Strength part ?-1

“The oaf you requested, M’lady,” Matthew said, as he and Hector arrived at House Ostia, “Though I suspect the inelegant clanking of his armor already alerted you to his presence.” “Many thanks,” Lyn said, “You’re as timely a courier as ever.” “Hey, I’m right here!” Hector said, “Don’t talk about me like I’m some package to be delivered! And Matthew, if I wanted your opinion on my armor, I would have asked for it!” “Well, I think your armor’s cute,” Lyn said, “It’s like a bell you put on a housecat so you know if it’s getting into trouble.” “I, er,” Hector said, starting to blush. “Bravo, Lady Lyndis,” Matthew said, “I thought myself the master of getting under m’lord’s skin, but it seems I still have much to learn.” “D-don’t say that like it’s something to be proud of!” Hector said.  “Although, now that I think about it,” Lyn said, “Why do you always wear armor? I’ve known you for over a decade, yet I can’t seem to recall or even imagine you wearing normal clothes like a normal person.” “Well, for all his many faults, m’lord is an honest man,” Matthew said, “He would never seek to deceive anyone into believing he’s a normal person.” “Quiet, you,” Hector said, “And the reason you can’t remember me not wearing armor is probably because I look so swarthy and bold in my armor that it overpowers any other memory of me. I’m sure I’ve worn ‘normal’ clothes since we met.” “But can you recall a specific instance?” Lyn asked, “Because I can’t. You even wore armor to our wedding.” “Only after I asked you if you were OK with it and you said that you were!” Hector said. “I was, and I am,” Lyn said, “But I assumed it was some kind of Lycian tradition until we attended Eliwood’s wedding, where he looked far more dashing in his suit.” “Of course he did!” Hector said, “He’s Eliwood! But you must admit, I looked swarthier than he did.” Lyn chuckled. “I must.”

 

“Well, surely there must have been at least one time that you saw m’lord without his armor,” Matthew said, “Lilina’s very existence is testament to that. Unless he keeps his armor on?” “M-Matthew!” Hector said, flustered, “Don’t speak of such vulgar things in front of Lady Lyndis!” Lyn laughed. “If I couldn’t handle vulgar things, I never would have married Lord Hector in the first place,” Lyn said, “Out of respect for my husband’s privacy, I can’t answer your question, but I have no qualms with him telling you himself.” Matthew looked to Hector expectantly. “I… this is ridiculous!” Hector said, “I… I am Marquess Ostia! I don’t have to answer your insane questions! Do you think Eliwood puts up with this kind of tomfoolery from his retainers?” “Y’know,” Matthew said, “If you refuse to answer the question, you’re basically admitting to the more embarrassing answer.” “I don’t admit to anything!” Hector said, “I just don’t want to dignify your question with a response? How would you like it if I asked about your sex life with Serra?” “How would you like it if I answered?” Matthew asked. “I, uh,” Hector stammered. “I know I rarely act it, m’lord,” Matthew said, matter-of-factly, “but the truth is that you are my dearest friend in all of Elibe. I’m not nice to you nearly often enough, but I’m going to try to make up for that by doing something very, very nice for you, right now.” “And what’s that?” Hector asked, a bit frightened by Matthew’s sudden change in demeanor. “I will warn you that you absolutely would not like it if I answered,” Matthew said, gravely serious. “Matthew, I’ve been your friend long enough to know when you’re trying to trick me,” Hector said, “Because you’re always trying to trick me! I won’t fall for your reverse psychology!” “I’m proud of you for seeing through my deceptions, m’lord,” Matthew said, “Next time I’ll have to come up with a more believable lie.” “You’d better!” Hector said, “You’d make a poor spymaster if even a fool like me could see through your lies.” “Hah, yeah…” Matthew said.

 

“Actually, m’lord,” Matthew said, “If you’ll forgive me for breaking character… I just want to say I really meant all that stuff I said. I know my antics can be tiring, even if you know it’s all in good fun. But even so, after all these years, after all the jokes I’ve taken too far… you still put up with me, long after everyone else decided I wasn’t worth the trouble. And it’s… hard for me to be sincere like this, when I could just brush it off with a joke, but you’re worth the hardship, m’lord. You’re a good man, Hector, and I’m honored to call you my friend.” “I… yeah,” Hector said, “Er, I mean… I feel the same way. As Marquess Ostia, everyone has such high expectations of me, and I always have to pretend I’m someone I’m not. But around you, I can just be Hector, the big rowdy idiot I’ve been since we were kids. And you may be a pain in the ass at times, but if it weren’t for you, I’d have gone mad from boredom years ago. And I never tell you how much I appreciate it, but I do. You’re my best fri-” The word caught in his throat. Matthew laughed. “It’s OK, m’lord,” he said, “there’s no shame in coming second to Eliwood.” “Glad I’m not the only one who thinks so!” Hector said. “Hah,” Matthew said, “I had planned to stop making jokes at your expense, but if you insist…” “Bring it!” Hector said, “We’re friends, and friends don’t hold each other back!”

 

“You two really are too cute together,” Lyn said. Hector blushed.  “You are a kinder woman than the likes of me deserves,” Matthew said. “See, isn’t it so much easier to just tell the truth?” Hector asked. “Nicely done, m’lord,” Matthew said to Hector, before turning back to Lyn, “To repay your generosity, I’ll tell you why m’lord always wears his armor. As I’m sure you already know, m’lord is deathly afraid of bears.” “I can’t say that I did know that,” Lyn said, “Why did you never tell me?” “Because I’m not!” Hector said, “Matthew’s just trying to make me angry!” “Then you would fight a bear for m’lady?” Matthew asked. “Of course I would!” Hector said, “I would do anything to keep her safe!” “I apologize for not making myself clear, m’lord,” Matthew said, “Would you fight a bear solely to prove your love, even if she were not in danger?” “I… no?” Hector said. “Because you’d be too afraid, m’lord?” Matthew asked. “No!” Hector said, “Because why would that prove my love? Lyn would hate it if I fought a bear! This whole thing is idiotic!” “Perhaps you are correct, m’lord,” Matthew said, “Suppose, hypothetically, of course, that I could signal a nearby bear to appear at this very moment. How would you react?” “What kind of question is that?” Hector demanded, “Of course you don’t have a bear nearby! That’s impossible… isn’t it?” “I don’t know, m’lord,” Matthew said, “I am rather tricky.” “I swear to all the gods, Matthew,” Hector said, “If you’ve somehow smuggled a bear into House Ostia as a sick practical joke, I am terminating you. And I’m not talking about your employment!” “An excellent barb, m’lord,” Matthew said, “But I don’t think you’d get so worked up if you weren’t afraid of bears. I rest my case.”

 

“He does make a pretty compelling case, dear,” Lyn said, “You did sound rather frightened.” “Because Matthew’s insane!” Hector said, “I absolutely believe that he would risk life and limb just to play a practical joke on me.” “You flatter me, m’lord,” Matthew said. “So you confess?” Lyn asked. “Yes!” Hector said, “Fine! I’m afraid of bears. Aren’t you? They’re large and strong, with sharp claws and teeth! I have a very normal amount of fear of bears! I’m tired of discussing this, so I’ll just let you say whatever ridiculous lie you’ve cooked up in that devious little brain of yours.” “Many thanks,” Matthew said, “As I was saying, everyone knows that in the event of a bear attack, you should make yourself seem large, right? And that’s exactly why m’lord wears armor all the time.” Lyn laughed. Hector physically bit his tongue to keep from interrupting. “My goodness,” Lyn said, “Why is he so afraid of bears?” “I thought you’d never ask,” Matthew said, “When Hector was young, his brother read him a bedtime story about a cartoon bear. I believe it was called-” “Don’t you dare speak his name,” Hector said, gravely serious. “What’s the matter, m’lord?” Matthew asked, “I thought you agreed to let me tell whatever ridiculous lie I’ve cooked up in this devious little brain of mine. The only reason I can think of why you’d interrupt me is if I were somehow telling the truth.” Hector sighed deeply.

 

“OK, fine, I admit it. When I was very young, I was afraid of a particular bear from a storybook that my brother read me. In all honestly, I’d forgotten all about it until this one,” Hector said, jabbing Matthew’s shoulder, “Brought it up.” “Why was your brother telling you scary stories at such a young age?” Lyn asked. “You misunderstand, m’lady,” Matthew said, “It wasn’t a scary story. I believe it was a tale about how friendship is the most powerful magic of all.” “You’d better hope it is,” Hector said, “Because friendship is the only thing keeping me from striking you down where you stand!” Matthew gave an exaggerated laugh, slapping his knee like he’d just heard the funniest thing in the world. “What’s so funny?” Hector asked, “That was no jest.” Matthew stopped laughing. “Well, then I find your words most troubling, m’lord,” he said, “If you think friendship is all that stops you from striking me down, then you must have forgotten about my lightning quick refl-” He was interrupted by Hector’s armored fist, crashing into his face and knocking him to the ground. “Hector!” Lyn reprimanded. “He started it!” Hector whined, “And I didn’t even hit him that hard! I’m sure he’s fine.” But Matthew remained on the ground, giving no indication that he was fine. “Is he breathing?” Lyn asked, “Maybe I should go get a healer.” Hector sighed. “Matthew, I know you’re fine,” he said, “But you’re scaring Lady Lyndis, so hurry up and-” Before Hector could finish his sentence, Matthew rose from the ground and punched Hector in the crotch with all his might.

 

Hector recoiled slightly from Matthew’s attack, but Matthew himself winced and cried out in pain. “And this, m’lady,” Matthew said, presenting his bloodied knuckles to Lyn, “is why m’lord wears armor.” Lyn laughed. “Is that so?” She asked, jokingly. “I… yeah, pretty much, actually,” Hector said, “Even a run-of-the-mill degenerate like Matthew could best me if he caught me off guard. And since a run-of-the-mill degenerate like him could always be lurking nearby, I have to always stay on guard.” “You wound me, m’lord,” Matthew said, “I’ll have you know that I am in fact quite an exceptional degenerate.”

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Eyes – Fear

It is fear that stays my hand. It is out of fear that my blade, longing for dragon blood, but going unsated. rests on the neck of this pitiful creature.  But the fear is not my own. It is the fear of the wyvern before me which I cannot overcome. I cannot even understand this fear; wyverns, homunculi of draconic alchemy which take the likeness of both human and dragon alike, are said to be without emotions. They are a slave race, created only to unquestioningly serve their masters. What use would a tool created for such a purpose have for fear? Yet the look I see in its eyes is unmistakable. It is the same look I saw in my sister’s, the same look I see every night, never able to save her, over and over. But I can save the creature before me. So I do.

 

What the hell am I doing? I am compromising my mission. The creature before me is not deserving of mercy. It is not human. It is a monster. A dragon. My enemy. It is my duty to eradicate it. And I carry out my duty, without question. Yet here I am, questioning myself. Am I even myself anymore? I know that I’m panicking, that that is exactly what I cannot be doing right now, but- “Who are you?” It would seem that the wyvern can talk. “Shut up. It doesn’t matter who I am,” I say. It says nothing. Suddenly I have an idea. “Sit on the ground,” I command. It does as I say. “Now stand up,” I command. It does as I say. “Raise your arms in the air,” I command. It does as I say. This might just work. It has to. “You have to do whatever I tell you to, don’t you?” I ask. “Yes,” it says. “Then meet me outside this castle, in two hours,” I say. I give it directions to the cave at which I am currently stationed. “And you are not to speak of this to anyone else, human, dragon, or wyvern,” I say, “am I understood?” “Yes,” it says. “Good,” I say, “And, just so we’re clear, if you do not do exactly as I have ordered, I will find you, and I will kill you. And I don’t know if your kind can feel pain, but I will make you suffer. That is a promise. Am I understood?” “Yes,” it says.

 

I sneak out of the dragon’s stronghold, taking care not to get noticed again, and make my way to camp. When I arrive, I report directly to Archibald. “You’re back early,” he says, “What did you find?” I hesitate. I practiced my report all throughout my trip back, but my words fail me. “Were you spotted?” he demands. “By a wyvern,” I admit. His eyes widen. “And you killed it?” He asks. “No,” I say, “I… told it to meet us here.” “You WHAT?” he explodes, “Are you serious? You compromised our location? For what possible reason?” “The wyvern could have valuable information,” I say. “That doesn’t matter, Amelia,” he says, “What matters is that you were ordered to sneak in, determine the location of the mission objective, and return, undetected. You failed.” “Look, sir, I know I fucked up, but we don’t have time for you to tell me that. Even if the wyvern does betray us, we can set up an ambush.” Archibald sighs. He knows I’m right. He begins barking orders. “Geoffrey! Whip up an illusion to hide the entrance to the base, and get to scrying for anyone approaching our position. Amelia! Hide somewhere outside, where you can get the drop on the enemy and draw their attention from the entrance. Only initiate combat if you have been spotted, or you are confident that we can emerge victorious. Eleanor! You and I will wait by the entrance, hidden by the illusion. We will only strike once Amelia has diverted their attention. Am I understood?” “Sir, yes, sir!” we all shout. We do as he says.

 

Fortunately, Achibald’s plan was unnecessary. At the appointed time, a lone figure approaches. The wyvern. I emerge from my hiding spot. “Were you followed?” I demand. “No,” it says, “Who are you, really?” “Like I said, that doesn’t matter,” I say. “I disagree,” it says, “You saved my life. I’d like to know your name.” What? I don’t have time for this. “What do you know about the duke of this fortress? Where is he? How many does he command?” I ask. “I’ll tell you everything you need to know,” the wyvern says, “once you tell me who you are, and what you hope to do.” This is getting frustrating. “I don’t think you understand,” I say, “ I order you to-” “I don’t think you understand,” the wyvern says, “I’m not magically compelled to do whatever you say. That was a lie. I escaped because I wanted to. I chose to, for the first time in my life. And now, I want to know who you are.” I don’t understand what it’s getting at, but it doesn’t seem dangerous. “Fine. My name is Amelia. I’m-” Archibald bursts from the hidden entrance to the cave. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” he demands, “Don’t tell it a damn thing!” “Her,” the wyvern says. “What?” we ask in unison. “Calling me ‘it’ is disrespectful, is it not? I came here to escape that. But if you’re no better than my old masters, I guess I’ll be on my way,” she says. “Like hell you will!” Archibald shouts, “we can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Now talk, or we’ll torture the information out of you.” “Do your worst,” the wyvern says, defiantly, “You don’t even know if I can feel pain, do you?” “Of course you can,” I say, “That’s why you came here, isn’t it? Why would it matter how you were treated if you couldn’t feel pain?” It… or rather, she, says nothing. I address Archibald. “Sir, I believe it would be in everyone’s best interest if we treated her less hostilely.” “’Her’? What’s gotten into you?” Archibald shouts, “Why’ve you gone soft on me all of a sudden? The Amelia I knew would never let feelings get in the way of a mission. Does this have to do with your-” “Of course it does, sir!” I explode, “Everything I’ve ever done in this army, it was all for her!” I need to calm down. “But, my feelings aside, I think that she has information which could be valuable to the mission, and that torture is neither the easiest nor the quickest way to make her talk.” “And what do you suggest we do instead?” Archibald asks. “Just be nice to her, I guess.” I say. Archibald sighs. He acts all tough, but I know he doesn’t want to torture anyone.

 

So we’re nice to her. “My name is Amelia,” I say, “And the shouty man is Archibald.” He rolls his eyes. “Is it just you two out here?” she asks. “No,” I say, “Eleanor, come out and introduce yourself.” Eleanor cautiously emerges from behind the illusory rock wall, sword and shield in hand. “H-hello,” She says, “I’m Eleanor.” “It’s nice to meet you,” The wyvern says. Geoffrey comes out next, and begins speaking a bit too enthusiastically. “My name is Geoffrey. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Wow, you’re even cuter in person.” “Goddamnit, Geoffrey,” I say, “could you please stop being like that for just five seconds?” “Like what?” he asks. “Like yourself,” I say. The wyvern laughs. “ANYWAY,” Archibald says, “we’ve all introduced ourselves. Are you happy now?” “Not quite,” she says, “You still haven’t told me why you’re here.” Geoffrey pipes up. “Well! We’re here to slay the dragon, obviously. We’re the Dragon Corps’ most elite team. The Dragon Corps Fearsome Four, they call us.” “He’s the only one who calls us that.” I say. Archibald tells Geoffrey to shut the hell up and explains everything from the top. “Intel suggests that the owner of this fortress is in possession of an artifact which is of great importance to higher-ups in the dragons’ chain of command. It is unknown what they plan to do with it, but it is suspected that if their plans were to come to fruition, it could be devastating for humankind. Our primary objective is to retrieve, or, if necessary, destroy this artifact. Our secondary objective is to assassinate its keeper, if at all possible.” “I see,” the wyvern says, “How much do you know about this artifact?” “Unfortunately, almost nothing,” Archibald says, “It’s probably something magical, given how important it is, but other than that, it could be anything. Do you know of anything that could fit the description?” The wyvern thinks for a few seconds. “It sounds like what you’re looking for is the Firebrand Crystal. A ruby, about the size of a human fist, which contains an incredible amount of elemental energy. “Is it dangerous?” Archibald asks. “Very,” the wyvern says. “Then from now on, this Firebrand Crystal is to be considered our primary objective,” Archibald says, “Do you know where it’s located?” “Yes,” the wyvern says, “I can even show you a secret entrance that leads into the castle, not too far from where it is held.” “Excellent. Then we’ll head out as soon as Geoffrey notifies High Command of what we’ve learned. Geoffrey! Work your magic!”

 

“N-no, you can’t!” The wyvern pleads. “And why’s that?” Archibald demands. “Er, w-well, you see,” the wyvern stutters, “The castle as a sort of… enchantment on it, which intercepts any outgoing magical messages. If you do that, it’ll alert them to our location.” “Is that possible?” Archibald asks Geoffrey. “Well, I’ve never heard of such a thing being possible,” Geoffrey says, “But I’ve certainly heard of dragons doing things that were thought impossible, so I wouldn’t put it past them.” “It probably isn’t worth the risk, then.” Archibald says, “In that case, we’ll just have to head out immediately.” “Actually, I was thinking it might be a better idea to wait until tomorrow,” the wyvern says. “And why’s that?” Archibald asks, skeptically. “W-well, night will fall soon, and the dragons guarding the crystal, night dragons, actually see better in the dark than they do in the light, so it’d be easier to sneak up on them.” “Is that so?” Archibald asks. He seems unconvinced. “Also,” they wyvern says, “also, the guards change at the same time every morning, which would make it easier for us to take the crystal undetected.” “What happens if they notice that you’re gone?” Archibald asks. “They won’t,” the wyvern says, “They see us as vermin, a necessary evil required to overcome humanity’s numbers. Would you notice if a bee no longer pollinated the flowers in your garden?” Archibald doesn’t answer. “Regardless of your decision,” the wyvern says, “I’m not going anywhere until tomorrow morning.” Archibald draws his axe. “You’ll do whatever I say, whenever I say. Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but you’re a prisoner of war. Failure to comply with my orders will be met with swift execution. Amelia may have hesitated to cut you down, but I can assure you that I will do no such thing.” He’s talking about committing a war crime. He must be bluffing. Right? In any case, She wouldn’t know that. I have to say something. “Gods, Archibald, calm down,” I say, “She’s just trying to help us. What’s the point of interrogating her if we don’t use the information she’s given us?” “She’s right,” Geoffrey interjects, “I think we should do as the maiden says.” “That makes it two against one,” I say. “This isn’t a democracy!” Archibald shouts, “As squad captain, I take your suggestions, but I have the final say.” A tense moment passes. Eleanor speaks up. “I… I think we should be careful and wait.” Archibald sighs loudly. “Fine. We’ll wait.”

Strength, Part ?+1

“Hi Uncle Matthew!” Lilina said, cheerfully, “Just so you know, I’ve practiced magic lots since the last time we sparred! I can cast spells much faster now. I’d like to see you try to dodge them now!” “Then I guess you’re in for a real treat,” Matthew said. “So, what are the rules of engagement?” Lilina asked, “Is it first to get three wounds on the other, or- Waaagghhh!” She cried out in surprise as Matthew pushed her backwards and tripped her with his leg in one fluid motion. “Street rules, kid,” he said, as he drew an iron dagger, “We fight until one of us can’t any longer. I promise not to kill ya, but you should know better than to take my word at face value, by now.” “B-But if y-you hurt me,” Lilina started crying, “D-daddy will be mad at you!” “There’s no one to tattle to on the battlefield,” Matthew said, “If you always rely on him to protect you, you’ll never be strong!” “But my daddy will always be there to protect me!” Lilina shouted, defiantly, “And I’ll always be there to protect him! You aren’t teaching me what it’s like to be on the battlefield! You’re just being mean!” Matthew sighed. “Maybe you’re right,” he said, sheathing his dagger, “I’m sure you’re a clever enough tactician to always have a knight or two like m’lord to protect you if things get dicey. Perhaps I was a fool for thinking you’d need-” he was cut off by an incantation, then an intense wave of heat that knocked him off his feet and singed his flesh. “Huh?” Matthew said in bewilderment, “You… you snake! You just said all that to get me to lower my guard! That’s cheating!” “There’s no such thing as cheating in warfare!” Lilina said triumphantly, as she picked herself up off the ground.

 

“You… I… heh. Hah. Ahahahahaha!” Matthew began laughing hysterically. Lilina took advantage of this opening by casting a thunder tome, which Matthew narrowly dodged. “Oh, it is on now, m’lady,” Matthew said, drawing his dagger once more. He charged and slashed at her with a clearly telegraphed overhead strike. After she sidestepped his attack, he drew his other dagger and slashed her side, leaving a small cut. “Aaahhhhh!” Lilina cried out in pain, clutching the wound. Matthew took the opportunity to retreat and put some distance between them. “You’re at your most vulnerable when you think you have the upper hand,” Matthew lectured, “If you let yourself think you’ve won while your enemy still lives, you’ve already lost.” “Shut up!” Lilina shouted. “I know I said we’d go until one of us can’t fight,” Matthew said, “But since I’m such a nice guy, I’ll let you give up if you say please.” “No!” Lilina said, “Never! I’ll show you that I am strong!” “Well, I’m waiting,” Matthew said. “I’ll show you!” Lilina shouted. She opened her tome and read the incantation therein, causing a fireball to manifest over several seconds, which she then launched at Matthew who dodged it easily. “I thought you said you got better at casting,” Matthew taunted, as she prepared to launch another fireball, “If anything, you seem to have gotten slower.” He dodged the next fireball. “Well, it’s kind of hard when I’m bleeding out!” she retorted. “Oh please,” Matthew said, “A cut that shallow should hardly be bleeding anymore.” Another fireball formed over Lilina’s head. “And besides, you’d better get used to casting while injured. Your daddy won’t be able to protect you from every stray arrow and lightning bold on the battlefield.” He jumped out of the way of the third fireball, then yawned to emphasize how easy it was.

 

“Since you’re not going to end this,” he said, twirling his daggers, “I guess I’ll have to!” He began charging at Lilina, who immediately cast another fireball. Matthew tried to dodge, but he was so surprised by the sudden attack that he couldn’t; the fireball grazed him as he tried to move out of the way, singing his left side and knocking him off balance. He turned to Lilina to prepare to dodge another spell, but was surprised to see her charging towards him, her hand clenched into a fist. He stepped backward to avoid her punch, but her attack wasn’t over; she opened her fist to produce a fireball, which Matthew managed to duck under moments before she launched it into him. As Lilina began her next incantation, Matthew stood back up with a rising uppercut straight to her jaw, cutting off her spell. While she was reeling back in pain, Matthew kicked the tome out of her hand, then put a blade to her throat. “Looks like I win,” Matthew taunted, “Any last words?” “Just one,” Lilina said. “Leila.” The name caused Matthew to freeze in shock, more powerful than any spell. Lilina used the opening to pull out her thunder tome and grab Matthew’s dagger. She sent an electric current through it that caused him to let go of it, then took it for himself and drove it through his abdomen.

 

“AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH” Lilina screamed in terror at what she had done. “I’m so sorry uncle Matthew I didn’t mean to I just got caught up in the fight and I’m so sorry I didn’t meant to kill you please don’t hate me please please please don’t die!” “Hah, it’s OK, sweetie,” Matthew said, gently wiping the tears from her face, “I’m proud of you. And don’t worry about old Uncle Matthew. He’s been through far worse than this.” “Are you sure?” Lilina asked, panicked, “What should I do? I’ll go get daddy, he’ll-” “Don’t!” Matthew said, louder than he probably should have, “Your father doesn’t need to know about this. I’ll take care of it, you understand?” “Mmm-hm,” Lilina said, nodding. “Now for the painful part,” Matthew muttered. “SERRA! GET IN HERE, THE FIGHT’S OVER! AND BRING A MEND STAFF, THESE WOUNDS ARE PRETTY BAD!” Serra’s sigh could be heard from outside the training ground. “I told you this was a stupid idea, Matty,” She said as she entered, “But do you ever listen to me? No. So now you’ve gone and gotten Hector’s daughter hurt and he may put up with a lot of shit from you but he will not let this slide! And I may be a damn good healer, but you better pray to whichever gods will listen that I can patch her up well enough so that Hector won’t notice! Not to mention how fucked up it is that you want this girl to lie to her own father about you hurting her. Do you know how fucked up that is Matty? Because it’s pretty fucked up.” “You done yet?” Matthew groaned. “No,” Serra said, “But healing Lilina is more important right now.” She turned to Lilina and changed her entire demeanor, her fire and anger replaced with kindness and concern. “It’s OK, sweetie, you don’t have to cry anymore,” Serra cooed, “Just tell auntie Serra where you’re hurt and I’m make you feel all better, OK?” Lilina silently pointed at Matthew. “Huh?”

 

Serra turned to Matthew and noticed the dagger still sticking out of his abdomen. “I… Ahahahahahahahaha!” She fell to the ground laughing, occasionally managing to point at Matthew and burst into laughter anew. “Sh-shouldn’t you help Uncle Matthew?” Lilina asked hesitantly after a minute or two. “I mean, yeah,” Serra said, struggling to catch her breath, “I probably should, but it’s just too funny. Matthew, Mr. ‘oohh look at me, I’m a scary assassin, except don’t look at me, because assassins prefer it that way’ just got stabbed by a child! Blessed be the name of St. Elimine, who saw fit to reward my many long years of service with this boon.” “Love you too, sweetie,” Matthew said, “But could you please hurry this up? You’re upsetting m’lady.” He gestured to Lilina, who still stared at the dagger with tear-stained eyes. “Yes, of course,” Serra said, “But only for my precious little niece.” She grabbed her staff. “But before I can do that…” She suddenly tore the dagger from his abdomen, causing him to gasp in pain as he bled out. “You know, that’s a really good look for you,” Serra said. “Hah,” Matthew said, “Not in front of the poor, impressionable girl.” Lilina was too worried to even listen to what they were saying. Serra spoke a few words, causing a sphere of healing energy to appear around her. With another word, it disappeared, then appeared around Matthew, causing the wound to close before their eyes. “Wow…” Lilina said, “Do you think you can teach me that kind of magic?” She looked to Serra, as excited as ever. “I don’t know,” Serra said, “Your auntie is a very busy woman. And my magic is derived from my faith in St. Elimine, which is rather different from anima magic, so it’d be difficult for you to learn.” “Oh, alright,” Lilina pouted. “I have no objection to you learning the healing arts from the perspective of a cleric or bishop,” Matthew said, “But I have only the strongest objections to you learning from this woman. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single member of the church across all of Elibe more ill-suited to the task than she.” “Well in he’s so against it,” Serra said, “I’d be glad to! Just call me Teacher Auntie Serra!” “Yay!” Lilina cheered. Matthew smiled slyly. “Hey,” Serra said, “You actually wanted me to teach her! You tricked me?” “C’mon, Serra,” Matthew said, “Does that sound like something I’d do?” “Yes!” she said, “That sounds exactly like something you’d do!” “Well there you have it, then,” he said. “Have I ever told you how much I love you?” Serra said, angrily. “Not nearly enough, my love,” Matthew said. “Uh, actually,” Lilina interjected, “Matthew did cut me here.” Serra sighed and lightly knocked Matthew upside the head with her staff before healing Lilina’s cut.

Strength, Part ?

“So…” Lilina said, apprehensively at breakfast the next morning, “Do I still have to fight daddy?” “Not if you don’t want to,” Hector said. “Yaaaaayyyyyy!” Lilina said, “Now I never have to fight again!” “So you admit that your magic is weaker than my axe?” Hector asked. “Wha? I never said that!” Lilina pouted. “Well, if you think your magic is so cool, prove it to me!” Hector said. “Wait… so you’re saying I can fight you with magic?” Lilina asked. “Not quite,” Hector said, “I’m saying you have to. Magic is your calling; I won’t let you waste any more time practicing a weapon you aren’t suited to. And to make your magic stronger, I’ll let you study as much as you want!” “All right!” Lillina shouted, “You better get ready, daddy, ‘cuz I’m gonna kick your ass!” Lyn glared at her silently. She didn’t need to say anything. “S-sorry,” she said, meekly, “I mean, I’m gonna kick your butt.” “Better,” Lyn said. “Wait, so you have no problem with her threatening me?” Hector asked, indignantly. “Should I?” Lyn asked, teasingly, “You aren’t scared, are you?” “O-of c-course I’m n-not,” Hector said, acting afraid. “I-I’m sorry Daddy!” Lilina said, “I didn’t mean to scare you!” “Oh ho ho!” Hector laughed heartily, “Don’t worry princess, I’m not actually scared! I was just pretending!” “Oh really?” Lilina asked, “Well, if you’re not scared, I guess I’ll just have to fix that, won’t I?” “Ah ha ha,” Hector laughed, a bit uneasily, “We’ll see about that. Since you’re so fired up, why don’t we spar right after breakfast?” “You shouldn’t exercise right after eating, Daddy,” Lilina said, “You’ll get cramps.” “Oh yeah, I guess you’re right,” Hector said, “But my schedule’s pretty full today. I don’t know when else I could find time.” “Oh,” Lilina said, dejectedly, “Maybe I could train with someone else? Like Oswin!” “Oh, I’m sure you’d love that, wouldn’t you?” Hector said, “With his heavy armor, he’d be a sitting duck for your magic!” “Th-that’s not why!” Lilina pouted, “I’m just saying that he’s strong, so he’d be good at training me!” “Maybe,” Hector said, “But I’m the only one who can train you.” “What?” Lilina said, “But if I only fight daddy, I’ll only be good at fighting Daddy! And no one else fights like Daddy, so I wouldn’t be strong!” “She makes a good point,” Lyn said. “If she must learn to fight, she would be better suited learning to fight her enemies, rather than her allies.” “Easier said than done,” Hector said, “It’s not like I can borrow some wyvern knights for her to train against.” “W-wyverns?” Lilina asked, timidly. “N-never mind, sweetie,” Hector said, “I see where you’re coming from, but in the end, I have to be the one to train you.” “Why?” Lilina asked, “Is this some dumb masculinity thing?” Lyn smiled. “Yes, kinda!” Hector said, “But more importantly, everyone else is too afraid to fight you.” “Really?” Lilina asked, beaming, “They’re afraid of my magic?” “Don’t sound so excited!” Hector said, “And it’s not really my magic they’re afraid of, it’s me. All my knights know that if they accidentally hurt you while sparing, they’ll have to answer to me.” “I could spar with m’lady,” Matthew interjected, suddenly entering the room, “I would never dream of answering to you, m’lord.” “Very funny,” Hector growled, “I may put up with your antics far more than you deserve, but if you were to harm my daughter, neither your quick tongue nor you quick feet would keep you safe.” “Be at ease, m’lord,” Matthew said, “If she’s even half as sturdy as you, m’lord, then I scarcely think I could harm her if I tried.” “Th-that’s not true!” Lilina said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself, Uncle Matthew! You fought against The Black Fang and Nergal! I bet you can beat someone like me easily!” “Well, probably if I tried really hard,” Matthew said, “But I’d never do that while sparring, much less against m’lord’s precious princess.” “And just what is that supposed to mean?” Hector asked. “Well, nothing fit to discuss in the presence of m’ladies,” Matthew said, “But let’s just say that I picked up a few tricks when we were fighting The Black Fang.” “Oh… OK then,” Hector said, suspiciously, “Well, despite that, I guess I trust you to spar with Lilina. Just don’t use anything sharp.”

 

“I could train her,” Lyn said. “A-are you sure?” Hector asked, “If you hurt her…” “I’d never forgive myself,” Lyn said, “But it’s not like I’d forgive you if you hurt her. And besides, I could use the training myself.” “B-but Mommy,” Lilina said, “I don’t want to hurt you.” “Hah, you sound just like your father,” Lyn said. “M’lady!” Matthew cried out, “No child deserves such a cruel insult, much less your own daughter!” Lyn and Lilina laughed while Hector scowled. “It’s fine, Uncle Matthew,” Lilina said, “I like daddy! For now.” “I do, too,” Lyn said, “But in this case, you could afford to be a bit less like him. I may not be big and tough like he is, but I can hold my own. You don’t have to worry about me.” “Your mother’s right,” Hector said, “If you’re not careful, you could end up a big dummy like me!” “Oh no!” Lilina said, “Anything but that!” They all laughed, even Hector.

 

“So, when are we doing this, m’lady?” Matthew asked Lilina, “I’m free basically whenever.” “Uhhhhh, I guess I am, too,” Lilina said, “Let’s fight right after breakfast, then!” “Hey, wouldn’t you get cramps?” Hector asked. “It should be fine,” Lilina said, “If I’m just doing magic, I’m not really exercising, right?” “Er, I guess you’d know better than I would,” Hector said, “But what about Matthew? Have you eaten breakfast?” “Of course not, m’lord,” Matthew said, “I do not eat. The shadows are my sustenance.” “I… what.” Hector said. “Listen,” Matthew said, “Don’t even worry about it.” “Way ahead of you,” Hector said. “But I still want to spar with you, Mommy!” Lilina said, “Just find me whenever you’re ready! And make sure you’re prepared, ‘cuz I won’t go easy on you!” “Of course, Princess,” Lyn said, “Just make sure you’re ready, too.” “Don’t worry!” Lilina said, “I will be!”


 

“Lilina! Dinner’s ready!” Hector shouted for the third time, “You’ll have plenty of time to study afterwards! Don’t make me come up there!” Lilina came down the stairs, pouting. “I’m not coming because you told me to,” she said, “I’m just coming because I’m hungry.” “Is something the matter, Princess?” Hector asked. “Daaaaaaadddddyyyyyyyy,” she whined, “Mommy and Matthew were cheeeeeaaaaaatiiiinnnggg.” “Oh?” Hector said, surprised, “I can’t say I’m surprised by Matthew, but I didn’t expect that from you, Dear. So, how did you cheat?” “Beats me,” Lyn said, “This is the first I’ve heard of it.” “Same here,” Matthew said, robbed of his usual dramatic entry by Hector allowing him to dine with his family, “I did no such thing. I give you my word.” “Your word is no good here!” Hector said. “Of course, m’lord,” Matthew said, “Then I give you Lilina’s.” “It doesn’t work like-” Hector began. “Daaaaddddddyyyyy, they’re llyyyyyyiiiiiinnnngggg,” Lilina interjected as she sat down and crossed her arms, “Any time I tried to cast a spell on them, they just got out of the way!” “Oh, sweetie,” Hector said, “That’s not cheating, it’s just part of combat. In a real life-or-death fight, you can’t expect your enemies to let you hit them.” “But you never did that, daddy!” Lilina pouted. “Well, I wear heavy armor,” Hector said, “For me, it’s easier to just let weak attacks hit me than it is to try to dodge.” “So you’re saying my attacks are weak?” Lilina asked, sadly. “Well, when you weren’t using magic… kinda, yeah,” Hector said, “But you can bet I’ll try my best to avoid those fireballs of yours.” “But that’s not faaaaaiiiiiirrrr,” Lilina whined. “Don’t worry,” Hector said, “I’m way easier to hit than Mommy or Matthew, even without my armor, so I probably won’t be able to dodge much. But if dodging is cheating, then that means you were cheating when we were sparring before!” “What, you think I should just stand there while you’re swinging your axe around like a madman? I’m not a big dummy like you.” “So it’s only cheating when someone else does it?” Hector asked. “Exactly!” Lilina said.

 

“There’s no such thing as cheating in warfare,” Matthew said, his demeanor as cheerful as ever, “Where I come from, we have a word for people who fight fair: losers. Whether someone bests you in honorable one-on-one combat or sticks a poisoned dagger in your back while you sleep, the result’s the same. So when you’re fighting for your life, you better be ready for every dirty trick in the book, because The Gods will turn a deaf ear to your pleas of ‘unfairness’ in the afterlife.” “Matthew!” Hector said, sternly, “You’re scaring her! Hold your tongue!” “If you are afraid of combat, m’lady,” Matthew said to Lilina, “Then you are wiser than your father. It is not the game that he makes it out to be.” “Matthew!” Hector shouted, “I’m not joking. I am ordering you to shut up!” “No can do, m’lord,” Matthew said, “I’m bound to protect M’lady before I’m bound to obey you.” “And just how do you figure you’re protecting her?” Hector demanded. “Because sparring isn’t the same thing as fighting,” Matthew said, “And if I don’t teach her that, someone else will, and they may not be nearly as nice about it as I.” “I…” Hector realized he had a point, but couldn’t admit it.

 

“Lilina,” Matthew said, sounding as sincere as Hector had ever heard, “I really am sorry for scaring you. But it’s better to be scared now, when you’re safe, then on the battlefield, when your life is in danger, right?” “R-right,” she said. “So… you’re saying I should cheat?” “Not when you’re sparring,” Matthew said, “But in a real fight? Do whatever it takes to survive, and be prepared for your enemy to do the same.” “Like what?” Lilina asked, “How do people cheat in real fights?” “Well, I could show you a few tricks,” Matthew said, “With m’lord’s permission, of course.” “Absolutely not,” Hector said, “I won’t have you teaching my daughter how to kick people in the nuts or whatever.” “Afraid, m’lord?” Matthew asked. Hector only sighed. “I don’t think it’s such a bad idea,” Lyn said. “Huh?” Hector said. “Well, Lilina can cast powerful spells,” Lyn said, “But there’s more to combat than hitting hard. With Matthew’s help, she could learn how to get the upper hand in a real fight so she can hit enemies before they hit her.” “…Fine,” Hector said, “Just don’t teach her anything too unbecoming of a lady.” “There are no ladies or gentlemen on the battlefield,” Matthew said, “Only warriors. And anything is becoming of them, so long as it helps them survive.” “I… wow,” Hector said, genuinely surprised, “That was… kind of eloquent.” “Many thanks, m’lord,” Matthew said. “That said,” Lyn said, “As powerful as your spells are, sweetie, I noticed that it takes you a while to cast them, making them easy to dodge. We should find a proper mage to tutor you.”

The Reaper

The following is the official fight song of The School of Havoc. It is to be sung to the tune of whichever DragonForce song strikes your fancy


The legends tell of skeletons

Who roam beneath the earth

The legends tell of how they reap

Undoing every birth

 

There is one man to whom they bow

The one they call their king

We will warn you of him now

For The Reaper we must sing

 

*cool riffs*

 

The Reaper feels no sorrow

The Reaper feels no joy

The Reaper’s mind and scythe are cold

As everything’s destroyed

 

The Reaper feels no pleasure

The Reaper feels no pain

The Reaper has nothing to lose

He has nothing to gain

 

*Even cooler riffs*

 

The Reaper is the sickness

The Reaper is the cure

The Reaper’s total domination

Now has been secured.

 

He comes for every hero

He comes for those who sin

The day will come when all shall fall

Then Death will come for him!

 

*Extremely cool, sick riffs*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The strongest men and women

Through all of time and space

Now feel the fire from within

And shun Death’s cold embrace

 

The Heroes of the righteous rise

From mankind’s final grave

Our hopes will take us to the skies

Our future we must save.

 

*Hot riffs, different from the music before*

 

Battle, brave heroes, until Death is dead

Fight through the fears that now fill you with dread,

Sword meeting scythe as you clash head-to-head,

Fight ‘til his blood stains the flames of Hell red!

 

*Really hot riffs that go on for a while*

 

Battle, brave heroes, until Death is dead

Fight through the fears that now fill you with dread,

Sword meeting scythe as you clash head-to-head,

Fight ‘til his blood stains the flames of Hell red!

 

He cuts through our bodies, but can’t pierce our souls

The strength of our hearts gives us power untold

We now take our vengeance, our ultimate goal,

Our love, blazing bright, topples legends of old!

 

Through eons and ages, we fight all the while,

We play Judge and Jury in Death’s final trial

The executioner wading through blood and through bile

Is met by the skeleton’s first and last smile

 

*Cool riffs from before, just as cool but even more sick*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Reaper is defeated

His reign of terror ends

The shroud of death is lifted

From our families and friends

 

The Earth is now a paradise

Of life forevermore

Our heaven comes without a price,

That’s what we thought before

 

Our eyes were blinded by our blood

But now we can see clear

We cry and cry that we might die

And hope the Reaper’s near.

 

*Sick riffs, interspersed with ghostly laughter*

 

Is that the Reaper’s laughter?

Or just a madman’s dream?

Has all this been according to

The Reaper’s wicked scheme?

 

The Reaper’s echoes haunt us

Until we see the truth

A feeling we had long forgotten

In our distant youth

 

Once more we’re saved by heroes

But this time not by blades

Our heroes save us with the prayers

The demon king forbade

 

Our heroes fill our hearts with hope

That some day we’ll be free

At the Reaper, we’ll laugh back

Until the shadows flee!

 

*The hot riffs from before return, slowing and cooling down until they’ve almost faded entirely*

 

 

 

 

 

Battle, brave heroes, until Death is dead

Fight through the fears that now fill you with dread,

Light meeting darkness as hope starts to spread

No more shall we hurt for the blood we have bled!

 

*The word “bled” is held for several bars, as the riffs suddenly return, hotter than ever before, and play the song out*

 

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.

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?”