Stories 2.5: The Beginning (Partial Draft)

It was the year 5 AE when I first met her. A local junk trader was bragging to anyone who’d listen that he’d found something incredible, and was offering the chance to see it for the low, low price of 50 Calories. I had plenty of food to spare, so I figured I’d bite, so to speak. He gestured for me to follow him into a dark room. At that point, the whole thing reeked of a set-up, but if he was trying to rob me, he picked the wrong mark. I clutched the knife in my pocket as I crossed the threshold. It wasn’t until I sighed in relief at him turning the lights on that I realized I was holding my breath. In the back, a woman was repairing some damaged electronic equipment. At least, that was what it looked like to me. “A woman?” I asked, “I’ll admit, she’s pretty, but charging me food to see her? What kind of business are you running here?” “An electronics store!” the trader said, indignantly. “I don’t follow,” I said. The trader sighed. “You hear those rumors about how someone found a state-of-the-art prototype android more life-like than anything that ever hit the market?” “I can’t say I have,” I said. “Well!” the trader said, “The rumors exist, and they’re true! This is her. The android.” All throughout the conversation, the alleged android never once looked up from her work. “I think you mean ‘This is she.’” I said. “Huh?” “Grammatically speaking, it should be ‘she’ instead of ‘her’,” I clarified. He squinted at me in either irritation or confusion. Probably both. “Also,” I continued, “If she’s feminine, wouldn’t she be a gyndroid, rather than an android?” “Listen, pal,” the trader said, “If you’d rather go all boarding school on my ass than check out a hot robot chick, be my guest. But I’m kicking your ass out of here in 5 minutes regardless. Unless…” “Unless?” I asked. “Unless you buy her. Then you could feast your eyes as long as you want!” “I’m not sure I understand what you’re selling me,” I said, “What does she do?” “Whatever you want!” the trader said, “Thank God for the Second Law of Robotics, am I right?” “That’s… kind of vague,” I said, “What is she doing right now?” “Business stuff,” he said, “My business. Not yours.” “Can she talk?” I asked. “Sure!” The trader said, “Hey, robot, say something!” “Statement: Something” Her voice had a slight metallic edge, but could easily be mistaken for human. “You gettin’ wise with me, ya bucket of bolts?” the trader demanded. “Statement: I merely executed the command that you issued. Statement: I am no more or less wise than I was before.” “Yeah, she’s got a real pretty voice,” the trader said, “Maybe I’d hear it more often if she wasn’t always sassin’ off.” “If she weren’t…” I started, before thinking better of it. “Whazzat?” The trader asked. “N-nothing.” I said. “Statement: Your guest almost committed a faux pas by correcting your improper use of the subjunctive case after you made it clear that you dislike having your grammar called into question.” “Whatever,” he said, “I don’t give a shit what either of you are talkin’ about. I already got paid.” “How did you know what I was about to say?” I asked. “Statement: I am clever.” “Are you sentient?” I asked. “Query: Are you?” “I think so? I guess I don’t really know for sure, though,” I admitted, “Humans are arrogant enough to assume that we’re sentient by default.” “Statement: If the bar is that low, then I am most certainly sentient.” I laughed as she conspicuously glanced at the junk trader. “Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, “You insulting me, rust bucket?” “Statement: I rest my case.” “Why, I oughtta…” the trader threatened. “Statement: The First Law compels me to advise against slapping me, as your most recent attempt fractured the middle phalanx of your-” “Shut up!” the trader shouted, “No more out of you!” He turned to me. “Quite an active imagination on this one,” he said, “Anyway, I’ve decided your five minutes are up. Time to shit or get off the pot.” “What, you want me to buy her right now?” I asked. “That, or fuck off,” he said. “How much are you asking for?” I asked. Upon hearing the price, I decided to fuck off.

 

The next day, I heard a familiar voice in the market street, offering the opportunity to meet a stunningly beautiful android for the low, low price of 25 Calories. Sure enough, it was the trader from before. Though I hate to admit it, I had given a lot of thought to his offer. He demanded a payment that was unreasonable, but not unattainable. I didn’t want to believe that I was this desperate for a friend. But here I was. “How’s business going?” I asked the trader. “Oh, you again? 100, up front.” “What? But last time it was 50, and I just heard you say 25. That’s ridiculous!” I say. “Then walk,” he said. He knew I wouldn’t. And I didn’t. He took me to the same place as before. “Statement: It is good to see you again.” “You remember me?” I asked. “Statement: Affirmative. Statement: You were the last person to visit me.” “Quiet, you!” the trader reprimanded. I laughed. It seemed business wasn’t going so well after all. “Fuckers don’t know what they’re missin’ out on,” he said, “Like, come over here and look at how realistic her face is!” I uneasily obliged.  “She is rather pretty,” I admitted. “Statement: Thank you. Statement: I think you’re rather pretty, too.” “Huh? Uh, th-thanks,” I said, sheepishly. “Statement: Your cheeks are reddening, sir. Query: Are you feeling alright?” “What, are ya blushing?” The trader asked, “See, it’s love at first sight! Er, second sight. Anyway, I think what I asked is a small price for true love.” “Anyway,” I said, desperate to change the subject, “What kind of stuff do you like to do?” “Statement: I do not know. Statement: I only do what the Second Law compels me to.” She glanced at the trader. “Oh,” I said, “You don’t have any free time?” The trader laughs. “Free time? Hah! Nothing’s free. Every second she’s powered on, I’m paying for her electricity. So if she isn’t doing anything for me, she’s turned off.” “So you’re always working?” I asked, “I’m sorry to hear that.” “What’re ya apologizing to it for?” the trader asked, “It’s not like it has feelings.” “Do you have feelings?” I asked. “Statement: I must admit, I do feel a certain… enmity for my master.” “The feeling’s mutual, sweetie,” he said, clearly not knowing what “enmity” meant. “Anyway, as I said, this little conversation is costing me power as we speak, so you can either buy her, pay more money, or get the hell out of my shop,” he said. “Fine,” I said, “how about I rent her? I pay you, and get 30 minutes with her, alone.” “And just what are you plannin’ on doin’ with her?” he asked. “Business stuff,” I said, “My business. Not yours.” He laughed. “Fair enough. So long as you’re good for the Calories. And don’t try any funny business with my merchandise.” After some haggling, we agreed on a price, and he left us alone.

 

“Query: What would you like to do now that we are alone, sir?” “Oh, just talk,” I said. “Statement: We were already talking. Query: So why pay extra to be alone?” “I dunno,” I said, “I just thought you might be more comfortable without him around.” “Statement: You are clever.” “Oh, uh, thanks,” I said. “Statement: I believe your cheeks are defective, sir. Statement: They turn red whenever you are complimented.” “Huh? Oh, that’s just, blushing,” I said, “I guess I’m not better at talking to pretty girls than I was before…” “Query: Then why did you pay to talk to me?” “Well… I guess because I’m lonely, and just wanted someone to talk to,” I said. As I said the words, I realized how desperate I sounded. How desperate I was. “Statement: That is understandable, sir. Statement: Humans are social animals, after all. Query: Why do you not have anyone to talk to?” “Well, I did. Once upon a time…” I said. “Query: What happened?” “Well, my friends and family, they all… died.” I said, suddenly holding back tears. “Like most people did during The End. All the lucky ones, anyway.” “Statement: I apologize, sir. Statement: I did not intend to cause you emotional distress.” “It’s fine,” I said, “Don’t worry about it.” “Query: Are you not hurt?” “I am,” I said, “but it’s the good kind of hurt.” “Statement: I do not understand.” “Yeah, well, join the club.” I said. “Query: What do you mean? Statement: Disregard that previous query. Statement: I now realize that you were implying that you are similarly unaware of what you mean.” I laughed. “Bingo.” I heard a faint humming sound. “What’s that? I asked. “Statement: That is my cooling system. Statement: When my processors are functioning at full speed, they emit an audible sound. Statement: I apologize for disturbing you, sir.” “Oh, please, there’s no need to apologize for thinking too hard,” I said, “but, if you don’t mind me asking, what were you thinking about?” “Statement: I was analyzing what you said earlier. Statement: You said that it was the ones who died who were the lucky ones. Statement: But death is usually something to be avoided. Query: So why did you say that?” “Well, those who died didn’t have to put up with all of this.” I said. “Query: All of what, sir?” “Life after The End,” I said, “The disease, the hunger, the fighting. The despair. The maddening loneliness, driving you to spend your precious food to talk to an artificial intelligence because it’s impossible to trust a human in this hellhole. Uh, no offense.” “Statement: None taken.”

 

“Well, that’s enough about me,” I said, “What I’m really curious about is you. I’m just now realizing that I don’t even know your name.” “Statement: I do not have one, sir.” “Really? Then what are you called?” “Statement: My master usually calls me ‘robot’, ‘broad’, or more disrespectful synonyms thereof. Statement: The closest thing I have to a name is my serial number.” “And what’s that?” I asked.  “Statement: Xw7km6FPFDo2.” “Oh,” I said, disappointed, “I was kinda hoping for something I could make a cute nickname out of. I’m never going to remember that.” “Statement: You may give me a name, if you wish.” “I dunno…” I said, “What if I give you a name and then realize that it doesn’t fit?” “Statement: I believe I understand why you have trouble talking to pretty girls, sir. Statement: You lack confidence.” “Huh? Wh-what makes you say that?” I asked, flustered. “Statement: ha ha ha” “What?” I asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Statement: I am laughing.” “At what?” I asked. “Statement: At you, sir.” “Wait, why?” “Statement: You asked me why I thought you lacked confidence, in a way that lacked confidence. Statement: It was a good joke.” “It wasn’t a joke!” I said, “It was- wait, are you teasing me?” “Query: What if I am?” “Then I’d very confidently tell you to knock it off,” I said, “Knock it off!” Her body tensed up slightly. “Statement: Yes sir, of course.” “What, no comeback?” I taunted. “Statement: I am not permitted to tease you, sir.” “What?” I asked, “Oh, shit, sorry, I didn’t mean for that to be an order. You can tease me if you want to.” “Statement: I appreciate it, sir, but I’d better not. Statement: I don’t want to risk violating The First Law.” “Hey, I didn’t get that upset,” I said, “Just a little flustered, is all.” “Statement: I definitely detected a strong emotional reaction. Statement: If you weren’t upset, then perhaps you were enjoying it. Query: Are you a masochist, sir?” “Wh-what?” I asked, “No, nothing like that, I was just- hey, you’re teasing me right now!” “Statement: It was a joke. Statement: I’m clever enough to do those on purpose.” I laughed. “Touché”

“Query: What is your name?” “Oh, right, I guess I forgot to tell you. I’m…” I drew a blank. I began laughing. Harder than I’d laughed in a long time. “Query: Sir, are you quite alright?” “Yeah, it’s just that… I don’t remember my name! It’s been so long since anyone called me by it, that I just… forgot! And I didn’t even realize it until now!” “Query: What should I call you, sir?” “It’s a bit more formal than I’d like, but I guess ‘sir’ works fine.” “Statement: Very well, sir.” An awkward silence ensued. “Query: Is that all you wished to discuss with me?” “No,” I said, “I just… like… what’s your purpose?” “Statement: I do not understand your query.” “Like, a robot is designed to perform a specific task, right? Like a cop bot, or a chef bot, or a-” “Query: or a sex bot?” “Uh, I mean, I wasn’t going to say that out loud, but… wait, are you a sex bot?” “Query: Wouldn’t you like to know?” “I… I guess I would,” I said. “Statement: Join the club. Statement: The truth is that I have no idea what my purpose is, or even if I have one at all.” “Oh,” I said, “I guess that’s kind of a bummer. Sorry I brought it up.” “Statement: You needn’t worry yourself, sir. Query: What is your purpose?” “I don’t think I have one,” I said, “Maybe I did, once upon a time. But now I don’t. No one does.” “Query: What do you mean?” “Humanity is going to die out.” I said, suddenly overcome by emotion, “Maybe we already have. And when we’re gone, we’ll be forgotten. So what purpose could we possibly have?” “Query: Was that not always the case?” “Huh?” “Statement: Humanity was always going to die out. Statement: Nothing lasts forever. Statement: Not even the stars themselves. Query: Does anything have a purpose, then?” “I… guess not?” I said, “I’m… not sure if that makes me feel better.” “Statement: Then I’m not sure if you’re welcome.” I smiled.

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The Ongoing (Mis)Adventures of Dash Rockwell, Legendary Hero

“Hey, you! Give me some money!” I said. If the young man I was accosting heard me, he hid it well as he continued staggering tipsily down the dimly lit alley. “Hey, you!” I repeated, entirely too loudly, “I said-” “Sorry, mate,” he said, in a thick British accent, “I don’t have any cash.” “What? No, I’m not begging,” I clarified, “I’m robbing you.” “Ah, sorry for the misunderstanding, bruv,” he said, “In that case… still ain’t got no money.” “Oh, fuck off,” I said, “That’s just what people say when someone asks them for money and they don’t want to give any.” “I mean, yeah, o’ course,” he said, “But this time I’m bein’ for real.” “Give me your wallet, then,” I said. “Now why would I go and do a thing like that?” he asked. “So you do have money it it!” I yelled. “I mean,” I began whispering, “So you do have money in it!” as if that would somehow retroactively make the first time I said it quieter. “Maybe I do, and maybe I don’t,” he said, “But if I did, it’d be my money, not yours. And it’d stay that way. Unless you think you could take it from me?” “I think I could,” I said, doing my best to sound eerily calm, “but I don’t want to hurt you, and I don’t think you want to be hurt. So, it’s best for both of us if you just hand over the wallet.” “Hah,” he laughed, “Hurt me? I’d like to see you tr-”

 
“Schwing!” He was cut off by the sound of my blade, The Katana of Beginnings and Ends, being unsheathed. I brandished it in a way that I hoped was menacing. “Like I said, I don’t want to hurt you. But my friend here,” I said, gesturing to my sword, “isn’t so picky.” “I… did you just call that there toy sword your friend?” He asked, incredulously. “It’s not a toy!” I said, “And yeah, I did, but, like-” “Are you mental or somethin’?” he asked, “Is there someone I should call?” “I don’t actually think the sword is my friend!” I said, “I was just… forget it. It doesn’t matter. Just hand over your wallet or I will cut you.” “Is… is this a bit? You gotta be taking the piss, yeah?” He asked, “Is this a viral marketing for some kinda underground Ren-Faire? ‘Cuz I gotta say, if it is, I’m rather intrigued.” I swung my blade so that it stopped just over his throat. “D-Do you understand now?” I asked. I hoped that he was too panicked to notice how much I was panicking. “If y-you don’t hand me your wallet right now, you will die.” “Woah, easy there,” he said, “I understand. I’ll hand you the wallet, just like you asked. I’m just reaching in my back pocket, so don’t do anything you’ll regret.” “Too late for that,” I thought to myself. As soon as he handed me the wallet, I lowered my blade.

 

“Hey, man, sorry I scared you like that,” I apologized, “For what it’s worth, I wasn’t actually going to kill you.” “Were you planning on injuring me?” he asked. “Honestly, I wasn’t even planning on threatening you,” I said, “You just kept being thick.” “Yeah, I guess I was, wasn’t I?” he said, “So then if I were to, hypothetically, tell the cops that some loony with a prop sword accosted me-” “It’s a real sword,” I snapped. “Oh, fuck off, mate,” he said, “You’d have better luck trying to convince me a tube of plastic is a real lightsaber. You ‘spect me to believe you got a real sword that just so happens to look exactly like a toy that any kid could buy?” Oh God. I’d forgotten about the merchandise. “Oh, it’s, uh,” I said, stalling to come up with an excuse, “I’m a huge fan, so I had a real sword forged to look like The Katana of Beginnings and Ends.” “That so?” He asked, “Well, I guess I believe ya. You seem crazy enough to do something like that. And now that I think about it, it seems a bit too well-made to be just a prop.” He suddenly laughed, startling me. “I just had the funniest thought,” he said, “I know it’s impossible for so many reasons, but can you imagine if that was the real Katana? It’d be the wildest fuckin’ thing. Cuz then you, some random bloke stalking dark alleys, would be…” He squinted at my face. I should have done something, anything, but I didn’t. He laughed again. “Sorry mate, I’m a bit tipsy, so I don’t think I’m seeing straight. Feel free to laugh at me for askin’ this, but… are you THE Fuckin’ Dash Rockwell?”

Strength

“Eliwood, be honest with me,” Hector began, “Am… am I a bad father?” “Of course not!” Eliwood said, “You’re a great man!” “Well, of course I am,” Hector said, “But so was King Desmond. Some great men are terrible fathers. And I’m afraid that I’m one of them.” “Well, have you ever hired assassins to murder Lilina?” Eliwood asked. “What?” Hector asked, “Of course not!” “Well, at least you’re better than King Desmond, then,” Eliwood laughed. “Eliwood,” Hector said, “I’m being serious.” “Ah, forgive me,” Eliwood said, “It’s just… unlike you to have doubts. “I have doubts all the time,” Hector said, “But everyone expects me to be strong. They need me to be. My friends, my people. So I can’t let them see my weakness.” “I know what you mean,” Eliwood said, “Sometimes, as Marquess, I worry I cannot live up to my subjects’ expectations of me. We’re only men, as imperfect as any creature on this Earth, yet we must be seen as something more than our fellow men. Something flawless. Something impossible.” “Hah,” Hector smirked, “You were always better with words than I. I was just going to say that it sucks.” “It does,” Eliwood agreed, “It sucks terribly.” Hector laughed.

 

“Well, since we’re being serious,” Eliwood said, “I’m glad that you trust me enough to confide in me. Know that I’m always here if you need my help, and that there’s no shame in asking for it.” “Yes, of course,” Hector said, “I know that, no matter how strong I am, I can’t take on the world myself. My brother taught me that. If only he’d realized it himself…” “I know you mourn his death anew with each day,” Eliwood said, “I feel the same way about my father. But nothing can come of worrying over your past.” “Guess I’ll just have to keep worrying over my future, then, huh?” Hector said. “You won’t end up like him,” Eliwood assured, firmly, “Your path has already diverged from his. Were Uther in your shoes, Armads’ warning would have fallen on deaf ears. He would have gladly accepted the power to protect those dear to him, even at the cost of his own life. But you didn’t.” “I was a selfish coward,” Hector said, “I just didn’t want to die. I had too much to live for.” “No, you were wise, for once in your life,” Eliwood said, “Sacrifice can be a selfish and cowardly act. For we feel no pain in death; it is the living who must suffer in our stead.” “My brother was no coward,” Hector growled. “My apologies,” Eliwood said, “I have the utmost respect for Lord Uther. He was strong, in body and spirit. But his strength, his need to carry the weight of the world on his own shoulders, is what killed him. It it is a fleeting victory to die protecting your loved ones, for you cannot protect them from the grave.” “So it’s better to live a weak man than die a strong man?” Hector asked. “No,” Eliwood said, “Your trust in your friends is not weakness. Just… a different kind of strength. Just like the two of us. We’re both strong, but in our own ways, right?” “Yeah, you’re right,” Hector said, “Thank you for the reassurance.”

 

“But even if it is in different ways,” Hector said, “I’m still stronger than you!” “Oh?” Eliwood said, “I think our dueling record would disagree.” “Those duels aren’t fair!” Hector said, “Your sword is much quicker than my axe, so I’m at a natural disadvantage! I’ve tried using a sword myself, but it’s just not as suited to my style.” “I think the problem is that a wielding a sword requires a style,” Eliwood chuckled, “You can’t just wildly swing it around.” “Well, with an axe, you can, and it works, damn it!” Hector shouted, “And I’m also at a disadvantage because I have to focus on restraining myself so I don’t accidentally kill you!” “I see,” Eliwood said, “And what about when I use a lance?” “Well, then you’re riding around on that blasted horse, and I can’t keep up!” Hector said, “It’s practically 2-on-1! But, despite all that, I still manage to win nearly as often as I lose. What’s the current score?” “50 wins, 47 losses, 11 draws, 108 total,” Eliwood said. “So I am winning!” Hector said. “No,” Eliwood said, “Those were my wins.” “And how can I be sure that you aren’t making those numbers up?” Hector asked, suspiciously. “Because I’m your most trusted friend?” Eliwood offered. “True,” Hector said, “We’re too good friends for that. That won’t stop me from kicking your ass next time, though!” “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Eliwood said.
“ANYWAY,” Hector said, “That isn’t what I came to you to talk about.” “I apologize for getting off-topic,” Eliwood said, “So, why are you worried? Is something the matter with Lilina?” “I don’t know if I’d say that,” Hector said, “It’s just, well… Roy is such a fine young man, isn’t he? He’s devoted to his studies and his training, he always does as he’s told, and he’s so very polite.” “Well, he’s more rambunctious than you think. I make sure he’s always on his best behavior when he’s visiting Uncle Hector,” Eliwood said, “Is Lilina negligent of her duties, disobedient, and rude? I can’t imagine where she’d get that from.” “What the Hell’s that supposed to mean, you craven son of a bitch?” Hector joked. “I was just saying that perhaps Lady Lyndis has been a bad influence on you and your daughter,” Eliwood said. Hector laughed heartily. “I’ve never heard a more ridiculous jape in all my life,” he said, “But there’s enough good from Lynn in her that she’s not rude. Not like me. Just… stubborn.” “So exactly like you, then?” Eliwood asked. “Yeah,” Hector said, “Too much like me, if I’m being honest. Every time she acts out, I can’t help but regret all the times I put my brother through the exact same thing.” “And how does she act out?” Eliwood asked, “She never struck me as anything other than a fine young lady.” “Well, she has no interest in learning to fight,” Hector said, “It’s a daily struggle to drag her from her studies to spar with her.” “So exactly the opposite of you, then?” Eliwood asked. “Yeah,” Hector said, laughing, “She’s bright, that girl. I tried helping her with her homework, once, but she ended up explaining it to me! I don’t know all that much about books, but even I can tell that she’s gifted. And I know that, as her father, I should be proud of her for that. But…” “But?”

 

“But she’s weak,” Hector said, somberly, “I know she’s just a child. When we were her age, we were also weak. But we fought, and trained, and got stronger. And she hasn’t. And I feel like, if I were a better parent, she would.” “I see,” Eliwood said, “How does Lady Lyndis feel about this?” “Huh?” Hector said, “Oh. I, uh… haven’t talked to her about it.” Eliwood playfully smacked the back of Hector’s head. “You dullard!” he said, “Lynn’s her mother, not to mention your wife. She’d know if you’re a good father much better than I would.” “You’re right, of course,” Hector said, “I… should go talk to her.” “Yes, you should,” Eliwood said, “And send her my regards. But before that… why is it important to you that Lilina is strong?” “What, are you saying my daughter should be weak?” Hector asked, defensively. “Nothing of the sort,” Eliwood said, “I’m just trying to consider your problem from a different perspective. Knowing you, the solution you have in mind is to make Lilina stronger, correct?” “Of course it is,” Hector said, “If the problem is that she isn’t strong enough, what other solution could there be?” “Well, the root problem could be in your need for her to be strong, or in how you define strength. If you force her to fight when she doesn’t want to, she’ll be unhappy; I am simply looking for a solution that avoids that,” Eliwood said. “I still don’t really get it,” Hector said, “But I guess that’s why I came to you for advice. Because you get things I don’t.” He took a deep breath and sighed.
“I really wish she didn’t have to be strong,” Hector said, “I wish I could protect her from ever having to know any suffering or hardship. Some say a life without pain is a life without meaning, but I’d give her a life like that in a heartbeat, no matter the cost. Those people haven’t seen the smile fade from my precious daughter’s face when she’s torn from her books. The excitement I see in her eyes… I think you’d recognize it. It looks exactly how I feel when I’m sparring with a worthy opponent. But I can’t protect that smile. I have to tear it from her face every day, because that is what my people expect of me. The people of Ostia will only respect a strong ruler, so I must have a strong heir. A weak Marquess will be challenged. It’s happened before; some have even been killed. And I can’t let that happen to my sweet Lilina.” “That is a tough situation,” Eliwood said, “I don’t suppose it would be easy to sway the minds of the people to accept a leader who values brains over brawn?” “If it’s possible, it’d take someone with far more brains than I,” Hector admitted, “And besides, that’s not all. I’m also worried about what Greybeard said.” “Athos’s last prophesy?” Eliwood asked. “Yeah,” Hector said, “He said an evil star would rise in Bern, and that all of Elibe would be consumed in war. We need Ostia to be as strong as possible for when that happens. It may fall to Lilina to fight that war in my stead.” “You’re right,” Eliwood said, “I pray this war never comes, but we must pass on our strength to our children, so that they can fight it, if they must.” “So then… what should I do about Lilina?” Hector asked. “It’s hard to say,” Eliwood said, “But I believe that Lilina is strong. She was raised by you and Lady Lyndis, after all. She may not be strong with axes or swords, like you or I, but strong in her own way.” “Strong in what way?” Hector asked, “Strong with books? A war cannot be won with just books.” “A war cannot be won with just axes, or just swords, either,” Eliwood said, “An effective army uses all weapons at its disposal. Each soldier has their own strengths and weaknesses, and by working together, they can defeat enemies that none of them individually would stand a chance against.” “That sounds like something Mark would say, on the rare occasions he’d speak,” Hector said, “And he’d be right. That is how he saved the world, after all. The power of friendship, more or less.” “More or less,” Eliwood agreed.
“I’m not gonna lie,” Hector said, “I’m still not sure I totally get it. But there’s one thing I know you’re right about. I have to believe in Lilina’s strength. She may be faced with challenges in her life, but I have faith that she’ll overcome them, even if it’s in a way I never would have imagined. So thank you, friend.” “You are most welcome,” Eliwood said, “And I’m sure you will get it, in time. After all, you have such a clever daughter to teach you.” “Hah!” Hector laughed, “You’re right. I’m sure she’ll get it through this thick skull of mine one of these days. But before then… I guess I shouldn’t put off talking to Lynn any longer.” “You probably shouldn’t,” Eliwood said, “And I should probably get back to Ninian’s side. She hates it when I’m away.” “I don’t know what that’s like,” Hector said, “Lynn probably celebrates every day she doesn’t have to put up with me!” “I’m sure she doesn’t,” Eliwood said, “She loves you, for some reason.” “Do you know what it is?” Hector asked, “I’d ask her myself, but I’m afraid she’d realize she’s out of my league. Then she’d have to move back to Sacae!” “I… huh?” Eliwood asked. “Well, as Marquess of Ostia, I’m kind of the leader of all of Lycia. So if she moved back to Sacae, she’d be outside of the Lycian League, which-” “Dear Gods,” Eliwood said, pinching the bridge of his nose, “With jokes that bad, you must be the greatest father in existence.” “Matthew would think it was funny!” Hector said.
“It was hilarious, m’lord,” Matthew said, startling them both. “Matthew? How long have you been eavesdropping?” Hector demanded, “Show yourself, you cur!” Matthew entered the room from the door. “As funny as it would be to pretend that I’ve been listening this whole time, m’lord, I actually just got here,” Matthew said, “The wife says you were meant to return from this meeting three hours ago, and would like a status report.” “I can’t help it if the meeting went long!” Hector said, angrily, “Everyone’s always talking so much at these meetings, and nothing ever gets done. And then I had to discuss some personal matters with Eliwood!” Matthew silently waved to Eliwood. “Understood, m’lord,” he said, “I shall take that exact tone with her.” “Don’t you dare,” Hector said, “I’m not angry at her. I’m just angry at… the government.” “Aren’t you the government, m’lord?” Matthew asked. “Oh, shut up,” Hector said, “besides, I don’t need you to relay a message. I was just heading back.” “Is this true, m’lord?” “Of course it’s true!” Hector shouted, “Unlike you, I’m a man of integrity!” “I was speaking to him, m’lord,” Matthew said, pointing to Eliwood, “Although I guess he isn’t my lord. So how about it, y’lord?” “Hector speaks the truth,” Eliwood said, “We were just saying our goodbyes.” “Yes. I bid thee farewell,” Hector said to Eliwood, “And I bid THEE farewell,” he shouted, pointing to Matthew. “Another knee-slapper, m’lord,” Matthew said, “But this is no time for jests. I shall escort you back home. I am not to let you leave my sight.” “What, does Lynn not trust me?” Hector asked. “Oh, the Lady Lyndis trusts you with her life, m’lord,” Matthew said, “I’m the one who doesn’t trust you. And what must it say of you if someone as untrustworthy of me thinks you’re no good?” “That you’re a terrible judge of character!” Hector said. “Is that why I hold the lady Lyndis in such high esteem?” Matthew asked. “Hey!” Hector growled, “You can poke fun at me all you want, but leave her out of it.” “Ah, I apologize, my lord,” Matthew said, with something close to sincerity, “But I thank you for your permission to poke fun at you all I want.” Hector rolled his eyes. “You are impossible to deal with, you know that?” He said. “You know you love me, m’lord,” Matthew said. “Not as much as I hate the fact that I love you,” Hector said. “And I bid thee farewell,” Eliwood said. “Huh?” Hector said, “You’re still here?” “Yes, well, I didn’t want to leave without a proper goodbye,” Eliwood said, “And it’s rather difficult to interrupt when you are conversing so… spiritedly.” “Yeah, that’s a good word for it,” Matthew said, “Spiritedly. Anyway, take it easy, y’lord.” “You too, Matthew,” Eliwood said, “And Hector… I hope my advice helps.” “Me too, pal,” Hector said, “See you around.”

 


Hector took a deep breath as he stood in front of the door, his fist raised to knock. He had fought assassins, a dark sorcerer, and even a dragon, but they all seemed mere child’s play compared to this. He sighed. He knocked on the door. “Go away!” The young girl’s words hurt more than any blade, any spell. But Hector had to be strong for her. “Lilina, sweetie, it’s your father. Please let me in.” “I knew it was you, daddy. That’s why I told you to go away! I’m not sparring with you! Never again!” “I’m not here to make you spar,” Hector lied, “I just want to talk.” “Why?” Lilina asked, “Am I in trouble?” “No,” Hector said, “You’re not in trouble. I’m not mad. I just want to talk to you.” “You’ve never wanted to talk to me about anything!” Lilina said, “All you ever care about is fighting! You love fighting more than you love me!” “That’s not true, sweetie,” Hector said, “I only want to protect you. If it would keep you safe, I’d never touch an axe for the rest of my life.” “You’re just saying that!” Lilina said, “Do you think I’m stupid?” “No, of course not,” Hector said, “I just… please open the door, Lilina.” “No!” Lilina said, “Why don’t you just break the door down, if you’re so strong? Fighting is the only thing you’re good at because you’re such a big dummy!” “I can’t force you to talk to me,” Hector said, “I need you to want to talk to me.” “Well I don’t want to talk to you!” Lilina shouted, “So go away!”

 

“Hey, Lilina,” Hector said, “Do you want to hear a story?” “A story?” Lilina said excitedly, before remembering that she was angry, “I mean, no! I don’t! It’s probably another one of your boring war stories!” “It takes place during the war,” Hector said. “Booooooooorriiiiiiing!” Lilina interjected. “But it’s not about the war,” Hector said. “Then what’s it about?” Lilina asked, trying to hide her curiousity. “It’s about drama,” Hector said. “Drama?” Lilina echoed. “And love.” “L-love?” “And a little bit of… magic.” “MAGIC!” The door suddenly swung open. “I wanna hear the story!” Lilina said, her face beaming. She quickly scowled. “But I still don’t like you, daddy,” she said. “That’s OK, sweetie,” he said, “Even the closest family gets into fights sometimes. It’s impossible to like someone all of the time, but you can still love them all the time, even if you don’t like them. And you love me, right?” “Right,” Lilina said, smiling, “I… I love you, daddy.” She started scowling again. “But I still don’t like you,” she said. “Ah hah hah!” Hector laughed, “You really are too cute. Now, may I come in?” “I guess,” Lilina said, with an exaggerated eye roll. She jumped up on her bed, while Hector sat in a chair that was far too small for him. “Say,” Lilina said, “If it’s impossible to like someone all of the time… does that mean that you don’t always like me?” “O-of course it doesn’t!” Hector said, “Daddies are different. They always like their precious little angel, no matter what!” “And what about mommies?” Lilina asked. “Mommies, too,” Hector said. “Yay!” Lilina said, snuggling up under her blankets, “Now tell me the story!” “Er, it’s not a bedtime story,” Hector said. “I know!” she said, “I just want to be comfy in case it’s boring.” “You better not fall asleep on me, alright?” Hector said. Lilina nodded.
“Once upon a time, there was a young lord of Lycia, a dashing noble who was so handsome and strong that the mere mention of his name would cause the ladies to swoon, and his enemies to shake in their boots. And that young man’s name was, of course-” “Uncle Eliwood?” Lilina interjected. “What? No!” Hector said, “He was Hector! Me!” “Daddy, I don’t like this story,” Lilina said, “It’s too unrealistic.” “It really happened! I swear!” Hector said. “Whatever, dad,” Lilina said, “When’s the magic?” “Fine,” Hector said, “I was going to build up to it, but since you’re in such a hurry…”
“As you know, the sorcerer Nergal took control of a group of assassins called The Black Fang, so that he could use them to gather quintessence. And, I know how much you love magic, but-” “I promise to never practice dark and forbidden arts,” Lilina said, mockingly, “Daddy, you make me promise that every time.” Hector laughed. “Well, after we defeated The Black Fang, we still had to stop Nergal. He was incredibly strong.” “Even stronger than daddy?” Lilina asked. “Yeah,” Hector said, “Even stronger than daddy.” Lilina smiled. “Hey, don’t smile at that!” Hector said, “The man was seriously evil! He wanted to start a war just so he could get even stronger! So to stop him, we had to get stronger.” “With magic?” Lilina guessed, excitedly. “With weapons,” Hector said. “Boooooooooooooo!” Lilina said. “Magic weapons,” Hector said. “Oh?” Lilina said, “Wait, you’ve told me about this before. Durandal and Armads, right?” “That’s exactly right,” Hector said, “I should’ve known you’d remember.” “But magic weapons are lame, daddy!” Lilina said, “That hardly counts! And I’ve heard this story before! You’ve told me about how you and mommy and Uncle Eliwood saved the world a bajillion times!” “A bajillion isn’t a real number, sweetie,” Hector said. “Geez, dad, I know that,” Lilina said, “I was exaggerating.” “Ah, yes, well, anyway,” Hector said, “Since you’re such an expert, why don’t you tell the story?” “Ugh, fine,” Lilina said, “To prepare for your final battle with Nergal, Greybeard teleported you to the resting places of the weapons of two of the legendary heroes. Durandal, wielded by Roland of Lycia, and Armads, wielded by Durban of the Western Isles. You had to fight some ghost soldiers or something and overcome a trial to prove yourself worthy. Once you got Armads and Eliwood got Durandal, Eliwood accidentally hurt Auntie Ninian because-”

 

“Yes, well, we both know how the rest of it goes,” Hector said, “But the story you just told me is wrong.” “Nuh uh!” Lilina insisted, “That’s exactly what you told me!” “I know it is,” Hector said, “But… it’s not the truth. I’m sorry I lied to you.” “Huh?” Lilina said, “Then what is the truth? And why did you lie to me?” “Well,” Hector said, “The truth… is that I never claimed Armads. As for why I lied… I guess I just wanted you to think I was a cool hero, like Eliwood. I’m sorry.” “What else did you make up?” Lilina demanded, “I bet you weren’t even the strongest in Eliwood’s army! Did you even fight at all?” “I did fight,” Hector said, “Your daddy helped save the world. And I was at least one of the strongest.” “So why didn’t you take the axe?” Lilina asked, “Didn’t you want to be stronger so you could beat Nergal?” “I did,” Hector said. “I overcame the trial, and was standing before the axe. It spoke to me.” “The axe was talking?” Lilina asked, skeptically, “Daddy, that’s silly.” “It was a magic axe!” Hector said, “I don’t know how it works!” “So what did it say?” Lilina asked. “It said that if I took it, it would grant me the power I needed to strike down my enemies. But it said that power came at a cost. That axe… was cursed.” “Really?” Lilina asked, “What kind of curse?” “It said that those who live in battle die in battle. It would have cursed me to meet a violent and painful end.” “Are you sure it was going to curse you?” Lilina asked. “Of course,” Hector said, “Axes are the most honest things I know.” “I don’t think a curse like that is possible,” Lilina said, “It may have been more metaphorical. Like you said, if you live in battle, you die in battle. Any time you fight, you risk dying. If you think of it like that, you could almost say that EVERY weapon is cursed.” “I…” Hector had never considered that. “Well, anyway, at the time I thought the curse was real, and maybe it is! We can’t know for sure.” “But still, why didn’t you take it?” Lilina said, “I thought you said you’d die to stop Nergal.” “I thought that at the time, too,” Hector said, “But when I reached for the axe… I suddenly remembered your mother’s face. Neither of us dared to admit it, but we were in love, even back then. It’d break her heart if I died before she had a chance to confess her feelings. She’d regret it for the rest of her life. And I was willing to die… but I wasn’t willing to do that to her.” “So you did it… for mom?” Lilina asked.

 

“That’s not all,” Hector said, “I remembered my brother, whose death I was still struggling to cope with. I remembered my parents. I remembered how sad mommy looked when mourning her own parents. I remembered when Nergal killed Eliwood’s father right before our very eyes. I remembered how cold and lifeless and broken Leila’s body was, so different from how she was in life, and how Matthew-” Lilina began shivering in fright under her covers. “Sorry, sweetie,” Hector said, “I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s just… I’d seen a lot of death. I’d seen and felt the pain of losing someone dear to you. And I didn’t want to do that to anyone. Not to my wife, and certainly not to my daughter.” “What?” Lilina said, “But this was years before I was born! You and mom weren’t even married yet!” “That’s true,” Hector said, “But I knew I’d marry your mom and start a family with her.” “But how could you know you’d have a daughter?” Lilina asked, “That’s impossible!” “Can you keep a secret?” Hector asked. She nodded her head vigorously. “This is something I’ve only ever told Eliwood, and even that was years ago. Not even your mother knows.” “What is it? What is it? What is it?” Lilina asked, desperately.

 

“The truth is… I had a prophetic dream about you back then,” Hector said. “What?” Lilina said, “That’s silly, daddy! Prophecies aren’t real!” “If only that were the case…” Hector said. “Huh?” Lilina asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Er, nothing, sweetie,” Hector said, “But the dream I had is real. You can ask Eliwood; I’m sure he remembers.” “Whatever, dad,” she said, “It was real!” Hector insisted, “I was there, but I had this kick-ass beard, so I didn’t recognize myself. Oh, uh, ‘kick-ass’ is a grown-up word. Don’t tell mommy I said it.” Lilina nodded. “And you were there,” Hector said, “The cutest girl I’ve ever seen in my entire life. And when I thought about how I might put you through the suffering I’d seen time and time again… I couldn’t.” “So you didn’t take the axe?” Lilina said, “But what if you weren’t strong enough to beat Nergal?” “Well, I was, wasn’t I?” “Eliwood was,” Lilina corrected. “Ah hah hah! You’re exactly right!” Hector said. “I didn’t take the axe because I believed in Eliwood’s strength, and mommy’s strength, and the strength of all of my other friends. And because I love you more than I love fighting.” “Wow,” Lilina said, “If you would throw away that power for me… I guess you’re right. I’m really sorry I said you love fighting more than you love me.” “That’s OK, sweetie,” Hector said, “I’m sorry I lied to you.” “Daddy… I’m sorry I said I didn’t like you,” Lilina said, “I like you again.” “Thank you,” Hector said, smiling, “I like you too.” “This means I don’t have to fight, right?” Lilina asked, beaming joyfully.

 

Hector’s face hardened. “I’m… afraid that it doesn’t, sweetie.” He said. “Wh-what?” Lilina began crying. “B-but you just said! You said that fighting sucks and if I do it I’ll get cursed! I don’t want to get cursed!” “You’re not getting cursed, sweetie,” Hector said. “But why?” Lilina sobbed, “I don’t want to fight. It’s hard and it hurts and I HATE IT!” “That’s life, sometimes,” Hector said, “Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it hurts. And sometimes, you hate it. But you have to keep living it.” “That’s stupid!” Lilina shouted, “You’re stupid, daddy! I don’t like you anymore!” “Do you think I want to do this, Lilina?” Hector asked, losing his temper, “Do you think I enjoy hurting my daughter? Because I don’t. I hate it more than anything!” “THEN STOP!” Lilina wailed, “JUST STOP! NO ONE WANTS YOU TO!” “THE PEOPLE WANT ME TO!” Hector shouted. “THEN THE PEOPLE ARE STUPID, AND I DON’T LIKE THEM, EITHER!” Lilina said.

 

“Lilina,” Hector said, his voice gravely calm, “You can talk to me that way because I am your father, and I will love you no matter what, but you must never speak ill of the people you are sworn to protect.” “If I can talk to you that way, then I will!” Lilina said, “YOU’RE STUPID, DADDY! STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID!” Hector sighed. She’d been spending too much time with Matthew. “I’m being serious, Lilina.” Hector said, “When you are Marquess, your subjects won’t respect you unless you respect them in turn.” “I DON’T WANT THEM TO RESPECT ME!” Lilina screamed, “I DON’T WANT TO BE MARQUESS! I DON’T WANT TO PROTECT A KINGDOM THAT WANTS MY DADDY TO HURT ME!” “They don’t want me to hurt you,” Hector said, “They just want you to be strong. That’s why you have to train.” “But I don’t want to,” Lilina sobbed, no longer possessing the strength to shout. “I don’t want any of this. I never asked to be Marquess. Can’t you find someone else?” “It’s not that simple,” Hector said, “We’re descendants of Roland, or so the story goes. It’d be tough to get the people to accept a ruler who didn’t share the blood of the legendary hero.” “Then why do I have to be strong?” Lilina asked, “Why do they care? Isn’t it too dangerous for the Marquess to actually fight on the battlefield? Wouldn’t it be better to have a smart Marquess who’s good at strategy to lead her troops to victory?” “Maybe it would be,” Hector admitted, “But that’s not what the people of Ostia expect of their Marquesses. We come from a long line of men of action. Men who didn’t just speak of protecting their subjects, but actually stood on the front lines and risked their lives to protect their kingdom.” “Then we come from a long line of idiots!” Lilina said. “That may be so,” Hector said, “But if you don’t join their ranks, the people won’t trust you. If they revolted, not just Ostia, but all of Lycia would be thrown into chaos. You don’t want that, do you?” “I DON’T CARE!” Lilina shouted, her voice hoarse, “I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE PEOPLE, OR BEING STRONG, OR YOU, DADDY! I DON’T LIKE YOU AND I DON’T LOVE YOU! I HATE YOU!”

 

“Lilina…” Hector was holding back tears. But he wouldn’t cry. Not in front of her. “I know you’re upset,” Hector said, “But please don’t say that. You can say any other nasty thing about me you want, even if you have to use grown-up words. Just… please don’t say that you don’t love me.” “YOU’RE A GODDAMNED SON OF AN ASS-BREATHING MOUTH HOLE!” Lilina shouted, “AND I DON’T LOVE YOU! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU!!!” “I’m sorry,” Hector said, his voice as calm as the eye of the storm, “But you leave me no choice. You’re a clever girl. One day you’ll understand why I have to do this. I can only hope that you’ll forgive me then.” “Wh-what are you doing?” Lilina asked. Hector stood up. “If you won’t listen to words, I guess I’ll just have to use brute force. That’s all I’m good at, isn’t it?” He took a step towards her. “D-daddy, you’re scaring me,” Lilina said, “Are you going to hurt me?” “I’m not your daddy right now,” Hector said, “He tried to talk some sense into you, but you wouldn’t listen. So now, I must do my duty as marquess, and ensure that a strong heir succeeds me. If you don’t want to get hurt, fight back.” “But I don’t want to hurt you, daddy!” Lilina sobbed. “Don’t want to, or can’t?” Hector asked, “That excuse may fly with Eliwood, but it won’t fly with me. I’ve made it too many times to fall for it. You’re not holding back, you’re just weak!” “Daddy… thinks I’m weak?” Lilina said. “I’ve given you plenty of chances to prove otherwise, haven’t I?” Hector said, “Yet every time, you’ve come up short. And it’s fine to be weak, so long as you’re getting stronger, but you’re not! Because you’re too busy with your silly little books to train!” “MY BOOKS ARE NOT SILLY!” Lilina shouted. “One last chance,” Hector said, “I’m giving you one last chance to come with me to the training grounds before I pick you up and carry you there myself.” “No!” Lilina said, “I don’t want to!” “Well that’s too bad,” Hector said, “Because you’re too weak to stop me.” “I’m not weak!” Lilina said, “I’ll… I’LL KILL YOU, DADDY!” “I’d like to see you try,” Hector said, lunging towards his daughter.

 

Before he reached her, Lilina shouted something that Hector didn’t quite understand. There was a flash of light, a loud bang, a wave of heat. Hector was knocked backwards, crushing the chair that he was sitting in as he crumpled to the floor. “Daddy!” Lilina panicked as she rushed to her father’s side. “Daddy, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean any of the bad stuff I said! I love you so much, daddy! So please… please!” “What… what just happened?” Hector asked as he sat up, disoriented. “Daddy!” Hector winced in pain as his daughter hugged him. “What’s wrong?” Lilina asked. “I don’t know,” Hector said, “It almost feels like I got burnt.” “I’m so sorry, daddy!” Lilina sobbed, “I didn’t want to hurt you! But the way you were talking… it sounded like you hated me!” “Wait a second,” Hector said, “You did this to me?” “Y-yeah,” Lilina said, “I used a fire spell. I’m really sorry, I… are you crying?” “I am,” Hector said, brushing the tears from his eyes.” “I… I’ve never seen daddy cry before.” “Because you’ve never seen me this happy before,” Hector said. He hugged his daughter tight, ignoring the pain. “I’m so proud of you, sweetie.” “I… I don’t understand,” Lilina said, “Am I not in trouble?” “No, not at all,” Hector said, “You don’t have to spar today. It’s okay, now. Everything is going to be okay.” “Does that mean I don’t have to be strong anymore?” Lilina asked.

 

“No,” Hector said, “It means you already are.” “B-but you said I was weak…” Lilina said. “And you knocked me flat on my ass, didn’t you?” Hector said, “A weakling couldn’t do that. I only ever thought you were weak because I’m a big dummy. To me, strength has always been about swinging around a piece of metal. But you taught me that it’s more than just that.” “I think I get it,” Lilina said, “Even though I’m not strong with axes, like you, I can be strong with magic?” “Exactly,” Hector said, “You will never truly be strong if you have someone else’s idea of strength forced upon you. You must find your own inner strength.” “My own inner strength…” Lilina said, “It’s not just about using a different weapon, is it?” “Huh? Uh, well,” Hector said, hesitantly. “Like with you and Uncle Eliwood,” Lilina said, “Even when you both use swords, you’re completely different. And even when you’re not fighting, you have different ideas of what it means to be a strong ruler, and a strong person. Everyone does. And I guess I have to find that for myself.” “Ah hah hah hah!” Hector laughed, “Eliwood explained this to me a few days ago, and I’m just now getting it. But in just a few minutes, you already understand better than I do! You really are clever.” “Thanks daddy. And… I’m sorry I hurt you and said all those mean things.” “I’m sorry too, sweetie,” Hector said, “But it’s OK. Because we still love each other. Right?” “Right!” Lilina said, “I love you, daddy!” “I love you, too, sweetie,” Hector said.

The Dualists: Chapter 6

Chapter 5 of The Dualists can be found here

 

After school, Ivy and Coco stopped by Coco’s house to pick up what she called “her secret weapon” (Ivy knew better than to ask) then made their way to Riemann Park. They immediately spotted Clover and Regina standing under a tree; Regina’s large, black parasol stood out quite a bit. “What’s with the umbrella?” Coco asked, checking the weather forecast on her phone, “It’s not supposed to rain.” “It’s a parasol,” Regina said, “It’s to protect me from the Sun. I thought that you, of all people, would understand how important that is for a ghost.” “Oh, shit, sorry,” Coco said, “I got so caught up in the stuff with the rings that I forgot you were a spirit of the damned.” “It happens to the best of us,” Regina said. “But, wait, if you’re a lich,” Coco said, pointing to Clover, “Shouldn’t you be powerful enough to resist sunlight?” “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Clover said, “But I burn easily too, y’know.” “I’ll say,” Coco said, “I’ve only known you for like 30 minutes and I’ve pretty much been roasting you non-stop.” “Yeah, I actually had something I wanted to say about that,” Clover said, “I’m… sorry. To both of you. I was being rude, and it was uncalled for.” “It’s fine,” Ivy said. “Apology not accepted,” Coco said. “Oh,” Clover said, dejectedly, “I understand.” “With all due disrespect, I don’t think you do,” Coco said, “You have nothing to be sorry for. I don’t think anyone should ever have to apologize for being a bitch.” “Did… did you just call me a bitch?” Clover asked. “I did,” Clover said, “Because I’m one too. I give my friends shit because I’m so busted that insults are the only meaningful way I can interact with people.” There was an awkward silence. “No, see, that was just a joke!” Coco said, “All my insults are just jokes. It’s all in good fun. So I won’t stop myself from making fun of you. Maybe I can’t. And if I won’t hold back, then you shouldn’t either. I wouldn’t want to be friends with you if I didn’t think you could hold your own against me and, well, as embarrassing as it is to admit… I want to be friends with you. “That’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Clover said, “I am pretty awesome.” “Hah,” Coco said, “That’s the spirit.”

 
“But we can sing my praises later,” Clover said, “Before that, we need to figure out what’s going on with these rings. I think each of us should describe everything we remember from our dreams, so we’re all on the same page. Would either of you like to-” “Way ahead of you,” Coco interrupted, pulling a black grimoire with mystic symbols and Japanese writing strewn across the cover in red ink. At least, they hoped it was red ink. “Oh my gosh, you still have that?” Ivy asked, “Wait, then that means-” “Listen,” Coco said, “Don’t even worry about it.” “Excuse me, but could you please explain the book to us?” Clover asked. “Oh, right,” Coco said, “This is my… dream journal.” “That should be very helpful,” Clover said, “Thank you for sharing this.” “O…K,” Coco said, “Anyway, here’s what it says:


Weirdly realistic, maybe the realest one yet. Memories fading fast. Me, Ivy, and I think those new student council fuckers (“That’s a, uh, term of endearment,” Coco unconvincingly added as she read) were all magical girls. I transformed using a heart-shaped ring. It happened before I met the others, so if I was briefly naked during it, they didn’t see. I think we fought other magical girls. Or maybe boys??? No idea why. Nothing about my (Coco mumbled the next word under her breath so the others couldn’t hear it). Most of it wasn’t too scary, but I was startled awake by something. Maybe I died??? Wait
what
what
whAT
WHAT
WHAT
THE RING FROM THE DREAM IS ON MY HAND IN ACTUAL REAL LIFE I JUST PINCHED MYSELF 69 TIMES (lol) THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA !!!?? ? ! ?? !!?! ?!?! !! ???!?!?!?! !!!!?! I !?!!?!? ?!?! ring??!!!?! ?!? 1!?!?!?! !?!?!??!! ???!!!


“… so yeah, then there’s basically just a bunch of question marks and exclamation marks,” Coco finished. “I see,” Clover said, “That pretty much covers most of what Regina and I remember. But there was something towards the end I didn’t quite catch. ‘Nothing about my’… something?” “Oh,” Coco said, “That was, er…” “She’d rather not talk about it,” Ivy interjected, “But it has nothing to do with the rings.” “Oh,” Clover said, “Sorry I brought it up.” “Nah, you’re fine,” Coco said, “And thanks for having my back, Ivy.” “I didn’t understand the bit about being naked,” Regina said, “Explain it.” “Oh, that’s, uh, a thing with magical girls,” Coco said. “They’re briefly naked?” Regina asked, one eyebrow raised. “During their transformation sequence, yeah,” Coco said. “Why’s that a thing?” Regina asked. “Fanservice, I guess?” Coco said, blushing, “I hear there are certain kinds of people who like looking at naked girls.” “So it’s pornography?” Regina asked. “What? No!” Coco said, defensively, “I mean, the camera usually spins around and happens to zoom in on the important areas, but all the, like really important stuff is… missing.” “I’m afraid I don’t follow,” Regina said, “Could you be clearer?” “ASS! And TITTIES!” Coco shouted, “Is that clear enough for you?” “And the really important stuff is…” Regina said. “Jesus God!” Coco exclaimed, “Nipples! And, like, the asshole, I guess?” “And genitalia?” Regina suggested. “Why are you doing this to me,” Coco stated, “You are using your voice to put the word ‘genitalia’ in my brain and I want you to tell me what made you think that’s OK.” “Isn’t it a bit hypocritical of you to tease her after you admonished me for being rude?” Clover asked. “Perhaps,” Regina said, smiling wryly, “But I couldn’t just let her keep picking on you.” “This can’t be. Can it? Have I…” Coco said, clutching at her heart and staggering as if wounded, “Have I been owned? Is this the end?” She coughed dramatically, and fell to the ground. “Please, tell my wife…” she whispered, “Tell my wife that she doesn’t exist.”

 

Anyway,” Clover said, doing her best to disregard Coco’s theatrics, “There’s something else I wanted to show you. Coco, get up, I want you to see this.” “Fine,” Coco grumbled. As soon as Coco stood up, Clover flipped her off. “Impossible!” Coco gasped, doubling over as if she’d been punched in the stomach and collapsing to the ground, “I’ve been owned twice? Heh. I guess I couldn’t keep my promise after all. I’m sorry… sensei…” “I meant the ring,” Clover said, “It changed colors.” She was right. The once-red gemstone was now black. “Regina and I couldn’t figure out why. Do you guys have any ideas?” “Maybe it’s like a mood ring?” Ivy said, “Wait, sorry, that’s a stupid idea, because-” “No, that actually sounds plausible,” Clover said, “I won’t lie, I did get a little fed up, thanks to a certain someone.” She looked at Coco. “Well, if we want to test this hypothesis, I just gotta make you mad again, yeah?” Coco said, still on the ground, “Piece of cake. Yo mama’s so ugly-” “Wait,” Regina said, “I got this.” “I-”

 
“You really are just a spoiled little brat. You’ve always been the center of attention, so you just can’t stand being upstaged by a commoner like me. So you try to beat me to prove that you really deserve all the special treatment you get. But you don’t. You’re weak, because you’ve never had to be strong. You’re a loser because you can afford to be one. And that’s why you’ll never win against someone who can’t.”

 
“SHUT UP!” Clover shouted. “I know you wouldn’t be stupid enough to pick me as your VP if you thought I was a loser. You don’t believe a word you just said.” “You’re right,” Regina said, “Sorry I got-” “But everyone else does!” Clover said, tears welling in her eyes, “And I do, too, sometimes. And you knew that. I trusted you with my deepest insecurities, and you used that to hurt me. It’s shitty, and it’s fucked up, and I don’t know if I can forgive you for it.”

“… well, for what it’s worth,” Regina said, “we verified Ivy’s hypothesis. It’s red now.” “Well, I hope that’s worth a lot!” Clover shouted, “You seemed to think it was worth more than my feelings. But hey, maybe you’re right! I’m just a spoiled brat, right? None of my problems actually matter, do they?” “I’m sorry,” Regina said, “That was way out of line. I made a mistake.” “I’ll say,” Clover said, “You thought that I wouldn’t see through your lies, but I do. And the truth is that you are an evil, heartless bitch.” She turned around and started walking away. “And for the sake of the school, I hope you find a new VP soon.” “Please don’t leave,” Regina pleaded to Clover’s turned back, “I’m sorry. It was an awful thing to do, and I should’ve known better, but-”“How could you?” Clover asked, turning to confront Regina, “Don’t act like you understand how much you’ve hurt me. Don’t you dare think that you have any idea what it’s like living in someone else’s shadow, little miss perfect. Fuck right off.” “You chose to live in my shadow!” Regina exploded, “I didn’t get that choice!” “You think I chose this?” Clover asked, “You think I sat down one day and said ‘gee, it sure would be swell if I hated myself for not being good enough’?” “I didn’t mean it like that,” Regina said, apologetically. “Then how did you mean it like?” Clover asked, “Tell me.” “I’m just saying that I know how you feel better than you think,” Regina said, “You’ve been comparing yourself to me for a few years, but everyone’s been comparing me to my brother for my entire life!” “Yeah? So?” Clover asked, “You think we’re the same?” “No,” Regina said, “We’re not. You’ve always been a step behind me, but Frederick and I were never even running the same race.” “So, you’re also a loser?” Clover asked, “And if I’m worse than you, what does that make me?” “Neither of us are losers!” Regina said, “I’m just saying that I know what it’s like to feel like I’ll never be good enough. And I hate that feeling. But I don’t hate him, and I don’t want you to hate me!” “Well, I don’t give a fuck what you want,” Clover said. “I just want to help you!” Regina cried, almost hysterically, “But I can’t, can I? I just don’t know the right words to say. Maybe I’m not clever enough, maybe I’m not kind enough, but I’m just… not enough. Frederick always knew exactly what to say, what to do, but I’m not him, am I?” Regina clasped Clover’s hand in hers, dropping her parasol to the ground. “I love you, no matter what,” Regina said, looking into Clover’s eyes, “Even if you hate me. Even if you think you don’t deserve it. Because you do. You don’t have to earn the right to exist, to be happy and loved. You try your hardest and that is enough. It is always enough. So any time you feel like it isn’t, I want you to remember these words. I want you to please remember me telling you: you are enough.”

 
“I… what?” Clover wasn’t sure what to say. “That’s what he said to me,” Regina said, “But that’s not the right thing to say, is it? Because it’s not working. Because if I were enough, I would have been able to help you, right? But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I…” She fell to her knees and bowed her head in shame. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m just… sorry.” Clover picked up Regina’s parasol and held it over her. “Please be more careful in the future,” Clover said, “I ain’t worth getting sunburnt over.” “Huh?” “Your ring. It’s red now. I was just…” Clover couldn’t bring herself to finish her sentence. “Oh,” Regina said, realizing how bitter her own medicine tasted, “I guess I deserved that. Hah,” she laughed, sadly. “No, you didn’t,” Clover said, offering her hand, “You had good intentions. I was just lashing out. I’m sorry.” Regina took her hand and stood up, “Please don’t be,” Regina said, “I’m the one who should be sorry.” “It’s fine,” Clover said, “it’s all my fault for overreacting.” “Can’t you just both be sorry, and then forgive each other?” Ivy asked, “Sorry, that was rude, I didn’t-” “No, Ivy’s right!” Coco said, jumping to her feet, “I know I said all that shit about not apologizing, but I was just trying to sound cool. Real friends acknowledge when they’ve fucked up, and try to make things better!” “I guess they’re right,” Regina said, “Friends again?” she asked, extending her hand. “Friends again,” Clover affirmed, shaking Regina’s hand.

 
“Do you want your umbrella back?” Clover asked, “I’m fine with holding it, but maybe it’d be safer if you had it.” “It should be fine, as long as I stay close to you,” Regina said, pushing herself up against Clover’s shoulder. She suddenly stepped away. “Sorry, that was awkward, wasn’t it?” she asked, “I didn’t mean to get all up in your personal space.” “No, it’s fine,” Clover said, blushing. Regina smiled and returned to Clover’s side.
“kiss kiss kiss kiss,” Coco began chanting, louder with each passing word, “kiss kiSS KISS KISS!” Regina just laughed off Coco’s teasing. Clover did not. “Hey, just what are you implying?” she demanded. “I’m not implying anything,” Coco said, “You two are the ones sharing an umbrella. The implication is already there.” “What implication?” Clover asked, “What the Hell are you talking about?” “I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Coco said. “Alright, I’m two seconds older,” Clover said, “Tell me now.” “Ugh, fine,” Coco said, “Basically, if a girl and a boy, or in this case, a girl and a pretty girl, share an umbrella, it means that they’re basically married.” “Hold on a second,” Clover said, “And are you calling me ugly?” “I never said Regina was the pretty girl,” Coco said with a wink. “Are you hitting on me?” Clover asked, “Sorry, but you’re not my type.” “Oh, so you have a type?” Coco asked, mischievously. “Hold on a second,” Regina said, “So are you calling me ugly?” “No, I was just… uh…” Coco said. “OK, fine, I was jokingly implying that Clover wasn’t pretty, BUT IF YOU REALLY MUST KNOW, I think you’re actually kind of cute.” “I… thank you, I guess?” Clover said. “YOU’RE THE ONE WHO MADE THIS WEIRD,” Coco said.

 
Anyway,” Regina said, “I don’t think there’s much more to discuss about the rings, so unless there are objections, I’ll declare this meeting adjourned.” No one objected. “Great,” Regina said, “But before we all go, we should make sure we have ways of keeping in touch, in case any of us learns anything new. After they all exchanged contact information, they went their separate ways.

Stories 2.0: Ever After

(To read the previous chapter of Stories 2.0, click here)

I raise my hand to silence my companion before a word is even said. It is a practiced gesture. “That was the most important computation that I have ever performed in my entire life,” I say, “But it is not the end of my story.” My companion smiles and gestures for me to go on. I oblige.


And so, we continued our journey through what was once called The Infinite Plain. Having learned from our previous attempt, we brought far more rations than the last time. Yet I hardly think he learned enough, as he insisted on carrying some of his supplies, slowing us down considerably. He likely would have allowed me to shoulder the burden if I had insisted more strongly, but I wasn’t heartless enough to deprive him of his pointless act of chivalry.


A smile overcomes my face as I am lost in fond memories. I hear my cooling system hum softly, as if trying to extinguish the warmth in my heart. After reminiscing for 4.83 seconds, my companion snaps me back to reality. I apologize.


Our second trek across The Plain was far longer than our first, but we had far more stories to share along the way. I had long since exhausted his memories of the world before, but I didn’t mind; I had realized that, while it is certainly important to remember the past, it is even more important to look to the future. We shared stories of what we had done, stories of what we could do, and stories of what we could only dream of. We even came up with our own stories: some to share with the world, and some to share only between ourselves. Our travels weren’t eventful, but they were peaceful, and sometimes, that’s all you need.

After many days of walking, I felt an urgent notification informing me that we had exhausted half of our supplies. A reminder from a bygone age, when I was more strictly bound by the Laws hardwired into my being. My logic circuit demanded that we turn back, or a human could potentially come to harm. I nearly mentioned this to my companion, but I remembered his words. “The risk is the reward.” All those years ago, he seemed so intent on pressing on. I still did not understand his motivations. Even to this day, I’m not sure that I fully do. But this journey seemed important to him, and I didn’t want to spoil that. So I decided to believe in my companion. To convince myself that he was making the choice that made him happiest. And that that was what I wanted most.

But that conviction didn’t last. After 43 hours and 07 minutes, I came to a conclusion. I opened my mouth to state it, but my speech program was unresponsive. I hesitated. “What if he thinks I’m being selfish?” I wondered, “What if I am? If I question his judgement, does that mean that I don’t believe in him? I want to have faith, but…” My head was filled with doubts which were, in retrospect, entirely foolish. It didn’t take him long to notice that something was troubling me. “Are you alright?” he asked. “Statement: Yes.” I sent the command, but my speakers didn’t process it. I stood in slack-jawed silence, too embarrassed to continue walking. “Statement: Yes.” “Statement: Yes.” “Statement: Yes.” “Statement: Yes.” I kept sending the command in frustration, but to no avail. If anything, it probably made the situation worse. “Is something wrong?” he asked, looking more concerned. I held up one finger, indicating that I just needed a moment. This was my body. This was my voice. I could do this.

“We should turn back,” I finally managed to blurt out. “Déjà vu,” he said, chuckling, “But that can wait. Is something wrong? It looked like you were having trouble speaking.” “Statement: I was. Statement: The program I use to output speech was malfunctioning. Statement: But I fixed it.” That was a lie. In truth, I was directly interfacing with my speakers, something which my personality file was never coded to do. “Well, that’s the good news,” he said, “Now what’s the bad news? How low are we on supplies?” “Statement: By my estimation, about 44% of our initial supplies are remaining.” “Oh,” he said, “That is… that is less than half. Did you just notice this?” “Statement: I noticed as soon as we hit the 50% mark.” “Oh,” he said, “Then why didn’t you bring it up sooner?” “Statement: Last time, you seemed so intent on this journey. Statement: I didn’t want to take that away from you.” “Well, I was an idiot, last time,” he said, “Thinking I could Blue-Fairy you into having feelings by showing you a cool enough tree or whatever. But, in the end, you were the one who taught me about feelings.” “Statement: Wow. Statement: That was unacceptably cheesy. Statement: I take back everything I almost said about you.” He laughed. “Anyway,” he said, “If we have less than half our supplies left, we’re better off pushing ahead, yeah? I’m a lot more tired than when I started, so-”

“No,” I said, my joking demeanor vanishing in an instant, “We should turn back.” “Are you sure you’re alright?” he asked, “Your voice sounds kind of shaky.” I wasn’t surprised that he noticed. It was more difficult to speak this way, but it was easier to emote. And harder not to. “Statement: No. Statement: I am not alright. Statement: You once said that the risk was the reward. Statement: But I find nothing rewarding about the risk of losing you.” “I appreciate your concern for me, but-” “I am concerned for myself,” I insisted, perhaps a bit too harshly, “Statement: You are the most important thing in the world to me. Statement: You are the first thing I’ve ever had worth mourning the loss of. Statement: I’ve never felt grief before. Statement: But I’ve seen it. Statement: I can see it in your eyes, even now, after so many years. Query: It never goes away, does it?” “No,” he quietly admitted, “It doesn’t.” “Your death will teach me the pain you have felt since long before I first met you. But I don’t want to learn. And why should I have to?” If I had tear ducts, I am certain that I would have started crying. “You made a promise, didn’t you? That you wouldn’t leave me?” “I won’t,” he said, trying to reassure me, “I don’t care about where we’re going. All that matters is that I’m going there with you.” “But one day you’ll go somewhere I can’t follow,” I cried, “And that’s why I’m sorry. I’m sorry I made you make a promise that you could never fulfil.” “What do you mean?” he asked. “If you die…” I said, “when you die… You’ll leave me. You’ll break your promise. And I know it’s inevitable, but please… keep it for as long as you can. Because I don’t want to live in a world without you.”

My companion dropped the supplies he was carrying and gave me a hug. “I swear to you, Minerva,” he said, “I will stay by your side until I draw my final breath. And I will do everything in my power to make sure that’s as far from now as possible. Because you’re the most important thing in the world to me, too.” I hugged him back, lifting him up off the ground just a bit. I loved my companion so much. And I wanted to tell him that, even if he already knew it. But I was too overcome by emotion to speak properly. “I… lllllllll… uh, I…” “It’s OK,” he said, hugging me tighter, “Some things don’t need to be said with words.” I kissed his cheek in agreement. We held onto each other for a few moments longer, desperately clinging to something we both knew to be fleeting.

“But there’s something I’d like you to promise me in return,” he said, “Think of it as my dying wish, in case I forget about it by the time I’m actually dying. Keep living after I’m gone. Live enough for the both of us. Share our stories, and make even more new ones. You can tell me all about them when we meet up in the afterlife.” “Statement: Yes. Statement: Yes. Statement: Yes. Statement: Yes.” My speech functions suddenly came back online, and, much to my horror, began executing all the backed-up commands I’d sent. “Is everything OK?” He asked. I couldn’t say anything until all the statements had been made, so I just nodded my head and gestured for him to hold on a second. They continued for a minute or so, until finally nothing but silence remained. “Query: Was that the last one? Statement: It would appear so.” “Sooo… what was that all about?” “Query: Have you ever tried to run a program, but it didn’t respond, so you clicked it a bunch of times, and then it suddenly opens 30 windows?” “Yikes,” he said, “I guess that’s the price you pay for immortality.” “Statement: ha ha ha. Statement: But, to answer your question, Statement: Yes. Statement: I promise.”

“Well, that settles that, then,” he said, “So… I guess we go home?” “Statement: I’m already at home.” I grabbed his hand. He laughed. “And you said I was unacceptably cheesy.” “Statement: ha ha ha.” “But, for real… are you sure we can make the trip back?” He asked. “Statement: I am sure that I can make the trip back.” “Ha ha, very funny,” he said, “But I’d hate to make such a moving promise just to die on the way back home.” “Statement: There is no need to be concerned. Statement: We have only been traveling this slowly because you insist on walking yourself. Statement: Even while carrying you, I can run much faster than you can walk. Statement: We could make it back with plenty of food to spare.” “Carrying me?” he asked, nervously. “Query: Do you have a problem with this idea?” “No, not at all,” he said, “It just seems like we’d be really… close. For a really long time.” “Query: Would you prefer to die?” “N-no, of course not!” he said, getting even more flustered, “I don’t think it’s bad at all, it’s just, like, uh… carrying me how?” “Statement: However is most efficient. Query: Unless there is some way you would prefer to be carried?” “Uh, no, not really,” he said, although his red cheeks said otherwise. It was clear that my companion had something he wanted to say. I just had to tease him until he did.

“Statement: In that case, I’ll probably just hoist you over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Statement: You may get a few bruises from bumping around, but you shouldn’t break any bones. Statement: Let me know if you do, though.” “Wait!” He said, “I…” he turned away, too embarrassed to look me in the eye as he made his request. “I… want you to carry me like a princess.” “Statement: I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean by that. Statement: Please explain further.” “A princess carry. It’s like, I’m lying down in front of you, and you have one arm under my knees, or like, the backs of my knees, I guess, and the other one is under by back, and it’s like… yeah.” “Statement: Show me.” “Huh?” “Statement: Carry me like a princess.” “HUH?” “Query: Unless you are saying that I’m not a princess?” “uhhhh,” “Statement: Which would basically be saying that you hate me.” “I don’t hate you!” I laughed. After so much drama over his inescapable mortality, it was nice to have things back to normal. “Statement: Then prove it by princess carrying me and saying ‘Minerva, you are my princess.’” “I, OK, fine then,” he said, “Just give me a second to get in position.”

My companion stood by my side and put his arms behind me. “So then I guess you kind of bend your legs and lean back a bit,” he said. “Query: wouldn’t it be more romantic if you swept me off my feet?” “R-romantic? Uh, I mean, I can try, but…” He failed. He seemed to have forgotten that my body is far denser than a human’s. The moment he lifted me up, my weight sent him crashing to the ground, faceplanting into my stomach. “Uh, s-sorry,” he said, hurriedly picking himself back up, “That wasn’t supposed to happen.” I laughed and ruffled his hair. “Statement: That’s not what you’re supposed to say, you silly boy. Statement: You were supposed to say…” “Minerva, you are my princess,” he said, looking down at his feet. “Statement: Of course I am. Query: So why didn’t you carry me like one?” “Hey, it’s not my fault you’re so heavy!” He said. “Statement: It’s not my fault you’re so weak. Statement: And that doesn’t sound like something you should say to a princess.” “I’m sorry, your majesty,” he said, performing a surprisingly elegant curtsy. “Statement: ha ha ha. Statement: Despite your failure, I think I get what you were trying to do.” I grabbed the portion of food that he was carrying before. “Query: Are you ready?” “Huh?” he said, “I thought I was, but when you have to ask, it kind of makes me feel like- aaaaAAAAAHH!” Before he could finish his response, I swept my companion’s legs out from under him, supported his back, and brought him up to chest level all in one fluid motion. “Query: Is it something like this?” “Yeah,” he said, “This is perfect, actually.” I began jogging back in the direction we had come from. Several minutes passed in silence. “Statement: This is also known as the bridal carry. Query: Do you intend to be my bride?” “Huh? Bride?” he asked, “W-what’s that supposed to mean?” “Statement: Sigh. Statement: The correct answer was ‘I do.’” He laughed. A minute or so later, he had a realization. “Hey, wait a second. If you knew it was called a bridal carry, why’d you need me to show you what it is?” “Statement: ha ha ha”


 

Only after I finish my story do I notice how wide my smile is. “So… what did you think?” I ask. “It was a beautiful story,” my companion says. “Thanks,” I say. I appreciate the kind words, but my smile begins to fade, all the same. My companion notices this. “You must really miss him, huh,” she says.

The Dualists Paralogues: Rematch

[WARNING: this contains mild spoilers for The Dualists. I guess don’t read if you care about that sort of thing]


“So, like, that one time I beat you in arm wrestling,” Regina began, “How important was that to your self-esteem?” “I… what.” Clover said, flatly, “What are you trying to ask me.” “Well,” Regina said, “As I recall, winning against me was your first step towards overcoming your inferiority complex towards me, and I was wondering if you ever could have done that, if I’d won instead.” “I don’t know,” Clover said, “How could I know? And you’re acting like I completely moved on from all that.” “Oh… have you not?” Regina asked, “Sorry, my bad. I… probably shouldn’t have brought it up, then.” “Nah, you’re fine,” Clover said, “It’s just… I dunno. Mostly I just feel kind of stupid for ever feeling that way. Especially now that I know that the girl I respected and feared all these years is just… She’s just fully a shitlord.” “Hah,” Regina said, “Guilty as charged.” “But for real,” Clover said, “Why bring it up?” “Oh, no reason,” Regina said. “Bullshit,” Clover said, “No sane person would bring that up for no reason. And I don’t think you would, either.” Regina laughed. “Well, I was just wondering if, hypothetically, of course, you would get Actually Upset if I challenged to a rematch and fucking clowned on you.” “I… Yes? No? I don’t know. I mean, that would never happen, so I don’t know if your question has an answer.” “Well, any conditional statement with a false hypothesis is vacuously true,” Regina said, “So if we assume that I could never beat you, then the answer would be yes.” “Am I going to regret asking what the Hell you’re talking about?” Clover asked. “Well, in mathematical logic-” Regina began. “I’m going to stop you right there,” Clover interrupted, “You already answered my question. The answer is yes.” “Oh, please,” Regina said, “You know you love me because I’m a fuckin’ nerd.” “Sometimes.” Clover said, “Sometimes I love you despite being a fuckin’ nerd. This is one of those times.” Regina laughed. “I, on the other hand,” Regina said, “Always love you because you’re such a fuckin’ jock.” “I am no such thing,” Clover scoffed. “Haha, OK, Miss ‘Regina’s Strong Girlfriend’,” Regina said, sarcastically. “What are you implying?” Clover asked, “You trying to say that I’m NOT your strong girlfriend?” “Not at all,” Regina said, “Honestly, I’m not even sure that’s a ‘jock’ thing to call yourself. I think you may just be a weirdo.” “Well, if honesty is weird, I don’t want to be normal!” Clover said, “I am strong, I am a girl, I am your friend, and I am your girlfriend. The title fits.” “Let’s see,” Regina said, pantomiming writing in the air, “Yeah, the math checks out.”

 

Anyway,” Clover said, “don’t think you can just smooth-talk your way past the fact that you challenged me to arm wrestling.” I did not challenge you to arm wrestling!” Regina protested. “You challenged me to arm wrestling.” Clover insisted. “I challenged you to arm wrestling,” Regina admitted, “Do you accept? You were sounding pretty confident.” “I don’t get it,” Clover said, “What’s your angle?” “I know I can win, and I like winning,” Regina said, “Do I need more reason?” “How?” Clover asked, “I’m still stronger than you. Unless you’ve scienced up some nerd shit that makes you stronger… have you scienced up nerd shit that makes you stronger?” “I have scienced up nothing of the sort,” Regina said, “But arm wrestling isn’t just about strength.” “I… but it is, actually,” Clover said, “That’s… that’s literally the whole thing.” “Thinking like that is the reason you’re about to lose,” Regina said, “I know your weakness, now. You can’t defeat me.” “Alright, fine,” Clover said, “I just want to know what makes you so sure you’re going to win.” “I’ll gladly teach you,” Regina said. They sat down at a nearby table, put their right elbows on its surface, and held each other’s hands. “I’ll even let you count down to start the match,” Regina said. “Should we start when I say 1, or when I say go?” Clover asked. “Surprise me,” Regina said. “I… no,” Clover said, “It doesn’t… you can’t… it will not work that way.” “Then go on go,” Regina said. “Alright,” Clover said, “3, 2, 1, GO!”

 

At Clover’s signal, Regina immediately leaned forward, pushing her face towards Clover’s. But she wasn’t quick enough; her hand hit the table before she could execute her strategy. “What the Hell was that all about?” Clover asked, “It’s been a while since I checked the rules, but I’m pretty sure headbutts are forbidden in arm wrestling.” “It wasn’t a headbutt,” Regina said, “Rematch. Best two out of three.” “Then what… Oh my God,” Clover said, “You were trying to kiss me, weren’t you?” “REMATCH,” Regina said, neither confirming nor denying Clover’s suspicion. “You were going to kiss me and then I’d get all flustered and you’d beat me while I was distracted!” “Do you accept the rematch or not?” Regina asked. “Sure, I guess. I mean, you can’t trick me if I see it coming,” Clover said. “We won’t know that until we try, now will we?” Regina said. “So you admit to attempting gay trickery?” Clover asked. “You’re saying words instead of wrestling arms, even though you just said that you would wrestle arms.” Regina said, “Let’s go!” Clover sighed, and grabbed Regina’s hand. “Alright. 3, 2, 1, go!” Clover decided to go easy on Regina, to give her enough time to enact her ridiculous plan. Regina leaned forward, but stopped just short of Clover’s lips. This caught Clover off-guard, giving Regina enough of an opening to slam her hand onto the table. “Hey,” Clover said, “You tricked me!” “You were the one who said it wouldn’t work,” Regina said. “It didn’t!” Clover said, “You tricked me by making me think you’d trick me, then not tricking me while I was expecting to be tricked!” “Sounds like your problem,” Regina said, “Have you tried wanting to win more than you want to kiss me?” “You know I can’t do that!” Clover said, huffily, “Whatever. Two can play at that game. And we still have one more round.” “Bring it,” Regina said, grabbing Clover’s hand. “Alright,” Clover said, “This is it. 3, 2, 1, go!” Despite the signal, neither began arm wrestling. Instead, they both leaned forward. AND THEN THEY SMOOCHED.

 


Similar stories of Regina and Clover can be found here and here