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 5

(Chapter 4 of The Dualists can be found here)

 

 

“I should just say something,” Ivy thought, as she ate lunch with Coco in silence. “It’s not like she’ll think I’m a weirdo or anything. She’ll probably be thrilled to hear about something so spooky. I just need to say something.” But she didn’t. While the two were usually quite talkative, something was different today. Each wanted to say something, but couldn’t quite force themselves to, and was too wrapped up in their own thoughts to notice how unusual the other was acting. “I just need to say something,” Ivy thought once more. She took a deep breath. “Hey… remember when you said to tell you if something strange happened last night?” Coco asked, right as Ivy opened her mouth to speak. “Huh? Oh, yeah,” Ivy said, “I was actually going to say something about that too.” “Really?” Coco said, “Do you think they might be related?” “Oh, mine’s probably just nothing,” Ivy said, knowing full well that it wasn’t just nothing, “You go first.” “You sure?” Coco asked, “You look like something’s bothering you.” “Please, I insist,” Ivy said. “Very well,” Coco said, “Last night, I-”

 
“Do you mind if we sit here?” Regina asked, gesturing to two seats at the table, one of which Clover was already setting her tray at. “Well, well,” Coco said, “If it isn’t the drama queens of Noether High. To what do we owe the honor?” “What the Hell’s that supposed to mean?” Clover asked, indignantly. “I’m just saying, I was told that assembly was for an election,” Coco said, “Not focus testing a Lifetime original movie.” “It sounds like you’re the one who’s starting drama, here.” Clover growled. “Ah, c’mon, I’m just messing with you,” Coco said, “But, for real, election season’s over. Why are you so interested in hanging out with a couple of bozos like us?” “I just wanted to make sure our new student is feeling welcomed here,” Regina said, “It really is fine if you’d rather we didn’t sit here, though. I won’t be offended.” “But what about the thing we came here to talk about?” Clover asked. “What thing?” Coco asked, suspiciously. “Oh, I was just, uh, wondering if you two knew each other before Ivy moved here,” Regina said. Clover rolled her eyes. “Yes,” Ivy said, “We were best friends in elementary school.” “And now!” Coco said, “But why’d you think we knew each other before? Do you really think it’s so unbelievable that I could make a friend so quickly?” “I apologize,” Regina said, still standing, “I didn’t mean to offend.” “Because it is!” Coco said, “I mean, I’ve been here for years without making any friends. And the student council president sure as hell never made sure I was feeling welcomed!” “I apologize for not making your acquaintance sooner,” Regina said, “I hope we can be fast friends.” “I doubt it,” Coco said, “I don’t get along with normies. Except Ivy.” “What did you just call her?” Clover demanded with her mouth full. Regina stifled a laugh with a cough. “Then I think we should get along just fine,” Regina said, “A normie’s just someone you don’t know well enough. Everyone’s a weirdo, deep down.” “If you say so,” Coco said, “Speaking of weirdness, what’s with your face? Are you a ghost? If I ask, you have to tell me, that’s the law.” “Gee, I wonder why you haven’t made any friends,” Clover said, sarcastically. “I’m albino, actually,” Regina said, “I mean, I’m also a ghost, obviously, but I was this pale when I was alive, too.” Clover laughed. “Nice.” The mood lightened up a bit. But then Coco asked “So what’s with her face?” while pointing at Clover. “Nothing’s wrong with my face!” Clover said, “What, you’ve never seen a girl with freckles before?” “She’s a lich, actually,” Regina said, nonchalantly, “That’s just part of the undying process.” “Badass,” Coco said, “But where’s her phylactery?” “I’ve got a phylactery for you right here!” Clover said, flipping her off.

 

Ivy and Coco gasped in shock. “Clover, please,” Regina said, “They won’t cooperate if you keep being so rude.” “What?” Clover asked, “I’m just showing them the ring.” She wasn’t lying. On her middle finger was a ring with a red jewel shaped like a three leaf clover. “Does this mean that we all got rings?” Coco asked. She showed a similar ring, with a red, heart-shaped jewel on her ring finger. Ivy and Regina nodded. “But if mine is a heart, and hers is a clover,” Coco said, “What’s yours? Ivy?” “It’s not a clover,” Clover said, “It’s a club. Regina’s is a spade, so Ivy’s would be a diamond, right?” “Yeah,” Ivy said, showing the ring on her pinky to everyone at the table. “Also, why would you think the rings are based on our names if yours is a heart?” Clover asked. “Coco Roe is a pun on ‘kokoro’, the Japanese word for heart, because my dad is a fucking weeb,” Coco said, “Although, if yours is a club, why’s it red? Shouldn’t it be black?” “Don’t ask me,” Clover said, “But Regina’s is black, like you’d expect.” Regina, still standing, set her tray down to show her ring. “Oh, uh, you can sit with us, by the way,” Ivy said, “Sorry for making you stand for so long.” “Thank you,” Regina said, taking a seat. “Awww, you’re no fun,” Coco said, “I wanted to see if she’d stand there for the entire lunch period.” Clover sighed. “Since we all have similar rings,” Regina said, “I take it we all had similar dreams?” “Mmhm,” Ivy said, “I don’t remember too much, but Clover and two other girls I didn’t really recognize were there. I’m guessing that was you?” “Probably,” Coco said, “I’m pretty sure they were in my dream. I suspected something spooky was afoot, and figured that may have been the real reason they wanted to talk.” “So you’ve just been messing with us this whole time?” Clover asked, angrily. “Mostly just you, to be honest,” Coco said, “Did it really take you that long to notice?” “You know what I mean,” Clover snapped.

 

“Anyway,” Coco said, “I think that, in the dream, the rings gave us some kind of powers that we used to kick ass. Does that sound about right to everyone else?” Everyone else nodded. “I know it was my idea to meet here,” Regina said, “But perhaps we should continue this conversation elsewhere. If someone overheard us here, they might think we’re lunatics.” “People thinking you’re a lunatic’s not so bad,” Coco said, “It’s really quite freeing, not having to care what other people think.” “Not all of us can afford to be as unpopular as you,” Clover said. “It’s a damn shame you let everyone else control your life,” Coco said, “I think you could be pretty cool, if you just lived on your own terms.” “I don’t let everyone else control my life,” Clover said, defensively, “For instance, I don’t give a damn about what you think.” Coco laughed. “Well played.” “I… don’t think we should be arguing,” Ivy said, “We’ll have to work together to figure out what’s going on, and that’ll be easier if we all get along.” “What are you talking about?” Coco asked, “This is the best I’ve gotten along with anyone in years. We’re just joking around, right?” “Right…” Clover said, unconvincingly. “I agree with Ivy,” Regina said, “We can’t discount the possibility that these rings are dangerous. And if that’s the case, we’d be safest if we all worked together.” “I’m down,” Coco said, “It’s not like I like you, or anything, I’ve just watched enough anime to know that the power of friendship always wins.” “I guess I could try to get along with her,” Clover said. “Then it’s settled,” Regina said, “Let’s meet up in Riemann Park after class.” “Where’s that?” Ivy asked. “Don’t worry, I’ll lead you there,” Coco said, “And I promise, I won’t take you to The Pits of Sacrifice this time,” she added, with an exaggerated wink. “Thank you,” Ivy said, completely sincerely, “Although that was a lovely dagger you gave me last time.” Regina laughed, while Clover just looked confused. They spent the rest of their lunch period eating and making small talk.

I am a Writer

“Is it OK if I sit here?”

 
I let out an irritated sigh. In hindsight, it was perhaps not the most socially acceptable reaction, but I was never one to care about those sorts of things. I’m usually focused on something more important. And in that particular instance, it was the novel I was writing. In any case, it seemed that she hadn’t heard me. “Um, excuse me. Is it OK if I sit here?” she asked again, foolishly mistaking my lack of acknowledgement for a lack of awareness. Several seconds passed before I was able to answer her. I glanced up and quickly assessed that she was cute enough to be in my company. At the very moment that she decided to try somewhere else, I said, “Sure, as long as you’re quiet.” “Of course. Thank you!” she said, as she put her decaffeinated mocha latte on the table and lowered her backpack to the ground. “Sorry I didn’t reply sooner,” I said, even though I wasn’t, “I just had to finish the sentence I was writing.” “Oh,” she said. I could tell from her face that she was curious about what I was writing, but she agreed to be quiet, so she refrained from asking. I appreciated that.

 
“Good luck on your final exams.” I said. “Huh? Oh, thank you,” she said, “But how did you know?” “Coming to a café in late April with a backpack? The only way it could be more obvious that you’re here to study is with a neon sign. Besides, why do you think this place is so full?” “I guess that makes sense,” she said, “So, what’s your major?” I smiled and shook my head. “Please,” I said, dismissively, “I don’t need a degree to tell me how smart I am.” “I see,” she said, though she clearly did not. Her desire to know more about what I was writing was etched into her face as plain as day. I decided to indulge her out of pity. “It’s a novel,” I said. “What?” she asked. “You wanted to ask what I was writing, but since you’re a good girl who agreed not to bother me, you didn’t. But I am not an unkind man, so I saw fit to satisfy your curiosity.” Her eyes widened with surprise, though she didn’t say a word. “Unless, of course,” I continued, “you remain unsated, and next wish to know what this novel is about?” “I… yeah, I do,” she said, “But how you did you know?” I chuckled. “I am a writer, after all.” She scowled with confusion, but that was to be expected. “What does that have to do with anything?” she asked. I smirked. “If you don’t understand what being a writer has to do with being perceptive, I doubt you could understand what my novel is about in the first place.” “Oh,” she said, crestfallen, “That sounds… mysterious.” I decided that our conversation was concluded, and resumed writing.

 
After half an hour or so, the girl remained. She had obediently stayed quiet the entire time, so I saw fit to reward her. “Is psychology a difficult field of study?” I asked. “Huh? This is statistics,” she said, pointing to the cover of the textbook she was reading. I rolled my eyes. “You’re currently studying statistics, but you are a psychology major, are you not?” She couldn’t help but gasp this time. “Yes, but… how could you know that?” I gave her my signature smirk. “I am a writer after all,” I said. “But seriously,” she said, “Can you teach me how?” “I suppose it isn’t surprising that your ‘education’ has failed to impart upon you the true nature of the human mind,” I said, putting finger quotes around “education.” “I can’t teach you how to be a writer. That’s something you have to teach yourself.” I raised my finger to silence her before she could protest. “But I can explain how I knew in this particular instance.” I paused for dramatic tension, until she could no longer bear it. “First of all, since you’re studying statistics, I should hope that you would understand that, statistically speaking, a woman like yourself is unlikely to study math or real science, so that narrowed it down to a soft science. Rather than study at home or in a library, you chose here. This is because, while you’re studying, you’re also people-watching. To borrow the term you used, you’re ‘reading’ them, because you’re fascinated by how the human mind works. You noticed how that guy over there has no interest in studying, and is just trying to get in the pants of the girl he’s with. You noticed how that girl over there was served the wrong coffee, but isn’t complaining to the barista because she doesn’t want to cause any problems. You also noticed that the boy sitting by himself over there is severely depressed, and have considered trying to help him several times.” She sat in slack-jawed astonishment. “But there’s one person here that you just can’t read, and it’s driving you crazy.” I saw no need to clarify who I was talking about. We both already knew it was me. “Wow, that’s… incredible!” she said. “Yes, I guess it’d seem that way to a non-writer,” I said. She pouted in a way that, I must admit, was rather cute. “For real, though, I don’t get why you keep saying that. Writing is the opposite of perception. In your writing, everything that exists is something that you explicitly brought into creation. What is there to notice?” I silently laughed at her ignorance. “Perhaps it is more accurate to think of them, not as opposites, but as two sides of the same coin,” I said, cryptically, before returning to my work.

 
I could tell I’d left an impression on her. I could no longer hear the scratching of her pencil; she’d given up her studies to fruitlessly pursue the enigma that is me. After a few minutes, she came to a frightening realization. She made no outward indication of this, but I could feel the wave of negative mental energy from her. “So, you think you’ve figured me out?” I asked. “I know I have,” she said, struggling to maintain her composure. Her confidence was adorable, like that of a child who thinks they know everything. “Prove it, then,” I challenged. “You’re more than just a writer, aren’t you?” she asked. “Well, I commend you for noticing that I’m of a different caliber than a common novelist, but-” “You’re the writer,” she said.

 
It was my turn to be shocked. “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand,” I said, “The writer of what, exactly?” “This,” she said, gesturing vaguely, “Me, this café, the people, the final exams. All of it. This is a story. And you’re writing it.” “What are you talking about?” I asked, “What are you talking about?” she retorted, “Why would you think that being a writer would give you some kind of superhuman ability to notice subtle details, unless they’re details that you wrote yourself? Are you crazy? Although, if you have to ask yourself that question, which you are most definitely doing as you are typing these very words, the answer is probably yes.” “I’m done with you,” I said. “Oh, I know,” she said, “Because I’m just you, and you’ve been done with yourself for a long time, haven’t you?” “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. “You hate yourself. That’s it. That’s the dark mystery at the core of your being that you thought would amaze and entice your imaginary girlfriend. That’s what you think makes you so complex and mysterious that no one can truly understand you. But that’s just another excuse. People don’t avoid you because they don’t understand you. They avoid you because they understand you better than you seem to understand yourself, which is ironic, since your own self is the only thing that you actually can notice as a writer. They understand that you act like you’re better than everyone because you’re insecure about yourself, and they understand that hanging out with people like that sucks, so they don’t.

 
I sigh and hit Ctrl+S. I’m too tired to continue this one at the moment, and honestly don’t particularly care to continue it at any moment. “I guess this ended up being another one of those stories,” I mutter to myself, as I upload this to be read by no one in particular.


NOTE: This was based on what may be the worst thing I’ve ever read, as well as this follow-up which may be even worse. So, if you thought this was bad, I did that on purpose, which means that it’s actually good.

Coven Spotlight: Mistresses of the Tide

FULL DISCLOSURE: This month’s Coven Spotlight was written by Maria Tranquillitatis, a High Mistress of the featured coven.

We’ve all been Uninitiated at some point, so we all know how stressful it is to choose which coven to join. “What if I’m no good at those types of spells? What if I don’t get along with my new Sisters? What if I change my mind and spend an eternity regretting my decision?” We’ve all asked ourselves these questions at some point, and I’m sure some of you young witchlings out there are still asking them. For me, the question that I always came back to was “Should I be a Sea Hag, or a Moon Crone?” But thankfully, I learned that I didn’t have to choose between the two. So I chose to be a Mistress of the Tide.

But a Mistress of the Tide is more than just a witch who loves the Sea and Moon in equal measure. She is one who understands and appreciates the true beauty of The Tide. To many outsiders, this fascination (some might even say obsession, and they wouldn’t be totally wrong) with a single natural phenomenon is difficult to understand. I’ve found that it often helps to explain with a comparison to The Prismatic Order, a coven which similarly devotes themselves to rainbows, whose beauty is a bit more easily understood. Yet The Prism Maidens understand that the rainbow is more than just pretty to look at: it represents the beauty of our diversity, as witches and as people, and how we can all come together to illuminate the world around us. Similarly, The Tide is more than just the rising and falling of water. It is the cycle of highs and lows, ebbs and flows, which all things experience. It is life which gives way to death, night which gives way to day, hope which gives way to despair, and death which gives way to life. It is not just the cycle between high and low tides, or the phases of the moon, but the unseen force which binds them together into one cycle. It is the invisible influence which permeates the entire universe, connecting that which seems unconnected into one grand, universal cycle. Honestly, I could write an entire grimoire fangirling over The Tide, what it means to our coven, and what it means to me, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll leave it at that.

The Mistresses of the Tide are not a coven for those who crave the power to topple mountains or rout armies. Those thirsty for conquest would do better joining The Disciples of The Sky’s Fire (This is, in no way, meant to be a slight directed at The Disciples. The Poor Witch’s Almanack respects all covens equally -Ed.) Our power is not that of the tsunami, sometimes erroneously called the “tidal wave,” which smashes cities and drowns their people. Ours is a subtler power. It does not bring about swift destruction, but steady erosion. All people and all things are subject to this erosion, be it by the ebb and flow of water, wind, or time itself. With our spells, we can use this as a weapon, to destroy in a way that is slow, but undetectable until it is too late. This power is arguably more dangerous than the louder, flashier power wielded by some. For it is impossible to lose a battle which your enemy does not know that they are fighting. Of course, it goes without saying that we only use this power responsibly, and always respect all edicts laid down by The Grand Matron and The Elder Council.

The Mistresses of The Tide tend to convene in sea caves, when the tide is at its zenith or nadir, so joining may require some travelling if you don’t live near the coast. This may be a bit inconvenient, but it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker; though most local covens hold meetings once or twice a month, we are very understanding of our Sisters, and will gladly welcome you any time you are able to join us. However, living far from the ocean does present some complications with regards to the conditions of the Coven Pact. In exchange for their power and title, a Mistress of the Tide can only drink from a body of water in which a man has drowned. But don’t worry. It’s easier than it sounds.