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The Featherlight Transmission, Ch. 3

A little while later, I'm in Sector Seven, home of fancy restaurants, galleries, theaters, casinos, and the kinds of whorehouses that get called “social clubs”. I’m already in the general area, and I’m hungry after being harassed with forms for an hour and a half. There’s a place I like here.
It's colorful, clean, and loud in Sector Seven, with a wide-open circular plaza in the middle. Music always in the air, and all kinds of signs begging you to come look, come see what we've got going on tonight. The funhouse of the single-digit folk. You can come to Sector Seven, but remember - you gotta pay if you wanna play.
Being in the Inner Ring, you generally don't see many of my kind in Sector Seven. Most people milling around here are those with heavy purses, and the kind of leaky generosity that for some reason only reaches the hands of politicians and others of their kind rather than hospitals or schools. These kinds of people generally don't like looking at slabs, because we track mud all over the carpet and sometimes accidentally eat their dogs, so we tend not to be welcome in the establishments here. However, the unavoidable fact is that while slabs are definitely ugly and gross, the rich skinnies up here sure as sugar aren't going to be cleaning, fixing, or lifting anything heavy anytime soon, so even here you'll see some of us mixed in with some other poor skinnies that come in from the Outer Ring to do the dirty work.
But of course, everyone's gotta eat. So, if us grunts can't come and spill beer all over the nice white tablecloths, we'll just have to take our credits somewhere else, thanks. And that's where Gulder's Grub enters the picture.
In an alley off the side of Circle Seven, there's a shadowy little spot for people like me. It's not big, but it's an oasis in the middle of a desert of glitzy places that ask an entire month's rent just to come in. A little corner for the ones that actually do all the work. A couple little shops with everyday necessaries, a dingy bar or two, and some diners, all in the shadow of the great towering monuments to that goddess of Sector Seven: Pleasure.
The main (and only) attraction here is Gulder's. It doesn't look like much, just a metal shack with a clapboard menu and a window, but the nosh that Gulder slings is so good that there's always a line, and sometimes you'll even see people in fancy clothes standing in it. You can get a slab-sized sandwich so tasty it'll make you cry, and you can get it without having to take out a third mortgage.
I’ve built up a grave appetite, of a magnitude that only Gulder's is mighty enough to slay. I'm standing in line, behind a skinny in oil-stained overalls. It's nearly lunch, so I've got a while to wait before I get to the front.
The people here are either too tired or too depressed to pay me any mind, which suits me just fine. It’s one of the reasons I like coming here. It’s a misfit shelter. I even know a few arcanists that are willing to come out of the woodwork for one of Gulder’s sandwiches. Believe me, you’d be willing to risk your skin too, if you knew what this alley smelled like. The heavenly aromas bring out all kinds of hungry crazies.
Speaking of which, here's a squirrely-looking slab boy over by some tables that's decided to take his face out of his sandwich and aim it toward my face. I lock eyes with him. Or try to, at least. He can't keep his straight. He's a sizable bit of product, somewhere between six and a half and seven feet, maybe around five hundred fifty pounds. Average enough by our standards. Judging by his lack of clank, jittery eyes, hairless head, and general air of frothy paranoia, I'm guessing he was kind of a shrimpy fella before his procedures.
Those are the dangerous ones. These cats are why every Watchman carries a canister of slabkiller gas when they're out on patrol.
Take a little guy who, let's be honest here, was never destined for great feats of academic achievement. Now put him in a desperate situation. Traumatize him. Make him grow up poor. Give him a tiny dick, make sure he gets plenty of bullies to deal with, both in school and out. Kill his parents, or make them hate and abuse him. Tell all the girls, or boys in some cases, not to look at him. Fire him from his job. Maybe give him a terminal illness, or fill him up with so much unprocessed rage that fire comes out of his nose every time he sneezes. Box him into a corner, put him in a cage so nasty that the only way out is to get slabbed.
It'll work, the cutters at the slab lab say. You're prime material, just what we needed, they say. But he isn't. He's scrawny, malnourished, unintelligent. A sad mess in the shape of a young man. But hey, slabbers need meat. And here it is, direct off the streets. It's not like actual people would ever volunteer for something like this, so we'll make do with the kind of guy that needs the money. So they'll give him some cash, put him on the table, and chop him up anyway, knowing full well that his unimpressive body and sub-average brain won't be able to take it. And he'll come out the other side a twitching, confused, angry kid, with hormones leaking out of his ears and more mental and emotional scars than physical ones, living inside the body of a giant.
You haven't taken him out of that cage. You've just made him strong enough to drag other people in with him.
I zoom in on him and sure as sunrise, he's got an aggression inhibitor bolted to the side of his head, wire running down to meet up with the back of his neck. It's a big one, too. This kid must have some bad habits. Without it, the hot sludge running in his veins would send him into a psychosexual meltdown of nightmarish proportions. Within fifteen minutes he'd either collapse and start seizing until he swallowed his own tongue, or cave to the voices in his head and start raping people to death until someone shot him.
He's still trying to look at me. Hard to maintain an intimidating glare when your eyeballs keep slipping off whatever you're trying to stare down. I think he's jealous of my own eyes. My implants, that is. My old pair are probably fertilizing some grandma's apple tree somewhere.
I never got nystagmus like a lot of these kids do. Years after my change I could see as well as I did when I was a teenager. That’s the main freebie biomancy gets you - an unnaturally healthy body, even after enough experimental surgeries to make the most puritanical Brotherhood zealot sweat. My body just mutates around additions and edits, keeping me extremely alive whether I have any say in it or not. Pyromancers get to shoot fire out of their nose, hydromancers get to make the fountains dance, heiromancers get to write laws that reality itself has to obey. My only trick is being too alive to kill, among a couple of other fun things. But hey, if you’re gonna have one trick, not dying is a pretty good one to have, I think.
This kid has no clank at all other than his inhibitor, fitting with my observation that his vitae is weak as fuck, despite all his implants and injections. Red, and very low, like a lonely coal. His brain was barely holding itself together after basic slabbing, so there's no way he'd be able to tolerate any kind of optional features. Probably doesn't even have bone reinforcements. He's got maybe five years before he's a twisted-up pile of slime. If he doesn't kill himself or get executed first.
I smile and give him a little wave. He scowls at me, still trying to meet my eyes. Defiant. Cute.
From here, there's only two options, depending on his personality and how well that inhibitor is working. He'll either burn one of his last synapses to realize that I'm bigger and smarter than him by a pretty significant margin and go back to eating his sandwich like a nice little porkbrain, or decide against all logic that I'm a bit too uppity for his liking and I need to be taught a lesson. I'm about halfway through the line, so I figure I've got enough time to share some of my wisdom before lunch. I keep smiling at him.
Yep. That did it. The sandwich, which right now should be the most important thing in this guy's short little life, has been laid down. I am now his entire universe, and I couldn't be happier. He stands up from his table and starts stomping his way over to me. He's doing the thing all these gutter slabs do when they want to look extra scary and impressive. Squaring his shoulders, pushing his chest out, holding his chin slightly up, and flexing all his muscles at once, so his veins stand out under his skin like bridge cables. Personally, I always thought this pose made a guy look like an erection throwing a temper tantrum, but hey, what do I know? Maybe that's the point. I know I probably wouldn't try to tussle with a giant, throbbing, foul-tempered penis in work boots and coveralls. Who knows what kind of fluids you'd get on you?
Now he's within smelling distance. The delightful melange of grease, sweat, and testosterone wafts over me, and suddenly I'm reconsidering lunch. The rest of the line has done a curious thing, bending away from me to form a comfortable and distant semicircle. People around here know the drill - they're pretty much on autopilot. Once you see two trains crash head-on multiple times a day for a few years, you learn to just step calmly out of the shrapnel zone.
He lines up on me, about ten feet away. Close, but not so close that I could grab him. Smart. Not the first time this guy's taken exception to someone's behavior. His vitae is flaring, but it’s still sort of pitiful - just a kind of weak reddish glow, like a spoon accidentally left on a stove.
The palooka does his best to get me in his wiggly sights and grunts, “Got a problem, fuck?” His voice is hoarse, like sandpaper rasping over gravel. Probably smokes a lot of scrub to dampen the pain in his joints.
Most skinnies he does this to are probably wetting themselves by this point, so, considering he has somehow mistaken me for one, he probably expects me to do the same. Instead, I do what any respectful predator does when he meets one of his own kind, and show him my teeth. All fifty-eight of them.
I opt to leave the eloquence at the door, guessing this meat pie probably wouldn't appreciate it anyway. “Yeah. You're really, really ugly. You look like a butt. And you smell like what comes out of a butt. You should take a shower. Smelly.”
Okay, not exactly award-winning trash talk. But you try making your insults dashing and stylish using only words with two or less syllables. It's hard!
His pink face screws up in an expression of both pain and skull-popping fury, making his hairless head look like a wad of used chewing gum. His inhibitor is shocking him, telling him to cut it out. But he doesn't. He's angry enough to push through the pain.
I can understand that.
He lets the rage out of his chest with a roar, then puts his head down and charges me, very plainly trying to tackle me to the ground so he can turn my face into mince. I do what a slab almost never does.
Dodge.
This probably wouldn’t work in most other situations, because I’m huge and not very maneuverable, but so is this guy. I step around him as cool as you please, and he steams past me. He keeps going for a bit, but then catches on to the fact that he hasn't hit anything for a suspiciously long time, so he skids to a stop and whips around.
He's way past words at this point. He's getting shocked so bad I can see smoke coming from his implant. It'll blow if I don't tuck him into bed quick.
I don’t even need any magic for this. He’s making it way too easy.
Chunky charges again, but this time I don't move out of the way. I plant my back foot, then thrust my hand out right as he reaches me, mashing my palm right into his nose. He stops cold in his tracks with a sad little whimper, arms stretching toward me pitifully.
Fortunately the kid's got a weird tiny head, so I'm able to get a good grip on it. Thumb on his right ear, fingers wrapped nicely across his jawbone and temple. I lift him up a bit for leverage, then throw his head into the pavement like a bouncy ball. Being connected by a neck, the rest of his body follows suit. His chin makes a fun crack when it hits, and his neck bends at an angle that four out of five physicians probably don't recommend. He stops moving.
I bend down and wipe the sweat and spit off on the back of his shirt, then check his breathing. Feel around his neck vertebrae. His vitae is still there, but even dimmer. He's fine. Way sleepier than he was a minute ago, but alive. He'll wake up in half an hour wondering why everything above his shoulders feels like it got run over by a cargo train. And if he's lucky, he'll find he's gained some perspective on pointless violence, especially when aimed at one of the only guys in the city that outweighs him. If I'd been a Watchman, he'd have been sprayed with slabkiller and packed off to Sector Seventeen for recycling so fast he wouldn't even have time to notice how dead he was.
I stand up and give the line a coy smile and a wave. A couple nod at me in respect. I saunter slyly back over, and the guy I'd been ahead of lets me back in my spot.
Most gutter slabs are like a bottle of fizz in the back of a truck on a bumpy road. Over time, the pressure builds. The drugs, hormones, and supplemental brain tissue needed to integrate and coordinate the extra muscle result in a boiling pot of blind, directionless rage. For most, working hard all day doesn't let enough steam off. The extra starts to collect. With society saying that other ways of release aren't acceptable, while telling them they have to stay in line and put up with all the looks and comments, they reach a point where they pop. Usually all they do is smash up their own apartment, or fight it out with another slab in the same predicament.
But sometimes, when they're right on the edge, and another little kid screams at them like they're some kind of monster... they become one, for one horrible moment. And once you're a monster, you can never be anything else, ever again.
So, out of a sense of obligation to my dumb, angry brothers, I keep an eye out for the ones that look like they need a hard, thorough bit of percussive recalibration. I throw some goofy words at 'em, they fall for it, then I give 'em a nice whack on the head. They go to sleep for a bit, wake up with a few bruises, feel stupid, and remember what it is they need to be focusing on. Or at the very least they remember my fist in their face, which is enough to take the hot out of anyone's sauce, in my opinion. And then they stay out of trouble. Better for them to get a couple ouchies from a real monster than to cross that line themselves, I think.
I’m a mage, but I’m a slab too. It’s hard work being this distinctive and altruistic.
After about nine hundred years, I'm at the front of the line. I check the time. Almost noon. Yippee. I'm almost starting to feel it, too. The thought of quietly enjoying my meal at home and then taking a nap after the day I've had is almost enough to bring a tear to my eye. Metaphorically, that is. My tear ducts are cauterized shut.
The guy in front of me gets his order. It's a slab-sized sandwich, which I find strange, because it's almost the size of his thigh. But then I remember that skinnies can just slice a slab's sandwich like a cake and feed an entire family of four for a day or so. He's probably got kids at home. Pretty economical, when you think about it.
He tucks his monster meal under his arm and goes away, and I step up. I've got to take a knee in order to give my order, on account of how the shack's window only comes up to somewhere around the middle of my chest.
I peer into the greasy dollhouse and there's Gulder, the man himself, right in my face. I like Gulder. He serves enough slabs and weirdos every day that my awful mug suddenly appearing in his line of sight doesn't give him a heart attack. Everyone he sees, no matter what shape or sort, is just a receptacle to place a sandwich into, and I can't help but respect him for that. He's kind of a funny-looking fellow. On the short side, but borderline spherical from sampling the fruits of his labor, with no hair and a big black mustache like a push broom. From a distance he looks like two pink circles with a wide black line drawn through the top one.
He catches the green glint of my eyes and his caterpillar eyebrows go up. “Hey! This guy! Long time no see, Tiny! How you been? Keepin' outta trouble?”
See, the joke here is, Gulder calls me Tiny because I am, actually, a remarkably large person. An appellation that unexpectedly juxtaposes against the reality of the situation, in an example of what is sometimes referred to as “irony”. This is technically humor, but it's difficult to recognize after it's had its skull caved in with a lead pipe, wallet stolen, and left for dead in an alley somewhere. I'm so sorry, Humor. You deserved better.
I reply, “Oh, you know. I try to keep outta trouble, but trouble just can't keep outta me. It's 'cause I'm so handsome, y'see. Trouble just can't resist.”
He laughs. “Oh for sure. Pretty boy like you probably has more than his share of attention.” His smile melts off. “Hey look, thanks for cleaning up that mess over there. That one comes by pretty often, but he was starting to make me nervous. Times is hard enough without a puffed-up bully harassing my customers. Now he knows you come by here sometimes, maybe he'll cool it. I'm buying your lunch today.”
I wave a paw and scoff, because that's what you do in situations like this. “C'mon, it was all the work of twenty seconds. You probably could’ve given him a firm poke with a spatula and he would’ve fallen over, guy was as stable as a castle made out of cookies. It wasn't nothin'.”
He shakes his head and holds his hands up insistently. “It wasn't not nothin', champ. You went outta your way when you didn't have to. You spend twenty seconds showing a creep the inside of his own face for me, I spend twenty seconds making you lunch. Fair's fair, I insist.”
There's no point trying to shout him down. He's a Sector Seven man with a business that prints its own money, but I can tell he's not from here. Probably grew up in one of those Outer Ring slums where generosity is as rare as rain and being paid a favor is something that simply cannot be tolerated without swift, righteous vengeance. These cats are trained from childhood to treat an act of kindness like a declaration of war. Try to out-nice one of these slum knights and you'll both end up bankrupt.
“Alright, pal, I'll let you foot the bill this time. But only because I know you'll beat me up if I don't.”
He brandishes his spatula at me very seriously. “You bet your stitched-up ass I will. You want the deluxe with the works and extra mustard, right?”
“Yes I do, and you might as well throw in a basket of fried squash too, seeing as how you're paying and all.”
“You got it, champ. Be just a minute.”
About a minute later, I've got my bag, and I say my goodbye. I'm glad I stopped by. Not just because it's the best sandwich someone else's money can buy, but I also got to box a disaster waiting to happen. Can't have the riff-raff messing around and giving one of my favorite joints extra headache. And the whole possible prevention of senseless death thing, et cetera.
Now I gotta get back on the train. Hopefully I can get home before this bag gets cold, but who am I kidding, you could leave Gulder's stuff in a gutter for a week and it'd still be tastier than half the food in the city.
I step on the ostentatiously ornate Sector Seven platform, scan my ID, the alarm goes off, people give me dirty looks and clear out of the way, et cetera, et cetera. I don’t even care. I’ve got a greasy brown bag of heaven and they don’t, so there. This sandwich means I win today, citizens.
Interestingly, one person doesn’t clear off of the platform. He’s an old, old man, standing on the steel plates a distance from me. He’s a little bent, and holds a simple wooden cane. Very weathered, browned skin, like he’s worked in the sun his entire life. White beard, wild wispy hair like snow being blown off a mountaintop. I can’t get anything from his facial expression, he almost looks half asleep. I didn’t hear the system go off before me, so he’s not an arcanist. Maybe he didn’t hear the buzzer?
His vitae is… weird. You ever see diagrams of magnetic field lines? The two fields of concentric loops wrapping out and back from the poles? It looks like that, kind of. Long, lazy loops of gray energy, radiating out in steady pulses from the center of his chest and dissipating once they get a good ten or so feet away. There’s something else there, too. The lines closest to him have this sort of yellow shimmer that fades as they go out. The whole web smells… almost like ozone, or electrically charged metal.
Like I said, weird. Gray is a really rare color in vitae, like silver, gold, white, or black. And he can’t be an arcanist, even though that’s what this kind of weird pattern usually suggests. Unless he just didn’t scan his ID? He’s playing with fire, if that’s the case.
The train arrives, and I get on. The old man steps on too. He sits down gently on a seat toward the front of the car, and I stand a respectful distance away in the back. He crosses his spindly arms around his cane, leans his head forward, and falls asleep, apparently. Just like that, his long robe/coat thing wrapped about him like a blanket.
This isn’t totally unheard of. Most people get off the platform when an arcanist scans in, but a very few just ignore it and get on anyway. Something tells me this dusty tomcat isn’t exactly late for anything, so he must be too old to care. It’s the first time I’ve had any company on the train in months.
I’d like to talk to him, but I’ll let him sleep. Far be it from me to wreck up an old-timer’s rest. He’s probably earned it.

[here's the previous chapter ♥] [and here's the beginning ♥♥] [and here's the whole thing so far on Wattpad, if you like Wattpad and want to read ahead]
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[The Featherlight Transmission] - Ch. 3

A little while later, I'm in Sector Seven, home of fancy restaurants, galleries, theaters, casinos, and the kinds of whorehouses that get called “social clubs”. I’m already in the general area, and I’m hungry after being harassed with forms for an hour and a half. There’s a place I like here.
It's colorful, clean, and loud in Sector Seven, with a wide-open circular plaza in the middle. Music always in the air, and all kinds of signs begging you to come look, come see what we've got going on tonight. The funhouse of the single-digit folk. You can come to Sector Seven, but remember - you gotta pay if you wanna play.
Being in the Inner Ring, you generally don't see many of my kind in Sector Seven. Most people milling around here are those with heavy purses, and the kind of leaky generosity that for some reason only reaches the hands of politicians and others of their kind rather than hospitals or schools. These kinds of people generally don't like looking at slabs, because we track mud all over the carpet and sometimes accidentally eat their dogs, so we tend not to be welcome in the establishments here. However, the unavoidable fact is that while slabs are definitely ugly and gross, the rich skinnies up here sure as sugar aren't going to be cleaning, fixing, or lifting anything heavy anytime soon, so even here you'll see some of us mixed in with some other poor skinnies that come in from the Outer Ring to do the dirty work.
But of course, everyone's gotta eat. So, if us grunts can't come and spill beer all over the nice white tablecloths, we'll just have to take our credits somewhere else, thanks. And that's where Gulder's Grub enters the picture.
In an alley off the side of Circle Seven, there's a shadowy little spot for people like me. It's not big, but it's an oasis in the middle of a desert of glitzy places that ask an entire month's rent just to come in. A little corner for the ones that actually do all the work. A couple little shops with everyday necessaries, a dingy bar or two, and some diners, all in the shadow of the great towering monuments to that goddess of Sector Seven: Pleasure.
The main (and only) attraction here is Gulder's. It doesn't look like much, just a metal shack with a clapboard menu and a window, but the nosh that Gulder slings is so good that there's always a line, and sometimes you'll even see people in fancy clothes standing in it. You can get a slab-sized sandwich so tasty it'll make you cry, and you can get it without having to take out a third mortgage.
I’ve built up a grave appetite, of a magnitude that only Gulder's is mighty enough to slay. I'm standing in line, behind a skinny in oil-stained overalls. It's nearly lunch, so I've got a while to wait before I get to the front.
The people here are either too tired or too depressed to pay me any mind, which suits me just fine. It’s one of the reasons I like coming here. It’s a misfit shelter. I even know a few arcanists that are willing to come out of the woodwork for one of Gulder’s sandwiches. Believe me, you’d be willing to risk your skin too, if you knew what this alley smelled like. The heavenly aromas bring out all kinds of hungry crazies.
Speaking of which, here's a squirrely-looking slab boy over by some tables that's decided to take his face out of his sandwich and aim it toward my face. I lock eyes with him. Or try to, at least. He can't keep his straight. He's a sizable bit of product, somewhere between six and a half and seven feet, maybe around five hundred fifty pounds. Average enough by our standards. Judging by his lack of clank, jittery eyes, hairless head, and general air of frothy paranoia, I'm guessing he was kind of a shrimpy fella before his procedures.
Those are the dangerous ones. These cats are why every Watchman carries a canister of slabkiller gas when they're out on patrol.
Take a little guy who, let's be honest here, was never destined for great feats of academic achievement. Now put him in a desperate situation. Traumatize him. Make him grow up poor. Give him a tiny dick, make sure he gets plenty of bullies to deal with, both in school and out. Kill his parents, or make them hate and abuse him. Tell all the girls, or boys in some cases, not to look at him. Fire him from his job. Maybe give him a terminal illness, or fill him up with so much unprocessed rage that fire comes out of his nose every time he sneezes. Box him into a corner, put him in a cage so nasty that the only way out is to get slabbed.
It'll work, the cutters at the slab lab say. You're prime material, just what we needed, they say. But he isn't. He's scrawny, malnourished, unintelligent. A sad mess in the shape of a young man. But hey, slabbers need meat. And here it is, direct off the streets. It's not like actual people would ever volunteer for something like this, so we'll make do with the kind of guy that needs the money. So they'll give him some cash, put him on the table, and chop him up anyway, knowing full well that his unimpressive body and sub-average brain won't be able to take it. And he'll come out the other side a twitching, confused, angry kid, with hormones leaking out of his ears and more mental and emotional scars than physical ones, living inside the body of a giant.
You haven't taken him out of that cage. You've just made him strong enough to drag other people in with him.
I zoom in on him and sure as sunrise, he's got an aggression inhibitor bolted to the side of his head, wire running down to meet up with the back of his neck. It's a big one, too. This kid must have some bad habits. Without it, the hot sludge running in his veins would send him into a psychosexual meltdown of nightmarish proportions. Within fifteen minutes he'd either collapse and start seizing until he swallowed his own tongue, or cave to the voices in his head and start raping people to death until someone shot him.
He's still trying to look at me. Hard to maintain an intimidating glare when your eyeballs keep slipping off whatever you're trying to stare down. I think he's jealous of my own eyes. My implants, that is. My old pair are probably fertilizing some grandma's apple tree somewhere.
I never got nystagmus like a lot of these kids do. Years after my change I could see as well as I did when I was a teenager. That’s the main freebie biomancy gets you - an unnaturally healthy body, even after enough experimental surgeries to make the most puritanical Brotherhood zealot sweat. My body just mutates around additions and edits, keeping me extremely alive whether I have any say in it or not. Pyromancers get to shoot fire out of their nose, hydromancers get to make the fountains dance, heiromancers get to write laws that reality itself has to obey. My only trick is being too alive to kill, among a couple of other fun things. But hey, if you’re gonna have one trick, not dying is a pretty good one to have, I think.
This kid has no clank at all other than his inhibitor, fitting with my observation that his vitae is weak as fuck, despite all his implants and injections. Red, and very low, like a lonely coal. His brain was barely holding itself together after basic slabbing, so there's no way he'd be able to tolerate any kind of optional features. Probably doesn't even have bone reinforcements. He's got maybe five years before he's a twisted-up pile of slime. If he doesn't kill himself or get executed first.
I smile and give him a little wave. He scowls at me, still trying to meet my eyes. Defiant. Cute.
From here, there's only two options, depending on his personality and how well that inhibitor is working. He'll either burn one of his last synapses to realize that I'm bigger and smarter than him by a pretty significant margin and go back to eating his sandwich like a nice little porkbrain, or decide against all logic that I'm a bit too uppity for his liking and I need to be taught a lesson. I'm about halfway through the line, so I figure I've got enough time to share some of my wisdom before lunch. I keep smiling at him.
Yep. That did it. The sandwich, which right now should be the most important thing in this guy's short little life, has been laid down. I am now his entire universe, and I couldn't be happier. He stands up from his table and starts stomping his way over to me. He's doing the thing all these gutter slabs do when they want to look extra scary and impressive*.* Squaring his shoulders, pushing his chest out, holding his chin slightly up, and flexing all his muscles at once, so his veins stand out under his skin like bridge cables. Personally, I always thought this pose made a guy look like an erection throwing a temper tantrum, but hey, what do I know? Maybe that's the point. I know I probably wouldn't try to tussle with a giant, throbbing, foul-tempered penis in work boots and coveralls. Who knows what kind of fluids you'd get on you?
Now he's within smelling distance. The delightful melange of grease, sweat, and testosterone wafts over me, and suddenly I'm reconsidering lunch. The rest of the line has done a curious thing, bending away from me to form a comfortable and distant semicircle. People around here know the drill - they're pretty much on autopilot. Once you see two trains crash head-on multiple times a day for a few years, you learn to just step calmly out of the shrapnel zone.
He lines up on me, about ten feet away. Close, but not so close that I could grab him. Smart. Not the first time this guy's taken exception to someone's behavior. His vitae is flaring, but it’s still sort of pitiful - just a kind of weak reddish glow, like a spoon accidentally left on a stove.
The palooka does his best to get me in his wiggly sights and grunts, “Got a problem, fuck?” His voice is hoarse, like sandpaper rasping over gravel. Probably smokes a lot of scrub to dampen the pain in his joints.
Most skinnies he does this to are probably wetting themselves by this point, so, considering he has somehow mistaken me for one, he probably expects me to do the same. Instead, I do what any respectful predator does when he meets one of his own kind, and show him my teeth. All fifty-eight of them.
I opt to leave the eloquence at the door, guessing this meat pie probably wouldn't appreciate it anyway. “Yeah. You're really, really ugly. You look like a butt. And you smell like what comes out of a butt. You should take a shower. Smelly.”
Okay, not exactly award-winning trash talk. But you try making your insults dashing and stylish using only words with two or less syllables. It's hard!
His pink face screws up in an expression of both pain and skull-popping fury, making his hairless head look like a wad of used chewing gum. His inhibitor is shocking him, telling him to cut it out. But he doesn't. He's angry enough to push through the pain.
I can understand that.
He lets the rage out of his chest with a roar, then puts his head down and charges me, very plainly trying to tackle me to the ground so he can turn my face into mince. I do what a slab almost never does.
Dodge.
This probably wouldn’t work in most other situations, because I’m huge and not very maneuverable, but so is this guy. I step around him as cool as you please, and he steams past me. He keeps going for a bit, but then catches on to the fact that he hasn't hit anything for a suspiciously long time, so he skids to a stop and whips around.
He's way past words at this point. He's getting shocked so bad I can see smoke coming from his implant. It'll blow if I don't tuck him into bed quick.
I don’t even need any magic for this. He’s making it way too easy.
Chunky charges again, but this time I don't move out of the way. I plant my back foot, then thrust my hand out right as he reaches me, mashing my palm right into his nose. He stops cold in his tracks with a sad little whimper, arms stretching toward me pitifully.
Fortunately the kid's got a weird tiny head, so I'm able to get a good grip on it. Thumb on his right ear, fingers wrapped nicely across his jawbone and temple. I lift him up a bit for leverage, then throw his head into the pavement like a bouncy ball. Being connected by a neck, the rest of his body follows suit. His chin makes a fun crack when it hits, and his neck bends at an angle that four out of five physicians probably don't recommend. He stops moving.
I bend down and wipe the sweat and spit off on the back of his shirt, then check his breathing. Feel around his neck vertebrae. His vitae is still there, but even dimmer. He's fine. Way sleepier than he was a minute ago, but alive. He'll wake up in half an hour wondering why everything above his shoulders feels like it got run over by a cargo train. And if he's lucky, he'll find he's gained some perspective on pointless violence, especially when aimed at one of the only guys in the city that outweighs him. If I'd been a Watchman, he'd have been sprayed with slabkiller and packed off to Sector Seventeen for recycling so fast he wouldn't even have time to notice how dead he was.
I stand up and give the line a coy smile and a wave. A couple nod at me in respect. I saunter slyly back over, and the guy I'd been ahead of lets me back in my spot.
Most gutter slabs are like a bottle of fizz in the back of a truck on a bumpy road. Over time, the pressure builds. The drugs, hormones, and supplemental brain tissue needed to integrate and coordinate the extra muscle result in a boiling pot of blind, directionless rage. For most, working hard all day doesn't let enough steam off. The extra starts to collect. With society saying that other ways of release aren't acceptable, while telling them they have to stay in line and put up with all the looks and comments, they reach a point where they pop. Usually all they do is smash up their own apartment, or fight it out with another slab in the same predicament.
But sometimes, when they're right on the edge, and another little kid screams at them like they're some kind of monster... they become one, for one horrible moment. And once you're a monster, you can never be anything else, ever again.
So, out of a sense of obligation to my dumb, angry brothers, I keep an eye out for the ones that look like they need a hard, thorough bit of percussive recalibration. I throw some goofy words at 'em, they fall for it, then I give 'em a nice whack on the head. They go to sleep for a bit, wake up with a few bruises, feel stupid, and remember what it is they need to be focusing on. Or at the very least they remember my fist in their face, which is enough to take the hot out of anyone's sauce, in my opinion. And then they stay out of trouble. Better for them to get a couple ouchies from a real monster than to cross that line themselves, I think.
I’m a mage, but I’m a slab too. It’s hard work being this distinctive and altruistic.
After about nine hundred years, I'm at the front of the line. I check the time. Almost noon. Yippee. I'm almost starting to feel it, too. The thought of quietly enjoying my meal at home and then taking a nap after the day I've had is almost enough to bring a tear to my eye. Metaphorically, that is. My tear ducts are cauterized shut.
The guy in front of me gets his order. It's a slab-sized sandwich, which I find strange, because it's almost the size of his thigh. But then I remember that skinnies can just slice a slab's sandwich like a cake and feed an entire family of four for a day or so. He's probably got kids at home. Pretty economical, when you think about it.
He tucks his monster meal under his arm and goes away, and I step up. I've got to take a knee in order to give my order, on account of how the shack's window only comes up to somewhere around the middle of my chest.
I peer into the greasy dollhouse and there's Gulder, the man himself, right in my face. I like Gulder. He serves enough slabs and weirdos every day that my awful mug suddenly appearing in his line of sight doesn't give him a heart attack. Everyone he sees, no matter what shape or sort, is just a receptacle to place a sandwich into, and I can't help but respect him for that. He's kind of a funny-looking fellow. On the short side, but borderline spherical from sampling the fruits of his labor, with no hair and a big black mustache like a push broom. From a distance he looks like two pink circles with a wide black line drawn through the top one.
He catches the green glint of my eyes and his caterpillar eyebrows go up. “Hey! This guy! Long time no see, Tiny! How you been? Keepin' outta trouble?”
See, the joke here is, Gulder calls me Tiny because I am, actually, a remarkably large person. An appellation that unexpectedly juxtaposes against the reality of the situation, in an example of what is sometimes referred to as “irony”. This is technically humor, but it's difficult to recognize after it's had its skull caved in with a lead pipe, wallet stolen, and left for dead in an alley somewhere. I'm so sorry, Humor. You deserved better.
I reply, “Oh, you know. I try to keep outta trouble, but trouble just can't keep outta me. It's 'cause I'm so handsome, y'see. Trouble just can't resist.”
He laughs. “Oh for sure. Pretty boy like you probably has more than his share of attention.” His smile melts off. “Hey look, thanks for cleaning up that mess over there. That one comes by pretty often, but he was starting to make me nervous. Times is hard enough without a puffed-up bully harassing my customers. Now he knows you come by here sometimes, maybe he'll cool it. I'm buying your lunch today.”
I wave a paw and scoff, because that's what you do in situations like this. “C'mon, it was all the work of twenty seconds. You probably could’ve given him a firm poke with a spatula and he would’ve fallen over, guy was as stable as a castle made out of cookies. It wasn't nothin'.”
He shakes his head and holds his hands up insistently. “It wasn't not nothin', champ. You went outta your way when you didn't have to. You spend twenty seconds showing a creep the inside of his own face for me, I spend twenty seconds making you lunch. Fair's fair, I insist.”
There's no point trying to shout him down. He's a Sector Seven man with a business that prints its own money, but I can tell he's not from here. Probably grew up in one of those Outer Ring slums where generosity is as rare as rain and being paid a favor is something that simply cannot be tolerated without swift, righteous vengeance. These cats are trained from childhood to treat an act of kindness like a declaration of war. Try to out-nice one of these slum knights and you'll both end up bankrupt.
“Alright, pal, I'll let you foot the bill this time. But only because I know you'll beat me up if I don't.”
He brandishes his spatula at me very seriously. “You bet your stitched-up ass I will. You want the deluxe with the works and extra mustard, right?”
“Yes I do, and you might as well throw in a basket of fried squash too, seeing as how you're paying and all.”
“You got it, champ. Be just a minute.”
About a minute later, I've got my bag, and I say my goodbye. I'm glad I stopped by. Not just because it's the best sandwich someone else's money can buy, but I also got to box a disaster waiting to happen. Can't have the riff-raff messing around and giving one of my favorite joints extra headache. And the whole possible prevention of senseless death thing, et cetera.
Now I gotta get back on the train. Hopefully I can get home before this bag gets cold, but who am I kidding, you could leave Gulder's stuff in a gutter for a week and it'd still be tastier than half the food in the city.
I step on the ostentatiously ornate Sector Seven platform, scan my ID, the alarm goes off, people give me dirty looks and clear out of the way, et cetera, et cetera. I don’t even care. I’ve got a greasy brown bag of heaven and they don’t, so there. This sandwich means I win today, citizens.
Interestingly, one person doesn’t clear off of the platform. He’s an old, old man, standing on the steel plates a distance from me. He’s a little bent, and holds a simple wooden cane. Very weathered, browned skin, like he’s worked in the sun his entire life. White beard, wild wispy hair like snow being blown off a mountaintop. I can’t get anything from his facial expression, he almost looks half asleep. I didn’t hear the system go off before me, so he’s not an arcanist. Maybe he didn’t hear the buzzer?
His vitae is… weird. You ever see diagrams of magnetic field lines? The two fields of concentric loops wrapping out and back from the poles? It looks like that, kind of. Long, lazy loops of gray energy, radiating out in steady pulses from the center of his chest and dissipating once they get a good ten or so feet away. There’s something else there, too. The lines closest to him have this sort of yellow shimmer that fades as they go out. The whole web smells… almost like ozone, or electrically charged metal.
Like I said, weird. Gray is a really rare color in vitae, like silver, gold, white, or black. And he can’t be an arcanist, even though that’s what this kind of weird pattern usually suggests. Unless he just didn’t scan his ID? He’s playing with fire, if that’s the case.
The train arrives, and I get on. The old man steps on too. He sits down gently on a seat toward the front of the car, and I stand a respectful distance away in the back. He crosses his spindly arms around his cane, leans his head forward, and falls asleep, apparently. Just like that, his long robe/coat thing wrapped about him like a blanket.
This isn’t totally unheard of. Most people get off the platform when an arcanist scans in, but a very few just ignore it and get on anyway. Something tells me this dusty tomcat isn’t exactly late for anything, so he must be too old to care. It’s the first time I’ve had any company on the train in months.
I’d like to talk to him, but I’ll let him sleep. Far be it from me to wreck up an old-timer’s rest. He’s probably earned it.

[first chapter's over here if you missed it] [and here's the previous one] [thanks for reading ♥]
submitted by CadaverCommander to redditserials [link] [comments]

A flat chested country girl from County Cork or "To The Shores of Tripoli"

[Author's notes in comments for translations and details. Enjoy!]
Near Banbridge town, in the County Down
One morning last July
Down a bóithrín green came a sweet cailín
And she smiled as she passed me by.
She looked so sweet from her two bare feet
To the sheen of her nut brown hair
Such a winsome elf, I'm ashamed of myself
For the see of her standing there.
Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines
Assigned to the 76th MEU, TFSS James Mattis
23 years since first contact, 5 years until Operation Inchon
The side doors of the UV-70 Mamba opened and I let my feet hang over the side. The trees below me were a blur as we flew past. A wave of hot air washed over me as I leaned my head out of the dropship. It was either from the planet’s tropical biome or the fact that half the colony was on fire. The crew chief to my left swung a 14mm machine gun out the door and loaded a belt into it with a satisfying thrwack. He leaned his own head out of the door to get his own bearings. He turned to us and held up 5 fingers and shouted, “FIVE MINUTES”.
“FIVE MINUTES” shouted back the 12 Marines and one Navy Corpsman, all of us copying his gesture.
“Hey O’Hare” said a German voice from behind me. I turned around to look at the source. Corporal Blucher was checking the Marines’ gear one last time. He turned after aggressively tightening down a strap on one of the boots who had apparently not secured his body armor well enough. “What the fuck are we supposed to do if you get shot first?”.
“I don’t know, have Doc Stevens fix me up?” I replied.
“Fuck no, stay next to me. Let Garcia take point since he wants to let his Scheiße hang loose” said the Prussian corporal as he pushed the well corrected PFC away and towards me. Not counting Doc, Blucher was the oldest one of us at 23, and he was an Old Corps salt dog to the bone. He didn’t take shit, but he didn’t give it either. He was a dick sure, but he was always right about it.
“Aye corporal”
Cùl tòna, I’ve been on that ship for months! I just want to get my feet back on solid ground already I complained as I heaved my legs back from the edge and took my place next to the squad leader. On paper a squad leader is supposed to be a sergeant and the assistant squad leader a corporal. But things don’t work the way they’re supposed to in the Marine Corps. They work the Marine Corps way in the Marine Corps! So, we were short on NCOs and making do with a corporal and a senior lance corporal as the assistant.
“Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of chances to get some today” said the senior lance corporal in question. He depolarized his visor so I could see his shit eating grin. He was just as happy to be off the ship as we all were. The side of his helmet said, Don’t Panic!. He said he read it in a book once. Good advice I suppose. “But if you do take a round, we are kinda fucked” he added.
“Ach you’ll figure it out Thompson” I said to the American. He was a bit more of an eejit, but he knew what he was doing most of the time. A comm link isn’t that hard to use! Everyone else just likes having a comm nerd to yell at.
“THREE MINUTES” yelled the crew chief breaking me from my internal ranting.
“THREE MINUTES” we all replied.
I began taking inventory of my kit for the thousandth time. One M89A5 assault rifle, check. 6 spare magazines with 32 rounds of 5mm Terran Caseless each, check. One M77A2 pistol, check. 2 spare magazines with 18 rounds of 9mm Dillon each, check. One comm link with a tactical bracer, check. One field drone, check. Two frags, one flashbang, two marking beacons, and a rainbow of smoke grenades across my belt; check. One first aid kit, check. One mostly full hydration bladder, check. Some rat fucked MRE snacks, check. One ka-bar, check. One multitool and a roll of electrical tape, check. One semi crumbled pack of cigarettes plus a lighter, fucking check. Also, Blucher had me snag a thermite grenade incase this went “Mogadishu” on us. Whatever that means. All of that plus my helmet and body armor and this was turning into quite the load. Who’s fecking idea was it to give the 1.6-meter 50 kilogram Irish girl all this gear? Oh right, mine when I dropped out of uni and enlisted.
Sufficed that everything was still there I looked back through the open door. The Mamba had banked to the left and gave me a good view of the city without having to lean out of the damn thing. Ok maybe three quarters of the colony was on fire. Christ, this was the kind of shite that made the Taurans get all worked up at The Table. They were constantly crying about how “humans can’t be trusted”. How we are a race of undisciplined children that haven’t even left behind their regional identities. That it wasn’t right that a fledgling race be given free reign the of stars and colonization of unclaimed worlds. That our unchecked expansion invited these kinds of attacks. That we still weren’t ready. To be honest, they just sounded jealous. At least the Dracs and a few of the rest made good trading partners.
“ONE MINUTE”
“ONE MINUTE”
A silence came over the inside of the dropship. It wasn’t out of fear or anything. Oh no, we were all too damn excited to be scared. You can’t stick a bunch of Marines on a ship with nothing to do but lift weights and masturbate for months and expect us to not want to kill something. Come to think of it they probably do it on purpose. When you take into account that my number one rule is “don’t fuck Marines in 1/9” and the fact that I can’t stand sailors long enough to get into bed with one, you can see what I had been directing my energy towards. When word came down that some pirates had torched a mining town and a bunch of civvies needed saving, we couldn’t get kitted up fast enough. Getting paid to kill a bunch of gigantic pieces of shite that zero people will miss? Fucking ‘rah.
“THIRTY SECONDS”
“THIRTY SECONDS”
“Condition one weapons!” ordered Blucher. The dropship was filled with the sound of slightly less satisfying thrwicks as we chambered rounds into our weapons. The digital round counter on my rifle read 32 to confirm that it was loaded. If I had the genetic predisposition for it, I probably would’ve been sporting a hard on. I almost felt bad for the dumb bastards. Almost.
From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay
From Galway to Dublin town
No maid I've seen like the fair cailín
That I met in the County Down.
The engines roared as we approached the ground and the ship shuddered when the landing gear touched the surface. We spilled out of the side doors and formed into a semicircle in front of the ship, crouching and facing outward. No orders were needed, we had practiced this same maneuver dozens if not hundreds of times. The Mamba’s engines roared again as it took off and flew over and away from us, leaving us in a field that separated the colony from the planet’s massive rainforest.
“O’Hare call it in” said Blucher.
“Reaper 3 Actual, Reaper 3-1. We have reached phase line Budweiser and are pushing to phase line Busch” I said into my helmet’s integrated mic as I keyed my comm.
Whoever comes up with these objective names needs to learn what a real beer is. Why can’t there ever be a phase line Guinness? Fucking yanks wouldn’t know a good pint if I shoved one up their arse.
“Copy 3-1, out” replied the disembodied voice of our platoon commander. The other 2 squads of 3rd platoon reported themselves as well and the lieutenant responded accordingly.
“Van Dusen your team takes point. Tokugawa, Petrov fall in behind, squad column. Let’s get a fucking move on!” commanded Blucher. “Rah” “Yut” “Kill” responded the South African, Japanese, and Ukrainian team leaders respectfully. Again, they were supposed to be corporals, but experienced lance corporals could do the job just as well.
“O’Hare you fucking pogue! What did I tell you? Stay next to me!” shouted Blucher as we started to move out and form into staggered columns down a semi paved road surrounded by abandoned homes and storefronts. Everyone that hadn’t been already evacuated was held up at the government house with the rest of Charlie company.
“Rah corporal” I prefer battery powered grunt thank you very much.
“Thompson hang back with Doc and make sure everyone has their spacing” Blucher continued.
“Slay bodies”
“All Reaper 3 callsigns be advised, Reaper 6’s comms are down. Coordinate with Reaper 2 Actual. How copy, over?” our lieutenant said. I checked my tac bracer and sure enough the CO’s callsign had dropped off the net. 1st, 2nd, and Weapons platoon were at least still up. Fecking hell Ali! Get your shite together, you’re making us comm guys look bad.
“Copy”, said 3-2.
“Lima Charlie”, said 3-3.
“Solid copy”, I said.
“Roger, out”
“What the fuck did he say? It was cutting out” said an annoyed Corporal Blucher.
“The CO’s comm is down. We’re talking to 2nd until they unfuck it” I answered. Blucher grumbled something in German and smacked the side of his helmet a couple of times. It doesn’t work like that but ok. Our helmets had integrated UHF comms for the squad level so we could talk outside of shouting distance, but anything beyond that needed a comm link. They had a feature where they could wirelessly connect to a nearby comm so the TCS (Tactical Communications Specialist that is) wouldn’t have to be constantly repeating what he heard like an ancient radio operator. But as we learned during field exercises in 29 Palms and on Luna it liked to shit out on you when you started moving. The link has 2 cables so that you can hook it up to your helmet and get a much more reliable connection. It’s good for the TCS but I would basically have to be piggybacking Blucher if he wanted to use the other one.
We pushed further into the city towards the simple two story building that was our objective, keeping our eyes and ears open for any sign of trouble. The inferno continued to blaze and engulf more and more of the mining town. The sound of weapons platoon’s medium machine guns and enemy plasma weapons clashing were getting louder now. Every now and then I could hear them touch off a rocket and some grenade launchers.
“What about your shortwave?” I asked finally.
“The cable gets in the way of my speed reloads” answered Blucher. A bhastaird bhreallghnùisigh! Why does everyone have to try and make my job harder? A shortwave was essentially a handheld comm link issued to officers and NCOs that you could fit into a pouch on the front of your plate carrier (or an empty magazine pouch if supply ran out). It didn’t have the same output as the bigger ones but it could do the job in a pinch.
As she onward sped, sure I scratched my head,
And I looked with a feelin' rare,
And I says, says I, to a passer-by,
"Who's the maid with the nut brown hair?"
Well he looked at me and he said to me,
"That's the gem of Ireland's crown.
Young Rosie McCann from the banks of the Bann,
She's the star of the County Down."
As we approached an intersection Garcia gave the hand signal for a danger area. Again, no orders were needed as just about every Marine has done this thousands of times since boot camp. One fireteam pulls security while the other two get across. There are to be four Marines that have their weapons trained on either direction of the road, two on each side. I dropped down to a knee and took my post on the corner of a building, resting my rifle on the wall. Van Dusen was across from me mirroring my position. Blucher put a hand on my shoulder as Tokugawa’s team went across. “Alright send it”.
“3 Actual, 3-1. We have reached phase line Busch and are approaching objective Icehouse”. This is an insult to real beer.
“Copy 3-1, out”.
Without taking my eyes off the road I was overcome with a sudden desire to be a cheeky cunt, “Ya know corporal, as soon as we get libo I-OH FUCK”. Before I could finish a figure stepped out of an alley and turned to me. It looked like a human, sort of. If a human had veiny beet red skin, completely black eyes, no ears save for the holes on either side of its head, coarse fur like hair, a squashed rectangular nose, 4 fingers and the body of a tall dwarf. Not like a little person but like a proper mythical dwarf. It seemed very surprised to see me. It was carrying a plasma rifle and was wearing a strange x-shaped harness on its chest over a red jumpsuit. Its black eyes went wide, and it opened its mouth of shark like teeth as if to say something. I quickly decided that I had no intention of hearing its opinions as it raised its weapon at me. I fired 3 rounds in rapid succession. Two to the chest, one to the pelvic girdle. My rifle’s integrated suppressor muzzling my shots to a quick phwip.
The harness must’ve been some kind of personal shield because a flash of light emitted from the alien pirate as my first rounds tore into it. Probably designed to redirect energy from plasma weapons, not absorb a 5mm fin stabilized discarding sabot at 10 meters traveling just a bit over Mach 3. Surprise fecker! You’re dealing with proper Human weapons now you gobshite! My third shot into its pelvis dropped it like a bag of hammers and it laid on the ground gurgling in a pool of black blood. Van Dusen shot it twice in the head for posterity’s sake.
“HOLY FECKING SHITE I GOT ONE!” I yelled. I just popped my cherry! Not the gross awkward one with all the blood but the fun cool one with all the blood.
“Keep your fucking pants on O’Hare!” said Blucher. “Let’s fucking go Petrov! Get your Marines across!” He pumped his forearm vertically up and down, the hand signal for "hurry the fuck up".
“At least we know who it is now, bru. Fucking Kats!” chimed in Van Dusen. As if on que to defend their honor from the Afrikaner’s insult more Katavarian pirates began appearing from further down the road. I flicked my rifle off safe again as Blucher, Van Dusen, and I poured fired down the road. The Kats seemed woefully unprepared to have been caught in the middle of a Terran Federal Marine Corps infantry platoon’s advance. They were firing wildly as we cut them down, their shields doing little to protect them from our high velocity rounds. Red faces were appearing from around alleys and behind windows trying to take potshots at us. Christ, were these guys taking a fecking nap when we showed up? For every flash of red that I saw I fired 2-3 rounds. Sometimes I’d be rewarded with a flash of a broken shield and an alien howl, other times they’d duck out of the way before I got a good sight picture. It did seem like I was drawing more than my fair share of their ire, probably on account of the antenna sticking out of my back that said “Look at me! I’m important!”.
Van Dusen fired his under barrel grenade launcher into a store front where some of them had set up a firing position. No doubt taking cover when they realized their shields were doing fuck all. The 40mm HEDP shell exploding in their face was our way of saying “nice try but still get fucked”.
“No shit it’s Kats! It’s always fucking Kats!” said Doc Stevens as he ran across. The Katavarians barely had a presence at The Table. Their government was a powerless operation that just existed to say “oops sorry what can we do” whenever another pirate band attacked shipping lanes or colonies. And as the newest race to discover FTL technology it was mostly us that fell victim to their attacks on our outer colonies. And to be quite frank, we were getting very tired of their shit. Like today. “At least their physiology is pretty similar to ours” he added as he got across and took a position next to Van Dusen. I put a burst into one of them that had appeared on a roof holding a shoulder fired weapon. It fell to the ground in a heap.
“Can you translate that to crayon, bru?” quipped Van Dusen. He knew what he was talking about but he just liked being a prick. Especially to navy guys.
“Bloody hell, their important bits are the same as our important bits” sighed the HM2 from Liverpool.
“Yeah, I kind of figured that out when I shot one in the head and it fucking died, Doc. Thompson hurry it up!” said Blucher as he slammed a fresh magazine into his rifle. The Kats’ fire was slowing down now, and it seemed as if they had decided that discretion was the better part of valor. I guess that’s what happens when you go from raiding colonies with token Planetary Guard forces to facing a bunch of grunts that have had nothing to do but think about killing for the past 2 months.
“Last Marine!” said Thompson as he touched my shoulder and ran past, letting me know that he was the last one in the formation to cross behind us.
“O’Hare call it in and let’s get moving” ordered Blucher.
“Copy”, I keyed my comm “3-2, 3-1. Be advised we have engaged a reinforced squad sized element. They are breaking contact and oscar mike to your pos. How copy over?”
“Solid copy 3-1, we’ll be waiting for them”
“Roger, out”. I couldn’t help but smile under my helmet. Imagine the look on their faces when they run into more Marines!
“Ok O’Hare your turn!” I sprinted across and relieved Van Dusen. Seconds later Blucher came across and touched my shoulder. “Last Marine” he sighed. “Ok are we good to go? Team leaders?” The three team leaders responded positively that their Marines were in fact alive and had all of their important bits.
“Alright form it back up and let’s double time it” ordered our squad leader.
From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay
From Galway to Dublin town
No maid I've seen like the fair cailín
That I met in the County Down.
“3 Actual, 3-1. We have reached objective Icehouse and are setting up overwatch”.
“Good to go 3-1, out”.
As I touched off a marking beacon to confirm to everyone all the way up to the Mattis where we were Blucher cursed and smacked the side of his helmet again.
“Still?” I asked.
“Yeah...” he admitted.
“Here let me fix it. Hold still feisì” I said, adding my Gaeilge when he began to protest.
“The fuck did you just call me?” spat Blucher.
“Nothing at all Corporal!” I quickly answered. Oops.
Du Fickfehler” he answered.
Despite the exchange he let me get to work. I grabbed the end of the cable from the shortwave under his left armpit and pulled out and under his arm to get it as far away from his mag pouches as I could. I ran it back up to his helmet and plugged it into the port under where he had written “Kerle, wollt ihr ewig leben?”. Whatever that means. He held up a thumb when he heard the rest of 3rd platoon reporting their positions. Corona and Miller? Janey Mac I’m surrounded by heathens!
“What’s so hard about cursing in English?” asked Thompson.
“It’s so much more fun in Irish!” I said hoping Blucher wasn’t paying attention.
“If you have 40 ways of saying “fuck you” why would you use just the one?” chimed in Lance Corporal Singh, our designated marksman. I gave her a fist bump and laid down in between her and Blucher. She had something in Sanskrit written on her helmet. I ought to ask her what that means. Thompson nodded at this response and went back to looking at what we all were.
Objective Icehouse was a simple two story building with a flat roof. The only thing special about it was that orbital imagery from the Mattis indicated that it gave us a pretty good over watch position to the government house. 2nd and 3rd squads got similarly positioned buildings. I was on the roof with Blucher, Thompson, and Singh. The rest of the squad was set up on the floor below us or on street level. From here we could see the rest of Charlie Company exchanging fire with what was left of the Kats. Tracers streaked out from the government house towards assortments of buildings the pirates were firing back from. They must’ve started to wise up because they were holding back at a range that their shields might’ve done something now. They were firing back with whatever heavier plasma weapons and lasers they had. It wasn’t doing much though, and they were starting to try and push forward. They had to have been getting desperate. Stuck between an advancing inferno that they started, and an infantry company that they pissed off, with their extraction burning up in the atmosphere. Their only hope for salvation was to flee into the rainforest and hope they could call for another pirate band that could use the numbers before more Marines came and mopped them up. I bet whatever unobtanium this colony was mining doesn’t sound worth it anymore.
It used to be that they would just surrender at the first sign of trouble or cut their loses and flee. But we stopped handing Kat prisoners back over when we found out we had captured the same band half a dozen times just for the joke of the Kat government to release them and have them back attacking us. Not anymore, new procedure was to treat every Kat vessel as a potential threat and engage the confirmed ones at every opportunity. Provided they didn’t have any hostages outright destroying them was the best option. This made some of the other races get all jittery (especially the Taurans) but fuck them. If the want to attack us they can turn big rocks into little rocks on Mars for all eternity.
So, most of the company had landed after the rest of the battalion got who they could, and we were held in reserve to cover their push to the last evac site. The plan was to cover them, hold off whatever the Kats threw at us while the engineers cleared a landing zone for the Albatrosses, and then get the fuck out.
“Get the drone up. I don’t want any more fucking surprises” said Blucher.
“Roger” I answered fishing the field drone out of its polymer case. Its four propellers sprang out and spun to life as I activated it from my tac bracer. The hummingbird sized device flew out of my hand and in front of our position. With my bracer I controlled its movements and got a visual from it’s on board camera. Normal visuals weren’t doing me any good, so I switched over to thermals and was greeted with a white hot screen. The fire along with the planet’s climate was overloading the system. I turned down the sensitivity until I got a good visual of my surroundings. A Kat’s internal body temperature was a little higher than that of a human. This made them all that easier to spot them on thermals. First, I swept the buildings directly in front of us. Nothing. Then I started branching out. Block by block, darting my little drone up and down alleys and streets looking for Kats that thought they could hide. Eventually, I found something. About 200 meters up and to the right of us. In another two story building was a blob of orange and red.
“Corporal I got something” I said without looking up from my bracer. The heat was enough to be a Kat, but it looked all wrong. Like it had two heads or something. From what I could tell it looked to be crouched or sitting in a closet in the center of building away from any doors or windows. I tried getting inside but with all the windows and doors closed there was nothing I could do. Fuck.
“Let me see” Blucher said crawling over to me. I held out my forearm for him to see and he studied it for a moment. “Eh it’s probably one of those fuckers trying to hide out. Either way it’s out of the way of the extraction route and if it suddenly gets brave Singh can perforate it from here”. Singh put up a “rock on” hand signal at this.
“But Corporal what if- “
“No”
“Corporal I really think- “
“Shut the fuck up, Lance Corporal!”
Thompson put a hand on my shoulder, “What happens if we send out a team and they get bogged down out there? What happens if we get rushed and we’re not at strength? What happens if we send out some Marines and they get chopped up just to find it’s another Kat? Everyone is supposed to be at the government house”. I turned to look at him and frowned. His eyes were worried and doubtful. He was thinking the same thing I was. But he was right. And so was Blucher. As much of an arsehole as he was, he didn’t want to go home with 8 Marines in his squad instead of 12. But things don’t work the way they’re supposed to.
“C’mon get your head in the game” said Singh playfully smacking my helmet. Yeah ok, it’s nothing. Gotta be here in the now. I marked the building on my map and went back to looking through my rifle.
“All Reaper 3 callsigns you are clear to engage”
“Light them the fuck up!” commanded Blucher. With that the 12 Marines and one Corpsman in Objective Icehouse began suppressing the more threatening sources of Katavarian fire. To our left and right the Marines in Objectives Corona and Miller were doing the same. Singh’s M109 DMR was spitting out 7.5mm Martian polymer cases with a dull fwup. I switched my optic from 1x to 4x so I could get a better look at what we were shooting at. The Kats’ shields were doing them some good at this range. It took 2 good hits for their shields to drop. It was hard to get good targets though so most of us were just trying to suppress the buildings, puffs of dust kicking up from our rounds hitting the walls. I would’ve put my weapon on burst or even auto if I thought that I wouldn’t burn through the rest of my mags. I did get to see some of Singh’s shots “canoe” a few of them so that was nice. But even though they were redirecting some of their guns to us it wasn’t enough to take the heat off the government house.
“MAAWS?” Thompson asked anxiously.
“MAAWS” agreed Blucher.
“Fuck yeah! Hey get that fucking MAAWS up here!” Thompson yelled down the staircase, not that he had to with the internal comms. He was just excited. I heard Petrov yelling Ukrainian obscenities at his Marines to sprint up the stairs. And I’m the one that has to keep her pants on? Two Marines raced out of the staircase and took a knee behind us. One holding the Man portable, Antitank, Antipersonnel, Weapon System and the other taking a bundle of 70mm rockets off his back.
“2 Actual, 3-1. Be advised we’re engaging with our MAAWS” I said into my mic.
“A-firm 3-1. Standing by to give you BDA” replied 2nd Platoon’s commander.
“You know which one you’re shooting at right?” asked Thompson.
“Yes, Lance Corporal” replied the rocket team. Fucking boots. They were the same rank technically but “billet before rank” and all that. Blucher, the micromanaging kraut that he is, wasn’t convinced and said, “Singh put some tracers on it”. She promptly retrieved a fresh magazine that had a strip of red electrical tape on it. She replaced the magazine she already had loaded with it and chambered a round. She fired two rounds that glowed as they flew towards the building we were engaging. The two Marines nodded their heads.
“Hey, load a thermo” Thompson said to the assistant gunner. Blucher looked at him as if to say “really?” but didn’t continue. This was going to be fun. The assistant took out a rocket with a thick orange band from the case. He twisted the tip and loaded it into the rear of the weapon. Once it was in, he then tapped the gunner’s helmet twice to confirm the weapon was armed. Now it was up to the gunner. The scope on the MAAWS had a range finder and a targeting computer so the gunner didn’t have to sling rockets at his target until he got it right. It told him exactly were to hold based on the distance to the target, angle of attack, and munition being fired. All he had to do was hold it steady and pull the trigger.
“On target!” announced the gunner. “CLEAR BACKBLAST!”
“BACKBLAST CLEAR!” confirmed his assistant.
“ROCKET!”
PWOP
FWOOOOOOOM
The 70mm thermobaric rocket streaked out from the Marine’s shoulder and over our heads. My eyes were glued to it in anticipation. What’s great about thermobaric weapons is that they don’t just explode, they implode. It works by igniting the oxygen in the air, which results in a vacuum. The air in the immediate atmosphere will then come rushing in. This has the effect of sucking anything in in the immediate vicinity. Like walls. Also, apparently, they contain some kind of chemical that if exposed to it too often will give you cancer. But that’s for the VA to worry about.
The shot couldn’t have been more perfect. The rocket shot straight through a window and into the building. First the explosion, igniting the available oxygen and burning the Kats’ lungs from the inside. And then the implosion. The walls of the house caved in on themselves and the whole thing came down. If anything in there wasn’t already dead, it was now. Eleven Marines and one Navy Corpsman roared in excitement as our target was turned into a pile of dust and rubble from the inside out. Second and Third squads must’ve gotten the same idea because rockets streaked out from their positions towards their targets.
“Good fucking shit boots!” applauded Thompson.
“Aye Lance Corporal!”
“Lock it up! Lock it the fuck up!” commanded Blucher when our celebrating went on for a second too long.
“Good hit 3-1, position destroyed, estimate 10 EKIA. Pushing Reaper 4 to you now.”
“Copy, out. Corporal you get that?” I said turning my head to Blucher. He put up a thumb in affirmation. Yeah that’s right fecker I know I’m good at my job. Weapons platoon began spilling out of the government house and double timed it up the main road towards us. First the machine gun section, then mortars, and finally engineers. They would bolster our defenses while the engineers secured a landing zone. The Albatrosses needed a lot of space. Then the rest of the company would move the civvies knowing they were under a protective blanket of machine guns, mortars and rifle fire. The gunners were moving hard with their guns on their shoulders and their assistants following behind laden with belts of ammunition and spare barrels. Squads started breaking off from the section and one headed towards our position. A machine gun squad consisted of two machine guns with two Marines per gun plus a squad leader. In this case all of these Marines were lance corporals in true Marine Corps fashion.
“Marines coming in!” announced the machine gunners one after another as they entered our building. Soon a burst raced out from the floor below us. “GUN ONE UP!”
Another burst. “GUN TWO UP!”. With that the 7.5mm general purpose machine guns began their dance of death. One gun would fire a burst of 6 rounds, and then the other gun would take over. This way, it was a constant stream of fire without eating up all their ammo. While one team was loading. The other was firing. While one was changing barrels, the other was putting rounds down range. The GPMGs weren’t suppressed like our rifles, so it was quite the racket. But the noise was gas sometimes! Sometimes I think I should’ve chosen 0331 but then I see their platoon sergeant make them do gun drills all day and I think better of it. One bad decision is enough thank you very much. We watched their tracers speed towards the Kats that had fancied themselves brave and were setting up on the rubble. The guns caught a few in the open with the opening bursts and the rest dove for cover. We followed suit and began picking off those we could while the machine guns kept them suppressed. At this range Singh got most of the good hits but every now and then the rest of us would catch one.
First and Second Platoons started moving now. Along with them were battered looking civilians, constables, and planetary guardsmen. The Marines surrounded them as they moved down the street. Some of them were carrying their wounded. Others were carrying their dead. I had to give it to those “parental guidances”. They didn’t have our training or equipment (some of these guys had M89A1s!), but this was their home. And they weren’t leaving it without a fight. Aside from the Marines the procession was quite the clusterfuck. Wounded constables and guardsmen hobbling along. Families holding their children and whatever possessions they were able to grab. And these are only the people that made it.
The crowd finally got to us and the Marines started reinforcing positions or securing the civilians while the Corpsmen got to work on the wounded. The mortarmen finally got to work and started shelling the government house with their 60mm tubes so the Kats couldn’t use it. No doubt they had their guns preset and were just waiting for everyone to get clear.
“LANCE CORPORAL O’HARE!” called a voice from street level.
“Better go” sighed Blucher.
Fuck me. I stood up and quickly made my way down and out of our house. I was greeted by the sight of our CO, Captain DuBois, and a very confused looking tactical communications specialist. And the sound of the engineers blowing down trees and buildings with det cord.
“Kill sir” I said trotting up to him.
“Excellent, would you please assist Lance Corporal Ali with getting comms back up” said the French officer.
“On it sir” I answered trying not to sound like a cunt about. Ali was fiddling with his bracer when I took a knee next to him.
“I don’t know what happened! It just dropped data all of a sudden!” he said. I grabbed his arm and turned it so I could look at his screen.
“Rinne tù margairlì crànach de” I whistled looking at the absolute hell of a readout.
“What?” Ali asked.
I sighed and started punching through the options, “Did you load the encryption keys before you loaded the frequencies?”
“…no” he admitted.
“You have to! If not, sometimes the data won’t take, and it’ll just drop after a few hours”.
“Why does it work like that?”
“How the feck should I know? It just does! Look, do you have backups?”
“No”
“Jesus wept”, fucking headquarters nerds. I pulled a cable out from my own bracer and plugged it into his. I was sure to upload the encryption keys first and show him what I did. “Grand, now get comm checks”. You’re lucky I like redundancies fecker.
The captain laughed the kind of laugh officers do whenever they want to feel heroic. “Corporal Blucher!”
The Prussian’s helmet poked out over the edge of the roof, “Yes sir?”
“You are no longer allowed to have O’Hare to yourself! She will be my personal TCS from now on!”
“Aye sir” Blucher said dejectedly, there was a reparations joke in there somewhere. Fucking hell, I hate being dependable. I can deal with the kraut and the yank but if I have to follow some frog shiny around all day I’ll go mental!
I took a look around the area that Charlie company had occupied. The CO was talking to the Mattis and trying to look like he knew what he was doing. The XO was pretending like he mattered. And First Sergeant was yelling at the mortarmen. In that regard everything is exactly as it’s supposed to be. Then my mood changed. There were families comforting their children. People were looking at what was left of their lives in their hands. They had it good here and a solid future for their kids and now they would be refugees until they found somewhere else. I saw Doc Stevens and some other corpsmen triaging the wounded. There were kids among them. Their bodies were scarred by plasma burns. The Kats didn’t have rules of engagement. If they weren’t going to take you as a hostage, they didn’t have use for you. And these are the ones that made it.
“O’Hare if you’re done get the fuck back here!”
“Rah Corporal!”
[Continued in comments]
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Spellsinger Meets the Bardbarian!

The latest Spellsinger! I have no idea if people were expecting more of him but Steve is back! And I know I've been quiet lately but the holidays aren't making things easy. But I'll push through!
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First Spellslinger
Across Taleron bards are known for spreading word of the greatest stories of generations. They are known for singing far and wide about the exploits of the world’s mightiest adventurers. News around the world is often carried by the lungs of bards who do it for no more reason than love of music itself. They are also almost entirely responsible for half breeds and are generally considered a nuisance by most if not all civilized people.
But some are not content to merely sing about the exploits of others, and instead seek like of adventure themselves. Often these adventurous bards are armed with little more than music, wit, half remembered hedge magic, and massive heapings of luck for those who actually survive their first few battles. Though some try to strike out into new territory as if being an adventuring bard isn’t new enough territory for them. Often these attempts end rather predictably, but sometimes a bard’s inherent luck puts them in the perfect place at the perfect time. Usually much to the great torment of those around them.
For while normal adventuring groups can have their exploits fall prey to rumor and exaggeration over time having a bard in the party means the exaggeration starts immediately. Bards are notoriously unreliable narrators even of other people's stories. So for their own? Navigating the torrent of fluff, embellishment, hyperbole, and even outright lies can make it extremely difficult for even the most tenacious of historians to discover the core of truth. When this is applied to an already outlandishly exaggerated history for someone like Steve Spellsligner? So scholars are quite easily forgiven when being skeptical of the supposedly first hand accounts given Spellslinger meeting the first ever Bardbarian.
Though the tale is still very important to understand the history of both DOOM and the greater cultural and societal impacts this meeting would have. For while Spellslinger’s history is varied with good and bad and many who love or hate him at least he is portrayed in a vaguely honest fashion most of the time. This is unlike the history of one E. R. Shun, better known to all as Pun Isher. Or Grandmaster Punisher. Sometimes as Punisher the shredder of axes. And once or twice as he of the flaming axe and terrible word play by those who speak lizard tongue. Though that’s mostly because of Steve.
Regardless, this isn’t the story of Steve messing with the legendary Bardbarian later in life. This is about the very first time they met. This is all about the first death of DOOM. This is about
Spellslinger meets the Bardbarian
“Next please for the love of whatever you consider holy.” Steve grumbled and kept his head buried in his hands, waiting to hear the scrape of a shovel being dragged across a tavern floor as the latest tryout for the next Tank of DOOM walked off.
“I don’t know why you expected this place to be any better than the last two.” Sherry mentioned with a sigh as she looked around the now mostly empty tavern.
“Because this region is where no less than six legendary adventurers have been discovered over the years! It’s known for high quality… people!” Steve stressed as he waved a hand at nothing. Now that he was looking up, he saw a man with some sort of yellow chainmail step up, his helmet in the shape of a duck’s head. “No.”
“I haven’t even-” The man protested.
“No.” Steve shook his head fervently.
“Steve we should give him a chance.” Astrid to his side said and gave him a look. Steve glanced over at the teen and then let out a heavy sigh and rubbed his face.
“Go ahead.” Steve waved a hand.
“I am the Duckinator!” The man raised his sword high. “Using my mastery of duck anatomy I-”
“No!” Steve hissed. “Absolutely not.”
“Steve he hasn’t even-” Astrid started once more but this time Steve waved her off.
“Nope don’t care! I’m familiar with duck anatomy and whatever he’s about to do I want no part of it! Go! Get out of here!” Steve pointed.
“Aw c’mon.” The Duckinator’s shoulders slumped.
“Out! Now! There are children present!” Steve hissed back.
“I wasn’t gonna-”
“Before I fireball your ass!” Steve raised a hand as it began to steam and the Duckinator quickly scurried off.
“What’s wrong with duck anatomy?” Sherry asked with a confused look.
“There’s no part of it I want in a tank. Let's just put it like that.” Steve sighed and rubbed his face harder. “Next. And please don’t have a gimmick. I just want… sword and board. It’s real simple.” Yet the next man to step forward didn’t have a shield. Or a sword for that matter. Instead he wore a garish bright set of leather bits somewhat haphazardly sewn about, and carried a very large axe with string attached to it for some reason. “What?” Steve asked with a frown.
“Behold! The next greatest and most legendary of adventurers!” The man posed and then spun around his axe as he strummed on the side, causing a cacophony of sound for a moment which made Larry jerk back to consciousness from his wine nap.
That’s not Larry’s finger!” He snorted a moment and then blinked along with the others as they watched the man before them toss the axe into the air, catch it, spin around with a wild slash and then slide onto his knees to strum upon it once more as more oddly electric notes blared out.
“What in the hell are you supposed to be?” Steve finally asked as the man rose up off the floor.
“I am… Pun Isher!” The man added to this with more strumming which made Steve tug some cotton from one of his pouches to stuff into his ears.
“Did you say your name is Mister… Isher?” Sherry asked.
“No no… You gotta say it together. Pun Isher!” The man bellowed with more strumming and electrical blaring.
“Listen here Punny McGee that’s not how this works. What are you even trying to be.” Steve stressed.
“I am here to follow in your mighty footsteps! To become one who blends the line between classes! And become the worlds first… Bardbarian!” He sang out, spinning his axe around as he did.
“Oh he’s a fucking bard. No fucking wonder with this dumbfuckery.” Steve sighed heavily. “We need a tank. Not a bard.”
“I am a tank!” The man flexed a moment and swung his axe around. “I am the first to be both bard and barbarian! Multiclass! I learned off only the most unruly of grog filled patrons the art of anger and rage… but I also make it look gooood!” He tossed his hair back, letting the shockingly long gold locks flow in a wind that didn’t exist within the tavern.
“What’s with the axe?” Sherry asked.
“This is my most valued weapon! It is my Axe-trument! Powered by the gods of music and rocks!” He strummed on it once more to crate more blaring sounds. “My double patrons who encourage my multiclassing!”
“What’s this multiclass thing he’s talking about?” Astrid asked with a curious glance but Steve was just pinching the bridge of his nose.
“I have no clue and I don’t care.” Steve grumbled. “Whatever he is it’s dumb.”
“How can you say that! You’re the first of the multiclass! Blending magic with martial! Spells with swords! You take your power and… sling it!” The man pantomimed spinning a sling and releasing it.
“What? I am all mage. The sword is just in case I need to stab people. But I’m still all mage.” Steve squinted and then shook his head. “No. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I’m not interested.”
Larry Love is interested.” The Dwarf nodded from down the table.
“What? Why?” Steve looked over at the dwarf even as the Bardbarian pumped a fist.
“Yes you are! The legendary Larry Love knows what he sees is the future! The legendary Larry Love knows what it’ll mean to adventure with me at his side! The chicks will dig this dynamic duo!” Larry nodded as the Bardbarian hyped him up.
“Chicks? Did Chad send you?” Steve glared.
“Steve he’s not that muscular. He’s… kinda… skinny strong…” Sherry pointed out. “But… he might be the first decent candidate we’ve had.”
“Are you kidding me?” Steve gasped. “He’s a bard! They’re filthy! Our reputation is precarious enough as it is!”
“I think he’s alright.” Astrid mentioned.
“Astrid… You know I care for you as a… ward… Er… as your legal guardian… But you don’t get a vote! You’re not part of DOOM!” Steve stressed which made the teen nord huff.
“Why not? When I was part of Fenrina you dragged me along to all kinds of dangerous missions!” She pointed out.
“Because you were part of Fenrina! A seven foot tall mountain of muscle and energy that only a deranged husky can bring forth! But you can’t cast magic, and you don’t like stabbing people! And you can’t shoot a bow!” Steve stressed.
“I mean… I am learning.” She shrugged and looked away.
“Which I highly encourage you to keep doing with the Archon! She likes you! You know she offered you private tutoring. I never got that! I got yelled at! Constantly! In fact… I still get yelled at! That’s why we’re even here getting a tank so we can go stop Duchess Delight so the Archon will stop yelling at me!” Steve let out a deep sigh and rubbed his temples. “Astrid I care for you deeply which is why you can’t adventure with us. And also why you don’t get a vote. So it’ll be two to one here even if Larry likes this tool.”
“It will be two to one.” Sherry nodded. “But against you Steve.”
“WHAT?!” Steve gasped and looked at his girlfriend. “MUTINY!”
“You said it yourself! We need a tank so we can go stop Duchess Delight! Whatever she’s doing in the newest small nation she’s taken over it’s no doubt bad. Even if… oddly efficient and legal… It’s still bad! We need to just go deal with it. So… if that means we use this guy… so be it.” She shrugged and the Bardbarian pumped his fist again, spinning his axe over his head and somehow playing the strings with his teeth.
“Uuugghhh… stupid… democracy.” Steve grumbled. “Fiiiiine. But what’s with this stupid name of yours Isher?”
“You gotta say the whole thing! Pun Isher!” The bardbarian stressed.
“No. I’m not saying it. In fact…” Steve’s voice suddenly went deep and his eyes glowed white a moment as he spoke a language somehow older than the universe itself. The Bardbarian blinked for a moment, his body going still.
“Eric Shun.” He announced.
“What?” Steve’s eyes reverted back and his voice returned to normal. “That… that spell commands you to reveal your true name. Not… an erection. Tell me your true name damnit!”
“It’s Eric Shun.” The Bardbarian repeated as he slowly snapped out of his trance.
“There a kids present! Knock it off!” Steve hissed.
“You swear in front of me… all the time.” Astrid reminded him.
“Astrid! Swearing is part of my fucking culture and you know that! I can’t help it! It’s still no reason for this guy to get away with potty talk!” Steve waved at the man again.
“No… my name! My last name is Shun. Eric D Shun.” The bardbarian carefully enunciated.
“Oh for…” Steve rubbed a hand over his face. “That name is awful.”
“Yeah. I know.” The gold haired bard nodded.
“What’s the D stand for?” Sherry asked.
The Bardbarian just took a long slow breath. “Dick.”
“You mean… Richard?” Steve asked with an arched brow.
“Nnnno… My middle name is just… Dick.” He coughed into a hand then.
“I wonder if he’s related to Scott. King of the Dicks.” Astrid said aloud.
“Okay so… your name is entirely and completely awful.” Steve shrugged.
“Why do you think I chose Pun Isher! It’s way more badass!” Eric raised his axe then to spin around and play on once more trying to ignore his bad name.
“That’s worse!” Steve hissed out.
“What? How?” Eric glared back.
“Like your real name sucks because it’s obvious your parents hate you-”
“Actually they were quite lovin-” Eric tried to cut in.
“HATE YOU.” Steve loudly spoke over him. “But choosing a name like Pun Isher is worse! Because it means you chose an awful stupid name for yourself! Do we really have to take this guy?” Steve looked at the other two.
Larry Love is in love with the way that axe sounds baby. It’ll sound oh so good with Larry Love on the piano baby. Oohhh yeeaah.” Steve just rubbed his eyes as the dwarf nodded and raised a wine cup.
“Lets just finish this mission for the Archon and… see how it goes.” Sherry set a hand on Steve’s shoulder to give it a gentle rub even as he sighed.
“Fiiiiine.” Steve stood up and pointed to a document on the table. “You’ll need to register with our group through the adventuring guild. That means your actual name as well as your new, somehow even worse chosen name.”
“You won’t regret this!” The Bardbarian grinned as he rushed up to grab a quill and start writing.
“I already do.” Steve sighed and then looked down to check the writing. “Are you fucking kidding me? Your new middle name is Danger?”
“Yeah how badass is that? I get to tell chicks that all the time. Hey… My middle name is… Danger.” He leaned in and did something with his eyebrows that Steve supposed was intended to be suggestive.
Larry Love digs his style.” The dwarf grinned and nodded while Steve just shook his head.
“Idiots…” Steve sighed and looked at Sherry. “We’ve now got a Bard and Larry.”
“I know.” The half succubus muttered with a roll of her eyes. “Lets just… get this over with.”
“You sure I can’t join you? I think I probably know more about adventuring than he does.” Astrid mentioned with a critical look at the bardbarian.
“Yeah but I care about you and I don’t want you to get hurt or die. Whereas I really don’t care if this guy does. In fact I might hope he does get hurt.” Steve muttered.
“Wow… mean. I thought you were a good guy! Does he grate on everyone like this?” Eric asked with a huff.
“He grows on you.” Astrid shrugged.
“Yeah like a cancer.” Steve snorted with a cross of his arms. Then as the others looked at him he blinked. “Aw shit we were talking about me weren’t we? Fuck. I burned myself. Gah! I’m off my game!” He tossed his hands up a moment. “Forget it. Astrid you’re good to head back to the Archon? I’ll take the other directly to whatever new little duchy the Duchess Delight has somehow conquered.”
“Her plots are weird aren’t they? It’s like all she wants to do is make vast amounts of money. But in strange ways.” Astrid nodded slowly. “But yes, I’ll give her a call. I’ll see you guys when you get back.”
“Alright. But seriously go tutor with the Archon. You can totally be an adventurer. Eventually.” Steve set a hand on Astrid’s shoulder a moment and then pulled back to look at the others. “Alright assholes let’s grease this pig.”
“Oh are we greasing something? I brought my own.” Eric announced.
“Brought your own what?” Steve looked over and saw the Bardbarian smearing some sort of glistening oil over his mostly bare and hairless chest, while his leather and hair fluttered in the breeze that still didn’t exist in the tavern. Steve just glared at him, and then Sherry.
“Would you prefer the Duckinator?” She countered which made Steve hiss and then pull out his spellbook.
“This cannot be over fast enough. Hey Eric, you ever teleported before?” He asked.
“No why?” The bard stopped greasing himself up and tossed his hair a few times to let the golden locks truly whip around.
“Try jumping.” Steve suggested as he prepared to cast the spell.
“Why? Does it look cool?” Eric grabbed his axe once more and jumped up just as Steve finished his spell. Which meant it cut off his momentum as they shifted across the planet and the bard tumbled to the ground. Or he would have, except he somehow tucked his legs and rolled so he could spring to his feet with a strum on his axe-trument and let his hair billow behind him. “Oh man I bet that looked so awesome!”
“Fucking… acrobatics…” Steve muttered, spoiled of his fun. But then he took stock of where they had ended up. They were standing near a town center that seemed… slightly off. Steve couldn’t put his finger on it at first. Looking around he saw plenty of tall well built structures, clean streets, trees along the sides for some shade, a part to one side, and what few people he saw were all well dressed. They were also besides a clean blue moat before a white castle standing proud in the city center. “What the fuck is wrong with this place?” Steve asked aloud.
“What do you mean? This place looks really nice. All clean and well built. Like a great city for a legendary adventurer to get a start!” Eric gave his axe-trument a quick strum once more.
“That’s it! That’s what’s wrong! Cities don’t look like this!” Steve waved a hand around. “There’s no shit! This isn’t Almera so they don’t have proper water pipes, yet there’s no shit running through the streets. And this place smells…” He took a deep sniff. “Clean! Cities outside of Almera… and elf places I guess… They don’t smell clean! They smell like shit! Literal shit! And look at the people on the street! They aren’t bustling or hustling! They’re just… like… standing around or… walking in… patrols?”
“He’s right…” Sherry muttered.
“It seems fine to me. Look how attractive everyone is.” Eric waved a hand at some people walking by. They were all blond, and rather incredibly good looking. But… Steve narrowed his eyes as he saw them. Their features were too smooth. Not even the Bardbarian was that crease and wrinkle free. Magic?
Odder still was when he saw a muscular blond man in armor that looked too nice and clean to have ever been used jogged into the town center and pulled a box out of his pocket, that was far too small to hold such a box. Bag of holding? “Woo! Magic box! Hey everyone! Look at the stuff I got in this magic box everyone!” Even as he opened the box a bright light shown from it and he pulled items out that made no sense to Steve. Some kind of food? A bucket of paint? And… a horse?
“What the fuuuuck.” Steve watched the man pull an entire horse, which was purple for some reason, out of the small box and then climb on and ride off. “I am so confused.”
“I think we should talk to that guy.” Eric pointed to a glowing man standing under a banner that said Premium Adventuring. “Also why is he glowing?”
“It’s a minor magic cantrip but… I don’t get it either.” Steve muttered and walked towards the man.
“Hi there! Are you all new adventurers? Have a new adventuring pack!” He handed them each a basket.
Steve looked into his basket then. “Bread… apple juice… a shitty iron dagger… and a green hat?” He pulled out the small pointed hat. Eric had already placed his on his head.
“How do I look?” He asked as he struck a pose.
“Like an idiot. So… no different from before.” Steve muttered and then pulled out a small piece of paper at the bottom of the basket. “What’s this? Fifty… Delightful Dollars?”
“That’s what we use for currency around here!” The glowing man grinned. “Would you like to exchange gold for more Delightful Dollars?”
“Oh sure, what’s the exchange rate?” Eric pulled a few coins from a pouch then.
“Five gold will get you 382 Delightful Dollars! But for a special deal ten gold will get you 716 Delightful Dollars!” The man very enthusiastically explained.
“What? That’s… worse… And… that exchange rate is… what?” Steve squinted a bit and then smacked Eric’s hand back before he could give the glowing gold man any gold. “Hold on here. What do we get for Delightful Dollars.”
“Why everything you could need! You can exchange it for special cosmetic items, or consumables, and conveniences!” The man grinned wide still.
“That’s… that’s just money asshole! That’s how money fucking works.” Steve growled out.
“Uh friend we don’t particularly encourage negative or foul language around here… If you wish to purchase a profanity filter I can sell you one for 500 Delightful Dollars.” His smile was faltering just a bit as Steve glared at him.
“So you want me to spend some arbitrary fucking odd amount of gold for a filter for the way I talk? Absolutely fucking not.” Steve hissed.
“Uhm well.. If you’re not interested in spending gold you can start your adventure today!” He pulled out a magical map and handed it to Steve. “New adventurers are encouraged to follow our specially catered chain of quests to earn Delightful Dollars and earn some entry level gear! Just follow the map and do what the people at each location tell you! Up first is helping the old barkeep clear rats out of the basement!”
“Oh more rats in basements? Well that’s pretty typical. I’ve done that a ton I can probably do it with my eyes closed and still make it look good.” Eric bragged for a moment and flipped his hair back. And then somehow flipped his hair back on the other side immediately after.
“Motherfucker what you are describing is not adventuring. It is a fucking job. Follow the map and do what you’re told?” Steve growled and glared at the man over the map.
“Well… looking to skip the grind and advance quickly? Just trade in your gold for Delightful dollars for our advanced platinum premium package! We outfit you with powerful gear and get you into the big fights with demons and dragons right away!” He waved a hand at a suit of plate armor that was gleaming and gold with outrageously large pauldrons studded with crystals for some reason.
“Someone pays you… and you just throw them at dragons without experience, but a suit of armor that’s… likely entirely too heavy for almost anyone to wear?” Steve asked and blinked. “Wait you’re offering a way to skip out on adventuring? That… that defeats the point of…” He rubbed his eyes then. “What are the cosmetics and shit you’re talking about?”
“Oh well… uh here you can see the cosmetics we have on special armor! Very fashionable armor for any daring and dazzling female adventurer!” He stepped back and waved at a mannequin on a pedestal behind him. Sherry who had been quiet so far pulled out a dagger.
“If you suggest that those two tiny tea cups connected by gold chain is in any way armor I will fucking gut you.” She hissed at the man who was now beginning to sweat.
“N-not to your liking? We also have comfortable spell casting robes available!” He gestured to the next mannequin that held a silk… robe that somehow seemed to cover everything except what any woman would rather need to have covered for the sake of decency. Sherry just advanced on the man with her dagger a moment.
“New hair colors! Unique titles! Custom horse colors!” The man held up a hand as Sherry got closer to him.
“Don’t murder him just yet he’s doing his job. Dumb as it is.” Steve muttered and looked around once more. “So what’s the point of this place. It seems like a hub for… unusually attractive adventurers.”
“Uhm… well yes. This is all part of the Duchesseses… Uh… Duchessss… Our ruler’s plan for adventuring as a service! Adventuring is usually hit or miss with big calls for their need and then it dries up between seasons. So she wanted to provide a place for adventurers from all over to come here instead for more sustained and regular intervals of adventuring content!” The man nodded, now slightly less worried about immediate death by angry half-succubus.
“That’s why the Archon told us to come here. This place is messing with the adventuring economy.” Steve rubbed his chin and then pointed at the castle. “Well let's go deal with her then.”
“Wait, you can’t go in there! The sign says no entry!” The man pointed.
“And I’m an adventurer I don’t give a shit about signs!” He snorted and saw the man reach for something in a pocket.
“Uh I need an admin with a ban ham-” He started to call out but Steve grabbed his hand to pull free a rock. “That’s a magic rock! Security is on the way!” The glowing man announced. Larry, Sherry, and Eric glanced at Steve who looked at the rock a moment and shook his head.
“Not magic.” He announced.
“Y-yes it is… they told me it is. It’s glowing!” The man pointed at the rock’s very subtle blue glow.
“Yeah sure… it glows. But… it’s not gonna tell anyone anything.” Steve waved a hand around and no security seemed to show up. “Well guy I recommend you get a new job very soon.” Steve tossed the rock back to the other guy.
“Well, what are we going to do about the moat? Or the drawbridge?” Eric asked as Steve approached the front of the castle. “Steve?” But Steve just kept walking, off the bridge and through the air. “We’re not magic!” Eric called out, just before Larry and Sherry stepped past him to walk across the air as well. “Okay I’m not magic! Well… I kinda am with the bard stuff… But not that kind of magic!”
“It’s an illusion Pun Danger Isher.” Sherry explained and kept walking.
Eric looked at the moat beneath him and carefully stepped forward. Once his foot actually pressed down on a hard surface he immediately pulled his axe out to strum upon it. “Behold the mighty Pun Isher! So brave is he that his legends take hold over air itself! Walk forth my companions for I shall hold the way!” He strummed hard on his axe as the too pretty and too clean adventurers looked his way a moment as he ran across what looked like air.
“Seriously?” Steve muttered as he watched the Bardbarian sing and strum on his axe as he sprinted across. Once he was through the illusionary drawgate it was clear the actual castle beyond was far less impressive. The stone was a normal grey, there weren’t any massive spinly towers of glass. Just a regular squat fort made of stone. Though the door to the central structure was very much real, and quite large so simply opening it wasn’t really an option.
“So… we infiltrate up through the catacombs?” Eric asked.
“No? I don’t even know if this place has any. We jus-” Steve started.
“Oh! Dress up as laundry maids and infiltrate through the servant’s quarters!” He tried next.
“No! We just-” Steve tried to speak.
“Oh! Classic! We wait for the large cake delivery and-”
“NO! SHUT UP!” Steve hissed. “Large cake delivery? Like that’s gonna happen. I just break the door down with magic and then depending on what we find kill or maim everyone inside until they do what we tell them.”
“Which is… what?” Eric asked next.
“Uh…” Steve blanked for a second and looked to Sherry and Larry and then back. “That… she stop… making… adventuring as a service because it’s stupid?”
“Steve the Archon.” Sherry reminded him.
“Right yes! She reinstate the old rulers or place the Archon in control of the duchy or something. That’s why we’re here.” Steve nodded.
“Okay… just give me the signal for the door breaking and I’ll rush in!” Eric swung his axe around a few times and then hummed a moment before singing out a note. “Kay I’m in key.”
Steve just frowned and waved his hands before a massive fist appeared in the air and slammed into the door. Just as it did Eric was running forward and jumping through. “Behold the mighty prowess of the legendary Pun Isher!”
“Is he gonna take credit for literally everything? Fucking bards...” Steve hissed as he quickly rushed in after him. Just inside he found a group of soldiers standing around, except they didn’t have swords or spears in hand. Rather they had food and drink. Steve looked up and saw some banners in the rafters as well.
“You’re crushing the birthday boy!” A woman in black leather armor with a restrained, yet still obvious number of skulls upon it cried out.
“Seriously? How many birthday parties do you host?” Steve stepped off the broken door, and shoved it aside a little to find the partially crushed body of a soldier beneath it. “Larry I need-” But as he looked up Larry was already trying to smash the female dwarf in heavy plate, yet with a revealing boob window.
Heretic!” He cried out, bashing his hammer against her holy bubble.
Heretic!” She cried back. Steve just slapped a hand over his own face as he watched the two.
Heretic!” Bam.
Heretic!” Wham.
Heretic!” Biff.
Heretic!” Baff.
“Fucking clerics…” He groaned. “Sh-...” He could already see that she was staring at the fallen angel across the room with the black speckled wings and no shirt.
“My love, I have somehow torn my shirt completely off in another freak accident.” The man was saying as he stepped up to the woman in the black leather armor.
“Must you always rip off your shirts? You do look lovely as ever but… I can only buy you so many silk shirts before it cuts into my wardrobe budget!” She huffed.
“Fine…” Steve pulled a potion from his belt popping the top and stuffing it into the mouth of the crushed soldier. “You don’t die today guy. Or… I’m not killing you. Right now. Intentionally… Happy Birthday.”
“So… what about the killing and maiming plan?” Eric looked back with a bit of confusion.
“How dare you interrupt this birthday party!” The woman yelled out once more. “I expect better from you Steven!”
“Yes yes… Duchess Delight… how…” He watched her smile grow wide then and he sighed. “I’m not doing it.
“Oohh!” She frowned. “Pppllleeeeasssee?” She gave him a big bright smile again.
“How… delightful to see you.” Steve muttered and the Duchess jumped a little, giggled, and clapped her hands.
“Oh how wonderful! Now… I didn’t have a fight with another evil adventuring party listed for the day… did someone reschedule something?” She asked.
“Wait… are we evil?” Eric looked at Steve.
“No. We’re not. They’re bad.” He waved at the Duchess in black leather armor. With skulls.
“We’re SMILE!” She shouted and struck a pose, as did the shirtless fallen angel, the dwarf was too busy smacking Larry to pose, and the catguy… Steve looked around. He didn’t see the cat guy. He did see a pale elven lady in strange orange clothes.
“SMILE sounds like a good guy group. Are you sure we’re the good guys?” Eric confirmed.
“Yes. Hey! Where’s your catguy!” Steve waved out.
“He got turned back into a cat through a magical mishap.” The Duchess replied with a shrug. “Where’s your doggirl? I liked that about you Steven! Having a girl tank. Very awoken!” She nodded. “Now your party is… bit of a sausage fest isn't it?”
“What?” Steve frowned. “Awoken? I… I swear I just had this conversation… She was seven feet tall of muscle and obnoxious husky energy! I didn’t let her tank! I couldn’t stop her from tanking! I didn’t have any better candidates than this tool. I didn’t pick him!” Steve waved at the Bardbarian.
“Well… why did he get picked?” The Duchess asked.
Oh Larry Love can answer that honey! Mind if we stop trying to crusade each other honey?” Larry looked to the other dwarf.
Well sugar plum I suppose we can. I am curious about the hunka burnin bard over there.” She blew a kiss at Eric who tried to duck under it.
Well it’s all thanks to this nifty little instrument yours truly invented… You see-” Even as the Cleric stepped back to summon forth his holy piano Steve loudly spoke up.
“It’s a stupid sideways harp he worked up that he calls a piano which makes him a pianist! Don’t encourage him!” He waved his hands.
Regardless of all of Larry Love’s many haters. He felt the sweet sounds of his piano would mesh well with that of the bards axe-trument.” Larry sat down to play a few notes even as Eric strummed.
“Oh. So he’s… half bard, half barbarian.” The Duchess nodded slowly.
“No! See… I’m aaalll bard! Wwuuuhhhh!” Eric sang and strummed. “But also aallll barbarian! Oooohhh!” He swung the axe around then.
“That’s… that’s stupid. That’s bad math. You can’t be a hundred percent of two things.” Steve pointed out.
“Sure you can! Just gotta put your heart and your soul into it! What’s what makes me legendary!” Eric swung his axe around and played it at the same time.
“That’s what makes you an idiot.” Steve muttered and then waved at the pale elf. “So who’s the catguy replacement?”
“I’m the fearsome…. Whaaaaaa!” She spun around and kicked into the air which somehow made a cracking sound. “Emma Zone! BAMShe! Aaaaahhhh!” She opened her mouth wide to sing out a piercing note then which made Steve wince. But Eric and Larry stopped.
“Whoa… that sounded great!” Eric gasped out.
“Fucking rotten bard brain…” Steve hissed. “Emma Zone… Like… the women warriors… and she’s a monk I’m guessing? So she punches things. The Bamshe… wow… at least I’m not the only one with the fucking idiotic teammate.” Steve muttered. “Hold on. You can’t be a banshee. You’re not dead. Banshees are undead.”
“I might be undeathly challenged but that’s no reason to go throwing around hurtful words!” She pointed at Steve.
“Yeah Steve be more awoken.” The Duchess huffed.
“What? That’s the whole fucking point! They’re magic entities!” Steve stressed.
“They can be whatever they want!” Emma cried back.
“No. No they can’t! What the… that’s like arguing a minotaur could be a gnome. They emphatically cannot!” Steve waved his hands around but then saw the other dwarf pulling out another instrument. “No… don’t tell me.”
Bessy Beauty ain’t gonna tell you nuthin sugar. She’s gonna play it. Cause all you gotsa to see is Bessy Beauty busting out her fat bass.” She hummed before strumming on the standup bass. “Those notes you two were playing need just the right sultry smooth undercurrents only bessy can provide.
“The… fat bass? It’s… It’s not pronounced like the fish! Or your fat ass! It’s pronounced like… base! Or vase!” Steve hissed.
“What’s a vase?” The Duchess asked with a frown.
“What? It’s a… decorative porcelain pot for flowers or shit.” Steve shrugged.
“Oh you mean a vaaahz?” She asked.
“Fuck no I don’t. I mean a vase. Vahz? Fuck? V - A -S - E. Vase.” Steve stressed and then pointed at the Bamshe who had rolled over a barrel of mead from the birthday party. “Oh what now!
“I think we got it. Okay all together.” She started drumming, Eric was strumming, Larry played the piano, and Bessy plucked the bass. Steve quickly pulled wool from his belt to stuff into his ears as they all began to play and sing.
“Wow that sounds amazing!”
“That’s incredible!”
“It’s so beautiful!”
“My ears are bleeding!” Steve cried out, rolling around on the floor even as the rest of the room clapped as they finished their little tune.
“Steve, don’t be so dramatic. You’re embarrassing me in front of the celestial.” Sherry hissed out at him.
“My ears are really bleeding!” He gasped as he clutched his ears even as they bled.
“What?” Sherry leaned down to pull his hands away and heal him up. “You used the steel wool.”
“Fucking steel sheep!” Steve hissed and started to climb back to his feet.
“That was simply the most wonderful thing I have ever heard!” The Duchess clapped. “I need… I need to take you four on tour. Think of all the money I could make! And I won’t owe a cut of it to anyone! I mean… you four I suppose… we’ll sign contracts. I’ll manage you all and coordinate. I’m good at that sort of thing. My Darling Division can help take this all on the road! We’ll make stages, set up food and drink vendors, make limited exclusive cloaks and tunics! It’s gold!”
“What! The hell you will! We still gotta fight!” Steve gasped as he shook his head to try and shake off the blood from his ears.
“Oh right. Why are you here actually? That was never established.” The Duchess stepped up to him.
“I was sent because… You… took over this country violently! You know the rules! No coups!” He pointed at her.
“I didn’t take over violently. I was invited to help them make money.” She explained.
“What? Really? The… Archon told me to come here and stop you.” Steve squinted now confused.
“Ooohhh the Archon sent you?” She asked.
“Uhhh shit.” Steve realized he was never supposed to admit that. “I mean… no! I’m here… for my own reasons!”
“It’s okay Steven your secret is safe with me. Us evils have to stick together right? I guess I should have known since the Archon trained you that she would be evil. I mean, anyone who would work with Almerans am I right?” She giggled and Steve just rubbed his face and groaned.
“Not… evil…” He muttered softly.
“I’m guessing this is because of my adventuring as a service? Well that might be messing with the economy I suppose. But I was paid you see! The local nations realized adventurers are… well they’re a nuisance. Almost as bad as bards.” Eric looked over at that. “Oh not you. Other bards.” She assured him. But once he looked away she shook her head.
“And?” Steve prompted her.
“Oh, so I realized that it would be best to just round them all up in one place and milk them for all they were worth! They do somehow amass amazing piles of gold and have no idea how to spend it.” She shrugged. “Hence giving them pointless things to buy with money printed on paper! Hah! Paper money! Almost worthless.” She giggled. “Most of what’s out there is just an illusion.”
“Yeah I figured that out.” Steve muttered. “Well… wait so you didn’t kill the prior rulers for this place?”
“No not this time. They invited me to help get them out of bankruptcy! But forget them they want a cut. Once I take this new… music band out I’ll have it all to myself! For… a modest fee from their cuts I mean.” She assured the four.
“Wait wait wait… I… don’t care?” Steve blinked. “You can’t take them.”
Larry Love has had enough of you stifling his love magic baby. Larry Love is going on tour! No more telling Larry Love not to play his heart out when surrounded by lovely elven ladies!” Larry returned to playing on his piano.
“That’s because it’s always in the middle of a fucking stealth mission in some elf city! You can’t be stealthy and then just attend a fucking social party you knob! I do it to keep us from being discovered and killed damnit!” Steve hissed back.
“Great! So then the music band is a go! Men!” The Duchess stood tall. “Grab everything we brought. Steal anything worth more than a gold that we didn’t bring and we’ll march out at once! I’ll grab the illusion scrolls as we go and turn them into effects for the shows! We march out to conquer the world through the universal language! Music!”
“The universal language is violence. Which I will use! Hey! Where are you all going!” Steve waved but all around him the soldiers were quickly getting to work and the Duchess was pulling Eric aside with a paper in her hand.
“Sign here… yes my cut is very modest. Sixty forty. Split which way? Hahahaaa of course it’s what you think. No time for reading the little writing we’re off!”
Steve stood there in a mix of mild shock and confusion as the castle was emptied around him. Sherry standing by his side as they watched the others all grab things and file out. Soon they were left with an old table and a few wood chairs. “Fuck.” Was all Steve could say. “At least there’s the two of us. And… I think I technically did what the Archon wanted.”
However when he looked at Sherry he saw a look on her face. “Oh no… what? Not more bad news.”
[Continued in Comments]
submitted by RegalLegalEagle to HFY [link] [comments]

i don't like doing this but here we are

this should be 10 thousand words
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