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Flatten the Curve. Part 44. Bill Gates Rumored Doomsday Bunkers. Bill Gates Hoarding. Rockefeller Institute & Unethical Human Experiments. Toxic Dust Storms and Covid-19. It's Hidden in Plain Sight. Wake up.

Part 43 is here
Listen up. Do you have a gnawing feeling that something isn't right? A gut instinct? Is your intuition leaving you in a state of vigilance? Is your spidey sense tingling? Do you feel like the truth is hidden in plain sight, but you can't quite see it?
You're not alone.
So what is the truth and why won't they just tell us? They aren't going to tell us the truth because most of us can't handle the truth. They experiment on live subjects in the past, but suddenly they've seen the light? Suddenly they've found morality and embraced truth and ethical behavior?
The Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study was a controlled study of the effects of malaria on the prisoners of Stateville Penitentiary near Joliet, Illinois, beginning in the 1940s. The study was conducted by the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago in conjunction with the United States Army and the State Department. At the Nuremberg trials, Nazi doctors cited the precedent of the malaria experiments as part of their defense. Link Here
Any day that Nazi Doctors use your experiment as a defense for Nazi medical experiments is not a good day.
Let me show you one other part of the puzzle that you need to read. Let me show you that at some point the money, power, or even the scientific research can detach some individuals from reality.
"A number of years ago, we talked about, 'What if there wasn't clean water? What if there wasn't enough food?" she said on the radio show. "Where might we go? What might we do as a family?' So, I think we should leave those preparations to ourselves." The only thing they did not prepare, however, was the vaccine or a treatment for the virus that would cause a pandemic, though she acknowledged how "lucky" she and her family are to be in a position of privilege when it comes to dealing with COVID-19. "What we mostly talk about now in our home every night is how lucky we are," she continued. "We understand our privilege. When we say our grace at night, what we're thankful for around the table, is that we aren't struggling to put a meal on the table as so many families around the world are." Link Here
Yep. Sure thing Melinda. You guys just sit around the dinner table (like us normal plebs) and talk about how lucky you are to have food. Then you went out and stocked up your basement. Maybe they hoarded all the toilet paper because they're so full of crap they can use TP to wipe their mouths with after they speak. And what a minute, isn’t hoarding food bad? And aren't billionaires just hoarding cash? Different rules for different people, and it makes no difference what they say publicly when it's still just the same crap.
August 7, 2019 | Many of the world's elite, including hedge fund managers, sports stars and tech executives (Bill Gates is rumored to have bunkers at all his properties) have chosen to design their own secret shelters to house their families and staff. Gary Lynch, general manager of Texas-based Rising S Company, says 2016 sales for their custom high-end underground bunkers grew 700% compared to 2015, while overall sales have grown 300% since the November US presidential election alone. Link Here
So which basements were you stocking Bill? I'm betting you stocked all of them. But that article really made it sound like you personally went grocery shopping, didn't it?
And there's that year again, 2015. The same year as the Bird Man plauge doctor video, coronavirus and bats possible pandemic discovered, CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing went mainstream, and the Billy Boy pandemic warnings started with a Ted Talk, then the Doomsday Bunkers elite MKultra wealthy segment jumped by 700%.
That's not a good sign.
It's all connected. All of it. We might not know how. Or who's doing what. Or how bad our current ELE events will become, but we need to at least get an outline of the big picture, before the big picture turns into the Main Event.
As far as I'm concerned, there is no possible way our present unexplained mysteries aren't prognosticators of upcoming calamities.
No. Way. At. All.
Let's throw the spotlight back onto our pandemic. It's all plain and simple when you accept the government's and the medical community's word at Face(book) value. Our leaders tell us to Keep Calm and Carry On. Just take two official narrative pills and wait for the vaccine. It's all good. Honestly. Listen. Trust. Obey.
1913 to 1951: Dr. Leo Stanley, chief surgeon at the San Quentin Prison, performed a wide variety of experiments on hundreds of prisoners at San Quentin. Many of the experiments involved testicular implants, where Stanley would take the testicles out of executed prisoners and surgically implant them into living prisoners. In other experiments, he attempted to implant the testicles of rams, goats, and boars into living prisoners. Stanley also performed various eugenics experiments, and forced sterilizations on San Quentin prisoners.[13] Stanley believed that his experiments would rejuvenate old men, control crime (which he believed had biological causes), and prevent the "unfit" from reproducing.
Whelp, at least you could say that Dr. Stanley had the balls to carry out his experiments.
Tuberculosis. Syphilis. Herpes. Influenza. Malaria. The medical society treated us to a rolodex of experiments.
In 1941, at the University of Michigan, virologists Thomas Francis, Jonas Salk and other researchers deliberately infected patients at several Michigan mental institutions with the influenza virus by spraying the virus into their nasal passages.[24] Francis Peyton Rous, based at the Rockefeller Institute and editor of the Journal of Experimental Medicine, wrote the following to Francis regarding the experiments:
It may save you much trouble if you publish your paper... elsewhere than in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. The Journal is under constant scrutiny by the anti-vivisectionists who would not hesitate to play up the fact that you used for your tests human beings of a state institution. That the tests were wholly justified goes without saying.
Wholy justified. Goes without saying. But we would never be so reckless with experiments today, no matter how justified, would we?
NY MAG. March 20
On January 13, less than a week after COVID-19 was identified as the virus behind the outbreak in Wuhan, researchers at Cambridge-based biotech company Moderna proposed a vaccine to fight it. A little over two months later, on Monday morning, a pharmacist in Seattle injected Rebecca Sirull with that vaccine, making her the third person to be injected in a 45-person clinical trial, the first human trial in the country. To rush the vaccine to clinical trial, Moderna skipped animal testing, a somewhat extraordinary measure. Sirull, a healthy 25-year-old editorial coordinator at a research institute, will receive a second injection in a month and have her blood drawn regularly for more than a year. Should the test be successful, the more optimistic estimates suggest that a vaccine could be available in 12 to 18 months. Intelligencer spoke with Sirull about her decision to take part.
Oh. Uhm. OK.
Jill Horowitz stood outside the Quaker Ridge Shopping Center in New Rochelle, N.Y.—an early COVID-19 hotspot—in March, stopping shoppers as they walked into the grocery store. She handed them blue pamphlets soliciting volunteers for a Rockefeller University antibody research study. “I would say, ‘Would you like to help us find a cure?’” says Horowitz, executive director of strategic operations at Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Molecular Immunology. “I didn’t even have to mention coronavirus. This neighborhood was completely subsumed.”
Yessiree ladies and gentlemen, step right up, roll up that sleeve, and get a poke to save all the good folks out there from the pandemic. The one that contaminates surfaces, but now doesn't spread through surfaces. The virus that you don’t need a mask for because a mask will make it worse. The virus you might need a mask for because it wouldn't hurt, but it's not airborne. Put on a darn mask because the virus is airborne. Maybe. But air-conditioning makes COVID-19 worse. So only wear a mask inside. The virus that worsens with pollution, but don't worry about putting on the mask outside. Because if you wear a mask you'll stop the second wave. But there might not be a second wave, it might just be one long continuous wave.
Is anyone else getting the impression that they don't have enough information about the virus to be issuing guidelines yet?
But I'm just being paranoid. I'm sure of it. That was then, and this is now.
Then: In a 1946 to 1948 study in Guatemala, U.S. researchers used prostitutes to infect prison inmates, insane asylum patients, and Guatemalan soldiers with syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases in order to test the effectiveness of penicillin in treating the STDs. They later tried infecting people with "direct inoculations made from syphilis bacteria poured into the men's penises and on forearms and faces that were slightly abraded . . . or in a few cases through spinal punctures". Approximately 700 people were infected as part of the study (including orphan children). The study was sponsored by the Public Health Service, the National Institutes of Health, the Pan American Health Sanitary Bureau (now the World Health Organization's Pan American Health Organization) and the Guatemalan government. The team was led by John Charles Cutler, who later participated in the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. Cutler chose to do the study in Guatemala because he would not have been permitted to do it in the United States. In 2010 when the research was revealed, the U.S. officially apologized to Guatemala for the studies. A lawsuit has been launched against Johns Hopkins University, Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Rockefeller Foundation for alleged involvement in the study.
That is so reassuring as we move forward, isn’t it? And don't give me any that was back then we've changed arguments. We haven't changed at all. Proof? Ok. Let's go.
This is a link to an LA Times article that talks about Bill Gates and his AIDS fight in Africa. You go Bill. Get them vaccines out to the people. You're such a good guy! That's what a New Normal article would say. This isn’t a New Normal article. It's scathing in it's judgment. They may not be dying of AIDS, or just living longer with AIDS, but they are dying due to other factors, which should be easily acquirable with the wealth at Bill's disposal to prevent.
But there was one item that caught my eye. It talked about a Paper Mill that was in a country in Africa, that Bill owned a substantial amount of stock in. This company owned paper mills in North America. Those paper mills were environmentally friendly with little emissions. But not the one in the African Country. Nope. Not at all. That one didn't bother with environmentally friendly processes.
The story goes on to discuss how one of Bill's AIDS treatment recipients lived downwind from this plant and how the fumes we're probably killing him. And what were the fumes?
Hydrogen Sulfide. (Read more at Flatten the Curve) - Part 13
Yes seriously. Treating them for AIDS while downwind from Hydrogen Sulfide. I'm not sure about you, but that sounds like a medical experiment to me. Seriously, the guy that wants to stop climate-change by geo-engineering the planet doesn't use his clout to stop the pollution from a paper plant that he owns stock in. OK. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
Yet actually it might. No, seriously, it really might. I've already stated that the virus seems to be activated with environmental toxins. And here we have an ultimate real life laboratory. And what does this real life laboratory research?
Why maybe it researchers Miasma theory? Huh? Yep. Here we go.
The miasma theory is an obsolete medical theory that held that diseases—such as cholera, chlamydia, or the Black Death—were caused by a miasma, a noxious form of "bad air", also known as night air. The theory held that epidemics were caused by miasma, emanating from rotting organic matter.
Rotting organic matter, like at meat plants?
May 7, 2020: www.wired.com | Why Meatpacking Plants Have Become Covid-19 Hot Spots.
June 23, 2020: https://www.bbc.com | Coronavirus: Why have there been so many outbreaks in meat processing plants?
And do you know what else was associated with Miasma Theory? The Bird Man plauge doctor, just like the 2015 "you're all dead" video.
The word miasma comes from ancient Greek and means "pollution". And then we have Covid-19 and pollution.
The idea also gave rise to the name malaria (literally "bad air") through medieval Italian.
Malaria? What? Crazy? Aren't there debunked studies about Malaria drugs working on COVID-19? Nah. Must be fake news. Right? Or fake facts. Or is it fake news reporting fake facts? I'm just so confused.
Does the strangeness end there? Sadly, it doesn't folks. Not at all. Not in this New Normal.
Because Mr. Bill Gates is trying to eradicate tuberculosis.
And, Hydrogen sulfide stimulates Mycobacterium tuberculosis respiration, growth
Back when I looked for information about the pandemic, I noticed something odd, the mortality rate for Covid-19 fluctuated depending on the region. Now I'm not a doctor, but you don’t have to be to read, do you? So I kept looking at the data for similarities. And they were there. Hypoxic or polluted water like lakes or coastlines. Cities with factory polluting emissions. They all led to outbrakes and higher mortality rates.
And then it changed. I saw ourbreak regions with low mortality rates. It didn't make sense, but there had to be a reason. There's always a reason. And as I kept looking at the similarities of low mortality rates something jumped out, a lot of them were still vaccinated for Mycobacterium Tuberculosis.
Yep.
But this is crazy talk Greek! You're just looking for dots and finding a way to connect them. It's just a coincidence that Bill Gates is funding AIDS prevention, an article exists that points out a therapy participant is close to a source of hydrogen sulfide emissions from a company that Billy has stock investments in, and that Billy also has a program to eradicate tuberculosis. Stop seeing patterns where they don't exist. You're freaking people out.
Crap. Perhaps you're right. Maybe I am freaking people out. But let me show you something else. It's something that I noticed about a month after this pandemic was shutting us down. And it didn't make any sense to me at the time. Ready?
www.pnas.org | BCG vaccine protection from severe coronavirus disease 2019 COVID-19.
BCG? What's that?
www.sciencedaily.com | Preliminary study suggests tuberculosis vaccine may be limiting COVID-19 deaths.
And then the studies started backing it up. Even betteworse, they linked it to Hydrogen Sulfide, endogenous not exogenous, but Hydrogen Sulfide is the same no matter if you breathe it in or produce it biologically.
So, yeah. Let's dig.
Endogenous Hydrogen Sulfide stimulates Mycobacterium Tuberculosis respiration, growth, and pathogenesis.
In mammals, H2S elicits a biphasic, concentration-dependent mitochondrial response14, which can be cytotoxic or cytoprotective. For example, at high concentrations H2S reversibly inhibits cytochrome c oxidase (Complex IV)15–17. In contrast, at low concentrations H2S can serve as bioenergetic fuel to stimulate mitochondrial respiration without uncoupling of respiration. Link here
At high concentrations Hydrogen Sulfide can be cytotoxic and reversibly inhibit cytochrome c oxidase. We've followed the White Rabbit and now we're digging. Can't stop now. Won't stop now.
Defects involving genetic mutations altering cytochrome c oxidase (COX) functionality or structure can result in severe, often fatal metabolic disorders.
Disorders involving dysfunctional COX assembly via gene mutations include Leigh syndrome, cardiomyopathy, leukodystrophy, anemia, and sensorineural deafness**.Link here.
Anemia? Like, the Momento movie? Do I have amnesia now and I have to live my life backwards?
Hold on, don't freak out. You don't have amnesia. Self inflicted amnesia induced systemically via behaviorally manipulated echo chambers introduced systemically through social media electronic pathways? Possibly. But this is anemia, and that's another story.
Current management of COVID-19 is based on the premise that respiratory failure is the leading cause of fatalities (Zhou et al., 2020). Nevertheless, mounting evidence points to drastic systemic events taking place that contribute to accelerated COVID-19 pathogenesis. The “cytokine storm” is a notion that is reportedly hailed as the hallmark of the COVID-19 hyper-inflammatory state (Mehta et al., 2020). Consecutive studies linked COVID-19 related hyper-inflammation to systemic events including hypercoagulability, oxidative stress and altered iron metabolism. Mehta et al., 2020, Phua et al., 2020
Hyperinflammatory and altered iron metabolism. Following? Good.
Coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) has been regarded as an infective-inflammatory disease, which affects mainly lungs. More recently, a multi-organ involvement has been highlighted, with different pathways of injury. A hemoglobinopathy, hypoxia and cell iron overload might have a possible additional role. Scientific literature has pointed out two potential pathophysiological mechanisms: i) severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV- 2) interaction with hemoglobin molecule, through CD147, CD26 and other receptors located on erythrocyte and/or blood cell precursors; ii) hepcidin-mimetic action of a viral spike protein, inducing ferroportin blockage. Link Here.
Hypoxia? Where have I heard that before?
A dangerous symptom of the coronavirus that can cause a patient to fall unconscious or even die is known as hypoxia — when the body’s tissues do not receive enough oxygen. Dr. Richard Levitan, an emergency doctor working in New York City, wrote for the New York Times at the end of April that he has seen COVID-19 patients with “alarmingly low” oxygen levels, but no shortness of breath. He describes this as “silent hypoxia”. These patients had oxygen saturation levels as low as 50 per cent when normal levels are usually at 94 to 100 per cent at sea level, Levitan explained. These patients had oxygen saturation levels as low as 50 per cent when normal levels are usually at 94 to 100 per cent at sea level, Levitan explained.
Low oxygen levels. Dysregulates immune system. Are your They Live sunglasses on? Are plugged into the Matrix or hacking the Matrix?
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov | Hydrogen sulfide stimulates Mycobacterium tuberculosis respiration + growth.
Tuberculosis (TB) is responsible for millions of deaths each year and several billion people are latently infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). Mtb modulates host factors, such as endogenous gaseous signalling molecules, to persist in humans for decades. H2S has diverse biological functions, including modulation of immunity and cellular respiration. However, the role of H2S in TB is unclear. We found that mice deficient in H2S production are more resistant to Mtb infection than WT mice. Upon infection, Mtb increases host H2S, which suppresses central carbon metabolism and increases inflammation. Distribution of H2S-producing enzymes in human TB lungs showed that H2S is produced at the site of infection. These findings identify glycolysis and H2S-producing enzymes as targets for TB host-directed therapies.
Don't Freak Out like LeChic, but I don't think we're in Kansas anymore Dorothy.
Speaking of Kansas, do you remember the dust storm as the tornado blew in and swept Dorthy to Oz?
The “Godzilla” Saharan dust cloud over the US, explained:
Dust clouds originate in the Sahara, the largest desert in the world outside the poles, and the Sahel, just south of the Sahara. Much of the dust originates in the Bodélé Depression in Chad, an ancient dry lake bed at the threshold of the Sahara and the Sahel. There, convective storms in the early summer whip the dry ground and loft particles of silica, iron, and phosphorous as high as 20,000 feet into the sky. Link Here
And then we have this:
Residents wear face masks to protect themselves from the Saharan dust clouds covering Dakar, Senegal. N95 masks and even surgical masks can help protect people from getting sick from the dust. Breathing dust can trigger problems like asthma attacks and worsen conditions like heart disease. But particles from natural sources can pose some unique threats. “Desert soil can also be contaminated with bacteria and fungal spores or with toxic heavy metal,” Achakulwisut said. “For example, in the US Southwest, dust episodes there have been linked to outbreaks of Valley Fever and arsenic poisoning.” Link Here
Contaminated with bacteria. Guaranteed Anaerobic bacteria. And it carries along metallic compounds. Like this:
**A 2001 study in Limnology and Oceanography suggested that the seasonal windfalls of iron-rich Saharan dust become a banquet for red tides, blooms of algae that spill into the ocean like dye, deplete it of oxygen, and release toxins. Dust clouds can also host unwelcome stowaways. Jun 24, 2020 Link Here.
Red tides. Blooms of algae. Or rather perhaps, Cyanobacteria blooms? All in a dust storm. Maybe we should start wearing masks, right? Don't want to breathe in toxic dust, do we?
But Snake Park is no paradise. For decades the residents have lived with the mine, which they say blows clouds of dust into their homes. Now Snake Park, formally known as Doornkop, is in the sub-district with the highest number of Covid-19 infections in Gauteng. Last week, Gauteng Premier David Makhura linked “cluster outbreaks” on mines, and people moving between them and where they live, to the Covid-19 infections in the western part of Soweto. In 2017, the Bench Marks Foundation, a nonprofit that monitors multinational corporations, released the results of a survey of household health in four mine-affected areas in Soweto. Mine tailings contain heavy metals and chemicals and cause various illnesses, including mental health issues and Down’s Syndrome. The report found that more than two thirds of the respondents in Snake Park complained about respiratory problems, including persistent coughs, sinus issues, asthma and tuberculosis. This year, the August dust storms in Snake Park will coincide with the expected peak of Covid-19 infections in Gauteng.
“We can’t breathe well. This mine is very dangerous. It’s toxic,” Phongoma says, adjusting his bright blue mask. Looking at the mine dump, now glistening in the afternoon sun, he adds: “It’s a bomb. It’s a nuclear weapon — and with this Covid-19 thing, it’s going to explode.” Link Here
Stranger and stranger, isn’t it? So strange that I would venture to say, Stranger Things haven't happened. You might want to read Flatten the Curve Part 39, and what I wrote about Turkmenistan and wearing masks for toxic dust. Link Here
So where are we now? Knowwhere or nowhere? Are you a nobody or a knowbody? Is this picture that I'm painting connecting enough dots for everyone? Does anticipating mass riots in protest of the upcoming environmental collapse, and the wars for natural resources along with it, make the centralization of the economy plus the mass surveillance system make more sense? The masks and facial detection AI improvements? Does ID2020, another Billy Boy project make more sense? The upcoming robotic automation of the workforce? The curtailing of civil rights? Heck, what about the Bill Gates endorsement of impossible meats and the sudden push to vegetarianism? Remember the meat plant shutdowns? Rotting organic matter and Hydrogen Sulfide?
Please remember, Hydrogen Sulfide outgassing is pretty consistent across past Extinction Level Events. Does this mean that all hope is lost? Puhlease. Hope flows abundant. We shut Pandora's Box before hope could escape, remember?
Let me leave you with one final thought. Words matter. Look them up. They know what's happening. They know all of this. The words they use hide it in plain sight.
I've written about Bill's fortuitous investment strategy. How he seemed to hit all the right stocks as the pandemic and environmental collapse strikes. It's mostly hidden in shell companies after shell companies, but it has to start somewhere. And it does. He owns Cascade Investment L.L.C. Link Here
Which: Oct. 22, 2014 · A subsidiary of Cascade Investments LLC, which oversees the Gates fortune, is buying thousands of acres of land in north Florida. Link Here
And what does Cascade mean? Let's look?
cascade (n.)
"a fall or flow of water over a cliff, a waterfall," 1640s, from French cascade (17c.), from Italian cascata "waterfall," from cascare "to fall," from Vulgar Latin casicare, frequentative of Latin casum, casus, past participle of cadere "to fall" (from PIE root kad- "to fall"). cascade (n.) a succession of stages or operations or processes or units;
To prepare. To fall. Interesting choice for a name.
Meteor showers occur when the earth bowls through a dense stream of debris left in the wake of a comet, asteroid, or other space-borne object. Depending on where you look, you may encounter fewer meteors, however. Viewers in the Northern Hemisphere will see shooting stars emanate from the shower’s “radiant” point in the southern sky, meaning the best meteors with the longest tails will be most readily visible in the east and west. A much more spectacular meteor shower — among the year’s most prolific — will pepper the skies with a spattering of bright shooting stars and “fireballs” come mid-August. The Perseid meteor shower peaks the night of Tuesday, Aug. 11. Dozens of shooting stars could be visible beneath a clear sky every hour. Perseid meteors zip across the sky at 37 miles per second. Their diaphanous tails can appear white, orange, yellow, pink, turquoise and even violet, lingering in the sky for a few seconds. The rainbow spectrum of colors come from the combustion of magnesium, sodium and iron. Link Here
Pepper the skies with fireballs. Fall from the skies.
Comet 67P's rotten-egg smell comes from hydrogen sulfide, and the horse-stable odor comes from ammonia. These scents are blended with the fainter almond smell of hydrogen cyanide, the vinegarlike odor of sulphur dioxide and the sweet-smelling scent of carbon disulphide, researchers said. Link Here
Hnmm. It definitely sounds like Bill was getting ahead of the curve before we started to Flatten the Curve, by being a good student and getting prepared before the hoarders bought up all the toilet paper for the upcoming SHTF event.
Wouldn't you agree? Are these all coincidence, or should we pay more attention?
They want us to Keep Calm and Carry On. When do people tell you to remain calm? When you start to panic. So do you really think they would tell us the truth and deal with panicking masses? Or do you think they would hide it?
Hide it in plain sight?
Keep your head up and eyes open. Talk soon.
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Wizard Tournament: Chapter 9

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      “The number next to your name is the odds,” Sylnya told Peter. “and I think that might be some kind of record.”
      “Record?” Peter asked. “Is that a good thing?”
      “It just means everyone thinks you’re going to lose,” Sylnya told him. “The longer the odds the bigger the number.” Draevin caught a glimpse of a smirk from Peter at this news for some reason.
      “Wait a second,” Peter said. “You mean people bet on the matches. Like in horse racing?”
      Sylnya’s face went blank. She looked to Draevin but he wasn’t sure what had her stumped. “Sure,” she finally said, “it’s probably a lot like whores racing.”
      Peter’s eyes went wide and he choked out a snort of laughter. “What?” Sylnya asked. “What’s so funny?”
      Draevin got his own laughter under control first and told her, “Nothing. Just something funny that happened at the last whore race. You’d have to have been there.”
      “I don’t understand you meat-creatures sometimes,” Sylnya complained. She went back to studying the day’s schedule. She had a twinkle in her eye that Draevin was uncomfortable with given her past history of gambling. “Matching up three non-wizards in a row can’t be a coincidence. They must be trying to get them out of the way.”
      “I thought you said nobody knew which of those two orcs was casting spells,” Draevin pointed out. “Drant’ro, that’s an orc name right?”
      Sylnya waved a dismissive hand in Draevin’s direction without looking up. “Yesterday’s news. Everyone was talking about it last night after they registered. It turns out Drant’ro was just a bodyguard for the other guy.”
      “And why would you know that Sylnya?” Draevin asked seriously. “You said you weren’t going to be gambling this year. Remember how much you lost last year? You still owe me a hundred gold.”
      Sylnya gave Draevin a guilty smile. “Well that was before a certain human entrepreneur bought up all my debt!”
      “Is that what all this has been about?” Draevin asked. It all made sense. “Alex is holding your gambling debt until you finish helping Peter?”
      Sylnya snaked an arm around Peter’s shoulder and gave him a rather uncooperative squeeze. “You make it sound like a bad thing, Drae. What’s wrong with helping someone in need? Are you really going to tell me he’s not growing on you?”
      “Yes,” Draevin said firmly. As the group approached the ticket booth Draevin paused. “Please tell me you remembered your promise to buy my tickets this year.”
      Sylnya’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh yeah. I forgot!”
      “Syl…”
      Sylnya pulled some stubs of paper from her belt pouch. “I forgot I upgraded us to a viewing booth last night.”
      “Those are… expensive.” Draevin gave Sylnya a flat look. “Did Alex pay for those?”
      “Not at all,” Sylnya said. They reached the ticket counter and Sylnya handed over her stubs. The little gnome behind the counter took them and handed the group over to a female dwarf in a purple button-down Guild uniform who promised to take them to their seats.
      “Well I know you didn’t pay for them,” Draevin told his friend while they entered the main access tunnel for the arena, which was now bustling with people.
      Sylnya gave a huff of annoyance. “Fine. I didn’t. It was actually Caelnaste that paid.”
      “Didn’t she steal his room last night?” Peter asked.
      “Exactly!” Sylnya agreed. “I went and talked to her last night. She just wanted to offer her apology for that whole thing so there’s no hard feelings. She said booting you was the Queen’s idea and she had no say in it.”
      Draevin remembered the two eldrin mocking him last night. “I’m not so sure I believe that, but it is a nice gesture.” He supposed most well-to-do eldrin must just have more money than they know what to do with.
      “Here you are,” their guide announced. They’d arrived at their booth. It was just three walls to help block some of the noise from the crowd and softer seats, but it beat the hell out of sharing a wooden bench with a hundred other fans like they normally did. And the booth was as close to the field as it was possible to get; the open front dropped right onto the field. “Be sure to talk to any Guild acolyte you see walking around if you have any trouble with your reservation.”
      With that they were left alone to settle in. Sylnya sat in the middle and made Draevin scoot over to make room for Peter, but even with the three of them Draevin had more room than usual so he couldn’t complain.
      “I have a quick question before the matches start,” Peter spoke up. A few Guild engineers were still on the field making last minute checks of the battleground so it looked like they still had some time to chat.
      “Go ahead,” Sylnya said.
      “I get that there are a lot of wizards specializing in physical magics, but what about the less physical ones like lithomancy, sensomancy or cerebromancy?”
      “Those are a lot less common,” Sylnya explained. “Lithomancy’s a bit too finicky for combat, but we get a few. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an illusionist though.”
      “How would they even fight?” Draevin couldn’t help but chime in. “What is even the point of magic that can’t hurt anyone?”
      “As for cerebromancy,” Sylnya continued. “There’s only one I know of this year but he’s the best in the world.”
      “Is that Tomrha?” Peter asked. “I thought you said he wasn’t a master.”
      “He might as well be,” Sylnya answered. “Cerebromancy’s notoriously difficult to master.”
      Draevin had to agree. “I’m just glad he’s on the other side of the brackets from me this year. My cryomancy is useless against mental magic.”
      Peter furrowed his brow, then readjusted his glasses before writing down some more notes in his pad.
      The engineers started clearing out and Sylnya pointed down toward the field for Peter’s benefit. “Those white squares on the ground at each end of the field are called the fighter’s boxes.”
      Peter nodded and wrote that down. “Is that what we stood in when we registered?”
      “Correct,” Sylnya answered. “Contestants have to stand inside until the bell rings. The enchantments prevent spell casting and unravel any active spells.”
      “Unless you’re really good,” Draevin added.
      “He’s just saying that because he always wears Frost Armor robes when he goes into his matches. Don’t listen to him. It’s normally a huge waste of mana to try to bring active enchantments into your match. They’ll usually be worn away by the time the match actually starts.”
      Draevin stuck his tongue at her. “You’re just jealous.”
      “Hardly, I don’t…” Sylnya trailed off when she noticed the crowd around them suddenly starting to quiet. Draevin looked out at the field and saw the announcer was walking into the center of the arena. She was a master sonamancer from Eldesia named Maeve who wasted her talents acting as an announcer in exchange for fame and a steady paycheck. As an eldrin, she complimented her natural white skin and glowing white eyes with a bright shimmering dress of the same color designed to catch the light.
      “The first match of this year’s Wizard Tournament,” Maeve announced in the same soft voice that had made the previous announcement, “is between Shea and Joseph.” She gestured towards Shea on one side of the arena. The blue-skinned sea nymph waved both finned hands for the crowd. “Shea is a sea nymph hydromancer representing the Underwater Municipality of Shashena. She is carrying The Conch of Endless Tides.” At the mention of her item Shea held it up for the crowd to see, as was tradition. “Shea wants everyone to know that if they want their next vacation to be magical they should plan a vacation under the sea that they’ll never forget.
      There was a smattering of applause. Sylnya commented to Peter, “The conch gives her access to a source of infinite water.” Peter nodded, scribbling in his little notepad.
      “Shea’s wish is for immortality,” Maeve finished. She then gestured towards Shea’s opponent. He held up a scrap of burnt cloth. “Her opponent today is Joseph, a half-elf from Caldenia.” There was an immediate booing from the audience in response to this announcement. “Joseph carries a scorched swaddling blanket from the Draenlin Orphan Fire earlier this year.” The crowd laughed at this.
      Draevin felt the need to comment. “Another one of Korack’s. I don’t know how he convinced the poor sap anyone would just let him win. You might not want to watch this next part.”
      “No,” Peter said firmly. His jaw was clenched tight. “I’ll watch.”
      “Joseph wants everyone to know that The Draenlin Orphan Fire was a tragedy the likes of which has never…” The crowd started making too much noise to hear the announcer’s words after a short time. People were screaming, booing, laughing and even just whistling. Maeve waited patiently for everyone to calm down before she finished. “Joseph’s wish is to bring back all the children who died…” The crowd drowned her out once again. Maeve just shook her head and departed the field gracefully. Normally she sat with the judges in the upper stands and when she returned to her seat the crowd finally went silent.
      The contestants were in position. Maeve raised her hand to signal the judges and the piercing chime of a bell rang through the air. The first match began.
      Joseph gestured ineffectively with his scorched blanket. Shea giggled at him and pulled a stream of water from her conch with a flowing gesture. Joseph was on his knees preaching, Draevin even caught the word “children” in his speech.
      Shea hit him with a torrent of water that blasted him backwards. He slid back until it looked like she was just going to push him out of the arena and take her free win, but then at the last second she twisted her fingers and the water wrapped around Joseph in a globe that suspended him in the air. She dangled him upside down, flinging him this way and that to the crowd’s amusement while he drowned. When she was done toying with him she dropped him on the ground.
      She let him cough for a moment and catch his breath, then as soon as he opened his mouth to speak she shot the stream of water down his throat. He struggled for just a moment, before exploding into a shower of wet gore.
      The crowd erupted in cheers and high in the stands above the bell chimed a second time. Maeve announced, “Joseph is dead. Shea wins.
      The announcement let loose a roar from the crowd. Draevin was disappointed in how few of the fans were booing Shea’s pointlessly violent display, but he added his voice to theirs. “Booo!”
      “She just killed him?” Peter asked incredulously.
      Sylnya just shrugged. “There’s no consequence for killing someone who isn’t registered with the Guild.”
      “And what’s the consequence for killing someone who is registered?”
      “Only a fine if you didn’t register a Mutual Assurance pact with them.” Peter looked disgusted.
      “You’re going to need thicker skin, human,” Draevin advised. “It gets a lot worse than this.” Peter gritted his face but didn’t respond.
      A pair of medical wizards, marked by their white robes, marched into the arena. They quickly used some spells to clean up Joseph’s “mess” while other apprentices in purple removed the water.
      “They have to reset everything after each match,” Sylnya explained, “so it’s fair to all the contestants.” She took the time to point out the four large boulders scattered symmetrically across the field. “Usually they repair those rocks when they’re used for cover, but even cleaning up water is important.” Peter nodded.
      “The next match is against Drant’ro and Faernyl,” Maeve announced from her more permanent position above the stands on a raised dais next to the judges.
      Faernyl, the red-headed elf they’d run into on their way to the arena grounds, was already waiting in his fighter’s box. The other box remained empty.
      There was a commotion over in the contestant seating area. Draevin peered over and saw some Guild acolytes in purple arguing with a pair of orcs. One was a tough warrior type with a large sword on his back while the other had a grey beard and a long walking stick. The acolytes were trying to get the warrior to move and he wasn’t having any of it. He finally pulled out his sword and they were forced to leave him be.
      After a few moments a messenger ran up to Maeve. “I’m afraid Drant’ro has refused to fight. He has been disqualified from the tournament,” she announced to a chorus of boos. “Faernyl’s match will be postponed until an alternate can be located. We will move on to our third match early. Will Korack and Peter please make their way to their fighter boxes?
      “That’s you!” Sylnya barked at Peter. “You better hurry!”
      Peter jumped out of his seat. “Already? Where do I go?”
      Sylnya pointed back towards the way they had come. “Back that way, same as when we registered yesterday. The stairs on the left.” Peter nodded. “And good luck!”
      As soon as Peter was gone Draevin let out a big sigh of relief. “It’s about time,” he said. “All his questions were starting to get on my nerves. I hope you still get paid after Korack kills him.”
      Sylnya glared at him. “You can be really insensitive sometimes you know. But yes. I will.”
      When Draevin stretched his legs into the extra space his foot bumped against something. He looked down to see what it was and spotted Peter’s leather satchel. By all accounts the bag was going to be Sylnya’s responsibility after this. He scooped it up to give to her and it made a loud jangling sound. He shared a curious look with Sylnya. “Sounds like it’s full of glass bottles,” he commented.
      She snatched it from him and took a cautious peek inside. It was indeed filled with bottles. Dozens of empty glass bottles. There was also a roll of parchment. “Is that his Fireball scroll?” Sylnya asked.
      Draevin picked it out and carefully unrolled it until he could make out the raised, glowing runes. “Unless he has two of these things.”
      Her mouth opened in shock. “Give it here, There’s still time before his match starts!” She didn’t give Draevin a chance to hand it to her though, she just yanked it out of his grip and shoved the satchel into his arms. “Kot. Ride!” She commanded her shadow. Her shadow stalker, Kot, emerged and she jumped on its back. The pair bounded away down the stairs in the direction Peter had gone.
      Left alone with Peter’s bag Draevin decided to satisfy his curiosity regarding the glass bottles. He held one up for inspection. There was just the slightest hint of white light glowing on the rim. Were these mana potions? Was he recycling the bottles?
      He spotted Korack stepping into his fighter’s box down on the field. A few seconds later Peter jogged up to his own box a little red-faced from his run. Almost immediately a familiar green-skinned creature rode up on the back of a shifting black cat. Sylnya tried to hand Peter the scroll but he shook his head. They argued for a bit, then she left with the scroll still in hand.
      “Sorry for the delay. We’re ready to begin the second match,” Maeve announced from her raised dais. The crowd’s individual conversations broke off and a short cheer erupted.
      After the noise quieted Maeve gestured in Korack’s direction. “In this round we have last year’s tournament champion, Korack!” The crowd cheered appreciably. Korack held up a rod of unknown material covered in intricate carvings. “This year Korack has brought as his item a custom magical focus. Korack’s sponsor this year is Trunstown. Korack is wishing for immortality if he wins this year’s tournament and he wants everyone to know his wish last year has nothing to do with the famine that his home nation of Kreet is currently experiencing.
      The crowd continued cheering for another minute. While this was going on, Sylnya returned to the booth with the Fireball scroll. “Apparently,” she said as she dropped into her seat, “he didn’t want it. He said it would be useless against a pyromancer and he didn’t want to risk it getting burned.”
      Draevin shook his head. “He’s probably right, but there goes whatever slim chance of winning he had.”
      Sylnya just sighed and stuck the scroll back in Peter’s bag.
      Maeve was gesturing to the other side of the stage. “Korack’s opponent this year is a human named Peter.” The response from the crowd was mixed. Sylnya hollered her support, but most of the rest of the crowd was booing. There was a pocket of humans, way in the back of the cheap seats on the second level, that was making a bit of a racket.
      “There seems to have been some kind of confusion with our human contestant,” Maeve continued, “and he’s entered his box without an item—” It was impossible for Maeve to continue talking as the crowd erupted in a cacophony of laughter. Showing up without an item simply never happened. Maeve had to wave her arms for a while to quiet down the crowd. “Peter chose not to disclose his specialization.
      In the short gap of silence that followed, a large orc bellowed out, “Human’s don’t ‘ave any magic!” He was rewarded with a shower of laughter and a small boo from the human section.
      Once again Maeve had to wait for silence. “Peter’s sponsor is Haevish Family Mercantile. Visit Haevish today while they’re selling ‘a copper a cup.’ That’s right, this is truly the cheapest wine available.” Maeve did the ad-read for Peter’s sponsor with an unenthusiastic deadpan. “Peter’s wish is to improve the lives of humans everywhere.” As soon as the crowd heard Peter’s sappy wish they started making a ruckus. It was impossible to separate the laughter from the insults. Draevin clapped politely for Sylnya’s sake.
      This time when the crowd quieted Maeve dropped her arm in the signal to the judges and the bell chimed to announce the start of the match.
      Almost faster than the eye could follow, Korack shot out a lance of flame compressed down into a beam that blasted straight towards Peter and pierced a fist-sized hole in his chest.
      He fell to the ground. He was dead instantly.
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How to Survive Camping: I still love Bryan's dogs but omg

I run a private campground. Last post I was like, “Oh I’ll just go talk to the fairy! I’m sure they’ll be able to help! It surely won’t end with me running for my life through the forest because fairies are capricious little shits!”
I didn’t even get a solution to the bad year, either. I just have more problems now.
Anyway, if you’re new here, you should really start at the beginning and if you’re totally lost, this might help.
My first attempt in finding the fairy was just wandering through the campground. This had the added benefit of giving me an opportunity to also find the lady with extra eyes. Unfortunately, we’re in the middle of a big event, and while I’m not letting people camp in the deep woods they’re still going on walks through there and I had to deal with people instead. People that didn’t recognize me as the camp manager and wanted to ask why the solar showers hadn’t been cleaned yet (there’s a schedule) or to complain about the potholes (you shouldn’t be driving fast through the campground anyway) or to ask what happened to that one food truck they liked (they failed a health inspection). I’m a little afraid of what would have happened if they did recognize me, I probably would have gotten a lot more complaints. Regardless, I could only take so much of that before I had to abandon the idea and try something different.
Also I have reason to hurry things up.
Those spiders that were in my house? It could just be my imagination, but I swear they’re still there. I keep glimpsing movement in the corner of my vision. I’ve looked and looked and put out various spider repelling remedies, but I haven’t found any concrete evidence that they’re still around. Could just be paranoia. But I swear the other night I woke up and just as I was about to nod off again, I saw a spider crouched on the edge of my nightstand, watching me.
Of course it wasn’t there when I sat up.
It bothers me, though. I’m worried that the lady in chains had another ally than just Jessie and that they’re still out there and that the spiders answer to them. Since the lady with extra eyes isn’t willing to see me yet I can’t ask her to maybe call them off, please? Perhaps she can’t. Perhaps that’s why she doesn’t want to see me yet. Cursed or not, she caused me a lot of suffering and that’s not the kind of guilt you easily get over.
Although guilt is a foreign concept to most of these inhuman things. They aren’t like us. I think the lady can feel remorse, at least.
If she’s not going to see me then I need to be more aggressive about getting my answers in other ways.
I called the old sheriff first. He refused to help on grounds of “my wife is giving me that look again” and so I left it at that.
Then I went and found Bryan. I’m not sure what kind of relationship he and the fairy have - if they have one at all - but I figure since his family is originally from Ireland he’s my best bet. And Bryan… well, he lectured me on folklore. Me. I mean, he wasn’t wrong, but it was a bit galling I have to admit. I guess I’ve been getting spoiled by just putting out a bottle of booze and having the man with the skull cup show up.
Speaking of him, Bryan also let me in on something he’s noticed that concerns him. The appearance of the man with the skull cup changed for him. He didn’t realize it at first, as he saw him from a distance and wasn’t certain if he was carrying a skull or something else. But then he described him and I was able to tell him that yes, that was the man with the skull cup.
His appearance has changed to match what I see.
I am rather alarmed by this and am wondering if there’s side-effects to whatever bond I created between us.
Bryan is going to ask around the staff and see if they’ve noticed the same thing. In the meantime, I get to deal with the fairy, and the method of finding them seemed very obvious when Bryan pointed it out to me.
Fairies show up when you need them - if they care to. They’re a bit unreliable. Otherwise you have to go searching for them and merely wandering through the forest until I get annoyed at my campers isn’t enough. I had to really search. The one story I’m thinking of had the hero searching for years. Reluctantly, I went back out into the forest and this time I stayed out until I felt I would collapse and then kept going. I was out until dawn the first night. Did it again the next. Then, after a few days of this, I saw a light approaching between the trees. I was hesitant at first, because it could also be the lights, so I waited for it to come to me. That’s a good way to tell if it’s not rule #3. Rule #3 will lead you somewhere. If it’s something else, it’ll come to you.
Granted, it still might be something unpleasant, but at least on my campground the odds are it’s either the fairy or another camper with a lantern, in favor of the latter.
I lowered my gaze respectfully as they approached. The deer paused a few feet away and I stared down at its slender hooves, listening to its heavy breathing. It wasn’t alone. It was surrounded by the sound of rapid panting and I raised my eyes slightly to see a myriad of paws, covered with shaggy black fur.
The fairy had Bryan’s hounds with them.
“You sought me out,” the fairy said.
“I did. This is a bad year.”
“It is. But it is not the first. What do you want from me?”
I had to do a bit of thinking on what I would ask them. This is not the sort of entity that you can just sit and theorize with, like some of you do in the comments. I had to be precise. One question.
I asked what causes bad years.
Not this bad year in particular. All of them. Why they happen at all. Why all the creatures on my land suddenly develop this hunger that can only be sated by predation on my campers, my staff, or my family.
Certainly, more specific information on this particular bad year would probably help me solve it quicker, but sure would be nice if I could help out whoever comes after me as well.
The fairy considered for a moment and said that they could certainly answer this, but that they didn’t think I wanted to be in debt to them for the information. Better I pay upfront, so to speak. I asked what they wanted. They made a show of considering, as I have no doubt that they knew exactly what to ask for even before they approached me. They probably thought it up days ago, when I first started searching for them. When they spoke again, it was evenly and deliberately enough that I knew this was not some answer given on a whim. They had a plan.
They wanted entertainment, they said. This land was dull, so far from home and kin, and the lesser creatures that shared the campground were uninteresting. It wanted a hunt.
And I guess I didn’t really get a choice, because no sooner had they said it than a shiver ran down my spine, I closed my eyes on reflex, and when I opened them again my perspective had shifted. My line of sight had changed. I could see more of the world around me and the colors were different. I can’t say how they were. They were just… different. I don’t think there is a way to translate how I perceived the world into human terms. I just remember that I saw two things of importance - the threat behind me and the escape in front of me.
I’d been transformed into a white doe.
And now the hunt was on.
The dogs like me. I give them treats. Okay, sometimes I get upset with them when they dig up the horse bones but that’s because I bring them bones from the butcher but nooo those aren’t good enough for them, they want some dirty bones that have lain moldering in the ground for I don’t even know how long. Otherwise, we get along. I give them ear scritches and they lick my face.
However, when the fairy gave the command to chase, it was like I had never existed. They broke from its side, paws churning as they ran, jaws dripping saliva as they opened their mouths to bay with the excitement of the hunt.
I ran.
There was little thought to it. I just... ran. I didn’t think about the past, I didn’t think about the future, my mind was utterly focused on only what was happening right now. Running. The movement of my legs. The beating of my heart. There was a peace in it that I don’t think I’ve known for a long time now. As I write this with my human hands, I feel the fear of death, as the little girl cries at my window. I feel the weight of my responsibilities - not just dealing with the inhuman things, but things like whether my budget was correct and if my campground will survive this year or if I can put off barn maintenance and if not, who I will hire to do it. As a human I feel slow and tired and I wonder how much of this is just because I hate running and how much is because I’m weighed down by all these fears and thoughts.
As a deer, I could just… run.
I’m not sure how long the dogs chased me. I remember some close calls, having to change direction in a split second as a dog’s jaws snapped at my neck, of having to jump as a dog grabbed for my leg. And the presence of the pursuing rider behind me, ever a distant concern in my mind no matter how close or how near it was. I never checked to see if the fairy was gaining or spared a thought to wonder what would happen if it caught up. There was only flight. Nothing else.
Then I hit something.
I can say I’ve never experienced this, but there it was a sensation like what I imagine running into a wall of Jell-O would be. I sank into it, my body slowing and the air in my throat felt thick and for a brief moment I felt like I was floating, like I wasn’t inside my body. The pressure stopped me but the deer kept running. It burst out on the other side and kept going and the hounds maintained pursuit, with the fairy on their steed bringing up the rear. Then they were all gone, vanishing into the trees, and my body was my own again.
The pressure was gone. I stumbled and looked down at my hands - I was human once more.
And the world around me wasn’t quite the campground I knew so well.
They were my trees, but they were the color of slate. The ground beneath my feet was like ash and the sky was the color of an overcast day, but not a cloud was in sight.
I was in the gray world.
My mouth felt dry. Was this what the fairy had intended? To send me here, of all places? Or had it just been dumb luck in evading the dogs? Regardless of how it happened, I had to focus on getting out. My uncle’s story about that creature that pursued him was at the forefront of my mind.
Seek the highest hill. I mentally took stock of my surroundings and tried to think of where the nearest hill would be. My entire campground can actually be divided into three parts. There’s the top, which is the crest of the hill and has some of the steepest slopes. We use it for parking. Sometimes if it rains too much the cars slide down the hill and then we have to get the truck to tow them out.
Don’t bring a nice car camping. It’s just not a good idea, regardless of where you’re going.
Then there’s the fields and the start of the forest, which is all roughly on the same plain. Head deeper into the woods and you go down another hill and you’re at the lowest point, which is why the deep woods tends to turn into a mudhole during rainy years.
I was still in the deep woods. There was a lot of hiking to do if I were to make it to the highest hill - if it actually worked that way. My uncle found the master of the gray land just by going up one hill that led from the deep woods to the fields.
I would go up the same incline. It was the fastest route to the highest hill.
I found the missing golf cart and four-wheeler at the base of it. They were covered in rust and their paint was peeling off in big gray chips, curling back like dried leaves. The metal was breaking apart in some places as well, cracked and flaking like dried mud. Turning to ash. The vehicles were dissolving. I thought this seemed reasonable. They were human things. They didn’t belong here.
And I wonder where that thought came from.
I went up the hill and it didn’t stretch on eternally, as it had for my uncle. I reached the top and beyond that was a small field that currently housed a cluster of camps for our big event. Their tents were visible like gray blankets, hanging limply in the still air. No people were visible. Just their belongings, washed of all color. I recognized the senior camp off to the left, just after the car-eating ditch that someone gets their tire stuck in every year.
I was halfway through the field when I felt like something was watching me.
Uneasily, I turned around. In the distance, at the crest of the hill, was a cluster of lights. They were like the glow of a candle, but more golden, and they drifted lazily in a tight knot. I felt dread knot in my stomach as I stared at it, unable to make out any details. I kept walking, to the edge of the field and where the forest closed in again. Then I turned around.
They were halfway across the field now.
No, they weren’t the lights. The lights don’t pursue people. This was something else.
I quickened my pace a bit and when I turned around again, I found that they had matched it. I tried slowing down. Again, it kept the same distance from me. This was a little reassuring - it wasn’t trying to catch up. Perhaps it was just a curious observer. I kept walking, periodically glancing behind me, and then when I reached the large field where the forest stopped entirely I found that it had remained behind, staying in the trees.
I walked through the silent rows of tents, making for the highest hill in the campsite. There were more woods up there, a cluster that covered one side of the hill and half of the top. I’d circle around those, I thought, and stay out of the trees. Just in case. So I took the steep route to the top of the hill and the only reason it didn’t leave me winded was because I’ve hiked this damn hill way too many times in my life.
At the top I found a tree. A single tree. The forest was behind me and I felt disoriented for a moment, because wasn’t it to my left? Wasn’t I not yet at the top of the hill? And yet here I was, standing at the highest point, in a clearing with a single tree and the forest encircling me.
There was a creature in the tree. My uncle never described it clearly and neither did any of the campers that encountered it and I think this is because it can’t be described. The human mind is not equipped to experience it. Like a false memory or an impossible color, a thing that the mind invents because we were not given the tools to understand what is before us.
I perceived it as something immense. Something that towered to the heavens and beyond, something that consumed all available space in the world. And yet it sat nestled in the branches of the tree before me.
I approached it and asked if it was going to tell me how I died and then give me the choice to stay. It said it would not.
“It would not be an honest offer,” it said. “You cannot stay.”
Because I was the camp manager? No, it said. Because I would die. And it looked at something behind me and I turned around to look as well.
Something was coming. Something immense, a black stain on the clear gray sky, a pair of massive wings, the feathers tattered and trailing like smoke. I felt fear twist up inside me. It was like watching doom approaching, like watching the apocalypse descending from the heavens. Like the end of the world was drawing upon me, an open wound in the sky that winged ever closer.
“I would keep you to shelter you from your death,” the creature sighed behind me. “But that which follows you is persistent.”
I asked if that thing was causing the bad year. It said it didn’t know what I was speaking of and I had the feeling that it didn’t know what a year was. So instead I asked what that thing was. The wings looked like feathers, I said.
“That?” it said and it sounded dismissive. “No. It will consume everything when it gets here, but it is not what pursues you.”
Slowly, I lowered my gaze. Those lights were once again visible in the forest that I had left behind. It held motionless. Waiting.
“I - I need to leave,” I stammered, suddenly terrified.
I don’t know what they were. I just know I was deeply shaken by their presence, afraid of them in a way I haven’t been afraid before. I fear death. I fear the beast. I know that fear. But this… it was like standing on a precipice and wondering what comes after the fall.
“Indeed you do,” it said. “None of you belong here.”
I opened my mouth to ask what it meant by that and then I found myself back in the forest. At the top of the parking lot hill, where I’d hiked to in the gray world. I was, thankfully, still human and somewhere in the distance I could hear the barking of the dogs. I shuddered for the white deer, for I knew in my heart it wasn’t going to end well for it.
Or perhaps it has no notion of a good or bad death. We are all born to die, after all.
Either way, I had no desire to intervene on its behalf. One narrow escape was enough for me. I returned to the house and the first thing I did when I got home was call Bryan. Yes, it was four in the morning. I didn’t care. I woke his ass up and asked if he was aware his dogs weren’t at home right now. He was. The fairy had asked to borrow them. Was there a problem?
I took a deep breath.
“Do you… often loan the fairy your dogs?” I asked, trying to stay calm.
“Oh sure. Why, is there a problem?”
At which point I said something like ‘holy shit Bryan they about murdered the fuck out of me tonight’ and he was appalled and deeply apologetic and I don’t think it was just because I have the ability to fire him and he said he’d ask the fairy what they wanted with the hounds next time and make sure it wasn’t ‘to kill your boss with’ or anything.
The fairy came and found me the next day. During the daylight, thank goodness, so I didn’t have to stay out all night again. It was right in the middle of the road, too, but the campers staying here just walked right past, oblivious to us both and the giant deer upon which the fairy was mounted.
“Did you mean to send me to the gray world?” I asked.
“I have no control over that. Nor was it my intent.”
“Does our bargain still count, then?”
It did. They were at fault, they said. The transformation may have drawn me closer to the gray world. Besides, it was a good hunt. They were entertained. It would answer my question about the bad years.
They told me that I was correct in that the boundaries are weakening. This is normal. There is a cycle to old land, moments of time when the balance of power is in flux and those affected by it can reassert their authority. An upheaval in the unwritten treaty that they’ve all established, essentially. This is the cause of what I’ve been calling ‘bad years’. A cyclical phenomenon.
It is not entirely voluntary. Even the creatures that normally wouldn’t care to hunt feel it, down to their bones, and their hunger compels them.
The chains. Those damned chains. The lady was trapped by them. I’m sure of it.
“The land is forcing everything on it to pick a side,” the fairy told me. “Yours… or their own. And for most of them, your side is not an option.”
I repeated everything the fairy had said in my own words to make sure I understood it. The fairy waited patiently which I think is a lot more generous than every other entity on this land. Looking at you, man with the skull cup. The bad years are part of a natural cycle that happens on old land, then, and the balance of power between the inhabitants is thrown up in the air for grabs. The humans get caught in the crossfire because this power struggle makes them all hungry and if they kill the current owner of the land they get, what, bonus points?
Close enough, the fairy said dismissively. Enough to suffice.
“But the man with the skull cup chose my side?” I asked, incredulous.
“You offered. He accepted.”
I’d refilled his cup. An offering.
“And if he’d refused?”
“You would have died by his hand, as payment for disobeying his warning and emptying the cup.”
Cool, so I guess I owe a life debt to him? That’s another thing I can add to the list of worries keeping me up at night.
“So what happens if I survive the bad year?” I asked.
“The cycle starts again.”
I asked what would happen if I died. They looked at me for a long pause and I thought they weren’t going to answer at all. Then…
“It depends on who kills you,” they said. “It would have been disastrous for your kind if the man with no shadow had succeeded.”
I don’t want to even contemplate what would happen to this land and the town if he were the dominant creature around here. But I have to admit it makes a lot more sense what he was trying to do now - he probably couldn’t take most of the creatures around here in a straight fight and so he opted to take over the land through deceit by being the puppetmaster of the current manager.
Ngl I’m a little sad we didn’t get to see the man with the skull cup - or heck, anyone - kicking his ass. In my head I’m envisioning it like chasing down the shitty kid from school and sitting on his back and shoving snow down his shirt until he cries. Not that I know what that looks like.
....I probably should have been suspended at least twice as a kid.
“And you? Whose side are you on?” I asked of the fairy.
It’s a reasonable thing to be concerned about. They hefted their hunting spear and turned to their mount.
“No one’s,” they said. “I don’t care who controls this land. I am not some lesser creature to squabble over scraps.”
I can’t help but feel a little offended to hear my land referred to as scraps, but this is also a fairy we’re talking about. However, it does confirm what I’ve wondered about for a while. The fairy isn’t here because this is old land. It didn’t seem to care about that. It’s here for some other reason.
I am deeply suspicious of Bryan and the fact that he’s my employee is what’s keeping me from publicly speculating right now.
I’m a campground manager. But heck that was a lot more than I bargained for. I mean… what is going on with the gray world? Was any of that normal? That’s a rhetorical question, there is literally no way any of us can know that, though if you’ve been to the gray world please message me because I’m at a loss here.
Otherwise, I’m a little disappointed with the answers, because it means that this isn’t something I can actually stop for good. It’s going to keep happening. I suppose all I can do is prepare for it. Though it does have me wondering - which creature came out on top the last time this happened?
I’ll be honest: my money is on the thing in the dark.
The fairy had said that most of the creatures on this land can’t choose my side. Not all, though. I think… when I next see the lady with extra eyes I’m going to offer. I saved her from the chains. Perhaps that is enough to bring her to my side and give me another inhuman ally in this bad year.
But I’m also going to bring a gun and that knife. Just in case.
I’m not about to let myself become some inhuman thing’s extra credit. [x]
Not that they aren't gunning for me.
Read the full list of rules.
Visit the campground's website.
submitted by fainting--goat to nosleep [link] [comments]

The Spaaaaaaaaaa.......... v2.0

With the Saratoga season quickly approaching, I’ve had my arm twisted enough by the Discord team to revise my primer from last year. I live about 20-minutes east of Saratoga and it’s my home track; my first real memory of a horse race was betting on Forty Niner in the ’88 Travers……I was 6…… During the 40-day meet, I do most of my wagering for the year and consistently show a nice positive ROI.
What is Saratoga: The Saratoga Racecourse is the oldest continually operating sporting venue in the United States. The town of Saratoga was founded around dozens of natural mineral springs which were turned into bath houses at the end of the 19th Century. Those fighting conditions like Polio sought out the healing properties of the springs; FDR was a regular visitor. The town is about a 3-hour drive north of NYC, so it’s a major summer retreat for those looking to escape. During most of the year, Saratoga is a sleepy town of 25k; on a major race weekend that number will be 5x that.
Why is it Important: The 40-day long meet has 71 stakes with $14.45 million in purse, 39 of those being Graded. Most tracks best day of racing for the entire season is a regular Saratoga Thursday afternoon, the field size and quality here is just unmatched. The feature of the meet is the Travers stakes which this year is Derby Points earning but normally sees Triple Crown pointed horse gearing back up for a BC Campaign. Saratoga also sees a huge number of very talented maiden races where you will often see next year’s Triple Crown contenders get their start. Owners and Trainers want to show off their very best and a win at Saratoga means massive bragging rights for most. Due to its northern latitude and numerous training tracks, Saratoga is a massive training track that sees horse shippers from around the country even if they have no intent on running there. For the month of July and August, Saratoga really is the focus of all horse racing east of the Mississippi.
What you should know before going:
· With Covid, the track will NOT be accessible to spectators, even owners cannot get on the grounds. All vantage points have a police presence to keep away spectators. Your best option for viewing is sitting on your couch.
· Watch Talking Horses the morning of. Its on locally in Saratoga or you can watch on YouTube or with NYRA bets. While Andy Sterling can come off as a bit of a jerk (he is but I like him), he knows a lot about horses. However, he's always looking for a price and overemphasizes troubled trips, so keep that in mind. He does try to beat some really tough horses. Either way him and his associate will give you great background for all the races of the day with replays.
Angles to Consider:
· Having good friends is a massive benefit here. Fields are deep and competitive, so having a 2nd or 3rd set of eyes looking at PP’s is huge. A group of us Handicap a couple of days before each card, so hop on Discord and go through the races as a team, it will substantially boost your ROI.
· Saratoga is the land of Maidens, so Workout Reports are key. All the major east coast trainers will bring the best of their best 2yr old’s to Saratoga as winning a race there is massive. The only true way to gauge these horses is with workout reports. Always remember that PP’s are rearward biased; you care about the horse today, not when it last ran a month ago. Due to the time of the Saratoga meet, it’s very common to have improving 2 or 3yr old’s take a massive step up here.
· Best way to make money at Saratoga is to pay attention to track biases and to make out your own odds. Track tends to be very speed favoring one day and then it’s all closers the next; watch not just what horse is winning but how and adjust accordingly. Saratoga also sees a lot of "dead money", people with no clue who are betting names, colors, jockeys, trainers...etc. These people LOVE to chase favorites and they are very often overlay’s more here than any place else in the country. If you handicap with no ML and have a horse's fair value at 3-1 its often common to see it drift to 10-1 because a Pletcher firster is 1-9 when it should also be 3-1.... etc....
· Saratoga is also the land of crazy weather. It’s not abnormal to have half the card be 80 and Sunny then a pop-up Thunderstorm rolls through and you have mud with off-turf. The public has no ideas how to manage this and will still bet a turf horse who hates running on the dirt. This leads to some massive overlay’s if you’re prepared.
· Although the bias was much less pronounced last year than most, on all three tracks between 5 and 6.5f you want to fade the inside path. This is partially due to those distances seeing younger horses, but also due to the shape of the inner rail entering the far turn. Also watch for a dead rail that plagued the track for the first few weeks last year until it was re-graded which made it less pronounced.
· Fade horses in the 8 path and beyond in 2-turn routes, they have terrible statistics even when accounting for field size. The most problematic races are 1 mile on the Mellon turf where early positional speed is huge. 9 & 10f races on the main track also favor the inside as a shorter runup into the first turn can leave outside horses stranded.
· Jose Ortiz won the 2019 Jockey title, but it’s always super competitive. Saratoga has one of the best jockey colonies in the country but take note of big names taking choice. If you saw that JJ was on three horses last out but choose one of those this time over the others, it’s likely that horse is very live…. etc.
· Chad Brown also dominate the Trainer title in 2019, with it not even being a contest. His entire barn points for the meet so if it’s a CB horse, its live, just deal with it.
· With all the CB love at Saratoga, certain trainers also have TERRIBLE statistics and should be faded or avoided. Those trainers who have solid numbers of starters and do well at other tracks but suck at SAR are: Amoss, Arnold, Keneally, McPeek, Moquette, Rivelli, Romans, Stall, Stewart and Wilkes. You’ll notice a KY trend there; yes, it is real….
· Pay attention to “well meant shippers” meaning oddball ships and weird drops. Look for horses coming out of smaller tracks like a Penn, FL, GP West, OP... etc... who are trained by small time trainers who have limited starts. Betting public tends to feel a lot more comfortable backing a Pletcher horse than a guy who sees 25 starts a year from a 5-horse stable. You'll often see a horse who ran in a couple MSW races at a Penn for say 12k, took a two month break with little work pattern, then shows up at Saratoga in an MCL 32k and wins. Also, huge class drops are less of a concern at Saratoga as traineowner title are so important, hell just winning a race is huge so often people will be OK being claimed away to say, "My horse won at Saratoga". You also tend to see a lot of horses who have one or two not very impressive starts, go on the bench for a month or two and then appear at Saratoga and win from a no-name trainer and connections, things often don't pass the sniff test and are often live in doing so.
Some of the Reddit/Discord group will also be doing a daily Saratoga focused show with information on our impressions from the day along with what to look out for tomorrow which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/onthewronglead
submitted by pakratt99 to horseracing [link] [comments]

Book 1: Chapter 29: Coming Together

Madison
I thrust my sword and grunted with effort as I did so.
The new armor that Ragna had designed was insanely heavy, terribly cumbersome, and I was shocked at its poor design in that regard.
Ragna watched me as I managed as best I could before she finally stopped me, “just as I expected.”
“Did you design this armor out of lead, Ragna?” I asked. In private we would drop the formalities.
As monstrous as Ragna was in public, in these private moments, she was almost human. Today more so than usual.
The new armor was thicker than I recalled. I wondered if this was an attempt to respond to the sniper shot that damaged my armor, and shoulder, last time.
The fact that we were now marching against the United States of America probably had a whole lot to do with it.
“For Theodora,” I thought to myself. It brought me out of my self imposed retirement. I knew my old country had been in charge of some fucked up shit.
Deposing fascist dictators left and right, poisoning world leaders, kicking out democratically elected officials who were ‘against the interest of national security’, and so on.
I guess it’s different when it happens to someone who didn’t deserve it, like Theodora.
I had met Theodora plenty of times. She was a wide-eyed and sweet girl. Sure she could be crass at times but I remember hearing her talk about peace plenty of times in the Palace. The girl wasn’t a warmonger. It gave me hope for the future of Penthesil.
But now? I was infuriated as the rest of Penthesil. We had all agreed: the US had their time as a superpower. Now, that time has come to an end.
“Draw your other sword,” Ragna asked.
I frowned, “the chaos blade?” I asked. I had no other word for it.
Ragna nodded.
I drew the blade and, to my shock, everything changed.
I couldn’t help but smile, the sword in my hand seemed to sync up with my armor and the armor became light as a feather. My armor itself changed colors and I felt strange energy surrounding me.
“Oh that’s…” my eyes unfocused and I felt a bit dizzy, “that’s kinda cool.”
Ragna lifted an eyebrow as I grabbed the sword with both hands.
I swung the sword and imagined the violence and destruction I’d reap with this thing. I jumped up into the air as if I was held down by nothing and sliced a dummy in half, my eyes and ears filling with the cacophony of battle.
“Drop it, Maddy, please,” Ragna pleaded.
Without hesitation, I dropped the sword.
I knew better than to skip an order from Ragna. As the sword left my hands I dropped to my knees. I turned to Ragna, “What the fuck was that? I felt…”
“Insane, I’m guessing? It appeared as if a bloodlust came over you,” Ragna helped me up, concern on her face.
I nodded, “I wouldn’t call it bloodlust,” I turned to the sword, “...it was a desire for chaos.”
Ragna nodded, “I see. I suppose that makes sense. Your patron Goddess imbued that blade after all.”
“Yeah,” I flexed the armor, watching the color drain from it and it’s weight return, “What kind of armor is this?”
“Armor that shifts energy signatures and synchronizes with the wavelengths of the user,” Ragna said as she bent down to pick up the blade herself.
“Meaning…?” I asked, hoping to get the layman’s version of whatever Ragna was explaining. She always addressed me as if I too were some hyper-intelligent alien/angel creature, like herself.
Ragna’s normal moment of prideful triumph wasn’t there as expected. Her eyes were mournful as she sheathed the sword for me, gently helping me out of the armor.
“It means,” Ragna began, helping me out of the heavy breastplate, “that if you have a powerful enough aura, the armor syncs with it, draws from it, and helps to evenly distribute that energy.”
Ragna’s eyes were full of concern and stress and I swear I could see the thousands of thoughts rushing through her head through her eyes. I decided to use the rare trump card I had, as she was beyond troubled.
“Sellenia,” I asked, “what’s wrong?”
Ragna’s eyes stopped their million thoughts a second as she fixed her eyes on me, her expression still stoic, “Madison, we have discussed you calling me by my old name-”
“What’s wrong?” I pried further.
Ragna lifted the breastplate off of me and the difference in weight was a relief on my lower back. “Your son, do you often think of his future?”
“Everyday,” I smiled a bit, “and the future of all the reclaimed, to be honest, Ragna.”
Ragna nodded.
“Can I ask you, completely and honestly,” I decided to hit at a softer subject before broaching what was really getting to her, “you got furious when I first explained abortions to you. Why?”
Ragna scoffed, “this again?”
“I’m going into battle and I might not come back,” I pleaded, “I’d like to know what it is that makes my friend act as she does.”
Ragna’s smile didn’t come back as I expected, whatever had her down, it was weighing hard on her. “When I was young, I didn’t put much stock in childbearing,” she heaved a sigh, her hand idly caressing her stomach. “I focused on fighting, killing, and taking what little sexual pleasure I could from the rare enough lovers I could find.”
“Sounds fun,” I attempted to joke.
Ragna still didn’t smile, “for me it wasn’t as frequent. But for Xyphiel, however? Oh, but did he have it easy? Being the ‘acceptable’ sexual orientation meant that he didn’t have to spend half the time convincing some woman to lay with him.” Ragna rolled her eyes.
“Too bad you didn’t find Penthesil sooner,” I remarked.
Ragna nodded solemnly, “it wasn’t long into our conquest of a particular world that it started. A woman came to Xyphiel carrying a child. She claimed the spawn she had created was Xyphiel’s. She said it was cursed because when it was born she tried to kill it and it would not die.”
“Oh,” I gasped, shocked, “okay.”
“At first,” Ragna admitted, “I didn’t think much of the little girl in the woman’s arms. But as she grew up? I fell in love with my first niece.”
“First?” I frowned.
“My brother’s rather virile,” Ragna explained and sighed, “Sume is such a sweet girl.”
“I’ve never met Sume, I don’t think, have I?” I asked.
Ragna shook her head, “she never leaves the library,” a smile finally cracked on Ragna’s face before fading entirely. “The thought that Sume wouldn’t be here, just because the mother was either raped by Xyphiel or because her mother didn’t want her always struck a nerve with me.”
I was surprised the reasoning wasn’t that of science, but emotion. Ragna was normally all science with policy, not emotion.
“By the time Sume was an adult, I had long since passed menopause,” Ragna turned to me, “Immortality for women is quite different. Xyphiel can fuck every woman in the universe and not lose potency, but I only had so many eggs before I ran out. That is why I developed my own method of having children,” Ragna explained. “It took me so long to develop, to the point where I even needed assistance to conquer a scientific roadblock.”
“A roadblock? For you?” I mocked.
“Stop brown-nosing,” Ragna mocked me back.
“Brown nosing? You want to hear brown-nosing?” I bowed low, “Oh Great Empress of Penthesil, what great mystery of the universe halted your great scientific endeavors!”
“Shut up, Maddy,” Ragna smiled at me, shaking her head. Ragna’s smile slowly weakened, “I had an issue with finding a method to encapsulate the split DNA into a multitude of compatible spermatozoa that were capable of impregnation.”
“But you figured it out eventually, right?” I asked.
“Not me,” she sighed, “Moria, a brilliant scientist on Adridia. She was compelled by another reason than myself. While I hoped to make a child for my future lover and I, Moria’s reasons were to show that a same-sex couple could, indeed, bear and raise a child together.”
“And adoption wasn’t possible?” I asked, having recently adopted myself, I couldn’t help but constantly talk about the wonderful feeling of caring for a child. Adonis was a beautiful baby. I loved him as my own and would do anything for him.
“On Adridia you could be hung for being homosexual,” Ragna explained, “Moria’s work, and her sexual orientation, was done entirely underground and I happily assisted.”
I flinched, Ragna’s stance starting to make sense.
“So, Moria and I worked for months to crack this code, to fight for our rights as women to have children however we pleased, with the person we loved,” Ragna sighed heavily, “...so when you first told me that there were women here who just cast aside such an opportunity? Who would kill little children like Sume, who would discard a gift that some of us would claw and fight for?” Ragna’s fist clenched, “it infuriated me.”
Getting this much insight into Ragna was common for me, but at the same time, it was something I was shocked to hear. Ragna would open up so much to me, and while I had opened up to her plenty about my feelings, I had nowhere near the life experiences that Ragna had. Not that it was a competition.
“So that’s why you pushed the Reclamation Project for women who wanted to abort their pregnancy?” I asked.
“Yes,” Ragna looked to her clenched fist, slowly opening it and staring at her palm, “If they didn’t want to be the mother’s of these beautiful children, then I would take on that responsibility.”
“As long as women can avoid unwanted pregnancy,” I reminded Ragna.
Ragna rolled her eyes, “I do so hate when you call them that.”
“It’s what they are, Ragna,” I pointed out.
“Your son is one of those, unwanted, is he not?” Ragna asked, “and you, do you not want him?”
I smiled, “Adonis is very much wanted by me and Hilly, but he was unwanted by his mother,” I argued.
“Well,” Ragna sighed, “now it’s a moot point, isn’t it? Now the women who wish to discard their children can do so,” Ragna looked to the door as I heard it open, “and the lives of those unborn can be preserved.”
I turned to see Zepherina walking towards us.
I had to take a step back.
Sure, I had seen the video of what had happened to Princess Zepherina before. But to be in her presence as she stalked towards Ragna, her eyes full of nothing but violet fire and murderous intent? It sent a chill down my spine.
I hoped the excited and child-like girl that had jumped down into a mosh-pit all those years ago was still in there. Then again, I thought back to that lighter moment, Theodora was with her then.
Theodora and Zepherina were so close, even then.
“Preserving life? Like you would know anything about that,” Zepherina sneered at Ragna.
I saluted, “Princess Zepherina.”
Zepherina’s fiery eyes shifted to me and I shivered as they did so.
“What have you done to poor Madison?” Zepherina said, shocked.
I blinked, “You… remember me?”
“You were with Captain Hillieve at the concert a few years ago,” Zepherina recalled, “you were in the royal balcony with me and…” her face fell.
I frowned, my heart going out to Zepherina as what was once a joyful memory filled her with despair. “Theodora’s memory will be avenged, Zepherina,” I tried to assure.
Zepherina’s normally happy face was nowhere to be found, even her wings had changed. They didn’t even look like feathers anymore but like a series of blades attached to her wings.
Zepherina’s mournful expression shifted to anger once more as she turned to Ragna, “why did you call me here?”
Ragna turned and walked to a large case, she picked it up with a grunt. I recognized it as a similar case that my armor had been housed in, granted this looked far larger. “I have a small gift for you. Consider it a small token of my affection."
As Ragna placed the case at Zepherina’s feet Zepherina sneered at her, "affection? I didn't know you were capable of affection.”
I flinched at the verbal jab Zepherina hurled and I couldn’t imagine the pain it caused Ragna. Ragna had nothing but love for Zepherina. Zepherina had none for her mother.
Though, to be completely fair, I couldn’t blame her.
“Open it,” Ragna instructed.
Zepherina scoffed at Ragna, then looked down at the case and got to her knees, popping opened the locks and opening the case.
The armor was larger than mine, but Zepherina was larger than me.
Zepherina’s hand touched the armor and as it did I watched as the armor pulsed and glowed with incredible energy.
I had to take a step back as the armor activated.
When Zepherina’s hand moved away, the energy died down slightly, “What is that?”
“It will help to evenly distribute your power,” Ragna explained, “it gels with your energy, the armor is as strong as the aura of its user.”
Zepherina looked it over, then without much hesitation, she pulled her shirt off, and began to don her armor.
As she touched each component, I was shocked as the armor shifted from an off-white to a jet black with violet trim. It was as if the armor became a part of Zepherina.
Zepherina clenched her fists and gave a few knocks to the armor here and there, “feels solid.”
Ragna nodded, walking back into another room and returned with a larger case.
This case was huge, even for Ragna, and she moved it with considerable difficulty as she placed the heavy case down on the ground.
“What’s this?” Zepherina asked, confused.
“Too big to be called a sword,” Ragna commented as she flicked open the case, revealing what Ragna described. A massive blade that was as wide as a normal sword would is long, and obscenely lengthy from to boot.
My eyes nearly leap out of their skull as I saw the size of this thing.
Zepherina looked up to Ragna, confusion on her face, “what did you say?”
“Massive, thick, heavy and far too rough,” Ragna continued, “more of a heap of raw iron, though in this case, raw Crystoleum,” Ragna boasted.
Zepherina knelt over the ridiculous looking thing, her gauntlet clad hand moving over the weapon. As she touched it, it turned black like her armor. The hilt shifted as well, a violet light pulsing along it’s edge, the seal of Penthsil was proudly on the pommel, with the old seal sitting prominently at the center of the hilt.
“I spoke to your momma and she told me you had some particular tastes,” Ragna smiled.
Zepherina looked up from the ground, her expression still one of anger, “so, what, now I’m supposed to love you?” Zepherina sneered.
Ragna’s smile vanished, “I don’t expect an ‘I love you’ but a ‘thank you’ wouldn’t kill you.”
“I don’t know,” Zepherina got to her feet, “it might," she snickered.
Ragna’s lip quivered for a moment, “I am trying with you, Zepherina.”
“Stop,” Zepherina snapped, “it’s not worth it because I will never accept that you're my mother.”
I bit my lip, taking a step back from the pair as they clashed.
“So, just using me to get your revenge then?” Ragna narrowed her eyes.
“As long as you’ll let me,” Zepherina’s eyes blazed with a newfound heat, “unless you think you can stop me if I strike out on my own.”
Ragna was glaring at Zepherina, her eyes looking furious, but I knew Ragna wasn’t angry.
She was hurt. Badly hurt.
“I suppose I will just see you tomorrow for your training,” Ragna said as she stormed off.
I heard a door slam as Ragna left the room.
Zepherina knelt by the sword once more.
“...she does love you,” I said softly behind Zepherina.
“I know,” Zepherina said as she moved her hand over the huge sword, gripping the handle and lifting it with ease. She held the sword out in front of her, the thing as long as she was tall. “I’m sure this sword wasn’t easy to make,” she gave a wide swing to the right and I felt the air in the room swirl as she did so.
“So, you won’t let her in at all?” I asked.
Zepheirna turned to me, looking me up and down, “Did you let her in?”
I nodded, “She helped me become a warrior and not just a Hestie.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being a Hestie,” Zepherina said, placing the sword back in its case, closing it tightly. “Hesties raise our children and keep our homes while we’re at war. Anyone who diminishes the Hesties and the House of Hestia isn’t a true Penthesilean Valkyrie.”
I smiled, “I bet Launa would be happy to hear that.”
Zepherina frowned, “Launa’s terrified of me.”
“Oh,” I swallowed hard, as I wasn’t necessarily calm when Zepherina first showed up.
“What’s scary about me now?” Zepherina asked.
“What?” I gasped.
“Why are you terrified?” Zepherina turned to me, the fire in her eyes now replaced by soft wisps of violet smoke, rising from her void-filled sockets and over her brow. Her eyes had emotion still, I could see her brow furrowed and the smoke within her eyes was moving in soft, gentle motions.
“I think… we’re just afraid you’ve…” I cleared my throat and steeled myself, ready to take on whatever would come. “We’re afraid that you’ve snapped. That Theodora’s death has pushed you over the edge and that you’re going to destroy anyone that crosses you.”
I figured if she did kill me, she would have at least heard the truth.
Zepherina’s face didn’t twist to anger, instead, her hands shook and she fell to her knees, her face in her hands. Zepherina’s shoulders lurched as she began to sob.
At first, I turned from her to give her privacy as she cried, as was the Valkyrie way. But my heart ached for her pain. I closed my eyes tight. Shit… my passion for Rachel is removed but I must have some kind of maternal love for Zepherina… I turned and knelt next to her, my heartbreaking as she sobbed tearlessly into her hands. “I’m sorry, I should have phrased that differently.”
Zepherina looked up to me, her eye’s smoke looking more like a pair of boiling points of water, “But you’re right! I did lose control and I don’t know what might happen if I lose control again.”
I looked to her armor, placing my hand on her shoulder, “well, Ragna said this armor is supposed to absorb and distribute your strength. Maybe Ragna’s trying to help you focus your strength to help you?”
Zepherina sniffled, instinctively moving to dry her eyes, despite there being no tears, “our training isn't helping in that department.”
“How so?” I asked.
“I don’t have a limit,” Zepherina confessed.

Xyphiel
I flexed my hands and flinched as I felt the pain of my severed body below.
Ragna was going to leave me here, like this? That bitch! I had questioned her judgment before, but now? Now I knew she had lost her way.
The ruthless warrior now thought herself a Queen.
I would have to remind her of her place.
As I lamented my position, I looked out of the cylinder, spotting Bella approaching.
She spoke out loud and I could only hear her voice muffled through the water and glass.
I closed my eyes, speaking directly to her mind, “Speak in your mind Bella and I will hear you.”
When my eyes opened I saw Bella smiling wickedly, “Xyphiel, I’m happy to see you’re alive. I see you’ve run afoul of the Angel Timothy.”
I narrowed my eyes, “You knew of Timothy?!”
Bella nodded, “Timothy, Jason, Father Thomas, Trevor, and Lilith,” she confessed, “all have crossed me at some point or another. Father Thomas first, but Timothy was the angel that helped save that fool priest.”
My anger boiled over and the pain of my severed body was the only thing that kept me from shifting to my Niten form. “Why did you not tell me?” I demanded.
“Tell you? Why would I tell you my life story, Xyphiel?” Bella asked, “Our love is still fresh. How do I know that I can trust you implicitly?” Bella reasoned, crossing her arms and giving me an indigent look.
“Because that information could have saved me from being bisected!” I shouted into Bella’s mind.
Bella’s look softened and she sighed, “Then I’m sorry. Years of having to guard myself have left me with high walls. I rarely let anyone in,” Bella smiled softly to me, “you’re the only man to be so deep inside me.”
The double entendre notwithstanding, I decided to clear the air. “Timothy is my son,” I explained.
Bella took a step back, “Timothy? The Angel Timothy is your son?” Bella asked, clearly bewildered.
“Yes, that’s right,” I confirmed, “Rachel is his mother.”
“Oh, Rachel?” Bella grinned to me, “that harlot? My God Xyphiel, do you know how to pick them…”
I growled, “I assume you’ve seen her hanging off of my sister Ragna at every turn?”
“I see, so that brute of a woman stole her from you?” Bella mused.
“Yes,” I hissed into Bella’s mind.
“What an absolute bitch of a sister you have!” Bella gasped. She looked over the cylinder I was inside, “When is she going to get you back on your feet?”
“She has no immediate plans,” I explained.
Bella’s eyes narrowed, “oh, that will not do…” her grin then came back, more than devilish as her teeth changed to the set of interlocking jaws that appeared sharp enough to bite steel, “I’ll be right back.”
In an instant, Bella vanished in a puff of black smoke. It was only a few moments later that she arrived with a man about my height, who I suspected was one of the colonists.
The man shouted in dismay, turning to me, his eyes widened as he looked to me and cried out in shock.
Bella smiled, “Do you want to be out of there right now?”
“Yes,” I affirmed. I had an idea of what Bella had planned.
Magic often required an offering to be effective.
Black Magic, especially.
“What are you willing to give?” Bella asked, “will you sacrifice this man’s life for your ability to walk again?”
I grinned, “I’d sacrifice the entire lot of them.”
Bella squealed in delight, “I’ll be right back!”
Bella soon popped in and out with a few more colonists, four in total.
I grinned as they all grew more afraid as Bella’s hands started glowing with dark power, “Get me out of here, my Bella.”

Timothy
I was in the vault, going over the items we had in our possession. What could best be used to kill Xyphiel?
I turned to see a spear tip, blackened with blood. I walked over to it and took it in my hands.
Xei’s knife fighting lessons came to mind, and I gave a thrust with the spear. This would help.
“Why are you here taking the Spearhead of Longinus?” Sofia’s voice came from the door.
I turned and saw Sofia standing in the doorway, her arms crossed and her wings spread wide.
“You’re actually going through with it?” Sofia narrowed her eyes on me.
I got to my feet, tucking the Spearhead into a satchel with some other artifacts I had collected, “God says Only the Sundered Child, not The Sundered Child and his soldiers.”
“Am I just your soldier then?” Sofia narrowed her eyes on me, her anger growing.
I approached her, “I am possibly going to die, I’m the one putting myself at risk-”
“I’ve already lost you once!” Sofia shouted, tears welling up in her eyes, “I’m not losing you again!” She shouted. “That’s why I did this to myself, Tim! That’s why I burned my eyes out by looking as deep into Samael’s vision as I could! Because I wanted to be your sword because I wanted to be yours forever!” Sofia shouted, tears now flowing from her milky eyes.
My heart broke as she cried before me.
“Forever isn’t supposed to end! Forever is always, not just a few months! I won’t let you-” Sofia was cut off as I kissed her, pushing her against the wall and holding her tight.
Tears fell from my eyes as we crushed against each other.
Sofia resisted for a second before she pushed back against me, her tongue invading my mouth with passion and desire.
By the time we broke the kiss both of us were short of breath, my forehead was lowered against hers.
For a brief moment, I thought I saw the milkiness of her eyes vanish, “Make love to me, right now, and don’t you dare fucking stop!” Sofia demanded.
I locked the door to the vault, grabbed Sofia’s shirt, and ripped it opened.
Sofia gasped as I tore her shirt off, exposing her bra, “Tim!”
I pulled the shirt down her arms and began to kiss at her neck, causing her to let out another gasp.
“T-this doesn’t get you out of trouble!” Sofia breathlessly defended as I pushed her pants down, eliciting a groan of desire from Sofia. “A-and…” Sofia shuddered as I pressed her against the wall, “you owe me a new shirt…!”
I kissed her again and both of her hands were on the back of my head as we pressed against each other.
Every moment of passion was treated as if each press, thrust, or embrace was bringing us closer together.
I wished I could have laid there with her forever like Sofia wanted. Like I wanted.

After hours, we lay on the floor of the vault, Sofia laying next to me, her arm over my chest, snoring contentedly.
I glanced at Sofia, guilt taking me as what she said sank into me: “That’s why I did this to myself, Tim! That’s why I burned my eyes…”
I kissed her forehead softly, tears leaking from my eyes, “I’m sorry. If I could take it back, I would,” I whispered.
Sofia shifted slightly but didn’t wake.
I wished Sofia was her old self. Then I could at least choose mortality with her, and the two of us could grow old together. I shut my eyes tightly and imagined a world where Sofia and I had a normal life.
I would come home from my tour of duty, and we’d move in together. We’d meet each other’s parents, I would propose. Tears ran down my cheeks as I imagined a life we’d never have, never could.
My arm pulled her close to me as my heart skipped a beat, “Maybe in my next life…” I swallowed my sorrow down and took one more deep breath. “But this life’s fate? It’s sealed.”

Ragna
I watched in the observation room as Zepherina practiced her stances with the forcefield golems I often trained with.
“Horse stance and strike,” I instructed through the intercom.
Her strikes were growing more precise, less sloppy. I eyed the gravity readout, it was pinned hard at 24x the normal planet’s gravity. Rage was unable to increase the gravity in the room any higher, we lacked the graviton control power. Sadly, while using seawater to cool the systems was an easy modification, nothing was as effective as using the vacuum of space as a heatsink.
Still, Zepherina’s strength was limitless. This bodes poorly for a few reasons, but not immediately.
“Is this strength just a fluke?” I reasoned quietly. “She can’t be the only one, can she? Is my daughter the strongest being alive?”
Rage interrupted my thought process. “Incoming transmission from Timothy Crestfall.”
“Timothy?” I said, the intercom accidentally still opened.
Zepherina stopped her training, looking in my direction, “Timothy?”
“Rage, end the training system,” I ordered as I headed into the training room, the gravity normalizing.
“How high was the gravity?” Zepherina asked.
“Twenty four,” I explained.
“I didn’t even feel it,” Zepherina informed, disappointed.
“You served under Timothy, any clue why he’s trying to reach out to me now?” I asked.
Zepherina narrowed her eyes, “Timothy didn’t even tell me you were my mother. Why would he tell me any of his plans?”
“Well,” I smiled, “seems you, and I both have some business with Timothy.”
Zepherina walked past me, her attitude not yet softening.
I walked out after her and after Zepherina took a wrong turn down the hallway, I shouted, “The bridge is this way!”
Zepherina turned around and grumbled, “try some fucking signs in this place.”
She stormed past me, and I couldn’t help but smile at her.
I walked behind her, grinning at her frustrations. “What if she doesn’t love you at all?” I thought to myself. Oddly the thought crossed my mind as I came to a stop at the door which led to the bar. I blinked, turning to look inside.
I hadn’t meant to stop here. Was it just a habit?
Zepherina was next to me, giving me an odd look, “...that’s not the bridge, right?”
“No,” I said flatly, “It’s not.”
“No wonder you get lost here,” she motioned, “why is nothing labeled?”
I laughed, “open your mind to Rage, you’ll see the labels clearly,” I explained to Zepherina.
Zepherina scoffed and continued down the hallway.
I caught up with her, walking side by side with her. I, again, could not help but smile being near her.
When we reached the bridge, I saw Timothy’s face appear on the screen.
“Timothy,” I smiled, “I missed you.”
“Zepherina,” Timothy said, ignoring me, “how are you holding up?”
“Fine,” Zepherina said flatly, “can’t you tell?”
“I heard about Theodora, I’m so sorry Zeph,” Timothy offered, sorrow in his eyes.
“It was your government that did it, Timothy” Zepherina narrowed her now fiery eyes.
“Well, thanks to our mother, I’m no longer associated with them,” Timothy said, turning to me.
Zepherina turned to me, “what did you do now?”
“I told the truth, was that so terrible?” I confessed, smiling, “shouldn’t you be asking Timothy your own question?”
“I know the answer,” Zepherina spat.
“Oh?” I asked, “what is that answer?”
“Timothy was trying to spare me the knowledge that you were my mother. Frankly? I thank him for keeping it from me as long as he did,” Zepherina confessed. “I wish I didn’t know!”
I frowned at Zepherina and glanced at Timothy, “I assume you didn’t call just to tell me that you’re upset that I burned your bridges with the US.”
Timothy’s eyes narrowed, “I’m certain you have him on life support. I’m asking you to unplug him. Let him die.”
I sighed, “I can’t kill my own brother.”
“But Xyphiel can kill one of my brothers?” Timothy shouted.
Zerpherina’s attention snapped to the screen, “What? What did you just say?!”
“Elon…” Timothy heaved a heavy sigh, “Elon is dead, Zepherina. Alexis and Syria killed Elon on Xyphiel’s orders.”
Zepherina turned to me, fire burning in her eyes, “You! No!” Zepherina rushed towards me blindly before she was stopped by a field I was more than familiar with.
I spun on my heel and spotted Xyphiel, on his feet, seemingly himself, again! Next to him stood Bella, smiling wickedly.
Zepherina screamed, “You killed Elon?!”
I frowned at Zepherina, “I did no such thing, my fight was with you alone!”
Xypheil, however, merely grinned at Zepherina, “If ‘Elon’ was the undead sniper, then yes, that was done on my order.”
Zepherina roared in anger and charged at Xyphiel.
“Zepherina!” I shouted, “Don’t!”
Xyphiel lifted an eyebrow and in a flash unfurled his cape.
“Don’t hurt her!” I shouted.
Xyphiel hurled the cape over Zepherina, Zepherina vanishing in an instant. “You know where you can pick her up, Ragna. My son and I have some things to discuss.”
I narrowed my eyes to Xyphiel, “the vault dimension, really?”
“Don’t make me shut it,” Xyphiel’s grin grew, “or your daughter will find herself stuck there for the next ten years or ten minutes… time being relative and all.”
Timothy now spoke, “Father, you and I will speak shortly,” he turned to me, “but first I want to speak to my mother, face-to-face.”
I turned to Timothy, keeping a wary eye on Xyphiel. “Rage, open the vault door please, make sure Xyphiel can’t turn on the time dilation.” I sent the order to Rage quickly.
“Confirmed, vault door is opened,” Rage reported.
“Fine, Timothy,” I turned to Xyphiel, “and your father?”
Timothy turned to Xyphiel and Bella, “I’ll meet Xyphiel, alone, at the following coordinates. There he can try, and fail, to convince me to come home.”
“Coordinates received,” Rage announced.
“And where will I meet you?” I asked.
“Come to the Christian Church in Penthesil and you’ll receive further communications,” Timothy informed before the line went dead.
I nodded, turning on my heel and running towards the vault. I came to a stop in the hallway outside of it, finding Zepherina slamming her fist into a very dented wall.
I heaved a sigh, walking towards her, “I’m sorry your comrade is dead.”
Zepherina glared at me, “you killed Elon!” she got to her feet, “Elon was the sweetest man I had ever met! Elon was a good person! And you killed him! How could you?!”
“I didn’t kill him!” I defended, weakly, “Xyphiel does his own thing! I was not there to kill anyone. I was only there to bring you and Evangeline home.”
Zepherina’s lip quivered, “you’re still Xyphiel’s ally.”
“He is my brother!” I shouted, “yes.”
“Until he isn’t…” Zepherina turned her back to me, “I want nothing to do with you.”
My heart sank, “Zeph-”
“Fuck off, Ragna!” Zepherina said, lifting both of her middle fingers to me as she walked away.
I turned, walking down the hallway. I was walking the hallways in a bit of a daze. I finally stopped, blinking the fresh tears from my eyes. By the time I could see again, I realized I was outside the bar once more.
I swallowed hard, my throat feeling dry.
“Timothy is waiting for you,” I thought to myself. “Probably to tell you that he hates you too.
The bar looked inviting.
May any happiness you ever have be tainted by greater sorrow!
I clenched my fist and powered past the bar, heading to Rachel. Timothy would meet his mother. He’d meet with both of us. There was a chance, a slim, tiny chance I could salvage this.
I can salvage my existence.

Timothy
I stood outside of Penthesil, knowing Tasha would take Ragna from the church, to where I stood, waiting.
A pair of guards were standing at the top of the wall, looking down at me.
As the gates opened, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. But, there they were, Tasha and Ragna. Rachel was there as well, which put me on edge.
Rachel smiled at me, “Timothy!” she exclaimed as she rushed towards me.
What was she doing here? Did she expect a hug? For what? Ditching me with a megalomaniac rapist that even she was afraid to be around?
I stopped her before she got too close, “I asked for my mother. What is she doing here?”
Rachel stopped, turning to Ragna, “Timothy, she’s my wife and-”
“I was not speaking to you, Rachel,” I spat.
Rachel turned to me, confusion on her face.
Ragna stepped towards me, “Timothy, please, Rachel loves you.”
“Oh, really? I wouldn’t know,” I growled.
Rachel’s eyes grew wet, “Timothy, I don’t… what are you saying?”
“You’re the woman who gave birth to me, but you’re not my mother. You were not there for me,” I hissed
“I couldn’t be!” Rachel shouted in an attempt to defend her actions, “I couldn’t be there because-”
“Because you ran away,” I narrowed my eyes on her, “you ran away from me, but worse? You ran away from her!” I pointed to Ragna.
Ragna narrowed her eyes on me, anger in her voice as I was certain I was about to unveil something she had yet to tell Rachel, “Timothy… no.”
“Do you know what my mother did on the anniversary of you leaving?” I shouted.
Ragna closed her eyes tightly, “Timothy, don’t,” she growled.
“She would drink herself into oblivion! Because she couldn’t handle the fact that you left us on that day!” I shouted.
Rachel turned to Ragna, shocked. “Is that true?” Rachel asked Ragna.
“Yes. It’s true. I drank to run from the pain of being alone. But, Timothy, there’s something you should know.” Ragna whispered, opening her eyes and looking at me with a truly hurt expression, “I drank every single night after the day you left me.”
I gasped, and my heart sank as I imagined Ragna, my mother, slumped over a bar in constant sorrow at the thought of me being kidnapped or worse.
“Day in and day out,” Ragna confessed to us, “because I thought that not only might you be dead, but worse that you might be getting tortured or abused by whoever took you from me. I blamed myself that I had failed my son. Rather than face that terrible truth,” Ragna heaved a sigh, “I climbed into a bottle.”
“Wait,” Rachel cried to Ragna, “Is that why you haven’t drunk a single drop of alcohol since you got here?”
Ragna nodded, “Yes, because when I found you I vowed I wouldn’t go back to that constant drunken existence if you could call it that.”
I had to turn from her, trying to keep my composure, but recalling having to drag Ragna to her bedroom on those terrible days. “Who helped you-”
“No one,” Ragna explained, “Xyphiel would at first, but soon grew tired of me. Eventually, he couldn’t even stand to look at me. My drunkenness was just another constant reminder of my failure to protect our son.” Ragna sighed, “I wanted to escape. Suicide wasn’t an option, so I did the next best thing.”
I steeled myself and turned to face Ragna.
“But you’re alive,” Ragna smiled to me, “alive and well and…” Ragna chuckled, beaming to me.
Was that pride?
Was she proud of me?
Was I pleased by her pride in me? I tried not to show it.
“I wanted to talk, before everything happened,” I said, looking to Tasha.
Tasha turned from me, tears rolling down her cheek.
“I’m here,” Ragna said, “let’s talk.”
“Alone,” I requested.
Ragna pulled out a small device and tossed it up into the air, a gateway opening up before us.
“After you,” I motioned.
Ragna nodded and walked inside.
I followed and she shut the door.
Inside I found a dimly lit room, very nondescript, only a pair of simple chairs.
“The time is dilated pretty extreme here, we can honestly talk for days and only a few minutes will go by,” Ragna explained. “I really wanted to catch up.”
I turned to her and did my very best to hold myself together. “I just… I want to strip our titles away right now. I want just the basics. So while we’re in here, I’m not the Metatron, you’re not the Empress of Penthesil, it’s just you and me… just…”
“Mother and son?” Ragna offered.
I rushed to her and hugged her tight, tears flowing from my eyes.
Finally, my mother Ragna hugged me back. Her hand on the back of my head, stroking my hair comfortingly, “Timothy… I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too,” I sighed as I hugged her tight. After a few moments, I pulled away, looking at her seriously, “Mom, I need to talk to you.”
“Tell me everything, Timothy,” Ragna smiled to me, “We have all the time in the world.”
“Okay,” I relented, “but by the end, I need you to understand that I’m going to ask you for a favor.”
“And what favor is that?” Ragna asked.
“Mom,” I fixed her with a serious gaze, “I need to ask you something. I want you to kill Xyphiel.”
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[The Extramundane Emancipation of Geela, Evil Sorceress at Large] --- Chapter 34: Damned Bloody Prophecies

Synopsis: After hoodwinking Darkos, a holy priest, into escorting her back to her castle, Dark Enchantress Geela has one item left on her list: revenge on her ex-husband. With a confused Darkos in tow, she sets out. However, Geela isn't the only one with secrets. And Barney isn't the only old enemy who's about to get a visit.
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(Note: I'll be getting you two chapters next week but I have until next Wednesday to submit my derby project, so that will take momentary precedence.
Thanks for sticking with me through some crazy times!
On with the show!
Darkos shifted uncomfortably as he stood in the foyer of Liani’s Table, Geela’s restaurant of choice for dinner. He was uncomfortable, partly because of the trinkets weighing down the bag on his back and partly because of the trinkets weighing down his conscience. Geela wasn’t going to be happy when he showed her what he’d bought but he couldn’t help it. Every little thing he picked up that he found himself enjoying or could see her loving went into the cart and the next thing he knew, he’d paid out the equivalent of a horse’s weight in gold.
Now that horse’s weight in gold bore down on him. Stupid stupid stupid! Jane should have stopped him. Someone should have stopped him. But the little wooden mule had reminded him too much of Shawn and he thought it’d make Geela mad, in a funny way. Then he’d bought her an ornate necklace made to look like a hydra, to remind her of her old pet. Then, remembering how he’d killed the hydra, he also picked up a tea sampler of twenty different flavors, some of which, mint clouds, sleepytime honey, blueberry fields, and, above all, ginger summer zinger, he just knew she’d love.
And it had continued from there. He’d bought a clay maraca filled with metallic pebbles, which made a shimmery, tinkly sound whenever shaken, for Dad. Then he bought an ivory watering can in the shape of an elephant for Mom. But then he was worried Mom would feel left out if she didn’t have any instrument to play with dad on, so he got her a little jade ocarina, since she’d tried so futilely to get him to play her old one. And then Dad needed a second gift, so he got a crystal wind chime, to also decorate the garden with.
But then Darkos also wanted to treat himself. Not including all the little snacks that he’d sampled while out, he’d bought a really neat book sold by a girl who’d claimed to hail from the Third Sea Region, a really cool arm brace thing that changed colors when he shifted it, and a little brown circle thing that promised it stopped pots from boiling over. That last one kind of joined what was supposed to be the ‘for both of us’ pile. It already contained a hand cream that prevented itchy skin, an amulet that warded away bugs (and frogs), a tonic that knocked out hangovers, and a bottle of a delectable smelling liquor that promised some future hangovers.
It just… it had added up. He’d even bought Jane a little hat with a flower in it just because he thought it looked silly. She absolutely adored it.
“Draaaaaaake!”
He yelped and whipped around like his head was on fire. “Gee...ale!” he said, barely catching himself on her name. “I didn’t know you’d be here!” Then he winced. “I mean. I didn’t know you were. Here.”
She cocked an eyebrow but there was an odd look in her eye. “Of course I’m here. I said I’d be on time.”
“Well.” Darkos eyed the clock by the maiter de’s desk. Geela wasn’t, in fact, on time. She was late, but Darkos decided against pointing it out. “I’m just jumpy.”
She nodded, not questioning this, and banged on the desk. “I have a reservation for two at seven?” she said, her voice a bark. “Where’s the waitress?”
“Gale,” he said, trying to keep his voice down, “she’ll be back in a second. Just had to seat another customer.”
“Oh and I suppose that other customer is better than us, are they?”
Oh she was in a mood and Darkos swallowed, all the more nervous about showing her his… yield. “Yeah, guess so.”
Wrong thing to say. Geela’s eyes disappeared to slits. “Oh I bet they think they are. Someone is going to find live frogs in their soup.”
This was one of those idle threats that Darkos had long learned to take seriously. “Not frogs,” he said. “We don’t like frogs, remember?”
She shook back her long black hair and huffed. “Hmph. They’re lucky.”
“The frogs or the customer?”
“I suppose both.”
“I’m so sorry about the wait,” came a breathy voice as the maitre de appeared. “Do you have a reservation?”
“Two for Bronwyn,” Darkos said, before Geela could even start. “At seven?”
“Ahhh Gal and Drake? Love the name by the way,” she added, giving Darkos a friendly smile. “Reminds me of dragons. Right this way?”
Darkos wasn’t entirely sure how the building had managed to stand after that remark. Geela’s fiery glare should have been enough to turn both the lady and the entire building into ash and then set that ash on fire. However they made it to their table without too much fuss.
“Care to hear our spe—”
“No.”
“Aaaalright then I’ll just send your waiter on over and be out of your hair.”
“Gale,” Darkos said, as the woman scuttled off, “what’s got you in such a mood? Did you find the academy?”
She shot him a glare but couldn’t fight a tiny smile at the corner of her lip. “Yes Darkos, I found the academy.”
“Oh. And uh, Professor Elle?”
She let the smile spread a bit further. “Professor Eve Elle? I know where her office is, yes.”
Darkos laughed, shaking his head. “The subtlety is staggering. Imagine someone having a name that so obviously has something dark in it and not noticing…” His own laugh trailed off just a bit there as a thought sorta tugged at his brain but Geela, perhaps a bit more cheerful now, jumped in.
“So, how was window shopping?”
He broke out in a cold sweat. “I didn’t think I was supposed to be window shopping.”
She waved a hand before untucking her napkin and placing it on her lap. “No, of course not entirely. If you didn’t buy a thing or two, it’d look suspicious. Like you’re killing time.”
“Right, ok, and when you say a thing or two… you meant maybe for like… each… person?” The end of his sentence ticked up weakly and he gave Geela a queasy grin.
“For both of us?” She clicked her tongue but it wasn’t at all an annoyed tone. “Oh did you get me something?”
“Yeah! A thing or two. Or uh, so, um, first it’s like, this—” he rummaged in his bag before coming up with the wooden mule.
“Darkos!”
“Drake.”
“Drake!” Geela glared at the little wheeled toy.
He just grinned, pleased with her reaction. “It’s even got a hollowed belly you can put things in.”
“It does not.” She crossed her arms, a pout fighting a laugh. “It does not have a hollow belly.”
The two stared at it for a solid minute before she snatched it off the table, trying to run a fingernail under the wood somewhere.
“Ok, you’re right,” he said, after letting her fidget with it for another moment, “it doesn’t. I had you for a second there.”
Very witty. Did you get me a toy void fiend as my second gift?”
He brushed this off with a wave. “No no no. Something you can wear.”
“Earrings of Noire? Oh no, wait, let me guess, one of those really tacky tunics that say ‘My Parents Went to the Celestial City and Only Brought Me Back this Tunic’ on it.”
With a jingle of metal and crystal, he unearthed the hydra necklace. “Close but not quite.”
“Ohhhh.” She pulled it from his hands, a bit sharply, examining it, running her fingers over the chains and jewels. “It’s not… well it’s clearly been made by a rudimentary craftsman but it’s not… it’s well made. You can see the— look, Darkos, here.” She pulled his hands over one of the little jade lizard heads. “Feel that. The graininess around the engravings. It was definitely done by hand, so none of these were just replicas. This must’ve taken a while. Was it pricey?”
Darkos’s fingers froze over the hydra head but Geela blew past her own question.
“That’s wonderful. Good.” She nodded. “Very good.”
“Well…” Darkos wasn’t sure if he should go on, because buying Geela gifts with Geela’s money was a bit much.
“I don’t mind how much it is,” she said, as if reading his mind. “If you saw my treasuries… money isn’t an issue. I’d rather see what you think I’d like than see you pinch pennies on something stupid like a cheap felt hat.”
Darkos frowned, trying to remember what Jane’s hat was made of. “Uh. Don’t think it’s felt.”
“Did you get me a hat?”
He grinned and reached back into his bag. “Nope. Bought you… these. They smelled so good that I couldn’t resist.”
She examined the little jars of teas. “These are definitely not felt,” she said. “Did they sell felt tea? I suppose I should be grateful you bought something edible—Ooh, that ginger is delectable.” She inhaled deeply. “Any of these black? I’ll be up late tonight.”
“The acai. What’s tonight? Just doing research or…”
Her eyes clouded and Darkos remembered how bad her mood had been when she’d first walked in. “I have to visit someone.”
“Professor Elle?”
She shook her head but just as she opened her mouth, their waiter, a narrow faced boy who’d introduced himself as Henry, arrived to take their orders. Geela was, fortunately, a lot more subdued by now and placed her order with far more indifference. It wasn’t until he walked away that she let out a long breath.
“Do you remember Vera?”
Darkos shook his head without half a thought. Geela wasn’t probably expecting him to anyway, even if he did.
“Vera was an old student of mine. Slacker. Or, rather, unmotivated. The student whose eyes glaze over when you’re lecturing and skips assignments but then when she does turn in work it’s impeccable.” Geela stared at the dark nails on her fingers. “Brilliant but not challenged. Not sufficiently. I took a liking to her because I saw a bit of myself in her. So I invited her to an… extracurricular.”
“Blood cult?”
“Oh you do remember.” This comment normally would have been accompanied with an infantilizing smile but her face stayed perturbed. “I told you how it all went south, then.”
“They sacrificed her?”
Her brow creased at this. “No. No they didn’t. I only sacrificed people who volunteered. I…” She shook her head. “No. I did. To destroy the cult, seal up Berta, and take out her followers. Had to be done, she understood, doesn’t mean it’s any more fair cause it should have been one of them. I’m really very over it but I did pay her a visit and it just brought back how stressful the whole thing was.”
“Oh. Wait, you visited her?” Geela seemed upset, distressed almost. He definitely had the impression that things used to bother her more when she was younger than they had as she got older. This new realization was not a fun one. It played over his skin like someone running cold, sharp fingernails along it.
“She’s encased in bloodrock. Old Bertie’s trapped in the sanguine realm as long as she’s in there.” Geela wrinkled her nose. “But that’s not really what happened that was so interesting. She had children.”
“In the rock?!”
Before Geela could answer, their food was delivered. All the while, as their succulent dishes were placed before them, Darkos could just picture little angel-like babies swimming around in bloodrock. He shuddered. What a cursed life.
“No, Drake,” she said, as the waiters stalked off, “before she was sacrificed.”
“Oh.” The image still didn’t quite vanish, though, as much as he tried to dispel it. “Uh, ok. You said student, I thought young.”
“Oh she was. Youngish. Twenty, so young.”
“Did one of them find you?”
She laughed, a bit bitter, and took a bite of her food. “No. Grandchild. I have to meet him at midnight.”
“Why?”
She swallowed. “He knows who I am.”
“He knows you’re…” Darkos dropped his voice to a whisper, “Geela?”
“Mhm. I’m not sure how but apparently he does. We’re meeting at midnight.”
“We, like, we. You and me and him?” Despite the fact that her legacy was plastered across the realm, Darkos had precious few instances to run into anyone from her past. Yes she stole a mountain and he’d dreamed of Barney once but that was about it. This could be very interesting.
Or as he was increasingly feeling, absolutely a terrible idea, but he felt like he had to be there. What this said about himself he did not want to think about.
Geela had a distant look to her eyes. “I guess… I guess so. Yes, I mean us. You and me and him.”
She might need him after all. Darkos knew she’d be able to hold it together, but she also could potentially use the moral support.
“Good,” he said. “What time?”
“Midnight. Simple time. We might need costumes, but nothing facially disguising. Just not… boring street clothes. I’ll figure something out when we get back to the inn.”
“Good.” Darkos grinned. “I’ll make some tea, keep us up.”

The two tiptoed down the roads while Geela fidgeted with a little device in her hand. It was an illusimancer or something. An illusiometer maybe. No, an illusionograph. Illusionator? Something like that. Something that made illusions easier. She’d explained how she’d preprogrammed a handful of illusions to call upon more easily.
“I’m not going to show up with the full gamut of my power running. We need to stay on the downlow.” That was pretty much the only word for word part he remembered her saying. The rest of his memory was dedicated to remembering the name of her device.
The Celestial City didn’t really seem to sleep, even if Darkos kind of wanted to. Even though it was approaching eleven, there were more people on the streets than in Darkos’ entire village. He couldn’t really blame them. The sun hadn’t even really gone down all the way.
“Why are they up so late?” Darkos asked.
“I couldn’t say. Out late with friends, going to work, home from working, shopping. Big cities don’t use the regular clock, especially not in the Celestial Region. Sun just stays up so long.” She gestured at the sky to highlight her point.
“Oh.” It did make sense that the sun would stay up later in the Celestial Region. “Does the moon stay out in the Lunar Region all day?”
“Mhm. All day.”
Darkos absolutely could not tell if this was sarcasm or not so he just kept following her. They reached a fissure in the ground, one that went down so deep he couldn’t see the bottom. Geela peered down it for a moment before sighing and straightening up.
Dakors laughed, breathing a sigh of relief. “For a moment I thought—”
“Ah ah ah, one minute.” She held up a hand before reaching into her bag and pulling out a coil of rope, which she affixed to a point above the fissure. Darkos sagged.
“Oh. So we are.”
“Hmm?”
“Aren’t you worried you’ll fall?” he asked, plainly worried that she’d fall.
She looked up at him. “No?” They wore maroon hoods that obscured their faces just enough to keep them more or less hidden without being too ominous, so Darkos couldn’t really see her expression. He could, however, hear it. “You’re going to carry me.”
Dammit. “Alright but then we’re doing this piggyback style and you need to hang on no matter what.”
She took a deep breath, accepting her solemn duty before crawling onto his back like some kind of spider monkey.
“You’d better hold on tight,” he said. “How deep is it?”
“The rope should make it easier on your hands so it won’t be too bad,” she said, hands clasped tight around his neck. “And once we’re on it, people won’t be able to see it. It won’t snap or release either. It’s reasonably useful.”
Darkos nodded and, giving the area around them one final look around the area, started descending.
It took about half an hour before he realized she hadn’t said how deep it was.
“How deep did you say this was?”
“I didn’t.”
Wonderful. Darkos used to have to climb hand over hand up to the top of a local tower in his village that was several hundred feet tall, so this wasn’t something he’d never done before. It was a little different. The evil enchantress clinging to his neck for dear life, so nervous that she was breathing harder than he was, that was new. But on the plus side, he got to use his feet, so that was good. And Geela’s rope was a little magic.
After another ten minutes, he tried his question in a more direct way. “How much longer?”
“Well, it’s about one thousand, three hundred and thirty… seven feet? No, eight. One thousand, three hundred, thirty eight feet deep.” She took a measured breath and he could feel her shaking on his back. “So almost there.”
Almost there. If he didn’t have a passenger, he’d probably have reached the ground already. He just kinda wished she’d given him an ETA. Though, technically he knew they had to be there by midnight, so maybe he was just being whiny.
Then, all of the sudden and with no warning, he hit the ground. “Oh!”
“Oh— ow!”
Darkos whirled to see Geela had, while dismounting, tripped and fallen.
“You ok?”
“ANKLE!”
“Uh, what can I do?”
“Uggggh.” She stuck a hand up to him and he helped her to her feet. “We’re going to keep this meeting to as little moving as possible. How much time do we have?”
He checked his watch. “Fifteen?”
“Crap. Alright, I’ll need your hand.” She grabbed his shoulder, supporting herself hard on him.
“I could try healing you,” he said, as he helped her limp down the treacherous underground steps that were apparently part of the academy.
“No no no.”
He’d expected her to say as much. Any powers he had came directly from Noire. “Honestly, I’m not even sure I still have my old healing spells. They came from worshipping Noire, even as Alerion, but I haven’t worshipped it in a bit.”
“And there’s no reason to tempt fate,” she said. “I could…” She sighed.
“What? You have any potions or something?”
“No Darkos, I told you. Not an alchemist.”
He held her elbow firmly as she stepped down a narrow passage. “Fair. Just thought maybe one of the apothecaries might’ve had something. I saw a few when I was shopping but I wasn’t sure how or if they worked.”
She didn’t respond to this, probably annoyed at him for not getting any. “Huh,” she said after a minute. “We should get some after this. Sure beats the bow.”
“The bow?”
Strangely, she blushed at this, but before he could say anything else, she held up a hand. “Ok ok, we’re here. Show time.” She dialed her finger around the illusiotechnic and a mist fell around them. “Invisible, sorta, so don’t make a sound. Remember, if you have to talk to me, only talk when your face is obscured by the magic of my hood or they will be able to hear.”
They rounded the next corner to find a large room, occupied by a small cluster of people wearing dark red garments. Darkos and Geela half tip toed, half limped past them, careful not to make a sound. Somehow the ceiling was made entirely of glass and looked up into the sky, even though that must be impossible. The chamber held an odd amount of life. Bats fluttered from alcove to alcove, a rat scurried by. A cloud drifted over the moon and somewhere, in the distance, he heard the hour start to chime.
Geela, still invisible, pulled down her hood to fully reveal the symbols drawn on her face. An owl from one of the little cave pockets screeched and the room filled with an eerie glow from the moon above.
Darkos heard a gasp.
“There, she’s there!”
Darkos turned, a bit quick, to see the figures in robes all turn to face him and Geela. She must have dropped the invisibility field. Of course, he wished she’d have given him a signal, but he was learning to be quick on his feet. He kept his hood up, as Geela had requested, but kept his place behind her, stoic and still.
Geela for her part, stood before them, her Gale disguise shed, her golden hair spilling down her own dark red robes.
The cluster of eight people knelt before her, heads bowed. The one in front, a man who looked close to Darkos’s age, fixed her with a look of adoration.
“High Priestess Geela,” he said. “You have, indeed, not aged a day.”
“What’s this about.” Geela threw out a hand, gesturing at the room they stood in. “You’ve activated the sanguine chamber. You stand garbed in the robes of blood. You claim to be the children of Vera. Explain yourselves to me.”
Another figure looked up. His face was identical to that of the first man who spoke.
“We are the eight, the four of two, who were of one. The two drops hit the water and so we are the ripples.”
Darkos wanted desperately to ask Geela what this meant but from her body language, something he’d gotten very good at picking up, she was annoyed by this. Still, before she had to ask for more, two other figures uncloaked themselves. Two women unveiled their hoods. They had delicate features, pixie-like noses, dark hair cut sharp at their collarbones.
“In the light we serve.”
“In the dark we serve.”
“We are as the world sees…”
“One.”
The two both came together on the last word.
Geela let out a long breath. “Ah. I see.”
“There was a prophecy.” This voice came from another hood figure, another male’s voice, but this one harsher than the first twins who had spoken. “Speaking of lineage passed down four times.”
“From witch to priestess.”
“From priestess to servants.”
“From servants to daughters.”
“From daughters to the eight.”
“And all paid back in kind.” Geela finished. “Your poor mothers.”
“They know what must be done,” spoke the first man. “They will go willingly.”
“I would expect nothing less.” Geela turned to him and beckoned. When he grew near enough, she leaned forward, speaking in the enchantment of his hood. The cultists would hear only high, muted whispers. Darkos, meanwhile, heard, “I’m so completely and utterly done with this right now. I’m so pissed. Why, why did this have to happen now?”
“What’s going on?” Darkos asked. “This is total nonsense, right?”
She groaned. “Mostly. Well maybe half. There was a prophecy that we divined decades ago that was supposed to bring some crap ton of power to Berta. But I blew the place up before then and I’d thought we were fine because I didn’t know that my damned students had any kids.”
“Oh. So what’s it mean when you walk into a prophecy?”
“Nothing good. They’ll want me to bring Berta back.” Geela’s voice had grown tense.
“Can we, like, avert the prophecy? Ignore it?”
She sucked in a breath between her teeth. “I’m not sure. I’m really not. I am a little nervous to refuse them. They have the power of prophecy at their back, which is icky temporal magic and they also know my identity.” She sounded nervous now. “I’m not really interested in bringing old Bertie back but I don’t know how to say no to this.”
“What happens if she comes back?”
Geela leaned away and looked over at the eight, all staring at her, faces either solemn or hopeful or joyous or skeptical, depending on which twin pair you looked at. She leaned back in.
“I don’t have time to answer that right now. Just know that one, it’ll be complicated. Two, it’ll be… messy. And three? We may not have a choice.”
Oooh plot thickens more and more... Let me know what you think!
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How To Read Betting Odds Correctly

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