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A note from argusthecat

Holy shit, we made it to a hundred.  Didn't really expect *that* when I started.  I feel like I should do something special for this, but I honestly can't come up with anything.  Let's see... how about another contest of sorts?  We've done it before for greens, how about one for purples?  Yes.  I like that.

Leave a comment with your idea for a purple orb.  One idea per person, so bring your *best*, not *most*!  I'll use the one that I like best in aproximately eight chapters, which is coindidentially how far ahead Patreon is.

“James, *wait*!” The shout echoed against the polished stone ramp of the high school’s lower level. It echoed alongside heavy, wet bootsteps, as James stomped his way up to the ground floor, away from the door to the boiler room and its vile little pit of secrets. Around him, Secret coiled like a gathering storm; a blue hurricane of equal parts fury and determination.

They were, mildly, upset.

“James!” Alanna yelled again. “No! This is a bad idea!” She caught her bearings, and finally managed to stand up. She’d hit the ground with a case of vertigo that left the walls spinning and her head pounding, and she had literally no idea how James had almost instantly started moving.

Anesh, too, was still slumped on the floor. One with an arm out to one of the strange suspended pipes, trying to haul himself up, the other simply curled up, clutching at his stomach and groaning. But there was no time for Alanna to be nice and try to help him up; there was an angry partner about to do something stupid who needed to be stopped.

She staggered out the door, holding onto the wall for balance, and realized with concern that she was already a few hundred feet behind James. She could just see his retreating back at the top of the ramp, and realized it was too late to stop him from wading into the thin group of people in the school’s lobby.

There had been a basketball game tonight, the thought wormed through the back of her head. There were a lot of students here, many of them wandering around in patterns they didn’t normally use. And the dungeon was open. The dungeon was always only open when there were students here. Interesting.

The thought impacting her brain didn’t stop her from also noticing the startled and sometimes outright fearful yelps and screams as James was noticed.

Alanna shook off her dizziness, and lurched forward. She kept a hand on the wall for balance, but she moved as fast as she could to catch up to James. For the first time, she found herself actively wishing to have already absorbed a purple that would give her some kind of divine inner ear or something. But wishing things were magically better was never really where Alanna’s mind lived, and she shrugged that off about as quickly as she sloughed away the vertigo, and started jogging forward.

As he’d walked through the lobby, cutting a straight line past several groups of high schoolers, James had left a trail of blood and filth and panic. His clothing, most of it soaked with the dual-color blood of the ratroaches, splattered intermittent drips onto the tile floor. His boots left bloody footprints behind as he stalked forward. And around him, Secret continued to spiral, his form still physical enough that everyone could see him.

There were maybe a hundred people here, Alanna realized with sinking dread. Kids out to see the game, members of the basketball teams who were milling around now that they were done, a few teachers or parents. All of them now wide eyed and staring at the mid twenties man and infant infomorph as the two of them cut a silent path across the floor toward the front office.

“God dammit.” Alanna muttered, pressing her fingers together over her nose.

It was, at this point, *far* beyond too late to slip out of the building unnoticed. Unbelievably too late to stop James from opening up a million lines of questioning from a hundred people. Stop him from carving open all those weak points in their shroud of anonymity that anyone who wanted to find them - or people like them - could exploit.

“Holy shit, are you alright?” The voice from behind Alanna was an older man, gruff but instantly concerned. She turned sharply, and her vision swam for a second before the shape before her resolved into a polo shirt and the visage of the school’s security guard. “You’re bleeding!” He said the words as if by speaking, it would fix the problem.

Alanna looked down at herself, then back up. “I don’t think any of this is mine.” She said, lamely. “Sorry, I have to go help my… partner. There’s someone else down by the boiler room, can you go check on him?” She asked, remembering at the last minute that this man was at least somewhat convinced that she was a representiftive of the federal government.

“Wh… yes ma'am!” He gave her a nod, and she saw his arm twitch like he was thinking about saluting her, but decided against it at the last minute. His hustle down the ramp was almost amusing, the way he shuffled his arms in short bursts as he powerwalked his way into the depths of the school building.

Alanna shook her head. At least if Anesh needed anything, he’d have someone there. With a grimace on her face, she turned and followed after James, hoping that everyone would still be too focused on his passing to notice her.

It didn’t work.

While frightened and startled yells had followed James and the strange apperation on his shoulders, it was more like a wall of murmurs that swaddled Alanna. People pointed, stared, no one was shocked to see her follow him, only curious and wondering, perhaps, *why she was also bleeding*.

“It’s not mine.” Alanna told the young woman who was bold enough to have asked. Then she looked down at her arms again, turning them over and checking the drying fluid that was forming a crust against her skin. “I think. I don’t think anything can actually cut me anymore.” She muttered. Then she realized what she’d said, and shook her head again, starting up another migraine. “Ah, please ignore that.” She told the student, before continuing her walking path after James.

No one else interrupted her, though whether that was out of fear of the woman who looked like she’d stepped out of a Conan the Barbarian comic, or out of relief that she was being polite to the few people who asked her questions, and not there to kill them all, she didn’t know.

When she pushed open the doors of the office, James had already made it behind the desk. There were two older women in here, the administrators most likely, somewhere below a vice principle, but vital to making the school actually operate. Alanna had been friends with their counterparts at her high school when she’d still attended, and was all too aware of the frequent need for them to be in on weekends; especially game days.

Right now, they were somewhat cowering back against a row of filing cabinets, as James rustled around in the long desk for what he was looking for.

The main desk dominated this front of the office. Anyone walking in, from either the front door, or either of the two doors that led to the school, would have to pass by this huge curved facade. It wasn’t wood, Alanna realized, just paneled with it, but it was still imposing to a student who was either needing something, or sent here for a ‘conversation’. The rest of the office was carpeted, in sharp contrast to the paved stone floor of the main building. Real carpet, too, which she noted both she and James had now tracked blood onto. That would require a serious apology to the school’s janitorial staff.

Alanna drew her attention back to what was going on, and addressed the two women who were now fearfully looking at her. She opened with a sigh. “Excuse me. You’ll have to pardon my partner, he’s had a rough day.” She reached into her coat, wincing as the women both flinched. What, Alanna wondered to herself, did she actually look like right now? Slowly, she pulled out the fake badge that had somehow managed to survive mostly unscathed, though it did have a red smear across the plastic cover. “I’m Agent Byrne, FBI. We need…” she looked over at James, and he finally looked up at her. “What do we need?” She asked him quietly, trying to draw him back out of his anger.

“Student roster.” He croaked out, like he’d finally found his voice again.

Alanna nodded, and raised her eyebrows at the administrators or assistants that were now looking noticeably less afraid of *her*, but no less concerned about the neon blue leviathan that was rotating through the air of their office. She followed their gazes, and then nodded. “Ah. It would be for the best if you didn’t tell anyone about that.” She said. “Government secrets, you know? But it’s been a rough day.” She repeated herself, unable to think of anything better at the moment.

It really *had* been a rough day.

James looked up like he was only just now noticing there were other humans here. “Oh.” He said. “I’m… sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.” He told the women. The older of the two, a matronly figure who looked like she’d been fifty years old for the last twenty years, scowled at him, as if by removing her fear all that was left was annoyance. It wasn’t a hard scowl, but it was filled with frustration. “I’m not going to make your day easier though.” He said, as she brought him a thick ringed book filled with pages and pages of names.

“Just keep that monster away from me.” She snapped at him, leaning back away from Secret as some of his eyes turned toward her.

“He’s not the monster you need to be worried about.” James growled out, anger flaring up again. The woman shrank back, unsure how to react to this sudden and forceful shift of the power dynamics in her little slice of the world. Ignoring her completely, James slammed the book of student records onto the table, and soon joined it with three others brought out to him for each of the years of student. “Secret.” He instructed. “Kill the bugs.”

Secret flickered through the air, moving like he was diving through caverns and tunnels in reality. There was a burst of motion, and everyone in the room had the same feeling, like they were remembering the sensation of *teeth* and darkness and an abrupt ending.

James sighed in deep, exhausted sorrow as he spotted, just on the one page out of hundreds that he was looking at, three names slowly blur into his perception.

He turned to the younger of the employees here, a woman still well into her forties. “You’ll need to…” He coughed, trying to find his words. “You’ll need to check all of these.” He said, choking back tears. “For names. Look for names of students that you can’t find. You won’t have noticed them. That’s not your fault. It’s… it’s not your fault.” He closed his eyes, and leaned forward on the desk. Around his shoulders, Secret stopped moving, and coiled up against James, butting his head against his friend’s cheek. Alanna stepped over and laid a hand on his arm, casually offering comfort. “It…” James didn’t know what to say. “They’re dead.” The words fell out before he could stop them. “They’re dead, because we weren’t here fast enough. We didn’t know. We couldn’t have possibly known. And they’re dead. They were *kids*, Alanna.” He looked up and met her eyes, and she saw tears running down his face. “They were just kids.” He whispered.

“We’ll be back.” She told him. “We’ll kill it.” She promised. “Until then, we’ll post a guard. No one in, without us knowing. And we’ll go back, and make sure nothing in there is left to be a threat.” Her voice was hard, uncompromising. Alanna felt the same furious anger that James did, but it didn’t hurt her the same way it did him. She felt… she felt strange. She wanted the world to be better, of course; she wanted to help people, to build a utopia one step at a time. But when she looked at James now, she realized just how much he *felt* things like this. How hurt he was. “Come on.” She said. “Let’s get Anesh and get out of here. We’ll need to get some stuff to deal with it. The roll of police tape in the trunk won’t keep people out forever.”

James nodded. “Yeah.” He whispered, wiping at his eyes and nose, smearing blood from his coat onto his face and making himself look even more like a crazed killer. “Yeah. Oh, Anesh. I need to… we should…”

“Go sit in the car.” Alanna ordered him. “I’ll be out in a minute.”

He thanked her, he apologized to the poor front desk clerks who were suddenly having the worst quiet Saturday of paperwork ever. And eventually, he stumbled out the door.

“Oh boy.” Alanna muttered, looking out the glass door to the lobby and the crowd of nervously watching people. “We’re really gonna have to lie our asses off about this one.”

_____

“Ow.” Anesh repeated for the eight or ninth time.

He was sitting slumped against a wall, applying pressure to the wad of bandage pressed against the hole in his ribs. It wasn’t too deep, but it was bleeding, a lot. Unlike Alanna, most of the blood actually *was* his, and it wasn’t pleasant. His counterpart stood nearby in the hallway, on a phone call with Sarah, and from what injured-Anesh could hear of the conversation, he felt a bit lucky that he’d been stabbed rather than having to deal with that.

“Oh jeeze, kid. You sure you’re gonna be okay?” The security guard, a man who was ironically named Rufus, Anesh had learned, asked him. For the fifth time.

Anesh just tilted his head back against the cool stone of the wall. “Probably.” He said. He didn’t add that even if he was going to die, it wasn’t a big deal. He’d link up with himself beforehand, and lose maybe two minutes tops. Minimal existential dread. Instead, he opted to say, “We have a… an agency doctor. I’ll be stiched up in no time.” He tried to smile, but it came out as more of a feral grin.

The older man was squatted near him, burly arms rustling around in the medical kit looking for some tape to hold the bandages in place. At this point, Anesh wasn’t even sure he’d need stitches, but regardless, he’d been saving up blues for exactly this circumstance, and avoiding *another* awkward emergency room trip was high on his list of priorities. Whether it was orbs, death, or just not needing more than bandages and bed rest, he was prepared to not have to answer questions from pushy doctors again this year.

“You sure you’re okay, kid? This is *bad*. How did you get this anyway? And are you with the feds, too? You and your brother there?” The man had an endless barrage of questions. He talked methodically; not slow, but also with just enough room to answer if Anesh had wanted to fit words in there. Since he wasn’t doing that, Rufus just kept rolling until he was out of stored questions, and Anesh sat and thought about it.

“I’m fine.” Anesh said, feeling a sense of true relief as Alanna came striding back to them holding a roll of wide yellow tape. “There was… an altercation. And I’m with them, so, yes, I suppose.”

“An *altercation* eh?” The man stressed the word in that tone that adults often used when they knew you were absolutely full of shit, but wanted you to come to the conclusion on your own. Anesh had found that he himself had started using that tone lately, and he expected it would only ramp up as he aged.

“Alanna, save me. Also, what’s that?” He asked, curiosity pushing aside pain for a brief moment before it flooded back and made his eyes slam shut in concentration.

Alanna looked down at the roll of plastic in her hand. “Police tape.” She explained, slowly.

“It’s the wrong color.” Anesh said flatly.

“We’re American.” She told him, already starting to cordon off the boiler room door. “Sir, you wouldn’t happen to have a key to this door, would you?” She asked Rufus politely.

“Yes, ma'am.” He told her. “I think. I always forget this damn door is down here, for some reason.”

“It’s a hell of a reason.” Alanna muttered, before shutting her mouth, realizing she was being cryptic out loud and that was exactly what she’d scolded James for doing, repeatedly. When the guard handed her the key off his ring, Alanna took it, inserted it into the lock, locked the door, then *slammed* the flat of her hand down on the exposed part of the key, snapping it off with a clean motion. Anesh looked over from his call at the noise, before turning back to being berated by Sarah for their recklessness. Rufus had a hell of a lot more of a reaction, his eyes going wide as he glanced between the unassuming - but blood soaked - woman in front of him, and the now jammed door. “No one in or out.” Alanna told him with an iron command in her voice. “If anyone mentions this door, you call us. You have my number. If anyone mentions too many pipes, ratroaches, red or green sparks, or having to make a hard choice, you *get their names, and call us*.” Her eyes made it clear this was not up for debate. “Tell your coworkers, too. Keep this quiet, but make sure the people who need to know, know.” Alanna reached down a hand, and helped Anesh to his feet.

As the three of them turned to head back to their cars, the old man called after them. “What happened here?” His voice had a note of urgency in it. He needed to know; this was his job. More than that, his duty. He was supposed to protect these kids, he couldn’t do that if he was in the dark.

Alanna paused, and turned her head slightly. She looked at this poor man with sad eyes, as she tried to find the words to say. James would have known, she thought. He would have had something. Instead, all she could give him was, “Something cruel and unfair. I can’t tell you more.”

Leaving him with that, she and Anesh carried his other limping body out of the building.

_____

[+1 Skill Rank : Animals - American Goose]

[Problem Solved : Turned Off The Oven]

“Nope.”

[+1 Skill Rank : History - Military - The Great War]

[Problem Solved : Renewed License]

“Useful, but no.”

[+2 Skill Ranks : Fabrication - Fletching - Broadhead Arrows]

[Problem Solved : Medical Attention]

“There.” Anesh sighed as the third orb dissipated into that glowing dust that followed the soft pop. He leaned back into the couch, the gash in his side made by a shiv of rusted pipe now thoroughly cleaned, disinfected, stitched, and bandaged, leaving himself dosed with painkiller of some kind. He knew, from experience, that the pain wasn’t *fixed* by the orb. It stuck to using mundane means, when it could, it felt like. And so, his blood now had a little more chemical assistance in it than normal. But at least it didn’t feel like he’d been stabbed.

Again.

“I’m a little concerned that you expected to be stabbed so much that you stockpiled blues for exactly that purpose.” Alanna told him. She was in the kitchen, currently wearing basically nothing and making eggs and toast. The instant they’d gotten home, she’d insisted on collecting their clothing and throwing it in a garbage bag, with only the most remote possibility that anyone would ever get their blood crusted pants back. Anesh had wrapped himself in a robe and settled down on the couch to run through blues until something fixed his wound, while the other Anesh and James had gone off to take showers and try, desperately, to purify themselves of the stains of war.

“I’m kind of concerned that you wouldn’t expect me to have a stockpile of our most useful weapons.” Anesh raised his eyebrows as Alanna as she wandered over and slid a plate onto the table in front of him. He quickly glanced aside as she wandered back into the kitchen, flushed in the cheeks and doing his best not to stare at her ass.

“Are they weapons?” She asked, like this was normal. Which, in her defense, it was quickly becoming.

Anesh could answer that one without any embarrassment. “Absolutely!” He said. “They say ‘problem solved’, but you know what they count as problems? Certain death. Also, absorbing them is crazy useful. I’m kind of annoyed that only Dave can load two at once right now; I’m not sure if it‘s a state of mind thing, or he’s just a higher level, or what. But I want it.”

“Combo potential?” Alanna asked, reading Anesh’s mind without the aid of the skulljack.

He cocked a finger at her, nodding. “Exactly. And now, I’m going to go shower, since I’m done with it, and I want to get the hot water before James soaks it all up.”

“We need a green for that.” Alanna said. She, too, had wanted a shower. But she was fine waiting. Fifteen minutes with the sink and a washcloth had been enough to get the worst of it off her hands, forearms, and face. If she’d shown up to a kitchen job looking like she did, she’d probably be cussed out of the building, but she was clean enough to make a late night breakfast for her family here.

As soon as she said the words, she suddenly realized just how selfish it was. But also, her mind started burning with a dozen other ideas for how the green orbs could enhance their living space. And some of them were, seriously, important. What if they healed faster here, or didn’t get sick? What if they had more time? They already had the sleep bonus hour. Could they get more? She let herself be distracted by it for so long that she almost scorched her toast, and by the time she’d gotten through daydreaming about what benefits their apartment could score from their next tumblefeed hunt, James had come out wrapped in his posh red bathrobe, and claimed the entirety of the couch. He sat there, a blank look on his face, as a worried Rufus and Ganesh watched him from perches on the table and fireplace mantle respectively. Even Auberdeen noticed the mood, the giant white furry beast padding over to rest a worried snout on his leg.

“Hey.” Alanna said, keeping her voice calm. James had been shaken by the school dungeon. Beyond shaken. He’d been *angry*, in a way that Alanna had never really seen. Even with the Office, when James had once settled on the idea that the place was dangerous and clearly it would have to die, it was with a sad kind of remorse. But here? He’d been coldly furious. Prepared to purchase a few hundred thousand bucks worth of black market C4, and just level the whole fucking place.

“Hey.” He said in reply, hand idly scratching the dog’s ears. There was long moment where Alanna considered asking him if he wanted any eggs, but couldn’t form words in a way she found at *all* satisfactory for the mood. And then, “So, uh.” James said, “The books.”

They were sitting on the table. One old composition notebook, and one half-destroyed fantasy paperback. No one had opened either of them. They were, blatantly, rewards. And the whole team knew what that meant.

“Yeah.” Alanna said. “Who do we foist them on?”

“Foist is not the word I’d use.” James said, with the ghost of a smile on his lips. It was gone, almost as soon as it was there, and he was back to that sad frown again. “Still. We do need to choose who gets them. I could only get two, and there’s four of us. Or maybe three. Depends on how you look at it. *And* how they work; they might not jump the gap like the orbs do.”

“So, how do you wanna split them?” Alanna asked.

James glanced over at her, and did a slight double take as he realized that she was mostly naked in his kitchen for the first time. But then he realized something else; she was looking at the two innocuous seeming books on the table with a slightly hungry look in her eyes. And he knew it, because he felt the same thing. This was the score of a lifetime, and they may never get to mine out an infinity of resources from the Basement like they would from Officium Mundi. Oh, there’d be a few more. But they had very real plans to kill that place into oblivion, and these were a limited resource. And they knew, all of them, that these things were *powerful*. They’d taken a kid who hated learning, and turned him into a scholar with a ferocious appetite for words and ethics, in about a *week*. What could they do for *them*, who actually had designs on bending their power to shape the world?

Well. This was it then, wasn’t it? He’d finally engineered a situation where they all wanted the power on offer, and there simply wasn’t enough to go around. And now…

“What’s up, friends?” The more clean and less stabbed Anesh asked as he walked out, and grabbed the plate of food that his other half had already half finished.

“We’re talking about the books.” James said, tense.

“Oh. You two take the bloody things.” Anesh waved a fork in the air, before sort of awkwardly sitting down next to James. He started to reach out to lay a hand on James’ arm, then paused as his brain kicked in, overanalyzing the unfamiliar gesture, before he shook that feeling off and took the plunge, offering a small moment of warm contact as a reminder that they were all in this together. “We’ll get more eventually anyway, and the two of you can probably put them to better use. It sounds like they buff something kinda abstract from what Sarah got out of the kid, and while it would be cool to think ‘better’, whatever that means, I’m really pretty sure they’re going to be better for you guys.”

James narrowed his eyes, not in suspicion but more in exaggerated concern. “Whhhhy?” He asked, slowly.

“Because I’m spending more and more time on the support team.” Anesh shrugged. “Sure, skills are useful. Math skills especially make me feel like I’ve both wasted my life, and also chosen wisely. And the location powers are super good amplifiers. And as mentioned, blues are just killer. Actually, I like all the orbs. But the thing is, I’m not using them looking for power, I’m more using them looking to solve problems. It’s why I like the blues. Sometimes they’re problems I didn’t even know I had, but that’s really the goal for me.” He tapped the books on the table, reaching past a curious Rufus who was poking his forelegs onto the stacked paper. “These? We have a good forewarning on what these do. They are *power*. Personal, intimate power. And I think you two could do a lot with that. More than me.”

“So you don’t want one?” Alanna asked, cautiously.

Anesh made a ‘pff’ noise with his lips. “Of course I want one. But I’m not gonna be a wanker about it. We’ll get more, if only because we’ll go back to keep killing anything that pops up in that place. I’ll get the next round, you two can have first pick.”

“Welp! That solves that crisis!” James said, injecting so much false cheer into his voice that he actually started to really feel it. “I’m taking the paperback! I feel a connection to the 80’s style fantasy art.”

He reached over dramatically, slapped his hand down on the book, and dragged it across the table toward himself. Now with a slightly more real smile as he caught grins on his partners’ faces at his antics, he cracked it open to the first page, and began to read.

James blinked.

He was done with the book. It had been hours. It had been minutes. It had some important things in it, which was a shame because he remembered none of it. He looked up, and saw that Alanna and Anesh were both staring at him. He looked back down at the book in his hands, turned to the last page, and watched in curiosity as it dissolved to dust, which itself poured into nothingness. And as his brain was just starting to restart its processes, connecting the dust of the book with the glittering smoke of the orbs, an alien thought crossed his mind.

[Lesson Begun : Basketball 0/100]

“Uh oh.” He said, leaning forward onto the table with a hand on his chin to hide the smile he wore.

“What, what’s up!?” Anesh worriedly looked at his boyfriend as Alanna came around the kitchen counter to check on him. ‘Uh oh’ wasn’t exactly what you wanted to hear after someone tampered with xenotech. “Are you dying? Is there a curse? Do we need to get Secret out of the bathtub?”

“Why is Secret… no, nevermind. It’s not nearly that important, it’s just that now we’re going to have to hear more from JP about squandering basketball.” James relayed the notification to them, getting a slap on the back of the head from Alanna as her heart rate normalized.

Anesh also sighed, and leaned away from James into the cushions of the couch. “Okay, that’s not too bad.” He said. “I can teach you basketball, and JP can never know about this.”

“I like that plan.” James and Anesh high-fived. “Alanna? Your sword.” James offered her the remaining notebook.

She took it with a snap of the wrist and a roll of the eyes, far less gravitas than James had offered it with. But when it came time to open it, Alanna hesitated. She stared down at the marbled balck and white cover of this unassuming little book. If she’d seen this on a desk at the library, she never would have known it was a shard of condensed power. It was a bit daunting.

A few seconds or a few hours later, depending on how you looked at things, the book was dust in her hands, flowing into directions that took it out of our visible reality, and Alanna had a new and strange thought crossing over her brain.

[Lesson Begun : Communication 0/100]

“Okay.” She said. “Good. Glad we got this established.” She clenched the hand that had been holding the remains of the book into a fist, and held it up in a determined gesture.

Both boys nodded at her, carefully keeping their eyes focused elsewhere.

“Yup.” James said. “Good. All very good.” He repeated himself.

Alanna looked at them, eyebrows raised, then looked down at herself. She rolled her eyes as she tilted her head back up. “Oh, fuck’s sake you two. We’ve *had sex*, are you seriously embarrassed seeing me without pants on?”

“It’s more that…” Anesh started to formulate an excuse, then thought about it for a second, and changed his mind. Instead, he nodded, and went with, “Yes.”

“Absolutely.” James added.

“You are both beautiful and terrifying.” Anesh concluded, getting James to point a single finger at him in agreement.

Alanna stared at the two of them for a good ten seconds before snorting, and turning to stride down the hallway. “I’m going to take a shower. You two have fun being *you*.” She told them.

It felt just a little patronizing when Rufus crawled up onto the back of the couch a minute later, and gently patted James’ shoulder in consolation.

Instead of getting upset, though, James just laughed. A real, happy one this time.

“You feeling better?” Anesh asked him, still concerned.

“Yeah, I mean..” James hummed. “It’s either bounce back, or drown in it, right? And I can’t save people if I’m too out of it.”

Anesh nodded slowly, still worried, but a bit reassured. “True.”

“I mostly say true things!” James informed him. “Anyway. It’s still my day off. Wanna go teach me how to play basketball? I understand it involves *hoops* of some sort.” He pushed himself to his feet and hopped off the couch.

“It’s almost eleven PM.” Anesh pointed out.

James briefly froze in the middle of stretching out his arms. “Shit, really?” He asked, surprised. “No wonder I’m so hungry! Okay, wanna get dinner and *then*...”

His friend only laughed in response, before waving a hand to try to shut James up and also show that he meant no offense in trying to shut James up. “No, no. No way! Not tonight! I’m tired, and half of me is still stabbed. No. I just want to go to bed for a day or so.” Anesh thought about it. “Which is convenient, yeah? Because in just over a day, we’re going back into the Office.”

James groaned theatrically. “Uuggggh.” He drawled out. “Do I *have* to? I’m gonna call in sick that day.”

There were a few puzzled responses that Anesh instantly thought of, wondering why James would actively want to avoid the office, wondering why he thought that anyone would actually blame him for not being there or try to force him to come in. It took him a second to conclude that James wasn’t serious, but a few seconds longer than that to realize that he wasn’t serious because he was trying to make it normal.

He was trying, so hard, to force normalcy onto this night. Where anyone else would have given up and collapsed into bed, James just chugged ahead, like he hadn’t publically sicced Secret on a pile of insectoid antimemes in public not even two hours ago. Like he hadn’t dripped monster blood across half a high school. Like he didn’t know how many dead kids there were, buried in those tunnels.

Anesh wasn’t having as easy a time shaking that off. He’d reconnected with himself, yes, taking the ten minutes needed to share memories. And that act did give him a serious amount of mental stability that most humans would never have. But he was still, somewhat, shaken. He wasn’t really ready to play basketball or make jokes. Or do much of anything, aside from nap. For twelve hours.

But James… well, what he needed was different. And still important to Anesh.

So what he actually settled on saying was less of a puzzled ‘what’ and more closer to “Listen here young man; we didn’t pay for you to go to wizard school for twelve years so you could *not* dungeon delve! No sick days!”

And what he did after that, with James’ genuine laugh still in his ears, was put on shoes and try to go find a neighbor to borrow a basketball off of at close to midnight.

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A note from argusthecat
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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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