Betting Terms Explained - The Online Betting Glossary A to Z

[OC] We intend no harm - Chapter 21 (Bets and Wagers)

Hello again.
This is a bit of a short chapter.
I hope you have fun reading.
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The Cheshnak Ra was flying through the hyperspace towards the system where two other ships went missing. Because the Admiral was on board, the captain had vacated his quarters to make room for Zokosh. A scout ship had no need for guest quarters and he was sure that she would not want to sleep on a foldable bunk with the rest of the crew.
Zokosh thought she would be fine with tight rooms, but the captain’s quarters felt even smaller than they looked on the blueprint. She sat on the tiny desk that was crammed in below some hanging wall cupboards. If she were to fall from her chair, she would land on the narrow bed.
‘At least the sheets look like they have been changed.’ She thought and then looked at the toilet stuffed into a niche in the wall to her left. She had expected this half a square meter sized niche to be a showetoilet-combination. But the shower part was definitely missing. When she asked the Captain about the shower, he had the audacity to laugh and offer her a bucket and a washcloth.
A lady took a shower in the morning and a relaxation and beauty bath before going to bed. Of course she knew that a soldier would survive with wiping herself down before passing out on her cot since the boot camp. But after she became an officer, she made due with a fast shower in the morning.
While she was pondering for how long she could avoid using the communal showers, someone knocked at her door. “Come in.”
The non-automatic door was opened and Sogogh entered Zokosh’s 'office'. “Admiral Xem? I’m here to bring you half the pot.” He said meekly, while carrying a bag.
Zokosh’s vertically slit pupils narrowed wondering what the officer was bringing her. Before she could have asked what it was. He started to stack canned rations (the relatively good kind) on the edge of her desk. “I was assuming you were betting with imperial credits.” Stated the Admiral, for a moment she was unable to hide her surprise.
“Credits are pretty much useless on board. So we bet with useful stuff.” The helmsman explained, while placing some entertainment data sticks next to the canned rations.
“Ah, I understand … Well, I don’t need all of the stuff in that bag. If that’s half, a lot of crewmen seem to have participated. I allow you to distribute the rest to the winners, send them my best regards.” Her right ear flicked signaling him to leave, which he did after saluting.
There were three tiers of rations in the imperial navy: indistinguishable scrabs in a bag (add boiling water), dried imitation-meat (lab-grown meat, add boiling water) and real meat with sauce in a can (heat up or eat cold). On normal ships were two mess halls one for the crewmen and one for the officers. But that was a luxury scout ships did not get.
Zokosh examined the rations. She knew most of the flavors from officer camp. Not the boot camp, you only get to eat the scraps in a bag (add clean water if your lucky or eat dry) there. Some of her winnings were actually pretty good, at least as far as canned rations go.
After she had stored the cans, she put one of the sticks into her holoprojector. It carried a handful of holomovies, something you get easily from the broadcasting network, if you were on a proper ship or a station. After that she tried one stick after the other. Some had simple but relaxing games and some had music.
When she picked up the second to last stick she noticed that it was marked with a dot of red paint. She looked at it for a moment tilting her head sideways. There could have been only a few reasons to mark a stick. Most of them were not really appealing, but it could also be a recording of the first steps of someone’s welp.
She decided to put it to the side and take look at the last sticks contents. Some movies and a few games, nothing out of the ordinary. She wanted to forget about the marked stick. But thinking someone might be missing something important made her plug it in, disregarding her intuition.
After she had read the first few lines of its table of contents, she hissed at herself. ‘What were you thinking? Placing family recordings as a wager would be worth nothing! And this is a long term scout ship full of men, of course they would put this in as a wager.’
Sogogh was distributing the remaining contents among the winners. Suddenly his pupils widened. “Oh crap!”
“Hm? What’s the matter, something wrong with the stick?” Asked Ugzar, the sensor officer and Sogogh’s friend.
“I hope not.” The Helmsman said, while giving his friend a stick with a red dot on it.
After seeing the dot Ugzar laughed. “Dude, you were supposed to put only “safe” material into the bag for the Admiral!”
Sogogh rummaged through the remaining contents of the bag. “I guess that was the only one.”
“Knowing you, you could have easily fucked up twice!” The sensor officer was still laughing. “Imagine you gave her one of the sticks from the guy who loves videos with girls in uniforms stepping on someone.”
“Duuuuude, that’s not funny. If I did fuck up and she sees that shit, she’ll throw me out of the fucking airlock.”
“Or, … she steps on you and calls you a degenerate.” He smirked at his poor friend. “Well the stepping-guy would get super envy. Would be hilarious for everyone else.”
“FUCK! What should I do? Should I go back and try to see if I gave her one?” Asked Sogogh in a slight panic.
“Chill. You can’t get it back if you gave it to her. Just relax. Remember how she threw Tok the brawler on his back? If she can fight like that, she has seen worse than that stick.” Ugzar had enough fun with his friend’s mishap, now was the time to calm him down.
The first few nights in that tiny room had not been comfortable. Normally Zokosh would curl up under her blanket, but this bed was so narrow, she had to sleep stretched out. She slowly got used to it because she had to. Each morning and evening she wiped herself down with a washcloth, some soap and cold water from the sink. But she could bare with that only for so long, especially since there was a functioning shower just a few ladders and hallways away.
She informed the captain that from now on she would reserve the shower every day between nine and ten in the evening. After that she went back to her quarters to study any information they had about their destination system and the Galactic Council’s movements in this area.
It was a quarter to nine when she took a datapad an wrote: ‘Admiral Xem is showering. A painful death awaits anyone entering.’. That was the second best plan. Her first plan, locking the door, failed because of the missing lock on the communal showers.
She put all of her showering necessities into her seabag: shampoo, shower gel, a towel, a brush, fresh underwear, a clean jumpsuit, the datapad, tape for the pad and her combat knife. With everything packed, she walked to one of the ladders, climbed down and continued towards the shower.
Before she entered she opened the door. “Anyone still in there?” Nobody responded and she could hear no water running. Now she taped the datapad with her warning onto the door. Then she placed her combat knife between her teeth and taped the empty sheath next to the datapad. After she was sure, the warning was clear, she entered the shower.
All of the crewmembers had heard about the shower reservations. Because it meant that the rest of the crew had less time to shower, most of them did not like it. Some were of the opinion that the admiral should just shower with the rest of the crew, like the captain does. Others knew that there would be casualties, if she showered with the rest of them. Of course those casualties would be caused by fighting over who gets to use the shower during that time.
What all agreed on was that there was a need for new bets. First: How long would it take until someone were to accidently stumble into the shower? Second: Who would be the brave soul to do it? And finally third: Would she actually kill him?
Almost the entire crew put their wagers in the three pots. Some of them were trying to boast by placing their own name on the board for the second bet. Most of the people named Tokol, because he was a daredevil, good looking and known as a womanizer. About half the crewmembers who placed their bet on him, also betted that he would live to tell the tale.
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Thanks for reading. That was only four pages, but it felt like a good point to end the chapter :)
submitted by UpIsOben to HFY [link] [comments]

Trash goes into the trash compactor

So, its been about a week, so I think all of the shit has hit the fan already.
I already started this once, but I will try to make it quick and entertaining. I work the back end of a big box store, and since the trash compactor and cardboard baler is in my workspace, I normally have to clean up after the people who refuse to throw the trash away. Most are good, but some dump it right in front of the right receptacle and say, "I was told to bring it back here, not throw it away." I am a little OCD over my workspace, so I normally throw it away regardless, but if I can bitch them out, I will.
Unfortunately, I can't yell at the night crew, who has routinely dumped multiple carts worth of trash and cardboard in the middle of my already small work floor for the past couple of weeks. Long story short, the team leader is not entirely qualified to fill his position and all of his bad habits are slowly becoming the whole night crews bad habits. We have tried emailing him, and the guy who comes in at the butt crack of dawn has talked to him face-to-face, about him needing to clean up his mess, but that went over like a lead balloon. He wrote us and the managers back saying it was our fault for not helping him out to get the jobs done so he has to leave all of his work half done. Whatever, not even the managers are buying it, but they let it slide.
In the end, we got one final email from him saying something along the lines of "If you see my trash there in the morning, just throw it away."
Well, he shouldn't have said that, because last week, I found something juicy. Among the normal trash they leave there, there was some work supplies, gloves and box cutters. But at the bottom of it all was his worksheets. To explain, our company has been throwing money at us to keep us working during this time, bonuses biweekly. But since they don't have an electronic system yet to track these new bonuses, they have relied on paper sheets filled out by the department heads and sent somewhere up in management for approval. We have known for weeks he has been cooking the books to make him look better on these time sheets and getting a bigger bonus for nothing. I thought about sending this to management, but then I remembered: Just throw his trash away. Got it!
The problem was he had to get that paperwork turned in by midnight that night or he and his team would lose out on their bonuses. Too bad, he was scheduled that night for midnight and is notorious for being fashionably late. I felt bad for everyone not getting their bonuses, but it seems to have turn out in all of our favors.
The Fallout:
Monday: I come in and get talked to by one of the managers, asking if I have seen any documents left in the back. I tell him all of our paperwork gets filled away in the filling cabinets. He tells me that's not what he's looking for and if I hadn't seen it yet, to let him know when I do. Why, because night team leader says that he lost them or that they were stolen or something stupid, so now there is an investigation going on. Crap... oh well, I got another job starting here in a couple of weeks. I'll just roll with it and see what happens. I did talk to one of the girls on the night crew (she comes in early to set everything up for them to work), she didn't seem to know anything about not getting a bonus, but I didn't bring up that the time sheets were missing. Just ask here how the bonuses were going, and she said she was expecting a big one this week. Sorry, honey...
Tuesday: I got news from the same manager that when they checked the security cameras they lost sight of it about half way through the night, so they have no idea where it could be. Nice for me. Also, since they were hurting for hours, they bumped me up from part-time to full-time. Double nice. I talked to the same night crew girl and she now knew she wasn't getting the bonus. She was pissed and kept saying, "I know the team leader is at fault here. He says he isn't getting a bonus, but I bet he just switched everything around and is getting our money." Keep telling yourself that, dear. But now her and all of the other girls on the night crew were going to get together and bring up sexual harassment charges against him since they have been dealing with him not working and saying some rather graphic things to them all night instead. Convenient?
Wednesday: He was caught working overtime, which normally is fine, but you have to get approved on it. Which he didn't. Apparently, they are going to look back and his previous time punches and check to see if he had been punching in and out correctly and not stealing company time. I wish I could have talked to him that day, just to say, "Dude, stop bringing attention to yourself..."
As of today, All I heard is that "suddenly" he is taking the last of his paid vacation and will be gone for the next six weeks. Unfortunately for him, the investigation is sill on going and if they come up with anything, he wont have a job when he comes back. Also, a little birdy told me his wife heard about the harassment investigation and isn't planning on sticking around with him since this is the second time this has happened.
Dude... all you had to do was throw away your trash...
submitted by LongLiveMisanthrope to MaliciousCompliance [link] [comments]


That reminds me of a story.
Es and I are over in India again. Alang to be exact.
We’re over there at the request of Goodgulf Greyteeth, he of the CEO-ship of the largest breaking yard over there.
Es and I are staying at the Raj, of course, while my guys, bless ‘em, are going through the final stages of removing the last bits of that Scandinavian cruise ship from my penultimate story update.
They are doing a wonderful job, and are just about to put the finishing touches on this job; in record time and without a single casualty or lost time injury.
Seems I’ve trained the gang of 24 well. All that’s left is the ass-end of the big-ass boat, complete with the twin-screw sixteen cylinder diesel-electric power plant. That and the twin screws, which in this case, are machined out of solid bronze. Actually, they’re a copper-zinc-bronze-unobtanium alloy, but these six-bladed propellers are about 9.1 meters in diameter and weigh in right at 101.5 tons.
Gulfy would like me to remove each in one piece, if possible.
“Yeah, sure, Gulfster. Anything else?” Like, move another ammo dump? I groaned.
After Es and have flown from our nasty, notorious, and noxious 5-star digs in Dubai back to India, we spend a day or so getting in Es’ case acquainted, and in my case, reacquainted with my guys, Gulfy, Major Nakula Dattachaudhuri, Mr. Ranganekary, Sanjay, Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo and most all the others from tales of Breaking Bad previous.
Hell if Agents Rack and Ruin don’t drop by for a ‘say howdy’ before we leave.
Es and I are staying, as I mentioned, at the Raj in my old room.
Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo, and his staff are going out of their way because they want to do their jobs well, enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done, and know that I’m not one to be fucked with, intelligence–wise.
“Mess with the Doctor, and have all sorts of unshirted high-explosive hell break out around your ears.”
It’s not yet a motto, but I’m lobbying for it.
Es and I are walking around the yard, me in my full PPEs and Esme in her borrowed hardhat, steel-toed boots, and other necessary paraphernalia. Every time I turn around, it’s Chandrama this and Viswarupa that. Everyone here wants to meet Esme, shake our hands on returning and ask me about how “we’re going to tackle the ass-end of the boat”.
“Last I recalled, I was just here on a JAFO mission; not as a hired gun,” I muttered.
Sanjay procured a tap-tap for Esme and me and whisked us off to the armory.
“Look in there, Doctor. Then tell me you’re just another fucking observer.” He grinned.
“Едрить твою мать! Holy fucking shit!” I exclaimed, so incredulous with what I saw that I slipped into a more raspy language to express my overwhelmation.
Tons and tons and tons of lovely, well maintained, categorized, collated, and coolly kept explosives.
“May I?”, I asked as I was by all rights, still just a guest. To proper protocols, we must adhere.
“Oh, please do”, came the reply, along with the keys, scan card, and copy of the floor plan.
“Oh, my giddy fuckin’ aunt!” I exclaimed as I walked past all the high-toned, buff, and well-kept loaves of C-4. I goggled at the case after case of 40%, 60% and 80%! DuPont Herculene Extra-Fast Dynamite.
A row of Hexamethylenetriperoxide diamine (HMTD). Another of Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN). Yet another of Triaminotrinitrobenzene (TATB). There was RDX, TXT, TABT, TAGN, TNAZ…a whole alphabet’s worth of things that expand very, very rapidly indeed when properly antagonized.
I was almost swooning, Esme was almost yawning.
“Es! Look at this! Kinestix Binary Solid! Seismogel Binary semi-solid! Holy fuck! DOUBLE HELIX, the new binary, heat-stable liquid!”
New Captain America and Vortek plunger-style blasting machines! Spools of Primacord, in various flavors. Cases and cases of blasting caps. Radio control detonators! Holy fucking Hanna! Mile after mile of det cord and demolition wire. A whole locker devoted to blaster’s pliers and galvanometer.
I nearly swooned.
“You’re going to go and blow the living shit out of a whole bunch of things, aren’t you Herr Husband?” Es wearily asked.
Sanjay shows me the freezer where they store all the frozen liquid Nitroglycerine popsicles.
“Esme, my dear. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet…” I smiled broader than the Valles Marineris.
“Just don’t kill yourself, anyone else, or those who are not really deserving such.” Es smiled, knowing full well that there’s no way in hell that anything smaller than a Sharknado monsoon is keeping me away from this collection of, what Sanjay informs me, is over 350 tons of explosives and associated paraphernalia.
“Just leave me a car, a driver, and some mad money while you’re out playing games. I need to do some shopping for the girls and were only here for a few days.” Es smiles.
This, among a few thousand other reasons, is why I married her and why we’ve been going along solid for the last 40 years.
Es asks to be taken shopping and I ask to be taken to work.
We’re both going to our happy places.
Back at the job site, it’s a bit of a shambles, but what do you expect? They’re tearing apart a huge cruise ship, all 225,000 long tons of the damned thing. With that is included metal, plastic, wood, wires, sheet stock, bulkheads…all sorts of shit. One sort of would be suspicious if the place was clean and tidy.
It’s ignominious and avoidable, irremediable and overwhelming, unique, and sudden. It’s a dog’s dinner and just my kind of place.
There’s only about 1/10 of the ship left; as I said the power plant, the shafts, the props, and all that ass-end crapola that makes a boat this size go forward. All the ‘stern’er stuff.
Only now, instead of just planting explosives hither and yon and blowing the living hell out of the craft, it’s down to nut-cuttin’ time.
“Yeah”, I thought, “Gulfy wanted me down here on some sort of goodwill review tour. Fuck that. He wants me to finesse the last bits of this boat.”
And that’s alright by me…
“Doctor Rock!” came a voice, “It is so good to see you again!”
It was Anad. He had rapidly shown his prowess and was now a team leader.
“We…um…I am so glad to see you”, he says, “We have this new order to remove the screws from the ship. In one piece. Can you imagine? They’re 100 tons. Each! We are in trouble. We need the Doctor Rock.”
Either Gulfy has a buyer for the props or he wants them mounted in the conference room or his office as trophies.
“Yeah, Anad”, I said, “That is a tall order. How goes the rest of the demo?”
“It goes well.” Anad tell me, “The engine is troublesome, being all heavy metal. But you taught us well. Nothing succeeds like excess! It will yield as one or in pieces.”
“What about the rest of the boat? The decks, the substructure, and all that shit?”
“It goes well”, Anad grins. “If it doesn’t drop with dynamite, we go to C-4. If not C-4, we go RDX. Sooner or later, it all yields.”
“So, no mucking about with liquid nitro?” I asked, snickering slightly.
“Oh, no, Doctor. “Anad shook his head, “That stuff is scary to Doctor Rock, it is too scary for us.”
“Well”, I said, rubbing my beard, “This will not do. Looks like I’ve been remiss in my duties. Doctor Rock is going to have to have one last command performance in Alang it appears.”
“You are going to use some nitroglycerine?” Anad asks, aghast.
“Perhaps”, I smile and smirk. Not just ‘some nitroglycerine’, I’m going to have Sanjay speed-import just a little bit more than ‘some’…
After an afternoon of lolling about a destruction zone and setting off one or ten way-too-energetic explosions, I’m having my long-hard-day-at-the-office drink with Esme back at the Raj.
I was having 350 milliliters of iced Chopin Single Young Potato along with pints of chilled Kingfisher. While Esme was sipping Northern Spy Ice Cider, also chilled. She was having a small triple-hop Duvel.
I mean, we were on a small holiday, of sorts.
Sanjay whips in and runs up to me, out of breath.
“Whoa, steady one mate. Your small but steady body is all a-tremble” I said over sips of lovely potato juice and puffs of a fine Jamaican cigar.
“Did! You! Requisition! 500 Kilos! Of! Nitro!?” he almost screams.
“Yeah. Sure did”, I replied over another sip of spirits and puff from my cigar. “Wait. You don’t think that’s going to be enough? Right. Best order another 250 keys…”
“WHAT!?!”, he screams.
Es snickers. She’s been down this road many times.
“OK, Sanj. Here’s the deal.” I say over another sip and puff, “Gulfy gave me carte blanche to get the job done. Better to have too much and not need it than to not have enough and need it.”
“But…but…but…” He sputtered.
“Very nice impression of a motorboat”, I smiled, “Look, Sanj, I’m back. It’s me. Dr. Rock, the hookin’ bull. Gulfy ain’t gonna say ‘boo’. In fact, go ahead and speed order another 250 keys. If I don’t use it, I’m sure you guys will find something fun to do with it.”
“Oh, fuck,” Sanj exclaims. He goes to the bar and pours himself 3-fingers of dangerous brown liquor. He slams it like a real pro.
“I’ve taught them well”, I thought and Es says.
Sanjay comes back, wobbles slightly, and says “Well then, you sign the fucking requisition sheet.”
“Hey, I’ve got no problem with that!”, I say and deftly affix my John Hancock prominently to the parchment.
“There. Feel better?” I asked, “Now if Gulfy gets all vexed and ratty, he can come and see me. Or wait until we’re done and Es and I are back in the Middle East. Which do you think he’ll opt for?”
Sanjay doesn’t have time to answer as Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo arrives with a phone for me.
Call for you, Sir”, he says in his inimitable style.
“Thanks, Major”, I say and grab the raprod.
“Doc Rock here” I say.
It’s my major professor from Southeast Westchester College (Home of the North Stars) on the line. He wants to know when we’ll be back in-country.
“No telling, Dr. Inzhener Neftyanik” I reply.
“Well, how much longer will you be in India?” he asks. “Oh, and please say hello to Esme for me.”
“Will do. Probably a couple-three more days. Week tops. Maybe a month. Why? Is there anything urgent?” I ask.
He explains to me that due to all the COVID craziness, there’s going to be many more on-line undergraduate courses taught. He needs some material for the Fall Session, primarily an overview of what Geology and Petroleum Engineering are and how they’re practiced in the field. Sort of a living recruitment poster.”
Esme recalled me smiling something like the Grinch when he mentioned that last point.
“Doctor, can you hold for a minute?” I asked.
“Most certainly.” He replies.
“Sanjay”, I ask, “You have access to a video camera?”
He cautiously and querulously shakes his head ‘yes’.
Thumbs up and I’m back on the phone.
“Yeah, Doc, Rock here. Sure, I’ve got access to a video camera here in India. What better to show the little scamps wanting to start college just what a real graduate of the world can do and where they can go?” I said.
He readily agrees and asks for me to deliver 15-20 minutes of video doing whatever the hell I was doing in India. Something geological. Something Petroleum Engineering. Altogether detonic. Just get him some footage. They’ll assemble and work it up there.
We make our plans and agree, then ring off.
“Sanjay?” I said, “Guess what? You’ve just become the Indan version of Quentin Tarantino.”
“What?” he says.
“SAY WHAT AGAIN! I dare you!” I laughed.
Esme just shakes her head. Little does she know she’ll be carrying writer’s credits for this masterwork before the odyssey is ended.
I lean back on the comfy barstool, ask for another 350 milliliters of Old Thought Provoker, fire up a new cigar and ask for a pencil and a tablet of paper.
“It’s ShowTime!” I smile as I begin to etch out some ideas.
Doctor Rocknocker, B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D., D.Sc., ASMQB, AAPG, SEPM, AAGG
421 Estwing Plaza
Rockville, USA
+555 6789 1011
[email protected]
Scene description/opening
“Hey kids! You! Yes you laddie! You want to travel the world? See all sorts of strange and wonderful rock formations? And have a chance of maybe blowing some of them up? Then you’re at the right place.
 Geology! Petroleum engineering! Detonic chemistry! 
Right here at Southeast Westchester College (home of the North Stars)!
Come on with me. I’m currently in India. What am I doing in india?
Let’s just go and see…”
Scene description –
“Yes, a quarry of migmatite dimension stone. Over 2.5 billion years old and quarried here for centuries. It’s places like this that the early history of our planet has been deciphered.”
Looking quickly to Esme’s prepared notes…
“Ancient rock in an ancient land. One that not only holds the secrets to our planet’s far and distant past history, but to untold wealth in gravel, road metal, and building dimension stone. That’s where you can come in. As a graduate of Southeast Westchester College, you could find yourself here. Examining the rocks. Investigating the structure and tectonics of the area. Or, like me, you could be harvesting the mineral wealth that has supported the building and structural companies here for hundreds of years…”
“Clear north!”
“North clear!”.

Mash goes the big, shiny red button.
An incredibly huge explosion and half the quarry is obliterated by freshly liberated dust and smoke.
“All this, and more, can be yours with a degree or two from Southeast Westchester College!”
Scene description –
“Well. What do we have here? Certainly it doesn’t look like geology or petroleum engineering. That’s right. It’s a shipbreaking yard in Alang, India.”
“Well, what the hell does that have to do with geology or petroleum engineering?” one might rightly ask.
(Pause for a monumental BOOM after a strange several toots and a weird cadence in Hindi about ‘Fires in Holes’)
That’s where study in the extractive sciences at Southeast Westchester College can lead.
It might.
It might also lead to a job in the Middle East, riding herd on the Arabs and their vast oily wealth. أشياء ساخنة جدا ، "إيه ماذا؟ [Pretty hot stuff, ‘eh what?]
Or you could end up on an offshore platform in the Russian Arctic, drilling somewhere no one’s drilled before…. Разве это не круто? [Wouldn’t that be cool?]
Or you could study very, very hard, obtain your BSc, MSc, Ph.D. and D.Sc., get to travel all over the world, on other people’s nickels, first class, drink premium hooch and get paid to blow shit up! Ĉu ne tio estas tro maldika? [Isn't that just too fucking cool?]
Character Name 2
“Well, here comes Anad, one of the local guys. Now Anad never had the chance to go to Southeast Westchester College, but was trained by me, one of the professors at the university.”
“Anad? A moment?”
“Yeah, Doc?” he replies.
“We’re all on a first name basis here. Brethren of the field, forest, and quarry. And currently the armory, the ship, and the breaking yard.”
“Would you like to attend Southeast Westchester College?” I ask.
“If…what… you… have…taught… us… about… demolition… is… anything…, then… yes…, I… would… have… liked… very… much… to… go… to… that… fine… institution… that… is… Southeast… Westchester… College…Did I say that right, Doc?”
“Sanjay! Keep filming. We’ll fix that in post…”
“So yes, indeed. Anad wishes he could have attended Southeast Westchester College, but he lives and works in India, some 12,500 kilometers away. But if you’re hearing this, you’re not! So apply now”
Scene description –
“As you can see, the sky’s no longer the limit for graduates, or professors for that matter, of Southeast Westchester College! I’m not only a professor of industrial geology, a master blaster, spirit connoisseur extraordinaire, but I’m a fully licensed helicopter pilot as well!”
Sanjay screams off-camera as I put the Garuda through its paces and try autorotation.
“No, damn it. Keep filming. We’ll clean that up when we land. And the rest in post-production.”
“Aim high! Geology, Petroleum Engineering, and Detonic Chemistry at Southeast Westchester College! Fly with the eagles, don’t get left on the ground with the turkeys!”
“Oh, fuff!. It’s not that bad…OK, we’ll look at it in post. Hang on, an upcoming flock of bar-headed geese! WHOOPS! Watch out! Comin’ through! HELLO BOYS!”
Scene description –
“No, god damn it, your other left. Not so damned fast. Just over the left screw. That’s it. Right. Hold it.”
“Now you may ask what the hell I’m doing hanging around here.”
…pause for laughter to subside.
“I’m doing the final inspection on the last bits of this boat which my crew, whom I’ve specifically trained, have been demolishing for the past couple of months. I’m inspecting the screws as these puppies are almost 9.5 meters in diameter and weigh over 100 tons, each. I’m going to drop each one of these in one piece, as per the orders of the guys paying the bills. Bet you didn’t think a degree or two from Southeast Westchester College would lead to such amazing things as this!
“You’ll never know until you apply yourself at Southeast Westchester College. You’ll get a bang out of it!”
Scene description –
ES: “…and what you did to poor Sanjay. That was not nice…”
ROCK: “I never claimed to be nice…Oh, we’re filming…And that’s not all. After a hard day in the field or the office, you have the opportunity to unwind and relax in one of the many bars and restaurants on campus. Personally, I prefer the strong drinks and cheap, subsidized prices at the MastHaus. After a day of breaking rocks, making hole or blasting quarries, what better than to relax with a tall, frosty Rocknocker? That’s premium vodka and bubbly citrus soda over ice with a twist. Or try one of several brands of local beer that’s on tap. Or why not both at the same time? How about some ether? Plus, we’re the only university now with a walk-in humidor! Over 3000 different brands of cigars from over six million different countries. C’mon down and have a snort and a smoke. How else can we maintain the highest grade point average in the East-Central Southern Northwest division?
“Umm, Rock, honey”, Esme says to me in a kind, quiet voice after we look over the daily rushes, “Are you certain that’s what the university is going to want? It seems a bit, well, woolly…”
“Oh, fuck yeah!” I exclaim over a flagon of Rocknockers and a sidecar of Kingfisher. “Look at it! Humor! Pathos! Agony! Ecstasy! Action! Shit blowing up!”
“Yeah, it does have that..” Esme is forced to agree.
“When we add the demo of the final piece of that boat, it’ll be a climax worthy of Lucas or Spielberg!” I grin canyon-widely. “It’s got everything. Who wouldn’t want to study at a university that offers all that?”
“Rock, honey”, Esme says, taking my hand in hers, “I want you to go upstairs and call the tech guys in Japan. I think your fingers are overcharging again and making you crazier than usual.”
“Nahh.” I scoff, “I’m doing great. I haven’t felt this alive in years. Maybe filmmaking is another calling I can look into. Something else in which to excel…”
“Rock, please’, Esme implores, “Go call Japan…”
“No time”, I say, “I have to get Sanjay to download all our footage. We’ll not have time to fix it all here before we go. Once we get the finale in the can, we’ll ship the whole mess off to the university and let them do the needful.”
Yes, I had been in-country way too long.
“Rock”, Esme pleads, “Then just sit here for a bit and have a smoke and a drink or five. I think your EtOH levels are in flux. You’ve been pushing too hard. You know better than anyone the necessity of maintaining an even strain.”
“You’re right”, I agree, “And when you’re right, you’re right. Timor! Another round and dial 224. I need a cigar and Esme needs a Sobranie pastel!”
Esme manages a wan, worried smile. She knows what I have planned, even though I haven’t said a word to anyone. She’s scared that I’m going to kill myself on this last job or do something even worse. That something she won’t even allow herself to think about…
A short time later, I’m off to the job site again. After chatting with Major Nakula Dattachaudhuri and the navy guys whose contacts he gave me, I have a fair idea of what I need to pull off, no pun intended, if I’m to drop those heavy screws in one piece.
First thing off, I need to weld the propeller tail shafts in place, securing it from tangential or rotational motion. I can’t have those things jumping around like a floppin’ crappie when I go to shake the props loose from the shafts.
Then I need to remove the propeller cone. Along with that, I need to provide for some slack in the aft stern tube seal. They tell me that normally prior to which stern tube oil need to be drained. But since this is in no way normal, I’ll just let that flow where it may once I blow some seals.
No, those on the tail shafts, not swimming around in the harbor looking for handouts.
Then propeller nut is to be removed and the propeller is desecured, that is, given a nudge prior to its removal from the tail shaft. However, I just welded the tail shafts in place, so I just need to provide the props a wee nudge. I also need to be sure all connections are well and truly severed.
Propeller and tail shaft bedding reveals how good is the contact. With is really ‘who gives a fuck?’ as I want no contact. This isn’t going to be pretty nor delicate. Explosives tend to be that way.
Now comes the fun part: unscrewing the Pilgrim Nut. Serious nut-cuttin’ time. What to do? What to do? I have several ideas.
At this point, the props are held in place on the tail shafts by gravity. I’m going to have the front of the leftover stern elevated some 150, so gravity will be on my side. But, at 100 tons each, I don’t want to drop them simultaneously. I want to drop one, and then once it’s quietly resting on the sand, dump a load of beach sand over it to ensure that if the next one drops, and takes a bounce or displays a wicked shimmy, and it overlaps the previous propeller, there will be no damage.
Oh, goody. I get to choreograph a show. Explosives, on one hand, dropping the props each by every and getting a load of sand in between the events.
My crane operator owes me as I got a couple of loose cases of Kingfisher and one of Premium Potato juice for him the last time he swirled me around this boat. We have a huge dump-bucket, used for firefighting. We can load it full of dry sand, and once one propeller falls, he can swing in and dump a couple of dozen metric tons of sand on the downed props leading edges.
“Yeah, that’ll work”, I smile to myself.
Back at the Raj, Esme is instructing Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo how the packages are to be wrapped and addressed. He made the fatal mistake of telling Es that they have free government shipping, around the world.
Great, now the kids will get their gift packages much sooner. And much cheaper.
There are perks to every job.
At the bar, I’m working on just one, OK, six cocktails and beer chasers.
Esme inquires why I’m wearing my garish, freshly laundered PPEs in the evening.
“Work is never done, dear”, I say, “I need to get back to the job site. There’s some welding that needs to be done, and I can’t very well weld when my guys are running around setting charges, now can I?”
“Can’t someone else do it?” she asks.
“Not this time. I’m going ‘old school’. Oxy-acetylene torch. I need to heat some huge areas of very thick metal. I don’t think there’s enough amperage in the whole county that will allow for that.”
“OK, you know what’s best.” Es says, “How long do you think it’ll take?”
“No idea”, I reply, “But this has all the earmarks of an all-nighter.”
“OK”, Es smiles faintly, “Just leave a note with the guard shack for me to get entry. I’ll bring you some sandwiches if you’re there too long.”
“Will do and thanks, my dear”, I smile as we kiss, “♫ No other bride would be so sweet... ♫”
“Don’t you dare finish that song…” Es threatens.
“No dear”, I shirk and smile, “Of course not, dear.”
To be continued
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Meet The Freak 4

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The sun was a little higher in the sky than I meant it to be by the time I made it to the street where I was to meet Valentine. I'd meant to get up early, take what would probably be my last bath in a while, grab my coat, and make myself scarce before the rest of the manor had really woken up. Unfortunately, I'd spent a bit more time in bed than I'd meant to, and was still a little drowsy. I was thankful then for the brisk early morning breeze and the light rain it carried.
It wasn't quite cool enough for my wool winter coat, but it was what I had so it's what I wore. If I'd just been out and about I might not have minded the rain too much, but if I was going to be travelling all day then it would be best not to do it wet. So I turned up the collar, but left the front open so it wouldn't get too toasty.
My gaze was drawn by a little purple hand waving at me from a ways down the street, and I joined Valentine in front of a small cafe. The tables were sheltered from the rain by a small white and tan striped awning, but Valentine was the only one of the patrons braving the weather.
She was wearing the same bulky flight suit as I'd last seen her in, and she was leaning forwards with her elbow on the table, her cheek resting in one hand. A small teacup sat empty on the table in front of her.
"You're late," she observed.
Her demeanour was more like a tough old sergeant than a noble lady, and she wore a generally unimpressed expression.
"Sorry," shrugged, as I took the seat across the table, "It took longer than I thought it would to get out of there without arousing suspicion."
"Round two took a while?" Valentine guessed, a small smirk creeping into her stern expression.
"I-" I stammered, and already I could feel my cheeks starting to burn, "That's not-"
"Fey have very sensitive noses," Valentine informed me, as the smirk started to creep into her eyes.
"I took a bath," I replied defensively.
"Very, sensitive noses," she reiterated, "And didn't I warn you that Temerity had certain plans for you?"
Dammit, now I was really blushing, "Actually, it seemed like what she really wanted was my political help. Everything else was just, uh..."
I was rescued by the approach of the waiter, who bore yet more tea for Valentine and asked for our orders. I prompted Valentine to order first while I glanced over the menu I'd yet ignored. I asked for only a little bacon and sausage, as I still wasn't sure if the meat they ate was the same as what I had back home. Most of my order was fruit and pancakes. Still a risk, but I judged it to be less so than the meat. Besides, the potatoes and vegetables I'd had the night prior had at least been what I'd expected them to be. Truthfully, I was probably just being paranoid, but all the same, it wouldn't do me any good to be stumbling about the wilderness while suffering from food poisoning.
Grateful for the interruption, as it gave me a chance to collect myself, I waited until the man had retreated before asking about the concern I'd been ruminating over since I'd left the manor.
"Temerity mentioned that there are a few physiological differences with fey," I pointed out.
Needling me had brightened Valentine's expression considerably, but now it soured once again.
"Did she now?" Valentine grimaced.
"Look, as long as you're serious about your promise to teach me magic, I'll carry you on my back if that's what it takes," I promised her, "I mean, ideally you'd get a horse or something, but whatever. The point is, I'm good with our deal as-is. But you've got to tell me what's up with fey biology so I know what I'm getting myself into. Same goes for the pheromone stuff, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect some explanation of how that works if we're going to be travelling together."
Valentine nodded slowly, "That's fair. But if I'm going to tell you about how our pheromones work, then in exchange I think it's only reasonable if you share how it is that humans are able to influence minds. Our pheromones are not something we speak about with non-fey, if I'm to share those secrets then I think it's only sensible to expect secrets in return."
I frowned, "Humans can't influence minds. I mean I guess we can threaten, bribe, whatever, just like anyone else. But it's not like we've got something like your pheromones. That I'll tell you for free."
"I'm serious Wallace," Valentine insisted, leaning low to the table and speaking in a near-whisper, "You tell me how humans do it, and I'll tell you what fey can do."
I furrowed my brows. Clearly, this Simon guy had done something to convince her of this. I just didn't have any idea what it might be.
"Valentine," I began, leaning in a little as well, "This isn't me trying to protect the secret by acting as if one doesn't exist. I can't do anything like what you seem to be imagining. That said, I'm guessing Simon has done some freaky shit and you'd like to know how."
Valentine nodded, and I continued, "What I can promise, is that I'll help you figure out how he's doing it. It's possible he's from a different world than me, maybe a really different world, but I bet we're working with a lot of the same information. If he's relying on something that came from Earth, then I should be able to get some idea of what he's doing."
"That's not terribly satisfactory," Valentine replied, "But it will have to do."
She opened her mouth to speak once again, but stopped and glanced to the side.
The waiter delivered our food, and after asking if there was anything else he could do for us, retreated back within the cafe.
"I take it Temerity covered the basics?" Valentine asked, after taking a bite of her omelette.
"Cartilage skeleton, not very strong, and prone to fainting at the slightest physical exertion. I take it she was exaggerating?"
"No," Valentine replied grimly, "She was not."
Valentine reached into the neck of the flight suit and withdrew an amulet. The chain was very solidly built, at least as jewellery went, with alternating links of silver and gold. Hanging from the chain was a diamond about as large as her thumb. Not very large as thumbs go, but really quite large as diamonds went. Stout as the chain was, it wouldn't be great if someone got hold of it and tried to shake her around, but at least the diamond wasn't coming loose any time soon.
"This gaudy thing isn't just for decoration, it holds an enchantment. Other fey might baulk at the thought of so much as a brisk walk, but I refuse to be limited by what the gods gave me. This diamond provides a significant source of both Body and Strengthen mana, which is used to greatly enhance my stamina," she explained, "You'll not need to carry me on your back, and in fact, you might find it difficult to keep up with me."
I smiled, "We'll see, I can go all day if I need to."
"Is that why you were so late this morning?" she teased, hiding her smirk behind her teacup.
"Aren't you supposed to be a noblewoman or something?"
"Or something," she agreed.
I waved a hand dismissively, "What about the chain, does the gold and silver mean anything or do anything?"
"The gold provides greater Protection mana," she provided, running the thick chain between her fingers, "It's not as much as the diamond provides, but few materials provide as much mana as gemstones do. The silver provides Mind mana. Together they are meant to shield the mind against intrusion."
"Does it work?"
Valentine spread her hands, "Not against Simon's trickery, whatever form it takes. But enchantments like this are common enough, they're intended to stop magical intrusion, and for that purpose, they are more than sufficient."
"So when you say that something 'provides mana'-" I began, but Valentine made a cutting gesture with one hand.
"Eat, there will be plenty of time to talk when we're on the road, if you continue to bombard me with questions then you'll never finish at this rate."
I let Valentine lead me out of the city, she was the one who actually knew the way after all, as I hadn't really been paying attention the first time I'd been through.
There were guards on both sides of the city's gates, armed with pikes, but they didn't see fit to bother us. Maybe they recognized Valentine, or maybe they didn't much care. Probably the latter, as the elves on duty, all of them women, seemed pretty relaxed.
Which I supposed was sensible. Guarding the gates must be pretty low-stress, at least once you got over your fear of heights.
There was a sort of landing just beyond the gates, and beyond that, a sheer drop to the valley floor below. To the right, a cliff face, and to the left, the long sloping road down the side of the mountain. It was just wide enough for two carts to pass, and while there was a railing fencing off the landing, it ended only a few hundred feet down the slope.
I'd probably be pretty relaxed too if I had to guard the place. Sure, you could sneak pretty close to the base of the mountain if you stuck to the forests, but at that point the guards would still have a good couple hours to prepare for your arrival as you made the climb.
"We won't have to walk," Valentine assured me, "The chain lift takes people to the valley before noon, we'll take one of the carriages down."
The chain lift she referred to looked like what I'd seen at small ski-slopes, only scaled up. At a ski-slope it would be a simple loop of cable or rope, anchored top and bottom, and run at a constant speed. A skier would grab on by hand, and the cable would pull them to the top. The only difference was they'd swapped out the cable for chains as thick as my wrist. I couldn't make out how it was anchored down in the valley, but up here the chains led up into a wooden hoarding built into the side of the city wall.
Just underneath the hoarding was a parking lot, there's probably some old-timey word for it, but I thought of it as a parking lot, with several carriages. They appeared to be purpose-built for use with the chain lift, with one axle set quite a bit lower than the other. Up here on the landing, it meant that the passenger compartment would be uncomfortably slanted, but it appeared to match the grade of the slope and looked like it would level out once the carriage was on its way down. There were no horses hitched to any of them, and instead, they had a metal linkage where the harnesses would usually attach.
There were a few elven men standing nearby. They kept an eye on a couple of mules while passing the time with a game of dice. Valentine got their attention, and they pulled the carriage Valentine had picked out into position near the chain.
I briefly wondered if I should be holding the door for her, but she didn't give me the chance. She flipped the latch, and took a seat inside on the high side, holding onto a grab bar inside to keep from slipping off.
Valentine had evidently picked this carriage out for a reason, as waiting inside were a pair of travel packs, and what looked like the 19th century version of a softshell rifle case. A little over six feet long and made of oiled leather, I guessed that it held the weapon I'd been promised. I moved one of the packs aside and took a seat across from her on the low side of the carriage.
She banged a fist on the carriage wall, and there was a lurch as it started to move. I heard a metallic thunk thunk thunk as the linkage tried to find purchase on the moving chain, and then a ka-chunk as the carriage surged forwards.
I felt a strangling tightness in my stomach as my mind threw up the image of us hurtling down the miles-long slope with no way to stop until we either hurtled off the side or crashed into the trees at the bottom of the mountain.
"This is the brake," Valentine explained, indicating the lever by her hand, "If anything happens I'll throw this and we'll come to a stop."
"A very good sense of smell," I muttered, eyeing her suspiciously.
"You're not fond of heights," she observed.
"Not overly no."
I began to relax as the carriage levelled out and I heard the linkage clanking as it took the weight of the carriage. I wasn't very confident in sixteenth-century braking technology, but on the other hand, we weren't moving much faster than a jog. A horse would have drawn us faster, at least on level ground, so if Valentine were quick with the brake, we would probably be okay.
"So. You can smell fear," I said matter of factly, "What else can you do?"
"I suppose this is private enough," she agreed, "Is Temerity the one who first told you about the pheromones?"
"Eh, sorta. I ran into a fey leading a bunch of sprites when I first showed up," I began, "He was putting out some musky scent, drove me half-mad, and I'm guessing it's how he was able to get the sprites to fight to the last man while Temerity and her buddies cut them apart."
Valentine blinked, "What."
"What?" I asked, a confused expression on my face.
"You're saying that you were affected? You're sure?" she demanded.
"Yeah, should it not work on me?"
"The pheromones only work on sprites," Valentine insisted, "This has been tested extensively."
"Valentine, I was a pretty good distance away from the guy and it was all I could do to not lose my shit. It works on humans. Haven't you had Simon around to try it on?"
Valentine clasped her hands under her chin and spent a long moment gazing down at the floor.
Finally, she spoke, "By the time Simon happened along, we'd already come to the conclusion that it didn't work on anyone else. I bet no one bothered to try it on him, and the pheromones he's likely to catch a whiff of by happenstance are a great deal less potent than what's used on the battlefield."
"Can you do more stuff than just get people mad?"
"Anger, fear, and arousal," she listed, lifting her gaze to meet mine, "We can also calm the same emotions, and sense them in others through scent."
"The scent thing, I take it that works on anyone- any species I mean?"
Valentine nodded, "It's not the same scent for every species, but it's not hard to learn a new species. Some of us have also figured out a way to use the pheromones to make the sprites giddy, some combination of the pheromones to increase arousal and calm both fear and anger. I never bothered to learn though."
"Why not?"
She scowled, "It's just another tool to control the sprites, a way to reward them when they do what you want, just like the fear pheromones are used to punish them when they don't. And I refuse to treat another person like they're an animal to be trained."
"I'm sorry," I said honestly, "I didn't mean to needle you."
"You were just curious," she allowed, "I'm not mad at you."
"Last question about the pheromones then," I promised gently, "Is there a limit to how much you can use before you run out?"
"Not particularly, the fey you saw leading the sprites, they might run out if they were spreading pheromones for a couple hours. But as I mentioned, outside of a fight, no fey is going to use nearly that much. Though, I suppose," she continued, raising her eyebrows thoughtfully, "it does sometimes happen with young fey still going through puberty. They'll get startled, or something will set them off, and all their pheromones will be released at once. Very embarrassing, but that's about it."
"Alright. You held up your end, what's the deal with Simon?"
She smiled just a little, "I'm surprised you haven't asked about magic yet."
"Oh god, you have no idea. I have so many questions rattling around my head that I feel like I'm gonna explode," I pitched my voice up a little in a poor attempt to mimic hers, "'Oh yeah, this diamond is full of magic, it turns me into a marathon runner, no big deal. Anyway, want some more tea?' I mean seriously, it's driving me nuts. But once I start asking questions I'm not going to be able to stop myself."
"Well, I don't know the man's life story," she said, smiling, "but I've found out as much as I can since he came to my attention. His play for power is a relatively recent development, but since learning magic he's always been peripherally involved in politics."
"He's that strong with magic?" I asked.
"No, not at all," she said with a shake of the head, "Granted, his expertise with Body magic is considerable, but he seems incapable of using any other type of mana. The political involvement is more to do with having so many loyal spellcasters. Though in fairness, his inability with non-Body magic may all be an elaborate deception, but it would need to be one he planned since before he cast his first spell."
"The mind is part of the body, maybe that's how he does it then?" I suggested, "The mind control I mean."
She shook her head emphatically, "No, Mind and Body magic are different. If Simon were using Mind magic on people then he would have been found out almost immediately. If the first thing we fey discovered upon landing here was Mind magic, then the second was how to defend against it," her expression was already less than pleased, but it soured further, "The sprites have been used as test subjects since the beginning, experimenting with how a mind might be invaded, broken, or defended. Elves, gnomes, goblins all come to Pelignos to learn from the best, and the amulets made by fey are thought to be the best when it comes to protecting against Mind magic."
"My first instinct would be to say that he really was playing the long game from the start," I granted her, "But that would make learning any other type of magic such a pain. He'd need a teacher that he knew would be absolutely loyal, and I don't know how he could possibly know such a thing. Probably a bunch of teachers actually, since I'm guessing everyone has their own specialties. He might be able to strongarm one person to keep quiet, but no way in hell he could keep more than one or two people under his thumb. Someone would talk, they'd either wriggle out of his grip or just say to hell with it and spill the beans."
Valentine grimaced, "You say that, but it's exactly what it seems he's done."
"You've got to explain what that means. Because it's starting to sound like this guy might be the first person in history to actually pull off a big conspiracy without anyone leaking the truth, and if he can do that, I'm pretty sure he's actually a unicorn."
"It started with his first tutor, or at least, everything I've learned seems to suggest she was his first tutor," Valentine clarified, "At some point- and again, this is a little unclear since it wasn't until recently that anyone realized they should have been paying attention to what Simon was doing. At some point, she appears to have become completely smitten with Simon. He picked up more sorceresses as he went, quickly inspiring the same devotion, and taking control of their assets along the way. Houses, land, money, everything."
"All female?" I asked.
"Yes and no. He has this manor in the city where all his sorceresses live, and he's invited no sorcererers, or men of any kind in fact. The serving staff is female as well, but from what I've gathered I believe he's pulled the same trick with men, but only so as to get them out of the way."
I rubbed my temples, I could already feel a migraine coming on.
"So you're saying," I began, "That after arriving from another world, he's somehow managed to assemble a harem of women who are inexplicably interested in him, despite the fact that he really doesn't have anything to offer anyone?"
"That's about it," she agreed.
I sighed, "For fuck's sake."
Valentine's end of the carriage began to pitch up, and the light streaming into the carriage dimmed. A moment later I heard the linkage clank free of the chain, and felt the carriage rock as it was guided off to one side.
We'd barely come to a halt when Valentine slung one of the packs over her shoulder and leapt down.
I followed her out, and found that we stood within a large cave. The walls were too regular and the corners too square for it to be a natural formation, but beyond that, little work had been done to make the place look pretty.
We were near the back of the cave where the rest of the carriages were parked, with yet another team of elven men passing the time as they waited for the next carriage to make its way down.
The area was lit by a few sputtering oil lamps, but it seemed wasteful, as the daylight streaming in through the mouth of the cave was near to blinding. I suppose it said something about the elven perception of light, I don't know exactly what it said, but it said something.
A metal pillar had been embedded in the stone near the middle of the cave, almost a foot thick and running from floor to ceiling. It was set with several rollers, and was where the chain looped around to head back up the ramp to the city.
Valentine tilted her head towards the opening, and I followed her out into the late morning sun. The rain had since passed, so I threw my coat over the top of my pack.
"We still good for time?"
Valentine spread her hands, "Typically surveyors like to head out at first light, but you had to finish burning your bridges."
I winced, "Perhaps I was a little self-indulgent."
"We don't live forever Wallace, and we only get one chance to enjoy it," Valentine advised sagely, "If I was going to be mature about things, I wouldn't be running away from all my responsibilities with a man I'd only just met."
"Think she'll be mad?"
"Oh. She'll be fucking livid."
"Think she'll come after us?" I asked, peering back up at the city.
Valentine shook her head "I doubt it. By the time she realizes we've left the city, we'll have enough of a headstart that she won't have a chance."
"You say that, but I don't see any horses around here," I observed.
Forget the horses, there wasn't even a road. We were now well within the area susceptible to the tides, and it showed. The last few hundred feet of the ramp was poorly defined with no sharp edges, and it blended smoothly into the hills around. Even the grass underfoot looked fresh, as if I were the first person to ever tread on it, which didn't track with this being the sole way into a city of thousands.
Looking back, I saw how the cavern was able to persist, despite the tides and the mists conspiring to wipe the slate clean.
Two steel doors, each a few inches thick and set with leather seals, rested in tracks that ran across the mouth of the cave. When pulled closed they would seal the opening, with only a little gap for the chain. I still wasn't certain of the exact mechanics of how the tides and mists worked, but from the looks of things, the door would be flush with the stone around once closed. With nothing for the tide to sweep away, I supposed that the only risk would be if the mists dropped something on top of the doors.
"Do you know how to ride?" Valentine asked wryly.
"No," I admitted, "I don't even know where you'd find a horse large enough for me."
"Quite," she observed, "And I don't ride anymore, so I have no need of one either. Come, we may talk on the way."
I adjusted the pack on my shoulder and matched her pace. I wasn't about to argue with her, having a horse for her might up our pace a little, but in the grand scheme of things, it likely would make little difference. Besides, if the landscape down here in the valley had as chaotic a potential as it seemed, then for all I knew the horse may end up being more a liability than an asset. But I wasn't certain we'd make it that far, if Temerity was really on the ball...
"My only concern is that Temerity seems really fond of horses, being a knight and all," I pointed out, "And I don't fancy a fight, especially if she brings friends."
"Temerity's not going to start a fight," Valentine assured me, "She'll be mad, and if she gets the chance she'll try to strongarm you back under her influence. But she'll not turn to violence. And in any case, she'll have a hell of a time getting horses down from the city," she gestured back over her shoulder at the ramp, "The slope is so steep and so long that it's tricky to take horses down it in the best of times, try to rush and like as not she'd just injure her horse."
"Hmm, fair enough," I mused.
We left the clearing at the base of the ramp, and ventured into the thick evergreen forest that spread across the foothills at the base of the mountain. Again there was the feeling that I was the first person to take this path. There was little underbrush, just the odd bush or fern, with most of the ground covered by fallen pine needles, turned brown with age. The pine needles were so thick on the ground that I may as well have been walking through snow, with each step kicking up little puffs, leaving clear tracks behind the two of us.
There was an all-encompassing sense of calm, and for a brief moment, I thought that Valentine might be the cause. But was only the musty scent of the pine needles underfoot, and the verdant smell of fresh vegetation carried through the forest on a gentle breeze.
No, it didn't take any tricky manipulation, after all, this was how I'd usually relax when things were getting to me. I'd go for a walk, and not come back until I'd found calm once again. Since moving to the city I hadn't the chance to take a walk anywhere that wasn't a carefully landscaped park, but all the same, the forest felt very familiar.
I grabbed the soft leather case from where it hung behind me, and swung it around in front so I could take a peek inside. The clasps were bits of polished horn, pushed through loops of cord, like the sort of thing you might see on the front of a trendy knit sweater. I undid them, and reached in gingerly.
"Wow," I breathed, as I withdrew the weapon.
It was a poleaxe. The haft was six feet long, stained a very dark brown, and a little more than two inches thick. The head was steel, with a broad but narrow axe blade on one side, with a small hammerhead opposite, and topping it off was a nine inch spike. The langets, reinforcing straps that held the head on, ran nearly two feet down the haft, and had been recessed so as to be flush with the wood. The other end of the haft was also capped in steel, with a blunt pyramidal protrusion that would enhance the effect of striking with the butt of the weapon.
I'd been doing historical European martial arts for a good long time, and while I wasn't the most experienced with the poleaxe, it was my absolute favourite. I'd placed in tournaments with the rapier, won tournaments with the greatsword, and just generally found it funny to fight with a smallsword, but it was the poleaxe that I enjoyed the most. The trouble with the poleaxe is that it's hard to practise with. It's easy to make a sword safe, even a great sword. As long as it's blunt and you've got enough padding you've little to worry about. You'll end up with some bruises, sure, but on the whole, you'd be safe.
The poleaxe, on the other hand, was specifically designed to fight fully armoured knights. So while a blunted sword might be safe to use no matter how much force you put behind it, if you hit someone with a poleaxe and really meant it, it wouldn't matter how well padded they were, you'd lay them out flat.
"That box of old tools covered the cost of this thing?" I asked incredulously.
"The broker I did business with was particularly interested in the bracelet you had," she related, "Cryptic bastard didn't tell me what sort of mana it contained, but it was interesting enough that he was willing to give me the axe on trade for it and the tools."
"My fitness tracker had magic in it?" I frowned.
"Everything has mana within it. The more exotic the material, the rarer the sorts of mana," she explained, "I'm glad you're happy with the weapon, but there is something I want to make clear."
She unzipped the front of her flight suit, drawing the zipper down to mid-chest, and pulled one lapel aside. She'd modified the flight suit, using scraps of something synthetic to create a pair of improvised holsters, each of which held a large double-barrel wheellock pistol.
"I don't want you to get the wrong idea, or to take offence, but I want to make sure that we both know where we stand." she said slowly, "If you touch me, I will shoot you."
I put the axe away and spread my hands, "It's okay," I said gently, "I understand."
"You do?" she asked, eyebrows raised.
"I know what I look like, Valentine," I shrugged, "It's not like I want people to feel unsafe around me."
She nodded slowly, and re-zipped the front of her suit while I closed the clasps.
The pistols were a bit of a surprise, but more that she had them, rather than their existence in the first place. Full plate armour and gunpowder had been contemporaries on earth, so it didn't surprise me that a society that could turn out armour like Temerity wore, also had firearms.
Being threatened with the pistols though, that was a little startling. But upon consideration, it actually put me at ease. It was as she'd said, now I knew where we stood. If Valentine had a problem, I now knew I could count on her to tell me what it was, even if the problem was me. And while I wasn't super keen on the fact that she seemed a little wary around me, it was an understandable sentiment and one that told me I'd ultimately made the right choice by siding with Valentine.
With her, the power dynamic was more or less balanced. I needed her to teach me magic and navigate, and she needed me to help her deal with whatever the wilds would throw at us. And if it came down to a fight, while either of us could give the other a lot of trouble, neither of us could really 'win'. So if she turned on me, I was strong and tough enough to get loose, even if she did shoot me. If I turned on her, well she had guns and magic to fight me off while she got away.
In short, it was a much better state of affairs than I had with Temerity. Even if I could take her in a fight, and I wasn't even sure of that, she was still top dog in the city. Whether I was sleeping with her or not, just staying in Parabuteo would place me within her power. And after hearing her speech yesterday, I'd realized that having silk sheets and amazon on-tap was not worth giving up my independence.
"We'll need to push hard to make it," Valentine began, changing the subject "But there's a pass several miles north. It's going to be our first chance to get to the other side of the mountains, and I'd like to make it through before we stop to sleep tonight."
"I take it that my dawdling is what's going to make things tight?"
"It's not the end of the world, we have the whole Long Night to travel through as well, but this is all the daylight we're going to get and I'd like to make the most of it."
"Twelve hours of daylight and thirty-six of night," I recited, "how are we breaking things up?"
"Well we keep pushing hard till nightfall," she said, and indeed she'd been setting a good pace so far despite her short stature, "And stop for our first rest a little after dark. We'll eat dinner, sleep, should take a little less than eight hours. Then we carry on, it will be dark without The Father, but I can light our way. Typically survey teams I travel with will try to aim for another ten hours, but if you can keep up with me I'd like to go for twelve. Then we have another rest break to eat and sleep, before making the final push."
"At which point, we'll either have made it, or we'll drown."
"We will make it," she assured me, "Even with us leaving a little late, we've several hours of margin."
"You said earlier that he can only use Body magic, what exactly does that mean?"
We hadn't bothered to stop for lunch, instead eating as we walked so as not to waste more time. We were actually moving more quickly than I might have expected, travelling through a dense pine forest. But with the underbrush nice and light, and without too many roots to trip on, our path was actually fairly clear.
"Can he only heal people, or use magic only on himself?" I continued, "Whose body does 'Body magic' refer to?"
"It's the body as a concept," Valentine clarified, "So his, or someone else's, it doesn't matter."
"What can he do to a body then? Does he just get some Body mana from a, what is your necklace, diamond? So he gets some Body mana from a diamond, waves his hand, and then reality rearranges itself however he likes. As long as what he likes involves screwing with someone's body?"
"No," Valentine replied with a shake of her head, "Well, not quite. If you want to do it properly, magic always requires two types of mana. One noun, which refers to what you wish your magic to act upon, and a verb, which describes what you wish to do," she reached into her collar and came out with the amulet, "So my amulet, I want it to make me stronger and increase my stamina. So it uses Body mana and Strengthen mana. There are limits though, the more substantial the change the more substantial the source of mana needs to be."
"And diamonds have a lot of mana in them?" I guessed.
"Yes, any gemstone does, in fact."
"Simon then, the only noun he can use is Body?" I asked, and Valentine nodded in agreement.
"What about the verbs, any limits there? Or do you know?"
"What you describe is exactly the problem, when it comes to Simon I'm certain of nothing. But to the best of my knowledge, he can use any of the verbs. He's particularly fond of Strengthen and Transform, however."
"Can Transform be used offensively?" I asked, wincing at the thought of the sort of body-horror that Simon might be able to inflict upon people.
"Yes, though that's not what he uses it for. Instead he uses the Strengthen-Transform combination to enhance his physical characteristics for short periods. I believe he has some permanent enchantments on his body already, his physique is suspiciously impressive, but the magic pushes it yet further and makes him capable of great feats of strength."
"Does it turn his hair yellow?" I sighed.
"No," she frowned, "Does the colour have some significance among humans?"
"It's, complicated. Complicated and not important. If he can use all the verbs, then what actually are they?"
She counted off on her fingers, "Communicate, Control, Create, Heal, Movement, Protect, Sense, Strengthen, Transform, and Weaken. Weaken is what's typically used in offensive Body magic, and Communicate is hardly used at all. Any combination of noun and verb, is possible, but not all need to make sense."
"Can you use more than one of each? I take it that you need at least one of each, but could I use two nouns and a verb, or a noun and two verbs?"
She nodded, "There's no true limit, at least as far as I know. Perhaps someone has found one and isn't telling, but there are practical limits. However much mana one might be able to gather, ultimately it comes down to the mind of the caster. A spell, in all its complexities, must be held in the mind as it is cast. Creating a blast of fire, however large it might be, is simple. With sufficient mana, even a novice might melt a city wall. Heating a piece of metal to a specific temperature, that's more complex, even if it requires a great deal less mana. Setting a trap, now that's one of the most complex uses of a spell, as it requires the caster to hold in their mind the conditions necessary to activate the trap. Typically it also requires including a second spell, Sense Body or some such, which adds yet more complexity."
Continued in comment
submitted by ThisHasNotGoneWell to HFY [link] [comments]

Meet The Freak 6

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The stew Valentine had provided was hearty fare, prepared with some of the stock carried in our remaining pack, and bottled water fetched from below. She'd even worked out sleeping arrangements, despite us being down one tent and one bedroll.
The sky was clear enough, so hoping it wouldn't rain, she'd reworked the tent and groundsheet into a makeshift bedroll. Both it and her own bedroll had been set up near the door, clear of the golf-ball-sized gravel that covered most of the roof. Not that the concrete was going to be much more comfortable, but after ten or so hours at a forced march, I was tired enough that it wasn't likely to matter.
And there was the sky. A sheet of stars unmolested by artificial light, and so bright that it seemed unreal. I'd lived in big cities all my life, where the best I might see would be only the very brightest stars, Orion's belt perhaps, and the inner planets.
But as I sat there and ate my stew, it felt as if the whole galaxy was laid out, right before my eyes. In fact, I finally understood why it was called 'The Milky Way'. Without all the lights of a city to drown it out, a thick arc of white could be seen, like drops of milk against the black sky. Perhaps it wasn't the galaxy I knew, but it was a galaxy, seen not through a massive telescope perched atop a mountain and carefully shielded from the lights of civilization, but with the naked eye.
"Such childlike wonder," Valentine remarked, and meeting her gaze, I found she was smiling, "And here I thought I had a brute for a travelling companion."
I gave her a wry smile, "Sometimes it does feel like I'm a skinny little nerd trapped in a giant's body."
She set her bowl aside, "What did you do before all this? You say you know how to fight, have you played bodyguard before, or is your family from the landed nobility?"
"Neither, learning how to fight was just one of many nerdy hobbies," I admitted, "No, I guess the closest analogue would be a scribe? The tech my job relied on is probably a couple thousand years off for Pelignos, maybe five hundred for Parabuteo."
Valentine smirked, "I cannot help but laugh at the image of those huge hands clutching a tiny quill. I would have thought that one your size would have played to those strengths, indulging in martial, rather than scholarly pursuits."
I shook my head, "In a modern military my size would probably be more a liability than an asset. Those pistols you have, for example, imagine a weapon like them, but with a dozen times the power. Then imagine they never fail to work, can fire ten times a second, and are accurate out to half a mile. And that's just what the average man might carry, our equivalent to siege weapons have ranges measured in miles and throw explosive shells that have enough force to level small buildings. My strength wouldn't do a whole lot for me, and I'm a damn big target."
Valentine's expression grew a great deal more serious, "With such weapons, war among your people must be particularly terrible."
I let out a long breath, "Yeah, yeah it is. But on the whole, I'd say it's better. It's better now than it was fifty years ago, and fifty years ago it was better than it was a century ago," I was silent for a long moment, pondering, "Makes me wonder about Simon. He probably has a pretty good idea of just how much life sucked for most of history, and I bet he can justify anything to himself if it's in the name of bringing some twenty-first-century civilization to Pelignos."
"And building a harem of sorceresses and noblewomen, that's just a bonus?" Valentine asked, a sour expression on her face.
"Prick probably thinks he deserves it," I shrugged, "A reward for good behaviour."
I was roused, brought to a drowsy half-wakefulness by a soft chiming sound, and was ready to roll over and go back to sleep when I felt a small hand on my shoulder, shaking me awake.
I yawned and sat up, the cool night air chilly against my bare skin. Valentine had elected to sleep in her jumpsuit, but my clothes had still been all run through with dirt and grit from my encounter with the landslide, so they'd been washed and hung to dry while we slept.
Valentine's gaze lingered on my chest as she quieted the enchanted chime and secreted it away in one of her pockets. But her gaze wasn't desirous or hungry. Instead, it was jealous, resentful even, though in the dim light of the magical torch turned low, I doubted she realized I could make out her expression.
She turned her back and busied herself with packing up camp while I dressed. There were a few patches of damp at the cuffs, but that would dry in time, and it was a hell of a lot better than spending another whole day in dirty, itchy clothes.
"Alright," I said once I was done, "I'm decent."
Valentine twisted the head of the torch, and the brightness increased.
"Almost done here," she said, "Have we any other business here, or shall we be off?"
"There's a safe downstairs that I'd like to take a look at before we go," I recalled.
"Very well, you investigate, I'll be down in a moment," she promised.
I picked up my backpack full of granola bars and other sundries, slung the poleaxe, now with a braided strap fashioned from the remains of the tattered case it had come in. I ducked inside, yawning as I descended the stairs, and brought my torch alive. The sudden brightness made me squint and turned the light down to a level that was comfortable before investigating the safe.
It looked very much like an oversized and overbuilt locker, painted beige and done in quarter inch steel instead of sheet metal. The lock wasn't the stereotypical dial, but an electronic number pad. I knew I could crack a combination lock, but it would take a while, and I didn't know if it was worth the delay. An electronic lock was a different story however, especially since I didn't know how many digits were required. It might be trivial, or it could be practically impossible, particularly if there was a limit to how many times a wrong entry could be made.
First step of cracking uncrackable passwords, look for the sticky note.
There was nothing stuck to or on top of the safe, so I checked the desk with the ancient computer. But there was nothing stuck to the monitor, under the keyboard, or in any of the drawers.
Returning to the keypad itself, I noticed that five of the digits were noticeably more worn than the others.
Assuming no duplicates, I think that's five to the power five possible combinations? So... five, twenty-five, a hundred and twenty-five, six hundred and something... So about three thousand or so possibilities.
Still far too many for me to try in any reasonable amount of time. I could probably do it in a couple of days, but it probably wasn't worth the trouble, for all I knew the coins would contain so little mana that it would be a waste of time.
Something to ask Valentine once she gets down I suppose.
I gave the lock a jiggle, and found that after cracking the paint that it could slide a few inches to each side.
Hmm, that was curious, like it had been stuck on by magnets. I just couldn't get enough leverage on the smooth metal to pull it off.
I recalled a metal ruler I'd noticed while rummaging about the desk, and slipped it in between the lock and the door of the safe.
I heard the stairs creak slightly as Valentine descended them, and had just popped the lock off the door when she joined me.
"Any luck?" she asked.
There was a hole in the door about an inch across, and a wire ran through from the back of the lock. I didn't have a whole lot of slack, but I got a clear look at the back of the lock, and the nine-volt battery that powered it.
"I think I can get this thing open, have you got a knife?"
"Have I got a knife," she repeated in a mocking tone.
I pried the battery out, "Fine," I laughed, "Can I borrow one of your knives, pretty please."
"Only because you asked so nicely," she insisted, pressing the hilt into my open hand.
I cut the wires as close to the lock as I could, and with the battery still in hand, stripped a bit of plastic from the end of each wire. I was careful not to let the wires slip back inside, and twisted one around the larger of the battery's terminals. With that done, I touched the remaining wire to the other terminal, and was rewarded with a chunk as the solenoid retracted, unlocking the safe.
"I am," I informed her, "A genius."
"What treasures have you discovered for us today, oh wise one," she said in a wry monotone.
"Let's see," I mused, checking each of the shelves in turn, "Some useless documents, a little handgun, a pair of magazines for it, and I don't know, a couple grand?"
I picked up the pistol, a slim and compact Saturday night special. It wasn't a bad looking gun, with a heavily blued finish and dark wood grips, but my fingers wouldn't fit the trigger guard. I pulled back the slide halfway and found the chamber loaded, though the safety was on.
"You want it?" I offered, "It's not much good to me."
"It appears rather feeble," she observed, though she accepted it all the same.
"Compared to those wheel locks you've got, yeah, probably, but you get more than two shots," I checked one of the magazines before handing both of those over, "Six actually. It won't take down a horse, but a man would find it a little startling."
She took the magazines, and I spent a couple of minutes, making sure she understood how it worked before returning to the remaining contents of the safe.
I pulled out a wad of cash with one hand, and a fistful of rolled coin with the other. I'd reasoned that if a box of old tools held enough mana to buy a really lovely poleaxe, then it was fair to assume that the coins, in a much more convenient package to carry, would be of at least some use. Though I doubted the same could be said for the linen bills.
"Is there much mana in either of these?"
"Those coins, absolutely," Valentine nodded, "It varies depending on the metal, but mana of any type is valuable, if not to us, than to trade with someone else. I don't know what sort of mana those papers would have though, and I'm not certain that they'd contain much mana in any case."
I furrowed my brows, looked down at the bills clutched in one hand, frowned, and then looked back up at her. I found her grimacing, her gaze on the floor.
"Oh," I said flatly, realizing for the first time that I'd never actually seen her use her own magic.
"Yeah," she sighed.
"So, how much of it was bullshit?" I asked simply.
"I know about magic," she promised, her gaze still on the floor, "I can even do magic, but beyond metals and gemstones, I'm not familiar with where the various mana types can be found."
I let the bills flutter to the floor, and stuffed the rolled coin into a pocket, "I feel like that's kinda important when it comes to doing magic."
"Magic-users are a jealous sort," she said with a stiff shrug, "Beyond metals and gemstones, they do not share such details with others. Not even among each other most of the time. Learning how to use magic is easy, at least if you have the discipline. It's the understanding of mana itself that keeps magic out of reach of most people."
"Valentine," I began gently, "I'm not going to hurt you."
Her gaze snapped up to meet mine, and I took a step back, hands spread.
"It's okay," I promised.
She swallowed and relaxed the white-knuckled grip she'd been keeping on the little pistol, though I could still smell a sweet perfume scent hanging in the air.
"It's okay," I repeated, "You said you could smell when someone was angry, right? Do I smell angry now? Did I smell angry before you started trying to dose me?"
She let out a breath, and some of the stiffness came out of her shoulders, "I'm sorry," she said in a small voice.
"I just need to know two things," I promised, "And then we can keep going. First, can you, for real, do magic? Second, can you teach what you do know?"
"Yes, and yes," she insisted, "Give me some of those coins, and I'll prove it."
I handed her one of the rolls, quarters I think, and she unwrapped the end and took out three of the coins. After a moment, two of the coins crumbled into nothingness, and she was left with the remaining coin as it danced through her fingers.
"Steel, iron really, as that's what steel is largely made of, contains Metal mana, Movement mana, and Protect mana. I used Metal mana from one coin and Movement from another to move the remaining one telekinetically."
"That's good enough for me," I assured her, "I'll pack up the rest of this, and we can be on our way."
She still seemed unconvinced, waiting awkwardly while I looted the safe, but at the very least she'd put away the pistol.
Kneeling down to get the last of the rolls at the bottom of the safe, I glanced over at her. She still seemed a little bit like a frightened doe, ready to bolt at the slightest indication of danger.
"Come on," I prodded, "Say something insulting, that always seems to make you feel better."
She gave a little start, and then a hand came up to hide her guilty smile.
"Come on, let's hear it," I teased.
She shook her head, her hand still over her mouth, and her cheeks turned a darker shade of purple.
"You've clearly come up with something, why don't you just-"
"You are so easy to please," she said in a strangled laugh, "It's not surprising that Temerity was able to get you into bed."
I chuckled and zipped up my backpack.
"I want to learn magic," I told her, standing, "I don't care what or how much. Anything is a start."
The little bell over the door rang once more, perhaps for the last time, as the tide would soon come to sweep clean the landscape, and we stepped outside.
And we both froze.
Hoofbeats, and a hell of a lot of them, could be heard pounding down the road.
"Kill the light," I hissed.
The light was out almost before I finished speaking, and I felt her grab my arm.
With just the starlight to guide me, I could just barely see, the world reduced to splotches of dark grey in minutely different shades, but it was enough. I got the two of us behind the gas station and onto the downslope of a nearby drainage ditch. With just the tops of our heads sticking up above the rise, we watched as fourteen horses came thundering around the large hedge to stop in front of the gas station. Only seven of the horses bore riders, and each carried a much larger and brighter version of the torches Valentine had brought along. One a surprisingly young male fey, one a mature looking elf woman, and five elf men. The fey was dressed in well-appointed riding clothes and bore no weapon, while the elves were armed and armoured.
Not true knights, like I'd seen fighting with Temerity, these elves looked more like scouts. Cuirassiers, perhaps, as their armour was limited to a helmet and breastplate each. The woman had a brace of pistols strapped to her breastplate, and all had a spear strapped to the saddle and a sword at their hip.
In the still night air, they were close enough that I could make out the woman's words as she ordered two of the elves into the gas station. Looking for us, evidently. Two more did a circuit of the building, though we were far enough back not to be seen.
The two who'd gone inside reported our absence, and re-mounted their horses before the whole lot went speeding off once again.
"The hell?" I asked once they were far enough that I dared to speak.
Valentine slammed her fist into the ground, "I hate this. I hate all of this. This is such utter bullshit. I hate that I'm tiny and weak. I hate that I need an amulet that cost a small fortune to be able to do what anyone else can do. I hate that I need to flee in the night like a thief, and I hate that I can't just do as I please without some gods damned servant thinking he can bring me to heel."
"Is that who that was?" I asked as I squinted after the lights speeding off into the distance.
"Seems he rounded up some sellswords and decided to come after me," she seethed, "probably looking to curry favour with one of the other houses. I don't know how he convinced them he could afford their services though."
"They've got to be tired by now," I guessed.
"Wallace, I'm not exactly concerned for their comfort."
"Not what I mean," I said gently, "Just think, for them to catch up to us when they did, they must not have stopped to rest. They would have had to make up all the time it would have taken for the kid to realize you were gone, plus the time it took to round up and convince the mercs. Not to mention all the time lost as they followed our tracks through the forest. They've got to be tired."
"Plus the time to get the horses down the ramp," Valentine added, still seething with anger, though now with a note of control, "There's special carriages, it takes ages. And they would have had to find another way round the cliff that collapsed on us. All the same, I don't fancy the odds."
Thinking back on that, I couldn't help but clench my teeth. At the time I'd been worried about the stupid pack I'd lost, but in hindsight, the worst of it was the clarity it gave to our path. Sure they would have had to find a way around, but seeing that, there would have been no doubt we'd gone that way. In truth, the asphalt road had probably saved our bacon. With pine needles leaving tracks like snow and the landslide acting as a clear marker, the hard tarmac finally cast some doubt on where we'd been and how long ago.
"We may yet be able to evade them," I pointed out, "We left late, which ordinarily would be a bit of a pain, but in this case, it's an advantage. I bet the kid's assuming you left as soon as the sun was up, so they still think we're a couple hours ahead of them. How much longer till we hit the halfway point anyways, an hour or two right? Whatever the kid promised, I can't imagine those mercs are keen to risk getting swept up by the tide. We play keep away for long enough, and they'll head back."
"For us, an hour or so, but longer for them. They're riding light and have spare horses," she explained, "Maybe twelve hours."
"Decision time then," I said grimly.
"We either keep going and try to slip past them, or head back and try to get to the first rest stop on the way to Caniforma."
Valentine was quiet for a moment, except maybe for the sound of her teeth grinding together.
"We press on," Valentine said finally, her mind made up, "Returning to one of the cities is a last resort. There's no guarantee we won't happen across another lickspittle, gagging for whatever rewards some patriarch might heap upon them. Twelve hours, then I'm free."
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We're a Family, Come Hell or High Water

I sat sprawled on the living room floor, my back against the couch, my pregnant belly jutting out in front of me. The baby was content, and introspection replaced my hunger as I wiped the blood off my face with the sleeve of my nightgown. I never imagined the cravings could lead to this, nor did I imagine not caring as I looked at the leftovers of our assailants with disdain.
“How are you feeling?” he asked as he sat on the floor across from me.
I turned to the man I thought was my husband, not sure how to respond. “This would be a good time to explain yourself."
He lowered the thawed ice pack he'd been pressing against his cheek and turned his eyes away, struggling with the words he probably never imagined he’d have to say.
“Are you a demon?” I asked.
“No. At least, not in the biblical sense.”
“What does that mean? Are you possessing Doyle?”
“Where is he?”
He hesitated before he said, “He’s dead.”
I sat up, tense. “Did...did you kill him?”
“No, he was already dead when I found him.”
“You better start explaining more than that.”
"I have no idea how without coming right out and saying I will.” He took a deep breath, bracing himself. “I’m a member of a species that has lived in Earth’s water for as long as humans have lived on land.”
I stared at him, incredulous. “You’re seriously telling me you're a fish?”
“No, perhaps…more like a frog? We’re like large, strong, intelligent, mammalian frogs.”
"Then why do you look like Doyle?"
"Because I adopted him. We can transform physically into other creatures by pressing part of them to a nodule on our palate to adopt their DNA. We do it to hunt as well as to blend in.”
“So, you can look like anyone?”
“Yes, but we can’t change our mass. If I transformed into a crab, I'd stay this size. Same if I transformed into a whale.”
“Why are you pretending to be Doyle if you live in water?”
“Because I’m on the run from my territory's government."
I tensed up again. "You're a wanted criminal?"
"No...yes..." He closed his eyes and turned his head down with a forlorn sigh. "I just thought I was doing the right thing."
"What’d you do?"
"I uncovered a lot of ugly truths the government didn't want uncovered, including plans for a 'cleansing genocide'.”
“Genocide against humans?” I asked, my skin prickling with fear.
“We do consider humans an enemy because of what they do to the environment, but no, the plans detailed a genocide against our own kind. We're not free from superiority and prejudice either, the powerful and privileged will do anything to remain powerful and privileged.
“My territory is the strongest and largest, taking up most of what you call the Atlantic Ocean, and its government thinks it's untouchable. I just wanted to prove it wrong, to show it can't get away with its crimes against the weak anymore.
“What I exposed led to an eruption of global unrest and the government listed me as enemy number one. I swam because I knew the penalty was death, and they ended up cornering me near the coast. I had nowhere to swim. If I wanted to hide, my only option was land.”
“Why couldn't you just turn into a shark or something?”
“We have a sense humans don’t have. Perhaps…it’s closest to smell? We each have a unique ‘smell’ that doesn’t disappear when we transform.” He gave me a hesitant smile. “Our baby has it too, a faint one. It'll grow stronger when he or she is born.”
He sighed, sobering up. “This sense helps me know when they’re nearby, but it doesn’t help me hide. So when I found the carcass of a drowned female human, I thought I’d be safer among the enemy than my own kind. I adopted her and tried to put as much distance as I could between myself and the Atlantic Ocean.
“We’re amphibious and have exceptional temperature and pressure tolerance, but it still took me a while to adjust. I stayed in the wilderness at first so I could be myself and hunt and live in peace, but after a few months I began to get lonely. We’re a social and intellectual species, we live in communal houses and value company and conversation. I missed being around friends and family."
"You're married?"
"No, we don't really do that, but groups of us do bond to create trust units. Having children is only done to stabilize the population and it's regulated by the government, but we do love each other as a community and care for the young together." He sighed. "I thought maybe I could go back, find refuge in another territory, but I knew the information I leaked would lead to oceanic instability, if not an outright war, and I was afraid I'd end up captured.
"The other option was to try and live among humans. I knew they were our enemy, and I wasn't looking forward to staying in a stifling transformed state for long periods of time, but I thought it might be worth it as long as I got mental and emotional stimulation.
"I transformed into the female human and tried to live in one of your towns. Back home we're taught human history, biology, and language, but it still took me a while to get the hang of everything. Communication was the hardest, you rely on vocal tone, facial expressions, and body language a lot more than we do.
"I did odd jobs, learned a few skills, hung out in communal areas, researched, absorbed your media...and my experiences made me hate humans even more than ever. They were selfish, unsympathetic, violent, and corrupt, and the last straw came when a group of men tried to corner me. I transformed into myself and they ran away screaming and tripping over their pants.
"It wasn't worth it, all that ugliness for company that wasn't genuine and conversation that wasn't fulfilling. I went back to living in the wilderness, and I dreamed of starting my own community in secluded, landlocked waters where no one could find us and we'd be free to be ourselves. I was the only one of my kind out here and our governments prohibit bringing hybrids into the world, but I was already a fugitive. I had nothing to lose.
"I searched for my paradise, and I found it a year later. A perfect cave with the purest water near abundant woods. It was like I imagined it into reality. Now, all I needed were children. I had to choose a species to mate with where there'd be a high probability of conception and low probability of genetic defects, and humans were the closest in size, structure, and intelligence. I began searching for a handsome male human to adopt and a healthy female human I could manipulate into carrying my child.”
His words stung. “Is that why you picked me?”
He gave me a rueful half-smile as he twisted Doyle’s wedding ring around his finger. “I didn’t pick you. I was in the woods, hunting, when I heard a group of idiots laughing and scaring away the animals with their wild shots. I waited for them to leave, but after they started calling out for Doyle, I gave up and decided to hunt somewhere else…and that’s when I stumbled upon your husband.
“He was dead. He must’ve tripped and cracked his head against a tree. He was around my age and size but he wasn't good-looking, but then I noticed his wedding ring. It got me thinking, I wouldn’t have to convince a wife to carry her husband’s child.
“His brothers were still looking for him, I didn’t really have time to deliberate. He had a shaved head and no obvious scars, and that was good enough for me. I transformed, took his belongings, buried him, and grabbed his rifle before I met up with Wyatt, Owen, and Randy.
"They were too drunk to suspect anything, but they did give me a good idea of who Doyle was. I began thinking I made a terrible mistake, I should've adopted an anonymous human, there was no way I could convincingly take over Doyle's life...but then they drove me here and I met you.
"You seemed healthy, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to try. I didn't know how Doyle would interact with his wife and I couldn't bring myself to mimic his brothers, so I tried a basic approach and hoped he was like that with you. Apparently I was way off, but then you came up with your own explanation for my behavior and I thought, maybe I could actually pull this off.”
“So, you’re using me,” I whispered, my voice shaking in hurt and offense.
“I won't deny it was like that at first,” he quietly confessed, looking down. “Humans meant nothing to me and you were a just means to an end...but I didn’t expect to feel a connection with you.” He turned his candid eyes towards me. “I began caring about you. I liked talking to you, I liked being with you, I liked you. I felt at home with you.
"I started making an effort. I learned how to do Doyle's job even better than he did so I could provide for you. I researched supplements so I could care for you. I got the hang of shopping, cleaning, and ironing so I could help you. With you, I felt stimulated again...physically, emotionally, mentally.
“You also made me realize how unfair I’d been clumping humans together. There are ones like Doyle and his brothers, but there are also ones like you. Like Gary at the shop. Like Timmy and Leanne at the bakery. Humans may be our enemy, but they’re just as diverse as we are and you showed me that.
“I began feeling guilty for what I was doing to you. I toyed with the idea of letting you know the truth for months…but tonight Doyle’s brothers made the choice for me.” His eyes glistened with deep remorse. "You were amazing tonight, but you never should've been in a position like that. I'm so sorry I lied to you. I'm so sorry I put you in danger. I'm so sorry you had to kill your brothers-in-law to save our lives."
I stared at him, no single emotion dominant as they rode the turbulent waves in my mind. “What’s going to happen to me now?”
“Anything you want,” he said, straightening up. “Just tell me and I’ll do it.”
His earnestness reassured me, but it didn’t settle my confused thoughts. “I need time to process everything. I’m tired. I want to go to bed.”
“Should I help you?”
I gave him an emotionless nod. “Help me to the bathroom first.”
He did before he guided me to bed, switched off the lights, and left. I sighed as I clutched the sheets and listened to him clean up the aftermath of our feast. Despite my agitation, fatigue pushed my thoughts aside and I drifted off into a dense sleep.

The next morning, I woke up early and alone. I stayed in bed, analyzing last night's events until the baby’s hungry kicks became impossible to ignore. I groaned as I sat up, and I jumped at a trio of knocks before the door opened.
“Good morning." He stood in the doorway with a hesitant smile and a mouthwatering plate of raw meat. “I got you breakfast.”
“Thank you.”
Hope glinted behind his eyes as he walked over and adjusted the tray over my legs, and he remained standing as he watched me polish off the pile within minutes. I leaned back in satisfaction and ran my hand over my soothed baby bump, and he cleaned up before he got me my supplements. I didn't take them as I studied him, and he stood to the side with anxious eyes, studying me back.
“Did you have time to process everything?” he asked.
“What you did was disgusting,” I said, making him wince. “But I’d be a lot angrier with you if I didn’t sense something was off already. You weren’t acting like Doyle at all, but I wanted to believe he'd turned a new leaf.” I looked down. “I was enjoying the fantasy of having a loving husband who finally saw me as more than just an object.
“You treated me better in the past few months than Doyle had our entire marriage. You showed me what it was like to be loved, respected, and cared for. You boosted me and opened my eyes to what a relationship could be. Should be. It wasn’t you or me, it was you and me. You and me and the baby.”
I looked up at him. “What were you going to do if this never happened?”
He shifted in place. "The original plan was to convince you to do a home birth blindfolded, and then I'd take the baby to my cave and leave you. I was—"
You were going to take my baby and abandon me right after I gave birth?" I asked, glaring at him as I placed a protective arm over my stomach. "All while pretending to be my husband?"
He looked away, regret weighing down his features. "I didn't want to do anything violent to you like kidnapping or murder. I thought it'd be the least horrible option...but that was all before I felt a connection with you. I've been struggling with what to do since."
He turned to me. “Penny, I'm so sorry. I really am. I owe you so much after everything you've done for me. After everything I've put you through. I want to make it up to you. Just tell me how and I'll do it.”
I studied him, running my hand over my baby bump as my riled emotions settled into anxious curiosity. After a tentative moment, I said, "I want to see what you look like. The real you.”
He blinked in surprise. “Are you sure?
“I’m sure.” I pulled myself up on the pillows, preparing myself. “I should know the true father of my baby.”
"I don’t want to scare you.”
"Why would a giant frog scare me?"
"We also have teeth...and claws...and horns," he said, hesitant. "We're sometimes mistaken for demons by humans if they glimpse us."
I hugged myself, fighting my resurfacing anxiety. "I still want to see you."
He nodded. “Okay.”
He stripped and took a deep breath, and my eyes widened as I watched his frame narrow and stretch. His skin darkened to a shade of mottled green so deep it almost looked black, its glossy texture gleaming under the light. His legs bent at three distinct joints, and his flattened feet split into five elongated, tapered toes, an elastic web of skin connecting them and black claws capping them.
His hands grew larger and gained claws and webbing as well, and flexible tissue connected his upper arms to his body, almost like the wings of a bat. His hair disappeared and his jaw became sharper, his nose regressing into two slits and his lips curving into a pout that hid small, piranha-like teeth.
His eyes grew rounder and darker, the space between them increasing and their whites disappearing. From where his ears should be, a pair of thick, black horns grew, their rough surface without shine as they curved up until they surpassed the top of his head before curling back down half-way.
His chest and stomach were completely smooth save for a small belly button, and his genitals had retracted inside his body. With a half-smile that looked out of place on his foreign face, he turned around, giving me a full view. His streamlined shape had no curves, creases, or protrusions other than the thin, translucent fins lining his spine.
He turned back to face me and lifted his arms, presenting himself, a thin film gliding vertically over his glossy eyes as he waited for me to say something. He really played it down when he compared his species to frogs, and it took me a while to find my voice.
“C-can I touch you?”
He blinked vertically again, and a small smile twitched his mouth as he walked over and sat beside me. A balmy scent accompanied him, unusual but not unpleasant. My hand trembled as I reached out and touched him, and I realized he was trembling too.
I felt my way down his sleek, firm arm, his skin warm but surprisingly not slimy. When I got to his palm, I spread open his fingers, tracing the taut webbing and onyx claws. My hand left his and traveled up his chest, over his shoulder, and down his back, and he shuddered as I grazed the fine fins along his spine.
I met his eyes as I reached for his face, and he blinked when I touched his cheek. The injuries from Doyle's brothers were healing at an unnatural rate. My gaze drifted towards his formidable horns, and he lowered his head so I could touch them. It was my turn to shudder as they felt like sandpaper.
“You can wear your clothes,” I said, drawing back.
He looked up. “Do I make you uncomfortable?”
His natural vocal chords weren’t made for English as they rasped, but I understood him. “No, but you’re trembling.”
“I’m nervous. I’ve never done this before.”
“You shouldn’t be nervous to be yourself in front of the mother of your child.”
His eyes glinted in hesitant relief as he tried to read me.
What’s your real name?”
“It isn’t easy for humans to pronounce,” he said before he emitted a strange sound.
I frowned. “That sounds like you’re saying Raphael while gargling whistles.”
He gave me a small smile. “It's different underwater, but you can call me Raphael if you want.”
"I’m going to have to get used to your expressions with this face, but I think I can pick up your emotions from your eyes.” I looked at his horns. “I can see why humans would think you’re demons. Did Wyatt, Owen, and Randy see you like this? Is that why they tried to exorcise you?”
“No, that was just a coincidence. They've been suspicious for months, but when they wanted to—…you don’t need to know the details, but I refused and, apparently, Doyle wouldn’t have. That was all the proof they needed that a demon was controlling their brother."
"So, Doyle started acting decent and they immediately thought 'demon'. Tells you all you need to know. No wonder they couldn't find anyone willing to marry them. Doyle just got lucky I was too stupid to know better."
"You're not stupid, you're just too kind, patient, and selfless. You're wasted on humans like them. They didn't have a brain cell between them. If Doyle really was possessed, their techniques wouldn’t have exorcised a louse off his scalp.”
I surprised myself as I laughed. "They kept splashing water on you. I bet that did the exact opposite of what they wanted."
His chuckle sounded like a bubbling kettle. "If our lives weren't on the line, yea, I would've found it quite refreshing."
I studied his eyes, and my smile faded. “Is it still hard for you, living on land?”
“Yes, but after I met you it became worth it.”
"You said you used to hunt in the woods. You guys eat land animals?"
"We're natural hunters and we eat anything. I also ate in greasy restaurants when I was the female human. I thought I hated human food, but then I met you and had my first ever home-cooked meal. It was a welcome change."
"That was the first time 'Doyle' thanked me." I frowned at a thought. “If you were Doyle when I got pregnant, wouldn’t this baby be his?”
“The DNA we adopt is added to all our cells except the reproductive ones, or else each generation will end up with a mishmash of all the adopted DNA of the previous generations.”
“Oh. How many DNAs can you have?”
“There isn’t really a limit, but the more you adopt, the higher the probability of transformation errors. Twenty’s our average."
"Do you have twenty?"
"No. I have six aquatic species, the female human, a coyote in case anyone saw me in the woods, and Doyle.”
I sat up, curious. “Can I see them? The land ones?”
He smiled. “Sure.”
He stood up, and fur sprouted from his skin as he bent over and transformed into a large coyote. I’d never seen one before, and I couldn’t help but shy away at its size despite its unthreatening posture. He then transformed into the woman, and I felt a twinge of sorrow knowing he found her dead in the ocean.
“Why’s she bald?" I asked.
“Because hairstyles, scars, amputations...those aren't coded in DNA. But her hair did grow when I lived as her for a while. So did Doyle's.”
“I was glad, I didn’t like it when he shaved his head." I paused. "If you had a scar or amputation, does your transformed self have that too?"
"Yes, but we have regenerative abilities, so disfigurements aren’t permanent.”
“Can you turn into a giant baby?”
“No, but I’ll be what the baby will look like when it’s my age.”
"Can you turn into a giant bug?"
"A plant?"
He gave me an eager smile as he waited for further questions, but although I had many, I remained silent in thought.
“Should I transform into Doyle?” he asked, hesitant.
“No. I don’t want to see him ever again. You can go back to your own self.”
He did and sat beside me. “Do you have anything else you’d like to ask?”
I held his hand and turned it around in mine, running my fingers over his as I tried to come to terms with my new reality.
I could understand why he was afraid to tell me what he was, but he shouldn't have pretended to be my husband to get me to carry his child. He had multiple options to fulfill his goal, and although he chose to remain transformed to live with me, and although he was respectful and appreciated my company, he shouldn't have tricked me.
Then again, I made questionable choices too. I sensed something was off, yet I chose to live the fantasy instead of confronting my suspicions.
My belly shifted beneath our hands, settling my confused emotions. My old life didn't exist anymore, and I didn't miss it. The baby was what mattered now, and that evoked a surge of forgiveness and serenity. I believed Raphael's remorse, I admired his stance against his government, I sympathized with his struggles, I felt his vulnerability, I understood his loneliness, and I appreciated his previous treatment and his current transparency and absolute trust.
I looked at him. “I want to see your cave.”
“Yes. If we’re going to raise a family together, I want you and the kids to be comfortable. I can live anywhere.”
His voice became gravelly and tight. “Can I hug you?”
I nodded, and he held me close as he whispered, “Thank you.”
My head rested under his chin as I hooked my arms around his neck, and I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Why do you have two heartbeats?”
“Because I have two hearts, two circulatory systems.” He softly pressed my head against his chest. “This is the bigger heart, for the blood.” He reached back and guided my hand to the base of his skull. “The smaller heart is here, beneath the brainstem. It's for the transference fluid.”
"Did you have two hearts as Doyle?"
"Yes, I always do. But they're in sync when we're in a transformed state."
"That's two hearts more than he had." I sighed, listening to their polyrhythmic beat. "What are we going to do about his brothers?"
"I piled their remains in Wyatt's truck and drove them to his house before I set it on fire. I don't think anyone will suspect anything other than three drunk idiots got careless smoking. Randy's car is under Doyle's name, so I left it here in case you and I went our separate ways."
He was ready to let me go despite what I knew, and absolute contentment washed over me as I snuggled in his safe embrace. "A second car can come in handy, just wish it wasn't Randy's clunky tin can."
He chuckled.

After a day of indigestion, hormonal mood swings, relentless baby kicks, and funeral preparations for Doyle’s brothers, we woke up the next morning ready to go on our road trip. Raphael transformed into the woman, and we got in Doyle’s truck and made the two-hour journey to the cave.
After parking in the woods, he carried me up jagged rocks and through narrow tunnels until we reached an unexpected space that seemed to stretch on forever. My mouth dropped open as my eyes darted around, trying to take in the incredible view.
The walls of the cave dipped and protruded, their natural pattern continuing towards the high ceiling where haphazard openings allowed sunlight to stream through. The beams illuminated the crystal-clear waters of a vast lake, the gentle ripples sending mesmeric reflections across the slate-grey rock surrounding us.
Raphael lowered me down on a ledge. “Do you like it?”
“It’s breathtaking, Raph. I love it.”
He smiled. “I’ve set it up for myself underwater, but I’ll set it up for you up here. It won’t take long, maybe a few days, and we can move in. And you don’t have to stay here. You can go anywhere you like and even have your own house and job out there. Whatever you want, I’ll support you.”
The lake seemed to be calling me. “I want you to teach me how to swim.”
“Of course.”
We took off our clothes, and he transformed into his original self before he carried me into the cool, silky water. I held on to him tight, my heart thudding in excitement. I wasn’t the only one excited as the baby began stirring, her movements rhythmic and gentle as opposed to her hungry, unruly kicks.
“She’s happy,” I said, smiling. “She’s in her element."
"The baby?"
"Yes. I don’t know how, but I can sense her. Is this what your women feel when they're pregnant?”
His eyes glinted and he leaned his head against mine. “Yes.”
“What should we name her?”
“Whatever you like.”
I thought for a few seconds. “Do you like the name Tiana?”
“It’s beautiful, what does it mean?”
“I don’t know, but it’s the name of the princess in The Princess and the Frog.”
He paused, blinking, then he laughed. “I love it.”
He set me down, and I gripped the coarse rock with my toes as he taught me the basics of floating, treading, and not panicking. He was a lot more graceful than he was on land, and it was enchanting to watch. He then held my hands and pulled me into deeper waters, and I smiled as I kicked my legs to stay afloat.
“You’re a natural!” he said.
“It’s amazing feeling so light! My back really needed this.”
“We can come here as often as you like. And, if you want, I think we should prepare for a water birth since you're due any day now.”
“What's that?” I asked as we swam to a shallow area.
He sat on a ledge in the water and pulled me onto his lap, holding me close. “It’s like a regular birth, but in water. Our young are more developed than yours, but we never give birth on land. Humans have done water births, so it should be alright."
“I’m ready to do anything to make sure Tiana’s safe and healthy. Is there anything else I should know? What’ll she look like?"
"I don't know. Our genes are dominant in adoptions, but I have no idea reproductively. Our young look like me but more compact with no horns, claws, or teeth. They're also covered in fine hair...perhaps like peach fuzz? But they shed that layer within the first week." He put a gentle hand on my stomach. "Your baby bump is bigger than our kind's, though, so I don't know how different she'll be."
I put my hand over his. "How do I care for her? Will she nurse?"
"Yes, but you don't have to do it. I've got a stockpile of substitute milk here and we can take turns feeding her."
"Why can't I nurse her?"
"You can, but if she's anything like our young, she'll be even more demanding than she is now. They're always hungry and will grow to twice their size in the first two weeks before they wean."
"Oh." I licked my lips as Tiana’s kicks began getting impatient. “Speaking of, we’re craving something.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never tasted it. I just know Tiana and I want it.” I turned to him. “If you live in water, why have we been craving raw meat instead of fish?”
“I’m not sure. Cravings are dictated by the baby’s needs for protein, iron, fat, and so on. They can be overwhelming and our pregnant women just go wild hunting seals, sea lions, and walruses. But our baby is half-human. Also, you’ve never tried seal, sea lion, or walrus before so you wouldn’t really know to crave it.”
“Maybe that’s what I’m craving now, that taste I don’t know. Maybe the water made Tiana get in touch with her father’s side and she’s craving seal or walrus.”
“Then I’ll try to find one for you.”
“Don’t break into a zoo, Raph.”
He chuckled. “I’ll find us an alternative.”

Two days after our visit to Raphael’s cave, he called me while on a grocery run. “Penelope, they’re in town,” he said in a rushed whisper.
I sat up at the panic in his voice. “The government guys after you?”
“Yes, five of them. I didn’t think they’d come this far inland.”
“Did they track your unique smell thing?”
“No. It’s not really like a scent that lingers and can be traced. It’s perhaps more like…an aura? I don’t know how to explain it. I don't think they know I'm here yet. They must’ve been infiltrating the continent over the past three years, looking for me and hoping I'd seek out human interaction.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m not coming home, I don’t want them finding you if they end up sensing me and follow. I’m going to dodge them and go to the cave. Do you remember where it is? Can you meet me there?”
“Yes. I’ll drive Randy’s car right over.”
“Please be careful. I’m going to get rid of my phone in case they catch me, so they don’t find out about you. Oh, shit!”
My pulse raced. “What is it? Raph?”
“I’m okay,” he whispered. “I’m looking for a venomous creature with an exoskeleton to adopt for protection.”
“Why can’t you use the coyote? It was scary.”
“It’s also easy to kill. I need armor. Some of the weapons we have can liquefy you.”
"Liquefy! Raph, get a gun!"
"We have repellent suits for exploration and battle, and I'm certain they'd be wearing them under the army uniforms they've got on."
“Be careful, Raph, please. It’s one thing to die fighting, but another to die from a spider bite because you were stupid.”
He managed a tight, sad chuckle. “I love you so much. I'm so sorry."
“I love you too, and I’ll see you in two hours, okay? Stay safe!”
“You too.”
I hung up and hobbled to the closet, where I struggled to put on a pair of shoes suitable for navigating the cave. After a detour to the bathroom, I shuffled to the kitchen to get provisions for the two-hour drive, and a scream ripped from my throat when the front door crashed open and a net was thrown over me, sending me tumbling to the ground.
I looked up in horror to see a group of five men in army fatigues, one of them dragging me to the side while the others began searching the house. These must be the five after Raphael, and my heart sank as I wondered how they found me.
Their raid had to mean they thought Raphael was here and I was glad he managed to dodge them, but my relief was short-lived. Raphael said Tiana had an "aurascent" he could sense, which meant they could too. According to Raphael, her existence was wrong in their eyes and I was an enemy, and my only thought right now was ensuring her and my survival.
After tearing the house apart, they surrounded me, and I curled up to shield my agitated baby bump as I scanned their identical faces with dread. They must have adopted the same man. None of them appeared to have learned facial expressions or body language, though, and I shuddered as I felt like I was surrounded by robots.
One of them crouched next to me and reached for my belly, and my defenses kicked in as I tried to knee him and push his hand away. Two other men squatted down, one grabbing my arms and pinning them against my chest while the other held my legs, and I twisted and strained as the first man reached for my exposed stomach again.
“No, please don’t hurt my baby!”
He lay his hand on top, pressing the netting against my flesh. “Where's the father?”
I wasn't giving Raphael up, but I didn't know how to reply. Afraid of saying the wrong thing and putting Tiana and myself in jeopardy, I remained silent as I continued to struggle.
He pressed down harder, his fingertips digging in. “Where's the father?”
I gasped, crying out, "I don't know! I don't know!"
"When will he come home?"
"I don't know!"
He pulled out my phone, and I now wished I had a passcode. "Tell us an alternate method of contacting him that doesn't lead to voicemail."
"There isn't one!"
"He knew we were close," one of the standing men said to the rest. "He abandoned everything and ran. She's useless."
"Wait," the second standing man said.
He stripped before transforming into his original self, looking almost identical to Raphael except for the larger horns and thinner lips. I kept my eyes glued to him, trembling as I wondered what he was going to do next.
The man gripping my baby bump studied me. "She has no shock. He told her the truth about himself. About us. She's not only a bearer."
"He bonded with a human?" the man pinning my arms asked.
Their monotone voices and blank expressions left me lost. I couldn't tell if they were disgusted or impressed, nor could I figure out what this meant for Tiana and me.
"This is good," the man holding my legs said. "He won't abandon his unit. He'll come."
"He won't come, he knows we're here," the standing man who was still human said. "She's aware of our existence and the unborn is a crime. He knows their fate at our hands. He won't risk his freedom defending a condemned, second-rate unit."
“Why are you certain he knows we're here?”
“Because he's not in town and he's abandoned all methods of communication despite having a female carrying his child.”
"Perhaps he set an evacuation plan." The man released my stomach to check my phone. "His last call was nine minutes before we arrived at this house." He looked at me. "What did he tell you?"
"N-nothing," I replied.
"He's a fugitive, he must be apprehended. What did he tell you?"
"P-please...leave us alone. We aren't hurting anyone."
The standing man who was still human lifted his foot to stomp on my stomach, and I strained against those holding me as I screamed, “No! No, please!”
The man who had transformed into his original self grabbed the aggressor and pushed him back, but I didn’t feel relief as Tiana thrashed beneath my racing heart. I writhed, gasping, as pain seared through my abdomen and warmth trickled between my legs, and my pleading eyes darted between the men's emotionless faces as I felt helpless and alone.
"What did the father tell you?" one asked, taking advantage of my desperate state.
I couldn't speak, my breaths hitching in broken sobs at the amplifying spasms and hopelessness.
The man who had transformed into his original self said something in his language before he clawed through the net and carried me. I gasped, but I was in too much pain to protest as he took me to the bathroom, lay me down in the tub, and plugged it up before turning on the faucet.
The other men filed in after us like uncanny reflections of each other, but he shoved them out before locking the door. I eyed him with apprehension as he kneeled next to me, and I pushed his hand away with a strained cry when he reached for my clothes.
“You're going into labor. I've given birth before, I can help you.”
I frowned at her unexpected revelation, but a vicious pang stole my breath and I groaned and leaned back, nodding. She removed my clothes, folded a towel behind my head, and turned off the faucet once the water level surpassed my stomach. She held my hands and gave me advice as my body seized with every jolt of pain, and tears streamed down my face as I wished Raphael was with me instead.
After an agonizing half-hour of straining, puffing, and screaming, Tiana came into the world.
I stared in awe through my sweat and tears as she wiggled in the turbid water between my legs. I reached my trembling hands towards her, but I jerked back in surprise when she swam up to me and breached the surface. High-pitched cries squeaked out of her searching mouth as she climbed towards my chest with aggressive nuzzles, and my instincts took over as I cradled her and tried to help her nurse.
She didn’t know how to latch, and the woman studied us for a few seconds before she spoke over Tiana's hungry cries. "We have different mammary glands. Lie back and position her like this. It’ll be easier.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, adjusting Tiana while the woman cut the umbilical cord with her claws.
I caressed my beautiful baby's head as she looked at me with her dark, glossy eyes, her tiny fists kneading me as she nursed, her two heartbeats drumming out of step. Raphael was right about his genes being dominant, she looked just like him. Yet, along with the soft peach fuzz covering her body, there were longer strands of actual hair on her head. She also had a little protruding nose and a faint brow ridge.
The woman broke my reverie as she asked, "What did the father tell you when he called?"
I looked up at her. "What are you going to do to Tiana and me?"
"If you cooperate, you and your daughter won't suffer. What did the father tell you?"
Fear merged with my determination as I hugged Tiana tight. “Why can’t you just banish him with us out here?”
“The sentence should match the crime, and what you're suggesting won't be punishment.”
“He didn’t commit a crime, he uncovered one.”
"His actions have led to destabilization and disorder.” She pointed to me. "And he revealed our existence to the enemy and had a child outside of his species."
"None of this would’ve happened if your government wasn’t evil. And what’s done is done, killing him won't change anything.”
“Emulation must be discouraged.”
“We aren't hurting anyone, we just want to live in peace. Please.”
“His own choices destroyed that possibility for himself and for you. What did he—"
She sat up and turned towards the door, and within a second she'd left the bathroom and locked me in. Confused but not letting this chance go to waste, I stumbled out of the tub, wrapped Tiana in a towel, got dressed, and climbed on the toilet to pry open the small window above it. Tiana’s wails echoed against the tiles as I huffed and strained, the stubborn frame grinding with every desperate one of my heaves as I fought through my pain and fatigue.
The bathroom door crashed open, and I abandoned the hopeless mission as I jumped down and scrambled for Tiana. Pressing her to my chest, I flung myself into a corner and brandished a hairbrush like a weapon, ready to fight tooth and nail for my daughter.
Shock replaced my resolve when I saw the enormous scorpion that had collided backwards into the sink, inky liquid spraying from where its left claw would be. The scorpion was terrifying, its remaining claw snapping and its stinger striking as it fought the woman and her long, radiating weapon, but she was determined as she searched for a weakness on its body and deflected its attacks with speed and skill.
Recalling Raphael's phone call, I hurled the hairbrush at her, afraid she'd end up liquefying him. It struck her in the eye, and that distraction was all Raphael needed to trip her and bury his giant stinger in her chest, coating the tiles with a spray of black as its tip protruded from her back. She collapsed lifeless to the floor, and his legs slipped on the blood as he whipped around to face us.
I stared at him in gratitude and concern as his exoskeleton dissolved and the claw, tail, and excess legs withdrew into his body. He stumbled against the wall and slid to the ground, panting as he gripped his wound tight and looked up at us with relief.
“Oh no, Raph!” I ran over in horror and skidded beside him on my knees. “Your hand…your eye…”
“Don't worry, they'll grow back," he said, his voice weak. "Are you and Tiana okay?”
“Yes, but you aren't. We need to do something, you’re bleeding out.”
I placed our daughter in his intact arm and got to work cleaning and wrapping his wrist stump, and he looked at her with warmth and a soft smile as she nuzzled his chest with hungry squeaks.
“She’s beautiful,” he whispered before he turned to me, regret flashing across his eye. "I’m so sorry this happened. I’m so sorry I wasn’t with you for her birth. I'm so sorry you had to see me do...that.” He nodded towards the dead woman.
“Raph, you just saved our lives. You were amazing, how’d you even know?”
“I overheard the boys at the gas station talking about how they ratted Doyle out to a soldier looking for people whose behavior changed. When I rushed over and saw Randy's car still here, I was ready to fight with everything I had. If they killed you, I'd have nothing to live for.”
“What are we going to do now?” I asked, tending to his damaged eye.
“We have to get rid of the bodies and move to the cave before they send others after us. Whatever’s missing we can get later. Are you okay with that?”
“More than okay.” I rolled up my sleeves and nodded. “Let’s go.”
submitted by SkittishReflections to nosleep [link] [comments]

D100 Haunted/Cursed trinkets you can find

So any haunted items you can stumble across in the world ranging from a nobles prized painting to an old doll in an abandoned village. They must be haunted by a ghost or multiple. They also need a backstory and a way to allow the ghost haunting the item to pass on into the afterlife. (No armor or weapons they will be in a different list).
d100 Name, Description, and backstory Trigger and effects Appeasement
1. The golden prince dining menu: A menu from a High-class restaurant named the golden Prince it has spots of dried blood on parts of the menu. The menu was from a high-class restaurant that closed down after all the customers were poisoned by one of the chiefs who had a grudge against nobles. He was able to get away with the crime by framing the head chief. If eating near the menu the pc will witness ghostly apparitions eating with them at a dining room table before they all start choking and vomiting up blood. The PC will suffer from a poison effect The only way to appease the ghosts is to bring their killer to justice.
2. Broken pocket watch: An expensive pocket watch that seems to be in perfect condition but its time is stuck at 1:24.The pocket watch belonged to a half-elf noble who was in love with a human woman. He went to a city for business and when he came back he found out at 1:24 she died in an accident. Overcome with grief he later killed himself around 6:00. His family later discovered his remains. Due to the fear of a scandal and the shame, it would bring to their family they hid his body somewhere on their property. When a PC is holding the pocket watch during a Tuesday the watch will start to work and the PC will feel an awful feeling of grief from losing a loved one. With each passing minute, the PC will become more depressed and around 6:00 will hang themselves and then the pocket watch will rewind to 1:24. The only way to prevent the PC from killing themselves is to remove the pocket watch from them or prevent them from hanging themself until it's after 6:00. The PC will refuse to give up the pocket watch and will become violent if someone tries to take it from them. The only way to appease his spirit is to find his body and bury it next to his lover's grave.
3. Flag of the slaughtered: Half of a snapped oak flag-pole. "We will fight to the last" is written in dried blood on one side. A flag belonging to an army that was killed to the last man. One of the dying soldiers wrote the message before dying soon after. Coming Soon Coming Soon
4. Rudolpho's Concerto of Madness: A set of haunting sheet music labeled as 'Rudolpho's Concerto of Madness.' Coming Soon Coming Soon
5. The frozen locket: A frost-covered silver locket that's frozen shut Coming Soon Coming Soon
6. bigfootbob The Smouldering Doll: A child’s doll blackened by fire, it has singed hair and half its face seems to be continually crumbling to ash. The doll is hot to the touch. The child was burnt in a house fire whilst playing. The doll is inhabited by the ghost of a small boy who will continuously ask the party to play with him. If they refuse his mood will turn black his face will start to crumble to ash and he’ll attack with fire. Appeasement by spending 1d4 hours playing with him
7. bigfootbob The Black Quill: A quill that signed the death warrants of a group resistance fighters. The group fought against unjust taxes. Now the ghosts inhabit the quill and write out scathing remarks against nobility by the hand of anyone who touches it. Appeased by an act of ‘sticking it to the man’
8. LoreGobblingFiend Dead Man's Dice: a set of loaded dice that exposed their gambling owner to the wrong crowd. He was killed for cheating in a high stakes game and now haunts the dice. If a PC rolls the dice, it will feel like betting on increasingly important things until it is all they care about. Rolling snake eyes. It's well-nigh impossible on account of loaded dice, and so embarrassingly bad that the ghost can't stand to exist anymore.
9. HippiesHappen Tasha's ring: this ring belonged to the creator of the "Tasha's Hideous Laughter" enchantment and is now haunted by their a ghost. Once donned, it cannot be pulled off, except by someone else who is laughing uncontrollably. Whenever a creature wakes up and/or hears a joke while wearing this ring, they must make a DC10 Wisdom saving throw or fall under the effects of Tasha's Hideous laughter for 10 minutes. The spirit can be appeased only when the ring is donned by a creature with an Intelligence score equal to or lower than 4, or alternatively as high as 30, either of which renders the ring useless long enough for the spirit to pass.
10. UkeBard /Coalesced A graveyard gate key. When anyone nearby dies/it senses undead, the player can feel it turning in their pocket. A groundskeeper at a graveyard came upon some youths who were being rowdy at night. Earlier in the evening, he misplaced his keys and the youths found them, accidentally unleashing an undead that killed all of them. Now the groundskeeper’s spirit yearns to protect where he failed to protect before. If the players are around hostile undead, the key will turn violently, insistently. Reappears on their person if discarded. If the key is used to seal undead within a tomb or other secure locale, it will mold itself perfectly to the lock and most lesser unquiet spirits will rest. The key will be silent and calm. If the tomb or other location is reopened, the groundskeeper key comes awake again and the undead are unleashed. To fully lay the groundskeeper to rest, the original undead who slew him must be locked away with this key. Tailor your undead CR appropriate to player level.
11. ThreeAndTwentyChars Caomombeart's Lever of Turning. It's an exquisite doorknob carved from tomb jade. There is a red glint in the jade which seems to turn when you move the doorknob around in your hand. It was the knob on the door of the top level of Caomombeart's castle keep. Prych Caomombeart married the beautiful (and wealthy) Lady Honorine Caomombeart (nee' Chavignol), taking in her three children, whom he positively loathed, from a previous marriage. Slowly, as to not build up suspicion, he began putting poison in the children's food. She found out and gathered her children to escape. He killed her to avoid prison (or worse) and went after the children, chasing them up into the castle keep and locking them in the room at the top. Realizing he would need to abscond with the wealth before being caught, he set fire to the keep and escaped into the night. The fire killed all the children and bonded their spirits into the tomb jade. The stone is worth 1000 GP. That makes it a prize worth stealing. However, it is cursed by the children's spirits. When eating, the Lever makes all food and drink taste horrid. So much so, the holder of this item will stop eating and suffer the effects of malnutrition (Exhaustion). The knob can be dropped and left, ridding you of the curse and guiding you back to health, the exhaustion slowly waning over a week's time. However, the knob will still be cursed. That makes selling the item a bit troublesome. The glint is actually the children pointing you in the direction of Caomombeart. To rid the jade of the curse, you must deal with Caomombeart. If alive (+50% percentile dice), you must use the knob's "compass" to hunt him down and kill him. If dead, you must find his grave and bury the knob with him, thus entombing him with his unwanted children forever.
12. guilersk An old broom, so dry as to almost leech the moisture out of a person's hands if they hold it. The bristles are worn and crooked, almost like finger bones, to the degree that they rattle if the broom is shaken. The broom is haunted by the ghost of a maid who had an affair with a nobleman and then was killed so that the nobleman's wife would not find out. The holder is compelled (Wisdom/Willpower type saving throw, middling DC--13 seems good) to begin sweeping the current room of all dirt and dust; when finished, they must save again or proceed to the next room and sweep that room, then the next, and so on, suffering fatigue/exhaustion/loss of stamina, etc. for every 2 rooms cleaned this way until the (ideally large) domicile is clean, a save is successful, or the victim collapses. The (burnt-ash) remains of the maid must be located in a hidden chamber of the house and be swept out with the broom. Emptying the remains by any other method causes them to slowly, inexorably creep back into the house.
13. Th3R3493r The Ledger of a Meek Child: It is the innocent looking diary of a wimpy kid that died due to one of the major plague to happen long ago. It details his early life and daily goings and is strangely compelling to read with crudely drawn arts reenacting the words. The writing and drawing becomes better as the reader continues as the child becomes more jaded and damaged in his life. But, near the end, it becomes apparent the boy who is now a teen caused the plagues and spread it via the animals and plants he could taint. As the world became more chaotic and the death tolls became immense, the child died due to him getting bite by one of the rats he used as a plague bearer. The ledger finishes past the boy's death where the soul of the child will attempt to possess the reader and carry on with killing the world with pestilence as a lich. The ledger will persuade those who open it to read it until the end. At first, with light-hearted stories and pleasant memories, then with answers and reason to an unexplained dark age and cures to ailments that exist to this day, finally by forcing the will of the reader to its command. There is no appeasing it until all is dead or dying. It must be keep out of unsafe hands. Burn or destroy it will release the tainted soul of the boy and lead to more plagues being released into the world. Do not read it.
14. Th3R3493r The Awful War-Lute of Urrhock the Terrible: A master-crafted dwarven lute-ax that was stolen, abused, and misused by a orcish bard-arian by the name of Urrhock. He, in life and death, dreamed of being a bard of great renowned and refine despite his brutish and crass nature and lack of musical talents. Despite the compliments and payment he recieve for his "performances", he knew it was empty words to appease him. He died after a paladin of Corellon Larethian (the god of music) used a smite and a javelin to cease his butchery of the arts to the great relief of the crowd during his "magnum opus". Now he longs for his magnum opus to be sung and loved by at least one soul. As an ax, it is a great weapon that acts as great ax, but, it compels the user to sing and use it as an instrument. As a lute, it sucks and cannot keep tune. The user loses rhythm easily and rhyming is always at disadvantage with the chances that a spell may rebound and do the opposite of what is supposed to do. Urrhock will give you his song and request you sing it to anyone who will listen, even if it is not with his lute. Upon an audience member of sound mind sincerely stating they enjoyed the song, Urrhock's soul will be released from the weapon to be let wander the world. It then becomes a great weapon and instrument.
15. Th3R3493r The Spiteful Arrow: An haunted, but, impressive dragon-fang arrow that used by a man to kill his brother who was always the better shot and hunter. An archer who holds it feels the hate that burns within its shaft and concentration in its head. When shot or thrown, it will steer itself to the heart of the fratricidal brother and pierce through anything in its way until its momentum is completely lost. If you shoot it and the brother's direction is behind you, it will go through you to get to its murderer. It must pierce the heart of its murderer or at least where it was. It will become a normal dragon-fang arrow afterwards.
16. scoobygotabooty The Chains That Bind: A small orb. Would be transparent, if not for the murky, purple essence that lies within. It is the size of a human fist. There was once a mage who enjoyed the experimentation of soul transposition. A testament to his cruel, albeit fitting fate, the orb contains the soul of a cold, dark, and persistent being. Perhaps the two figures share some similarities. Upon obtaining this peculiarly named orb, the carrier is overcome with an intense urge to keep it on their person, and they become obsessively protective over the trinket. Possessing this orb spawns a deathly, floating figure. It shifts and shimmers, following the players at a deathly slow pace (speed of 5 feet). It cannot be harmed, and touching a being on this plane of existence causes heavy necrotic damage. It always knows the location of the orb and those who possess it and will pursue them endlessly, through shifting seasons, passing moons, and the stretches of time. The holder finds the laboratory of the mage, placing the orb upon a stand on their desk. The spirit becomes corporeal and can be harmed. Slaying the apparition will free it from its prison, much like the group will be freed of their pursuer.
17. Th3R3493r The Lovers' Pints: It is two common copper pint glass that always finds themselves on the porch step on the inn. It was used by an amicable but lonely half-orc who frequented the tavern in the inn. He had a habit of sometimes taking a drink with him on the road and coming back with the empty cup or tanker in the morning. One night, he caught the eye of a beautiful adventurer and he fell for her as she as well for him. After a week, she went off for work. As for the half-orc, he kept coming and asking if anyone had seen hide or hair of her. When they would meet up again, they would sit on the porch with the mugs and just enjoy the other's company. As fate would have it, not too long after, a war broke out in a neighboring kingdom and the one that the inn resides. The adventurer became a mercenary and the half-orc fought as a foot soldier. In the fog of war on the last battle, they met and clashed until the half-orc unknowingly kill her. He held her as she died and she forgave him in her last few breaths. When he went back to his old life, he grew more and more depressed. Until the fateful day, he came into the tavern with a smile. He ordered two rounds and walked off with both. The morning, both cups were on the porch and still full of ale. The guardsman who check on the half-orc and found he had died in his sleep with an ale stain on his nightstand and another stain on the opposite nightstand. The tavern owner attempted to take the pint glass in but always found on the porch full of ale no matter how secure they were stowed. They say that if two people who truly love each other, the ale within will taste like ambrosia with a hint of ecstasy but, if it is fake for at least one, it will taste like piss with a bit of smoke and blood. The pint glasses can not be destroyed, stolen, or kept. They can be sold but, they will appear on the porch no matter what and all the shops in the town know this. After midnight, they will disappear if all sentient lifeforms stop looking at it even for a blink. They refill every hour as long as no one is watching it. All drinkable liquids put in the pint glasses will become the special ale as anything else will empty on the ground below it. As stated in the legend, if two people who truly love each other, the ale within will taste like ambrosia but, if it is fake for at least one, it will taste like piss with a bit of smoke and blood. If you drink one cup alone, it will just taste like the cheapest ale on tap for the day. The lovers live on in the cups. Burning or salting their corpses will not lead to the cups losing their anomalous property. Perhaps burning the mugs in abyssal flames as a beholder watches would do the trick.
18. Hermit-Sensei The Spectre's Spectacles: an old pair of steel wire-frame spectacles. They originally belonged to a local town crier that was executed after violently tackling a city nobleman and claiming that he was "trying to save him from a monster". Upon first putting the glasses on the wearer will unknowingly be cursed. After a day of wearing the spectacles, the wearer will begin to see an apparition of an opaque black shadow in the shape of a man. The visions will become increasingly frequent and disturbing as the apparition goes from simply standing in view to eventually attacking people within the wearer's eyesight (other people will not perceive this apparition and will not be harmed). At the point of the curse that the wearer is seeing attacks, each vision will deal 1dX psychic damage to the wearer. Taking the glasses off after seeing their first vision will blur the wearer's eyesight and deal 1d4 psychic damage every 2 hours (and can only be fixed by putting the glasses back on). The curse can be lifted by returning the spectacles to their original owner's corpse. Attempting to use holy water on the spectacles or break the glass parts will cause the specter to physically manifest and attack the wearer, and only those who have put the glasses on will be able to see it.
19. sally_puppetdawg Pinkie’s Ladle: This large hand-carved wooden ladle is marked with the initials PM and appears to be enchanted to automatically stir any stew it is placed in. In actuality, it is haunted by Pinkie MacLoy, a portly halfling ghost who owned a tiny tavern famous for its delicious food. He was working on a brand new recipe when a group of bandits attacked the tavern and Pinkie tried to defend it, using his giant (to him) wooden ladle. Alas, he failed. He haunts his ladle now and relishes when it is used as an improvised weapon to whack bad guys, though he’s not really seeking revenge. Trigger: Invisible ghost emerges when the spoon is used to cook. Effect: Stirs soup. If noticed (true sight, someone makes a comment, whatever), the ghost tells his story. Continues to happily stir the soup. He pines to return to his old tavern and cook one last good meal
20. InstalledTeeth The Sunken Playwright - in a time long forgotten a young playwright was aboard a ship where he intended to return home and sell it to a wealthy theatre after spending nearly ten years writing it abroad. On the voyage, he decided to see it on the stage for the first time so to speak. Three of the ship’s crew members volunteered to act it out bellow deck. Although the playwright’s name has been lost to the deep the three actors who performed were remembered in his notes as Deidre, Hansel, and someone known only as Pick. The night of the first rehearsal the ship sunk under mysterious circumstances and the playwright stuffed his life’s work into his trunk as his cabin flooded. The playwright and Pick went down with the ship. When out on the open sea or on some beachside shore the players can find the playwright’s trunk and within they can find the script and the playwright’s notes explaining everything up until the night the play was supposed to be rehearsed. If they read the script they will find a story featuring three characters. The play consists of two of these characters wanting the third dead. Throughout the play, they plan the murder of the third as the audience sees the complex life of secrets and lies that the third character lives, but it is never explained what leads the other two characters to murder. At the end of the play, the first two characters dispose of the body and make a suicide pact. When the murder is discovered the second character follows through but the first character bails, changes their identity and flees the country. The play finally ends with the last living character on a ship to an unknown location where they comment about a storm coming from behind them. When the script is read all players who know the plot in character are inflicted with the Playwright’s curse. The curse itself has the playwright following the players around as a vaguely humanoid shape of rot and sea life clinging to his skeleton. He will carry a feathered pen which he will use to write pages from his script on any piece of paper the cursed player(s) own. He will eventually replace the names of the characters in the play with the names of party members and other NPCs. If the curse is not broken in time then the murder will occur with the named party members with one being the victim, one committing suicide, and the other fleeing, never to be seen again. The other cursed party members (if there are any) will no longer be able to find the script and the playwright will start to write on their eyes in the night dealing 1d4 necrotic damage for however many days since the disappearance of the script. To break the curse the players must perform the play to a full audience at the theatre the playwright intended to sell his story to. During the performance, the playwright will be sitting in the front row taking notes similar to those in his trunk. At the end of the performance, the playwright will leave his notes on the seat and give a standing ovation and walk out of the theatre and vanish. When the curse is broken the water damage will disappear from the script and it will become a leather-bound book with a portrait of the playwright without the rot and decay. Sitting on top of the book will be the playwright’s pen that can be used to write three foretelling numbers per week
21. Chillout_Man The Frosted Scope: a nobleman and his son were on a trip to a mountain (that still exists lol) in the summer with the intention of camping and bonding with each other. However, an unusual snowstorm appeared on the mountain during the trip, and neither was seen again. The nobleman had brought his most prized possession - a fine brass telescope - along on the trip. It was later found by his wife on the doorstep. When she tried to pick it up, it was incredibly cold to the touch, causing her to shriek and throw it out into the forest. When picked up by a non-human or female PC, they will suffer 1d4 cold damage, but be otherwise unaffected. When a human male PC picks it up, it will be instantly frozen to their hand by strange ice that glows slightly. The ice doesn't feel cold to the attached PC, but anyone else who touches it will suffer 1d4 cold damage. Most beings will see nothing but a blurred image that cannot be identified when looking through the glass. However, the PC who is bound to it will see a beautiful view from a mountaintop. When the scope is brought to the site that is seen in it, the icy chains will break, but the PC will be left with a feeling that there is unfinished business. If the scope is looked through again (this time anyone can do it, and will not take damage or be bound), it shows a seemingly abandoned keep on the other side of the mountain. Within the keep is a log detailing weather experiments. It also states that the master of the keep moved elsewhere to continue his experiments. Find the master, who is revealed to be a powerful wizard, and show him the scope. He may need it explained to him, but once he realizes the suffering he's caused, he will start sobbing before teleporting away. At this point, the ghost will leave the telescope, allowing it to be used properly. It is exceptionally high quality, increasing sight distance tenfold and granting advantage on perception rolls while a PC is looking through it, and can be sold for 500 GP.
22. PumpkinSpiceAngel The Pearl Tear: A pearl tear-shaped pendant that is somewhat damaged. The Pear Tear had belonged to Ashlynn Meshi, the daughter of Lord Leroux and Lady Ingrid Meshi. Ashlynn had fallen in love with the son of a local baron, Donatien Dannu. Even though Dannu's father was known to be a corrupt and manipulative man, Ashlynn had believed that she could keep Dannu from becoming his father. Unfortunately, Dannu had become his father in the way that he had treated Meshi, abusing her both physically and emotionally. When she had tried to talk to Dannu's brother, Titus, about her lover's actions, Titus had brushed her off. Unfortunately, Dannu found out and had beaten her. After what seemed like an eternity of beatings, Dannu had strangled Meshi, killing her. Afraid that he would be executed for what he had done, he had buried Meshi in an unmarked grave, taking the Pearl Tear with him. Upon a PC donning the necklace, they will endure a shortness of breath lasting a round and intense anxiety. After the round is finished, the PC will notice an anxious woman on a successful perception roll. If the PC chooses to approach the woman, she will beg the PC to stay away from her before quickly vanishing. During a long rest, the PC will have visions of the woman being hurt by a man hidden in the shadows. On a third long rest, the PC will receive a vision of the woman being badly beaten and strangled. After the woman has passed, the shadowy man will glance at the PC with a look of intense hatred. Upon waking, the PC must make a Wisdom saving throw. Upon a failure, the PC is frightened until a Calm Emotions spell is cast. On a fourth long rest, the PC will encounter the same woman they had encountered but sitting in a way that covers her face with her knees. If the PC chooses to interact with her, the woman will lift her head revealing a bloody nose, black eye, and bruises on her neck. If the PC is still frightened, they will have disadvantage on any checks to interact with her. Either way, she will tell the PC about her necklace and where her lover had buried her. To put Meshi to rest, the PC must give her a proper funeral with the Pearl Tear. After the funeral, the woman will appear to the PC, her injuries healed. She will give thanks to the PC for ending her suffering and ascend to Paradise. The PC will no longer be frightened and will have advantage on the next persuasion roll they make.

submitted by Typical_Revolution77 to d100 [link] [comments]

Matched Betting Diary #1  2 Weeks Profit Update  How To Make Money Online  Spreadsheet Tracking How To Read Las Vegas Odds Board Sports Betting: How to Read Point Spreads Football Betting Strategies - Using Mathematical Models for Football Betting Tips How To Make Serious Profit With Betting (Safest Method)

Clean sheet This market (as many others) is practically offered in a different way, still some users may find it more useful to bet on any team to keep a clean sheet. For those who are not familiar with the terminology of the beautiful game, a clean sheet is awarded to a team when it doesn’t concede a goal in the particular game. Clean Sheet & Fail 2 Score Stats Two critical stats for under goals betting are clean sheet stats and fail to score stats. Clean Sheets A clean sheet is when a team keeps their opponent from scoring. Clean sheet numbers show defensive strength. A team that keeps clean sheets, and scores few goals is a great UNDER goals candidate. How to Start Clean Sheet Betting. Before placing any bets, it’s important to support your potential selections with some research. A great place to begin with is by looking at any injuries or suspensions to key personnel that can impact the probability of a team keeping a clean sheet. Clean sheet: Think of a clean sheet as a shutout. It is when a team successfully comes through a game without having conceded a goal or any points. This is a big pride of defenses and in betting you will see options like To Win To Nil which means that you are backing a side to win without conceding in the game. When a team does not allow their opponent team to score in the match then the team has kept a clean sheet. Keeping the clean sheet is very important. The goalkeepers and defenders even get bonus if the team keeps a clean sheet. At end of season a

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Matched Betting Diary #1 2 Weeks Profit Update How To Make Money Online Spreadsheet Tracking

Hi everyone and welcome to my first matched betting video! I'm only 2 weeks in but have learnt so much so far and in this video I show you how much I've made in my first 2 weeks and exactly how ... In this video, my brother Mark aka MFA, goes over further into sports betting and looks at the concept of point spreads, and how to read them. A point spread is the amount of points a team is ... Moneyline sports betting is explained in this articles, with examples from MLB baseball and NHL hockey betting. We illustrate how moneylines are typically displayed on sportsbooks and how to ... Here is a system we use personally on how to make serious profit from betting by using big stakes and the safest selections on the markets. These selections mainly include over 0.5 Goals and - No ... How Betting Odds Work - Sports Betting Odds Explained - Duration: 3:03. Kev's Picks 254,244 views. 3:03. Point Spread Betting Explained: Sports Betting 101 - Duration: 2:36.