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A note from Aretae

Song: People are People by Depeche Mode

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzGnX-MbYE4

 

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I’m going out every day, just to get to know the people. And you get a much better picture of the people in a mildly stressful situation. My next trip into the forest involves Flynn, Leah, and Tony

Flynn is an ormimancer, he says, but he won’t tell me quite what that means. However, he’s happy to show me. He’s hispanic, and slim, and well muscled besides. When a pack of oversized lionesses surprise us with a stealth pounce, one changes direction mid-leap, and hits her friend. Apparently ormi means direction or something.

The second lioness is hit by the first, and the third and fourth fall way short, and then stick to the ground. Tony is a happy-go-lucky kinda guy who insists that we’ve become a family, now that our old one is gone. He also has gravity magic, which explains the fact that those two lions are not jumping any more. Lion five is facing off against Leah. She stands mostly toe-to-toe, dodges backwards, and then jumps in and mashes its arm. Crunch. The lion is now walking on three legs, but that’s enough for it to smack her with a paw, leaving her upper arm a complete mess. I can see her arm-bone through the ruined flesh. At least she still has the arm. I zoom past her, and whack the lion on the nose six times to get it to leave her alone, but that doesn’t do much more than piss it off. Three seconds later, Leah is tangling with the lion again, her arm completely healed. Leah got regenerative self-healing and focused her stats mostly on endurance. She can keep fighting almost forever.

This fight takes longer than the other ones I've seen, but Leah eventually kills each of the lions, while Tony and Flynn keep them busy, tangled, and generally useless. I swear I saw leah disemboweled once, but she was back in action seven seconds later. After the fight, Flynn tells me it’s momentum that he works with, not direction.

At night, I drum inside my sound wall. I’m trying to decide if I trust these folks. C’mon Kevin, they’re cool. They’re not like Miss Dumpster Fire. I haven’t seen any instruments here. What if they don’t let me go when it’s time to move on? How much would thaum density magic help them? For sure its a ginormous win. Maybe I’ll wait for a few more days before I tell them.

Yulia and Mary seem to work together as a team often. When we three go out the next day, we bring Cadence with us. Cadence looks 70, but turns out to be 30. It's some sort of weird aging stuff. He fights well--at least better than I do--with his walking stick that doubles as a cudgel. He doesn’t tell me anything about his magic, and by now, I've learned not to ask. Today, we find an ostrich, but this isn't a normal, small, nine foot ostrich. This one is at least twice that. Looks like a hard matchup for this team. Mary the bone-o-mancer builds a couple skeletons, but the ostrich isn’t having it, and a couple kicks shatter the skeletons.

Yulia menaces it with her twin blades--korean shortswords or something--and Cad readies his cudgel. Unless he’s spent a bajillion upgrades on strength, I simply have no idea what he thinks the cudgel will do against one of those legs, or even the head.

In our second attempt at the ostrich, Mary throws a hail of sharp bones at it, but they don’t get much past the feathers on the body, and it dodges with its head. Using normal ostrich tactics it kicks Yulia with the eight inch butcher knife attached to the end of it’s toes. Or, at least, that’s what it thought was supposed to happen. Instead, there’s a kick and a loud noise, Yulia lands ten feet back, and the two claws on the ostrich’s foot are left laying on the ground. Yulia the sword-mage is focused on sharpness--the ability for her sword to cut--and cut it does. She sliced through rock hard bones and metallic skin like it was butter.

She does it again when the ostrich kicks with the other foot, and she's moving nearly as fast as I do. I can only barely see her. But the ostrich is really fast also. On the third exchange, she cuts it badly, but gets kicked in the stomach with an unsharpened ostrich toe-hoof. She hits a tree fifteen feet away, and Mary takes over, still using bone-magic. She stabs a couple times with a long, sharp bone spear, but she appears to mostly be trying to stall and maintain distance from the dino-bird.

I help a bit by saserfacing at it, and while that pisses it off, it can’t quite tell where the horrible loudness is coming from, and keeps moving its neck to avoid the sound. I move in next to Mary, and play tag with the ostrich. It’s pretty damn mad when it pecks at me, and I not only manage to dodge, but whack it thrice on the beak with my sticks. Not that it’s hurt by my whacks … just angry. I’m sure its mood isn’t improved by my maintaining a constant volume of chainsaw-level noise near its head. That said, my sticks did nothing.

I’m not really sure how the hell we’re going to beat the thing, even when Mary gets some blood running with her big spear. She’s just not fast or strong enough to fight the thing. A moment later there’s a Yulia-colored blur behind it, and it topples over. As I learned later, our twelve second distraction was enough to let Cadence the healer fix up Yulia's broken ribs and internal bleeding. Then she came back and cut the legs out from under the birdie. That's cut out, like cut off; the bird fell with no lower legs attached. Mary spears at its neck, which it dodges, rolling around like a snake whose tail is stuck in a ball, but Yulia doesn’t miss much, and the head rolls away, separated from the neck by one good sword-slice. We have one big dead ostrich, minus legs and neck.

On the way back, I talk to Cad.

“Hey, Cad, how often do folks come and go?”

“People come and people go. We made it up to 23 people, I think, a bit back. Usually someone shows up or leaves every week or two.”

“Who’s left who was interesting?”

“We were all pretty sad to see Cathy the ice-witch leave. It’s hard to keep stuff cold well without her. Ghost was pretty cool too. His thing was a lot like Zeke’s, but his was about wood, xylomancy, rather than Zeke's arbormancy. He carried a spear, made of wood, and it used to twist and turn while fighting. It was almost impossible to block his strikes. And making stuff was a lot easier with a carpenter.

“What about folks that you’re glad they left?”

“Are you asking if there were any big fights? No one tried to kill us all. There’s too many of us. There were a couple people who just didn’t fit that well, and wandered off. It was personality issues, not real fights.”

“Do people sometimes come back after leaving?”

“For sure. Chaim has gone on a couple walkabouts. He leaves for a month or so, then returns.”

“Okay. Thanks. No one really told me how things work around here."

"It's quite alright," he says in his deep calming voice. "We're not gonna try to trap you here if you want to move on."

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A note from Aretae

Thanks to TG for noting that I got all my names wrong mid-chapter.

Thanks to PaulTB for a typo fix.


About the author

Aretae

  • United States

Bio: I'm a teacher, a philosopher, and a humilitant.

I've written perhaps a couple million words of non-fiction, opinion, commentary, even co-authored a couple books: A nonfiction book, and a technical fairy tale.

I've read maybe 30 million words of webfiction across the last couple years. Started with Worm, and then more from Wildbow. Spent a lot of time over on TopWebfiction before I found Royalroad.

Recently, I discovered / decided / noticed that my storytelling skills were not what I would wish them to be. So I've started telling a story here.

My first great love in literature is sympathy to multiple sides of a conflict. Victor Hugo is the eternal god-king of the genre, but Pirateaba is maybe the second best practitioner I've ever seen. The Warcraft fictional universe does a pretty solid job as well. None of the three are concise.

My second love in literature is characters who manage believable 𝘴𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘻𝘻𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘢. I'd argue that Francisco D'Anconia is the ultimate player in the genre, regardless what you think of the politics of the book. Aragorn is similar in flavor, as are Dumas' troupe and quite a bit of old-school sci-fi. Few are done unusually well.

Also, I cry at heroic sacrifice. Pretty much every time.

No promises that my work contains any of that.

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