun.
You can outrun the devil, if you try,
But you'll never outrun the hands of time.

In time there surely, come a day
In time all things shall pass away,
In time you may come back some say.
To live once more, or die once more,
But in time, your time will be no more.”

After the song, I waited for the applause to die down once more. “Chadwick Voidstrife,” I said imperiously, “You have sinned against me. Look at me and know that this is a declaration of intent so that you won’t be confused. One. ‘Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum.’ Latin. Particularly hard *** paintball team captain made us recite it like a prayer. ‘Si vis pacem, para bellum - If you want peace, prepare for war.’” I gave him a second to try to begin responding then cut him off. “Two. Kyle O’Halloran is dead. He died the moment he put on that belt. Three. In certain extreme situations, appropriate responses are inadequate. In order to shame their inadequacy, one must engage in measures far beyond the scale of what is appropriate. One must pursue… natural justice.”

“W-wait,” he stammered. “You’re…”

“Yes, I am Fleur de Lis, born of your treachery. What’s funny is that I am not really all that upset about what has happened to me. In a year, I’ll be back to normal. This won’t even be the strangest year of my life. It’s hard to top the year spent traveling through outer space atop a nightmarish creature. No, what upsets me is that you had the gall to believe that you could get away with this.”

“Then you plan to take revenge.”

“No. This is not vengeance. Revenge is not a valid motive, it’s an emotional response. No, not vengeance. Punishment.” I turned and walked past the gaping Nerina. I motioned to the stage and the drums began, followed by the others. I began to sing again.

“I’ll put a spell on you.
Your *** is mine.
You won’t know quite when,
you’ll receive punishment

No, you can’t run,
And you won’t find a safe place to hide.
Because this doom will be yours, yours, yours!
And justice mine!”

He fled from the tavern about then. I smiled as I sang. This was going to be fun.
#11 Feb 27 2013 at 4:24 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
When I was in high school and wanted to get into writing, I once took an online course on how to write effective horror stories. The instructor was careful to emphasize that it was important to allow the audience to fill in the blanks. That nothing was scarier than nothing. If you set the scene, play up the mood and allow the reader to fill in the blanks, or build up the tension only to have nothing happen, you’ll allow their minds to run wild with thoughts of what horrible things could have happened.

The same things people are afraid of as kids, scare them when they're adults: fear of the dark, for example. Fear of being alone. And above all, fear of the unknown. I played on these. A bit of simple misdirection separating a man from his bodyguards, a few torches going out at the right time and boom, you have a gibbering idiot crying for his mother.

The key was to keep it varied and random. I wanted to push him over the edge so slowly that he didn’t see it coming. He was playing my game, so I dictated the schedule. I gave him breathers, let him relax just enough that he would let his guard down, then suddenly there I was, walking down the same street as him and just giving him a friendly greeting. His hair would stand on end and his nerves would launch right back into panic mode.

I never did anything traceable. Nothing could prove he wasn’t just jumping at shadows. Remember, he couldn’t retaliate until I had actually done something.

But making his life **** wasn’t my only diversion. I returned to classes after the concert and got back into studying. I also discovered something interesting. Turns out the reason Nerina hadn’t been interested was because I was a man. Suddenly, we found ourselves having much more interesting discussions.

Between my psychological torture of Chadwick and Nerina’s sudden and most welcome advances, the next couple weeks just flew by.

The orchestra performance was spectacular. It had taken a lot of work to convince them that cannons could be used as musical instruments, but the 1812 Overture just wouldn’t have been the same without them. After the performance, they were sold on the concept and vowed to work cannons into more songs. I also sang the Star Spangled Banner, and I mean the full version. My male voice isn’t bad, a **** baritone. But my female voice was made for singing.

It was the first time in a while that I felt that homesick. I had tears in my eyes as I sang, in English, the anthem of my home country. They had to finish the rest of the show without me, as I was struck by a mood most melancholy and was unable to concentrate.

The next week, I was attacked by assassins. Luckily, Calais and Nerina were with me, and the three of us managed to run them off. After that, I couldn’t go anywhere without at least those two at my side.

I continued waging my campaign of psychological warfare, pushing Chadwick over the edge faster and faster until one day he made the mistake I had been waiting for. He challenged me to a duel.

Normally, I wouldn’t have been subject to a duel. I’m not a noble. But the academy had a formalized duel system in place to allow students to settle disagreements without doing any permanent harm to each other. So it was either I accept the duel or admit that I was afraid of him. Naturally, it was on.

The day of the duel, we found ourselves in an arena, standing across from each other. One of the instructors, a bit of a bloodthirsty man with a talent for evocation magic(You know, the magic that goes boom), was officiating, along with a cleric of Abadar, who was present to heal any wounds that might occur.

The rules were fairly simple. You start off with a few moments of trash talk(It’s tradition.) while magical barriers are set up to protect the crowd. Once that was over, you could only fight with your magic, your wits, your bare hands, your familiar and your bonded item. You were supposed to try not to kill each other since it costs a fair amount of gold to resurrect someone, but accidents could happen and there was no penalty for accidentally sending someone to a temporary grave. It just lacked style.

Duels between more advanced students are something to see. Magical energy will arc through the stadium as each tries to counter the other’s spells. I once saw the sky over the stadium ripple with multicolored lights while the ground trembled with the steps of a tyrannosaurus.

Less advanced students, like myself, were left with much less spectacular magical options. I had a few brute force options at my disposal, such as missiles of force, small gouts of flame, etcetera, but those weren’t the winning options. What often decided these lesser fights was who was just a bit faster in casting a spell that would temporarily disable their foe. Sadly, I hadn’t yet learned any spells that would do that. So, lacking a familiar, I was left with brute force and my bonded object, since the only other spell I had was for helping me craft things.

You can tell a lot about a wizard by what choice he makes for a bonded object, and if you know enough about a wizard, you can conversely make a good guess at what he has chosen. A wizard that favors either the security provided by complete concealment of the nature of his bonded object or the value of having it always in hand will choose a ring or an amulet. This is important because it is very difficult to cast a spell without your object already worn or in hand.

Other wizards favor tradition, and as such, they choose for their bonded items a staff. They’re handy for use a walking stick or to bludgeon someone. They can also be used to store some rechargeable magic if you’re advanced enough. A little bulky, however.

Some other wizards favor a wand. Unlike the finesse of a staff, a wand can only hold a single spell at a time, but it can hold enough magic to cast it around fifty times before needing to be infused with a new spell. This makes wands the favorite of those who prefer the ability to brute force their way through situations with repeated application of a single spell. I don’t like this choice because when all you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look a lot like a nail. Now, that isn’t to say I wouldn’t carry around half a dozen wands with various spells, since sometimes your problem really is a nail. I just wouldn’t limit my options like that.

Chadwick, as I had learned, was the exact kind of person who would wield such an item. As part of my campaign to mentally destroy my opponent, I had looked into his activities. He had recently purchased the materials required to enchant his wand and, if my information could be believed, had enchanted it with a spell that produces a bolt of magical force meant for striking foes directly. I had tested whether I could weather a blast from that spell, and could take one direct hit, though it left me wobbly enough that a second might bring me down. So if he chose that as his first action, I could win it if I could end the fight in a single move even if he was faster.

Finally, there’s one last class of bonded items. Sometimes, someone with an attachment to a particular weapon will choose to forge their bond with it. You see this most often in elves and half-elves, who carry one of their ancestral weapons. There’s something touching about forging a magical bond with a sword that may have been carried by the last three generations of your family. Sometimes someone with military training will seek to study the magical, and will choose a weapon that is simply familiar to them. Nothing wrong with that.

I had chosen a weapon to bond with, but it wasn’t some ancestral weapon, nor was it a weapon from training I’ve had(Can you even bond with a paintball gun?). No, my weapon is a reflection of who I am, a statement of my origins, perhaps even more than singing that anthem had been. You see, I’m an American. Not hard to guess what I bonded my magic to.

Chadwick started the trash talk. “I hope that you’re prepared for more humiliation. You know, I took your manhood away, perhaps after this is over, I’ll take you somewhere quiet and make a woman out of you.”

I wasn’t going to let that slide. “I doubt you’d even know how. I’d bet that a real woman is a quite a bit different from your pillow.”

“You dare speak to me like that? Me, the descendant of the great wizard Maerin Voidstrife?!”

I had been waiting for that. It was apparently a point of great pride to him that he descended from some wizard who had saved the world or some such hundreds years past and had been given a noble title. “I’m glad you brought that up. I did a little research. Did you know that not one of your ancestors since Maerin has done anything of note? Not one has done so much as saved a damsel from the predations of her terrible uncle. Not one has saved a king from his court’s intrigue. That’s in fifteen generations. Yet it seems that still you all trade on Maerin’s name, secure in your knowledge that in your veins flows the blood of greatness. Blood that you. Are. WASTING!"(If only I’d had a pit to kick him into.)

He was shaking with anger at what I had said. “How dare you speak to me like that! I shall put you in your place. No commoner, much less a woman, has the right to talk to me like that! You speak of what I have done, yet I bet that one such as you could not possibly have any accomplishments of your own.”

I laughed dismissively. “That’s where you’re wrong. Many people in this city live with conveniences the likes of which they never dreamed thanks to me. Sure, I based much of that on things that I had seen before elsewhere, so my success is owed to standing on the shoulders of those who came before me. You, however, have been given everything you need to be great, some of the tallest shoulders to stand upon as you reach up for a brighter tomorrow, yet you can’t even be bothered to stand on your own two feet much less reach for your dreams. You’re a puffed up, pompous, self important, petty excuse for a man who will likely go to his grave having never accomplished a single thing. So go ahead and comfort yourself with your lineage. It’s all you have.”

The crowd had gone silent as I had spoken. “I’ll kill you!” Chadwick screamed, reaching for his wand.

I glanced at the instructor and saw his quick nod and I was off. Now, you can’t say Chadwick was slow, but he had never had a PE coach who forced him to run wind sprints until he threw up three days a week for a year of high school. Nor had he ever spent over fifty dollars in quarters in an arcade getting every single high score on one of those quick draw games.

I dashed straight at him, reaching under my skirt to the leg holster I had strapped to my right thigh. I drew my weapon and noted that he was chanting a spell. I identified it as a spell for disabling a foe. I knew I had to stop it, so, upon reaching him, I smacked him in the face with my gun. (In case you’re wondering, I wield a pepperbox, a type of pistol that has six individual muzzle loaded barrels that you rotate in order to fire the next one. I’d use a revolver, but no one has apparently figured out how to make proper bullets around here yet. Unfortunately, I’m also not all that familiar with how to make them either, so I’ll just have to deal with this.)

If you’ve never been punched in the face while you’re talking, let me tell you something. You’re going to bite your tongue, hard. And if you’ve never bitten your tongue like that, you need to know that it’s going to hurt like **** and bleed like a faucet. And if you’ve never bitten your tongue while casting a spell, you should know that it’s really hard to keep concentrating on a spell when you’ve done that.

He looked at me in disbelief and tried to bring up his wand, but again I was faster. I took aim at the right side of his chest and squeezed the trigger. I figured that as long as I didn’t hit his heart, magic healing would be able to fix him up before he died with little trouble. I didn’t figure on it going a bit far to my left and somehow blowing his arm clean off.

Either way, one shot and he was down. I had won. God created men, but Samuel Colt had indeed made them equal.
#12 Feb 27 2013 at 4:24 AM Rating: Good
29,420 posts
Victory was mine. I should have felt elated. But it was supposed to be a contest of skill, and I had maimed the guy. Sure, his arm would be regenerated, but I have to imagine that something like that leads to a ton of psychological trauma. So, in order to alleviate my guilt, I went to the infirmary to check up on him.

I’ll never forget the sight of his arm regenerating. If it hadn’t been for the arrival of another person drawing away my attention in time, I probably would have thrown up.

The middle aged woman who entered the room was fairly tall, perhaps half a foot shorter than me. She had a regal air about her, carrying herself like one who is used to authority. “You look a bit pale, dearie,” she said to me. I simply nodded. “Don’t worry, he isn’t feeling the pain of it. I had them put him into a deep slumber.” I was relieved by her reassurance that at least he wasn’t going to have this particular part of the trauma inflicted on him. I told her as much. “Come now, let’s have a seat outside. I think, perhaps that we should have a chat.”

My heart sunk into my stomach as I realized that this woman must be his mother. “Sorry for wounding your son,” I said softly as we took a seat in the other room.

“Oh, don’t worry about it. That boy needed a good swift kick in the head anyway.” My confusion must have shown on my face, because she elaborated. “What you said to him was true. This family has become too complacent. It has driven me to despair for years as I watched my sons loaf around doing nothing.” She mused for a second. “You know, we could use someone like you in the family. You sure you’re set on changing back? I’d be delighted to have you marry my son.”

“No!” I said a little too quickly, glancing over at the other room.

“Of course I didn’t mean that idiot,” she said with a laugh. “I have other sons.” My expression must have given away the fact that I wasn’t too keen on spending the rest of my life as a woman. “I didn’t think so, but I had to try. You’d have made an excellent daughter-in-law.” She sighed. “I suspected as much already, so I’ve already paid for the enchantment on you to be broken.” She handed me a piece of paper with a name on it. “That’s the instructor who will take care of that for you. Just make an appointment with him and he’ll set you right.”

“Thank you,” I said sincerely.

“No, it is I who should be thanking you, for the lesson my son has learned today. Let’s hope it sticks.”

I spent one final night as a woman with Nerina, who wasn’t happy about my changing back. She was, however, amused at the fact that I was changing back the next day because I had just started getting cramps and was eager to avoid one particular womanly condition.

The instructor cast a simple spell on me that consumed no costly reagents. I was more than a bit irritated that I was expected to pay for such a simple thing when I already paid tuition, but I let it drop since I figured saying something likely would accomplish nothing.

A few weeks later, Nerina came and spent the night with me again, saying that she had missed me. One night was apparently enough to confirm that she wasn’t into men, though you wouldn’t have known it from listening to her. She finished her studies two years later, and I haven’t seen her since. I heard that she’s now court wizard to a very lovely young queen somewhere, and I wish her all the best.

About a month after the duel, a messenger arrived at Hanuun’s house. Apparently Lady Voidstrife had decided to pay my tuition and asked me to come visit. I sat with her for tea and we chatted for a while before she revealed that she wanted to formally make me a part of her family. She said that if she couldn’t have me as a daughter-in-law, she would settle for making me into a son.

Two of her sons were against the idea, but surprisingly, Chadwick had agreed with his mother that it was the right course. Over time, he and I actually became friends. He was an alright guy once he dropped the self absorbed @#%^ry. (Yes, that’s a word now. Deal with it.) I introduced him to a nice young woman last year and was best man at their wedding about two months ago.

I may have found a new family, but I always knew that I had to find a way home. I continued my studies, learning magic faster than most others at the school. To be fair, most of them didn’t have my upbringing and education from an early age. Unfortunately, I think I’ve exhausted what I can learn here. I’m convinced that the magic to get me home exists, but it has been lost to time in most cases. I’ve run across stories about an ancient civilization ruled by wizards who had magic of untold power. Maybe I can find my way by heading out to Varisia and searching the ruins of this ancient civilization called Thassilon.

Once I finish writing this, I’ll say goodbye to my friends and set off. Chadwick has already begun gathering supplies for me. I’m certain that if I asked, he’d come along with me, but his wife hasn’t told him yet that he’s already gotten her pregnant, so I can’t do that. I’d wait until after the baby is born, but I know that the longer I stay, the harder it’s going to be to leave.

He’s had my old messenger bag enchanted for me so it can hold all my supplies and bought me this awesome new wide brimmed black fedora for the trip. It looks awesome with my old duster. I’ll probably be the only wizard walking the world dressed in cargo pants and Vietnam era combat boots with a gun holster on his thigh wearing a billowing coat and wide brimmed hat. I’m certain I’m the only wizard from Arizona that this world has ever seen. And I’m absolutely certain that I’m the only wizard who spends his spare thoughts trying to figure out how to use magic to make myself a suit of power armor. I’m trying to figure out how to turn into Guyver, but I’d settle for Iron Man.

Well, it’s time for me to go look over what Chadwick has purchased for me and pack my other stuff. I have to hit the road tomorrow. Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the ball sitting in the bottom of my bag?

I keep it just in case of emergency.

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