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A note from argusthecat

Ethics musings and copyright violations.  I remember writing this chapter, and I think I've grown to like it a lot more since I first put it down.  At first it felt a little like filler, but now it feels more like it's important to have these thoughts visible to the audience, and I've definately found some more solid themes in the story because of it.

Also, special hello to the person my partner is talking to on discord about Animal Crossing right now, who apparently reads this.  Our eternal debt to Tom Nook unites us all.

Anyway, enjoy!

Saturday.

 

Alanna was off with an Anesh, checking up on the high school, sussing out the boundaries of the breach. Anesh had wanted to tag along, and James lost the coin flip for which ‘actual FBI agent’ would be escorting a consultant around the building.

 

Other Anesh was off doing private tutoring. During a round of ‘best skill pays for dinner’ last night, he’d scored [+1 Skill Rank : Mathematics - Calculus - Vector Integral], and after that, there was no getting the grin off his face. Anesh had come a long way from ‘this is woefully unfair’ to get to ‘I will absolutely take free math knowledge’. He’d also come a long way in terms of drawing knowledge out of the skill orbs; turning it over in his mind until he had something he couldn’t just use, but could understand. And teach. For money.

 

The secret lair wasn’t empty, but James was avoiding it a little while longer. Today was group therapy day, and they were doing a lot of connectivity exercises. James felt like he'd taken too long; his fumbling attempts at a nascent hive mind would, for sure, not measure up to the experiences of the thirty-ish people who rotated through learning to master their implants. Also Sarah was there. And while he wanted to talk to her, he also wanted to do it when there was no risk of one of a million different people interrupting.

 

Secret was asleep. So was Auberdeen. So were Ganesh and Lily.

 

D&D night had been canceled - or rather, moved to next week. The installation of new hardware at the base’s kitchen was being overseen by the guy James had unintentionally given dictatorial control over it. And it was one of his days off work.

 

And, most importantly, James had been ordered to “fuckin’ chill” for a little while by Alanna. A mandated day off from the endless series of tasks he’d set for himself, which she seemed exempt from for some reason; at least temporarily.

 

James sat on the couch, listening to the almost-silence of the apartment. The only noises were the constant hum of the fridge, the ocean’s roar of cars passing outside, and the scratching of pen legs as Rufus scrambled to get himself up onto the table. It was a good day. A day with no expectations, no obligations.

 

For the first time in three months, James actually had a day off.

 

He made eye contact with Rufus as the little stapler finally made it up to James’ level, theatrically rolling his head around from where it had been staring at the ceiling.

 

“Hey friend.” James greeted the strider, who waved back with his front leg, clicking a greeting. “I’ve got nothing to do today.” He said, casual.

 

James looked around the room as he casually scratched Rufus on the strider’s back. He could play some video games, though nothing had really been on his radar for a while that he was interested in trying, and he worried that if he sat down at his computer, he’d just end up sinking a million more hours into old favorites that didn’t make him think, or even excite him anymore.

 

He could take a damn nap; finally catch up on all the sleep he was missing. But then, he’d kinda gotten used to the nonstop pattern of living on five hours a night. Six, if he slept at the apartment and you counted the magical bonus hour. And napping now would just leave him feeling unpleasant later.

 

He could clean the apartment, but, well…

 

“Why is the apartment so clean?” He directed the inquiry toward the only other conscious being in the apartment, but Rufus didn’t have an answer for him. Or rather, he did, but James didn’t understand it. “Okay, calm down buddy. I’m not Anesh, I can’t speak your sign language.” James waited patiently, as Rufus walked him through a game of comically frustrating charades. “Okay. You, and the… others. Lily and Ganesh, right. You three… circles… oh, polishing? Wait, cleaning? Hang on, you’ve been the one doing the dishes?”

 

Rufus nodded, enthusiastically. James asked him “Why?” and he made some more motions. After a few minutes of the game, James came to a new answer. “Work for checkmark? Wait, check. Paycheck?” Rufus bobbed out a nod again, thrilled his friend understood. “You know we’d just give you yellows, right? You aren’t our servants.”

 

Of course Rufus knew. He had some complex thoughts on the nature of reciprocal good, though. If one did you a service, it was in your best interest to do a service for them in return. Both because it respected the gesture of friendship, and because it made for longer lasting bonds. Rufus was very much a philosopher of the office world.

 

He didn’t know how to say that though. So he shrugged at James, tilting his front legs in a flat W shape, and flattening his frontal eye in a similar gesture of resignation.

 

“Alright. Well, thanks?” James settled on. It was actually kind of reminiscent of the old myths of brownies; those clever sprites that traded a clean home for a bit of hospitality. Except now, James had the delightful mystery of how an ambulatory iPhone could manage to load anything into a dishwasher.

 

Also he didn’t have anything to do.

 

“I think I’m gonna take a walk.” He told Rufus, who nodded sadly at him. “You wanna come along?” He asked the strider.

 

Rufus perked up instantly.

 

There was, to him, a sort of magical nature to the outdoors, the same way the dungeon called to James. There were things that he didn’t understand, life that didn’t work the way his own knowledge of Life said it should, and so many new things to see. But he also knew that his existence was a well kept secret; that his creation in the crucible of the office was not something that many humans, maybe most humans, would ever accept. But even still, when James offered him an arm to climb and a shoulder to perch on, how could Rufus ever say no?

 

“Just pretend you’re inanimate if anyone asks.” James told him as he put on his shoes, almost dislodging Rufus already. “Maybe hide in my coat or something.”

 

And then, with all the gravitas needed from someone who did it a few times a day, they were out the front door. Only a slight pause for James to pet the panting dachshund on the doormat.

 

_____

 

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of our guild lately.” James spoke out loud, and to anyone who didn’t know the stapler on his shoulder was a person, probably looked crazy. Fortunately, he was walking down a winding black asphalt trail that cut through the roughly tamed fields that separated shopping centers from residential areas. And, as it was a cold, grey, winter day, there was no one here to even come close to overhearing.

 

“Guilds in general, really.” James continued, ignoring the fact that Rufus was more mesmerized by the soggy grass around them than anything he was actually saying.

 

“See, the thing about a guild, is that it’s part of this economy of violence. Not literal violence, but, like, metaphorical violence.” James gesticulated helplessly. “The idea of forcing your will or your plan or your rules onto someone else.” He tried to explain. “All those old mercantile guilds that sprung up around the time that Europe was discovering the concept of trade? They existed to exercise power. ‘Join the guild, or don’t work’, right? If you join, you get access to their support, their client list, their pool of potential buyers. If you don’t, then they make sure no one does business with you if they ever want to do business with the guild. Oh! Like a union! But also kinda not, since the unions were about retaking power from authority, and the guilds were about establishing monopolies, establishing unassailable power.”

 

James paused briefly when Rufus tapped his cheek and pointed, getting him to kneel down next to where the pathway crossed over a small creek. Rufus hopped to the ground, and spent a few minutes investigating the flowing water. It was like a drinking fountain; only huge, and wild, and out in the open.

 

“So, the thing I’m worried about.” James continued, as he balanced on the balls of his feet and watched Rufus explore, “Is that when we start calling ourselves a guild, and we start acting like what we think a guild is, we open the door to that kind of behavior. And I mean, a lot of us? We do *not* know the history of trade guilds. We’re thinking of it in the video game term; like, a collection of tactically compatible individuals who want to run the same raids. And we are that! But we’re also not in a video game.” He shrugged at Rufus’ inquisitive look before plucking the strider up and depositing him back on James’ shoulder.

 

“I mean, the skill levels are like a video game. Kind of. A really weird one.” James conceded. “I’ve always wondered if you actually get levels when you eat the orbs.” Rufus gave the crossed-legs gesture for no pretty quickly. “Oh? Is it the time thing?” James asked, getting a nod in return. “That makes sense. It’s food for you guys.”

 

The two of them stopped at a crosswalk, and James waited the customary few steps back to signal to the one oncoming car that he had no intention of speeding up his walk to cross in front of it. It was hard enough to get Rufus to balance without jogging.

 

“So, the thing about our group.” James tried to pick up his thoughts as they crossed and continued. “I don’t want to be a guild. An economic one, at least. But I don’t really know what else to go for. I just know that I don’t want us to fall into this pattern of using force or control. I can see it really easily, too, you know? Karen is the big example.”

 

On his shoulder, Rufus dug pointed legs into James’ coat and shuddered.

 

“Person Karen, not dungeon Karen.” James clarified, to Rufus’ gratitude. “So, her philosophy and her political outlook differs from the majority of our group. She and at least one or two of her teammates would prefer to operate differently, use the powers for different things, and the big one; kill the dungeon if needed. And *yes*, I am aware that I was on team-no-dungeon for a while there.” James tapped a chittering Rufus on the snoot. “But then, through an exercise in control of the dungeon’s door, I cowed her into going along with my plan. And that’s… worrying. Like, I think my plan is *better*, for us and for the world, but I don’t like the idea that I am absolutely going to have to use force, in various ways, to implement it.”

 

James sighed, and looked up at the gathering grey clouds. “So, economies of violence. Hurt earns hurt. Control earns obedience. We end up acting out of fear, out of need, and not out of respect and mutual agreement to build the best society we can.” He winced as a raindrop impacted directly on his nose. “Alright, enough of that. You wanna get coffee?” He asked Rufus. “You’ll like coffee. Not dungeon-coffee. but the good stuff.” James tilted his head to give Rufus a glance; the strider was looking at him with a mix of confusion and suspicion. “Okay, maybe we’ll get you some fancy paper clips or something.”

 

Rufus could live with that.

 

_____

 

They sat at a cafe table, watching the rain pour down outside. One of the perks of living in a suburb that James could only barely afford before the beginning of his delver career, was that there was literally always a coffee shop open somewhere nearby. And this time, it also wasn’t Starbucks.

 

James sipped at his cappuccino. He was trying something different from his usual coffee-with-training-wheels that most people called a mocha. Partly, he was just enjoying something different, but also partly, he liked looking the part of a modern bohemian; drinking from an oversized ceramic cup filled with foamed milk and staring out at the Oregon rain.

 

Rufus was eating a piece of cake on the table in front of him. The barista hadn’t asked about the stapler on James’ shoulder, and James wasn’t prepared to volunteer the information. But he and Rufus had both come to the conclusion that if anyone had a problem with the little strider eating his legally purchased cake, then they could take it up with the guild. They hadn’t settled on ‘guild’ as the right term yet, but James was *pretty* sure that ‘stapler’ wasn’t anything that was wrong or illegal to keep as a pet, or take into coffee shops, or feed cake. Especially not feed cake, judging by how quickly Rufus was demolishing the strawberry and creme concoction in front of him.

 

And he was tired of hiding.

 

It was strange, to James, how quickly he fell into patterns of what was normal. It had been not even a year since he’d discovered the semi-sacred geometry of the Office, since he’d stepped through that tear in normality and into a world of wonder and nightmare. And already, he was so used to it. Not bored, but accepting; adapting. To the point that when the girl behind the counter asked him if he had any plans for the weekend, he had to catch himself from talking about goddamn engagement tactics for spectral cats.

 

His life had literal magic in it now. From the things El had told him about her dungeon, there were a lot of things out there that hewed closer to mana pools and spell lists than their own use of blue orbs. But beyond that, he fought monsters. He hoarded knowledge and experience and small powers that added up to him being something a lot more than human right now. He spent eight hours a week that didn’t exist in a place that wasn’t accessible by normal space, exploring sentient geometry that should not be.

 

It was so goddamn cool, it hurt. But it was also becoming normal. Not just normal, but part of him, part of who he was. And his circle of trust wasn’t wide enough to contain his desire to share.

 

He didn’t know what normal meant. But he knew that, for him, it was stifling and choking.

 

He couldn’t tell his parents that he wasn’t wasting away in a dead end job anymore. He could barely tell his sister - and James had some serious concerns there, too - and she was more or less a cool person sometimes. She seemed to have accepted that it was real, she’d *been there* for the last stand. But it was like the impact of the information had just leaked out of her. Super worrying.

 

Still, it wasn’t like James could go to a therapist, or a counselor or anything. Or rather, he *could*, but it had to be Sarah or Lua; people who were ‘in on it’. He couldn’t see a normal-ass boring baseline human to talk about his problems.

 

He could maybe write a blog. Actually, he could maybe just start turning his life into a narrative, and write a book. But, as cool as that sounded, it still wouldn’t give him the connection he craved. At most, it would get the actual wizard police on his head. At least, it would give him a laugh to hear that his life was too unrealistic. All James wanted was to be able to tell someone, anyone he wanted, that he planned on taking a hatchet to a hostile ball of CAT-5 cable tomorrow night.

 

“What do you think about what normal means?” James idly asked Rufus as the stapler tried to jam more cake into his metal maw.

 

Rufus froze mid-bite, and slowly pivoted to look up at James, his large central eye glittering under the frosting stuck to it. With deliberate, meaningful gestures, he stuck his forelegs out to indicate the cake, and then tilted them back to indicate himself. Then, he gave a forward bob, prompting his friend to really *think* about the question he’d just asked.

 

“Yeeeeeah.” James drawled out, leaning back in his chair with his cup. “Yeah, I’m with you, buddy.”

 

“Um… excuse me.” James looked up at the sound of a young man’s voice. The kid was wearing a damp teeshirt with a printed image of a banana on it, dark cloth over slightly less dark skin. He pushed up his glasses nervously, fidgeting as he got James’ attention. “We were curious…” He pointed over his shoulder at a table on the other side of the main room of the coffee shop, where a duo of other obvious nerds sat, stacks of cards visible on the table indicating a game in progress. “Um…”

 

James blinked once, then looked back down at Rufus, who hadn’t paused in demolishing his desert. “Oh. Yeah, I was wondering if anyone was going to ask.” He told the kid.

 

“Right. So… what is that?” The teen asked, pointing a somewhat accusatory finger at Rufus’ cake covered form.

 

“It’s a stapler.” James answered, desperately trying to keep a straight face.

 

The answer was delivered so directly that it caught the kid off guard. He nodded a couple times, and turned as if to leave, before he paused, pulled together his courage, and turned back to James. “Really?”

 

“Nope.” James said, absolutely failing to hide a smile.

 

“Okay. So what is it?”

 

James raised an eyebrow. “What if it’s a secret?” He asked.

 

“I wanna know, though. We have a bet.”

 

“Weird thing to bet on. Are you guys playing Magic?” James redirected, enjoying the hell out of himself.

 

It was not lost on him that literally the one thing he was just pining for had dropped into his lap, but that didn’t change the fact that he still had to at least pretend to have a veneer of operation security. Also, now that he was actually presented with the option… well, a group of high schoolers wasn’t exactly James’ first choice for people he wanted to talk to. He was young enough he still remembered high school, and hindsight had showed him that almost no one was really a good person at the time, himself included.

 

“No! I mean, yes!” The kid stammered. “Wait, no, come on! You gotta tell us what that is. Is it a robot or something?”

 

At this point, James was starting to feel a seed of actual irritation, that the kid wasn’t taking the hint. James was sitting here, politely being a lone old goat, staring out into the rain and musing on the nature of what it meant to be different, and here comes someone who was… actually instantly curious about the weird, instead of repulsed by it.

 

James made a decision. “This is Rufus.” He said, waving an open palm toward the strider. “He’s a species of Life we call striders. Capital L, lowercase s.” James explained, absolutely failing to clarify. “Honestly, I’m probably not going to go into detail on that. This really is something that I shouldn’t probably be doing. *But*!” He held up a finger, forestalling the protests. “If you’ve got an extra deck over there, I promise to be suitably cryptic to your friends so you can win your bet, and we can see if Rufus can learn to play Magic.” He cocked an eyebrow at the high schooler, who stared at him like he’d just grown an extra head.

 

The look the kid gave him made James realize that, whatever the nature of normal really was, he was still at that age where teenagers assumed that he was an adult. And that adults didn’t make jokes.

 

*That* stung more than not being able to tell his mom he was learning how to kill things with an axe.

 

But then, after a few seconds of puzzling it out, like he’d just been presented with a dry British panel show for the first time, the kid’s face cracked into a smile and he burst out laughing.

 

“Yeah!” He said. “Sure! I’ve got mono-red, if you want?”

 

James nodded back, bobbing his head to the invisible beat of the world around him. “I bet Rufus could puzzle that out. You know how to set people on fire, right?” He asked the strider, rhetorically.

 

Rufus shrugged, before miming firing a gun. The movement getting a flinch of motion out of the teenager still standing by the table. He looked at the strider like it was a particularly egregious tarantula.

 

“Good enough for me.” James said. “Grab the cake, and let’s go say hi to your friends. What did *you* bet on?” He asked, standing and stretching his legs.

 

And for just a little while, the rain and the worries were forgotten.

 

_____

 

“I’ve been less afraid of things lately.” James spoke aloud to Rufus.

 

They’d left the cafe and James’ ephemeral friends behind, and were out walking again. The rain had picked up, but despite the chilling air and the oncoming storm, James wasn’t cold. He had to raise his voice to be heard over the sporadic traffic as he and Rufus walked down the sidewalk, passing by apartment complexes interspersed with shopping centers as they made their way home.

 

Rufus had absolutely no time for the rain. It had been interesting at first, but it turned out that cold *was* a sensation that striders could feel, and Rufus had decided he’d rather stop feeling it. So he was huddled, as best he could, inside the hood of James’ jacket. He was also trying to be a good listener, giving James taps to the back of the head as prompts to continue talking.

 

James felt a tap on the back of his head, and startled alert. He’d trailed off again while eying an oncoming truck, making sure it wasn’t about to send a curbside puddle airborne and into James’ face. “Oh, right! Less afraid.” He wiped rain off his forehead. “I think it’s a side effect of knowing there’s a path to immortality out there. Seriously, I dunno how much staplers think about existential dread, but for me it’s…. Often. Really often. And just having the knowledge that there’s an orb out there that adds to lifespan is kinda *the* game changer for me, even beyond the dungeons themselves.”

 

He went quiet for a minute as they walked past a couple in reflective vests pulling bikes up onto the sidewalk; the rain was coming down so much now it was starting to turn the bike lanes into more rivers than road. James nodded at the duo as he walked past, and then continued with a grin when he felt Rufus tapping at his skull again.

 

“Thing is, a lot of it isn’t even stuff I should have been afraid of. Just things like talking to people, social anxiety, that sorta thing. I guess it always felt so immutably permanent before, but now? Now I could have a million years to fix that. So why stress it? But by *not stressing it*, it turns out that there was never a problem, and everything could always have been fine, and I wasted a decade of my life worrying about things that literally did not matter.” James snorted, droplets of rainwater splashing off his soaked face as he shook his head in annoyance. “And all I needed to learn this secret of human interaction and mental stability was literal life magic. Rad.” He laughed bitterly to himself.

 

He paused at a crosswalk, mentally tallying the distance back to the apartment. It wasn’t that far; his walk hadn’t taken him more than the required distance to get coffee, after all. It was just that, being dripping wet was starting to wear thin. James leaned on the corner’s light pole, stretching out his legs while he waited for the light to change. He was silent for a long time, stewing in that own internal bitterness, before there was another light tap from his jacket.

 

At first, he didn’t respond. It wasn’t something he had words for at the moment.

 

He *was* bitter. He was angry and frustrated. But unlike so many other things in his life, this time it was intensely personal. This wasn’t like the resentment of having an inescapable job change his schedule on a whim, or the sour taste of having to put up with a high school’s worth of bullies. It wasn’t even the anger at the dungeon, thinking it got to take lives like a bored god. It was something else; something that simmered in his chest and with a dark whisper reminded him that *he could have fixed this whenever he wanted*.

 

James was mad at himself. Because it had always only been himself, not being as good as he wanted to be.

 

He jolted back to alertness as Rufus, half-crawled out of the hood, pulled his attention to the changed crosswalk light. Patting the strider back to slightly less soaked safety, James started moving again, in silence this time.

 

He was almost back to his front door when his good mood for the day caught back up to him.

 

“You know.” He said to Rufus. “The one thing I don’t think I’d ever have been okay with before, was this. Taking you out on a walk, the coffee shop, that sorta thing.” He smiled as he started to climb the apartment stairs. “I’ve spent basically this whole time being afraid of the wizard police, or something like it. Or of just being too weird for people to handle. But now, I dunno. I feel pretty good.”

 

James opened the door, then. And took the two of them inside, just as the rain started to die down.

 

“Thanks for listening.” He told Rufus, as he slung his coat off and helped the strider extricate himself from the back of it.

 

Rufus nodded heavily. Of course, he wanted to say. Of course he’d listen. They were friends, after all.

 

_____

 

“James, what is all this?” Anesh asked as he came back through the door. Alanna wasn’t with him, so either she’d met a terrible high-school-induced fate, or this was the Anesh who’d been doing math tutoring. “Also hi!” He added, cheerfully.

 

James looked down at the table, currently covered in piles and piles of expensive cardboard. “This is what remains of my Magic card collection. Rufus learned to play today, and we’re building him a deck.”

 

Anesh looked down at the table sadly. “Ah. And here I thought we’d buried this so deep that no man or god could once more dredge it up.”

 

“No, we’re not doing dredge. It’s more of a control shell, but we’re seeing what I’ve got before committing to anything.” Rufus bobbed his torso sagely, pushing forward James’ worn and ancient copy of Upheaval for consideration. “Yes, perfect. I was looking for this.” James said, adding the card to one of the many piles in front of him. “So, how’s your day been?” He asked Anesh, casually.

 

“Normal.” Anesh replied, still hovering, as if afraid that sinking down onto the couch would drag him into the card game on display here. “Yours?”

 

“Not bad, not bad.” James let the words roll casually off his tongue. “Went on a walk with Rufus. Met some people in a coffee shop that taught him to play *this*. Well, I say ‘people’, but I mean ‘teenagers’. Wandered around for a bit longer, came home, started a youtube channel, and now I’m doing this.”

 

Anesh blinked at him, slowly and deliberately. “Sorry, what was that middle part?”

 

“The youtube channel?” He didn’t wait for Anesh to confirm that this was absolutely not what he’d meant. “Remember that aux cable I bought off Momo that converts things into 90’s power metal? I’ve been using that to make covers of things. For the internet!”

 

“That’s a terrible idea from an operational security perspective.” Anesh said without breaking stride. “And also not what I meant. The *other* thing that’s a terrible idea from an operational security perspective was what I was talking about. You just randomly introduced Rufus to people?”

 

“I think they thought he was an especially advanced robot.” James said, nodding. “I didn’t really tell them much. Just like I didn’t put on my channel ‘made with extranormal technology’ or something.” He snorted. “I”m not, like, inviting trouble. I just feel like we can afford to be a little less afraid of the consequences of enjoying our position.”

 

“Our position being…?”

 

“I’m still deciding on a title.” James admitted. “But, you know. Being delvers. Going into the dungeon, coming out with the fun stuff. We put in the work, we should enjoy the reward.”

 

Anesh sighed. “You know, I don’t even disagree with you, really. I do wish you’d at least talked to Alanna before doing the youtube thing. She’s gonna have words for you about that.”

 

“Long and profane words, I’m sure!” James said with good spirits. “But this is something that we need to test.” He insisted, switching to a serious tone. “We need, before we ever start spreading around skulljacks and green zones and totems and whatever, to *know* that we can start spreading these innocuous things without attracting attention. And I’d rather get a polite warning from a shadowy government agency than an assassination attempt from the same.”

 

“Big assumptions.” Anesh mused.

 

“I’m mostly backward justifying the fact that I wanted to share the totally rad power metal cover of the first half of Hamilton.”

 

“And what happens when you get an assassination attempt over blatant copyright violation?” Anesh asked.

 

“Overwhelming retaliation.” James deadpanned back.

 

“Good to know.”

 

James stood, weaseling his way out from between the couch and the table, leaving the deckbuilding process to a hyperfocused Rufus. He wormed his way out to the living room floor, and gave Anesh a quick warm hug before sliding past. “It’ll be fine!” He promised as he headed down the hallway. “We were already planning stuff like this anyway. I’m just stepping up the tempo.”

 

“I’m worried about this.” Anesh said.

 

“Me too!” James told him. “Now do you wanna hear how many electric guitars the xenotech fit into My Shot or not?”

 

There was a moment where Anesh considered, in however a small capacity as he could, if it would be better to just stop this now. To put his foot down, demand they keep their lives secret, and delete a youtube channel before the greater internet culture found it.

 

Then he shook his head, rubbing at the port for the skulljack on the back of his neck. “Yeah, yeah, alright!” He called after James’ retreating back. “Hang on, I’m coming!”

 

And for just a little while, it was the best day off ever.

 

_____

 

“That’s him.”

 

The words were spoken by Alanna, as she and Anesh sat in Anesh’s beat up old sedan out front of the local high school. It was a cold, rainy, *ugly* day, and the lack of normal classes had not stopped the place from being busy with students. There was a basketball game tonight, and a slew of afterschool clubs besides.

 

The him that Alanna was pointing out was Javier; the young man who’d turned them onto this dungeon in the first place, however unintentionally, when *their* dungeon had tried to order a hit on him. He was walking through the rain toward the school, hood pulled up around his face, but Alanna had caught a glimpse of him and had enough observation skills and Skills to keep track of the student.

 

“I thought he dropped out. No one’s heard from him since Sarah first contacted him. And we still don’t know why she got bad vibes from him.” Anesh responded, peering through the rain slick windows toward their new point of interest.

 

“Well, he’s back. And he’s armed.” Alanna’s mouth was a thin, unhappy line.

 

Anesh did a double take. “Armed?”

 

“Armed.” She nodded once. “He’s got two knives, and a handgun in the back of his pants.” Weapons were almost comically easy for her to pick out on the person of the untrained student; the Skill that let her keep track of the flow of combat making it child's play to spot.

 

“Should we stop him?” Anesh asked. “He’s probably here for the dungeon, but I don’t want to sit by while a school shooting happens.”

 

“Sarah didn’t say he was unstable or anything like that, just that he gave her a bad feeling. That said, we should follow him. I bet he knows a lot that we need to know about the breach, and the other side. We’ll just have to hope that everyone’s in the gym, and no one stops us in the halls.” She popped the door of the car open, letting in the sound of rain and the smell of muddy grass. “And call James.” Alanna ordered. “His day off is over. Time to check this place out.”

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argusthecat

Bio: I write stuff, and have a lot of thoughts about narrative structure and tropes. Some of the stuff I write is here, the rest can be found over on Reddit on my r/hfy author page. Feel free to message me if you want to talk about ideas, or just have questions about anything I made!

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