A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Hiiii everyone! So holy crap, I've got some stuff to thank you for/tell you.

One is a shoutout, which I'll get to in a moment but first I really want to thank you all for what you've done on Top Web Fiction. I went from 4th to freakin' 2nd. Seriously, you guys are great. You've all been just sooo supportive through this journey. Makes the good times great and the tough times easier. :)

And speaking of all of you being THE BEST, some of the readers made a tv tropes page! 

I've read that website for years and never imagined I'd be so fortunate to have a story on there. Seriously you all are so so so cool.

Now for the shoutout! Today, I'd like to call atention to Enduring Good : [The Rationalist's Guide to Cultivation and Cosmic Abominations from Beyond the Stars] which caught my atttention for its premise. (I love cultivation and would love to write the genre one some of you might have figured out from life enforcement class). And what really made me zero in on it is the artwork. This is another illustrated fic and the art is just beauuuutiful!

Check it:

Absolutely gorgeous. Hopefully it's enjoyable for ya!

Now, onto Fool!

The sky-yacht cut through the air, soaring above the countryside at speed. It banked as it approached the Patrizia’s grounds, slowing as it did. There were a great number of sky-yachts and gondolas pulling up to the airspace above the manor, and the road below was filled with fine carriages conveying their wealthy passengers.

Theresa sighed as she looked over at the evening sun slowly making its way toward sunset. Alex couldn’t help but stare at her graceful neck and shoulders, left bare by her dress.

His eyes drifted up to the smile curling her lips.

Behind him, he could hear Khalik talking with a very excited Selina, allowing him and Theresa to have a private moment. Isolde was instructing Thundar in etiquette—she had been drilling it into all of them—except for Khalik whose manner showed her he obviously didn’t need the lessons—for weeks.

Najyah was perched on Claygon’s shoulder. The massive golem sat still and silent in the middle of the deck toward the back, looking like a ferocious statue that was a part of the ship. The crew members gave him a wide berth, despite the fact that they must have transported clients with golems before. It was probably as Isolde had said, the other golems hadn’t looked like siege engines.

He returned his attention to his childhood friend.

“What’re you thinking about?” Alex asked, gripping the rail in front of him.

Their hands were close.

“Everything,” she said dreamily. “Our lives.”

“What about our lives?” he asked.

“Look how much they’ve changed Alex,” she shook her head in disbelief. Eight months ago…no a little more now, we were back in Alric.”

She looked at him seriously, then glanced over at the crew. Her voice lowered. “Do you remember when we sat under the tree at the edge of Coille forest? When we were leaving.”

Alex thought back to that time. They had slipped out of Alric, barely avoiding the priests and had been let through the gate by Peter and Paul.

He wondered how the two guards were, and hoped that they’d remained safely out of the reach of The Ravener’s monsters.

After a day of walking, the four of them had made it to the outskirts of Coille forest and made camp beneath a tree there. Selina had just gone to sleep and then…

“I remember,” Alex said. “You and I were sitting together under a tree. We talked about me leaving and you wanting to leave when you were younger. You said that you wanted to go and be like your great-grandfather, exploring the world…but decided that it’d be too dangerous and that you would stay home instead.”

“Good memory,” she said.

“Well, I gotta be good for something, right?” he chuckled, and then flexed, his thick arm muscles bulging in his shirt. “I mean besides being eye candy and modelling for marble statues.”

She snorted, but he noticed how her eyes lingered on his arm for a bit. “Actually, as much as I want to call you lame, that’s part of what I was thinking about. There we were under that tree, and I was talking about how I had decided to stay home to keep out of danger.”

“Yeah,” Alex said. “You said that dangerous stuff sounded pretty fun to hear about but, that it was, well, dangerous, and so you thought about growing up and keeping safe.”

“That’s right, because I didn’t want my family to be devastated if something happened to me,” she said. “But…we’ve been in so much danger since we left. Maybe nothing like what we would have had to face during one of The Ravener’s attacks, but still…mana vampires, xyrthaks, The Barrens…you and that demon. Magic.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s been a lot, hasn’t it? Even the dryads.” He glanced over at their nearby forest as the sky-yacht approached the ground. “And yet, here we are, back again, haha. And I’m pretty sure, Khalik and Thundar won’t rest until they dance with one.”

“And that’s just the thing.” She shook her head. “I’m having the time of my life, Alex. And…my life, and I think your life is better. I mean, I have more money than I’ve ever had in my life. Ever. I could go home right now, save a little more and then buy my own inn if I wanted. You met Isolde in Baelin’s dangerous class and thanks to her…”

She gestured down at her dress almost in disbelief.

“I’m wearing this and-” Her hand pointed to the Patrizia’s manor. “-get to come here and…life’s better. I liked Alric and our lives there, but things are so exciting now. Everyday is something new. I’m growing stronger and learning so much. You and I…we’re proving ourselves just like great-grandfather did, and we’ve met so many amazing friends.”

Theresa paused, and Alex caught a guilty look pass over her face.

“What is it?” he asked.

“No, forget it,” she said.

“No, no, don’t do that,” Alex said. “I’m a big boy, you just tell me what’s on your mind. Any time. Any place. Anywhere. Understand?”

She paused. “Are…you sure?”

Alex put a hand on hers. “Any time. Any place. Anywhere.”

Theresa looked up into his eyes for a long moment before sighing. “I just…sometimes I think what would have happened if I didn’t come into your room that night in Alric. If I didn’t see you and if you’d just gone off on your own. My life would be so different: I’d probably be with my parents and brothers and while that would be nice...I wouldn’t have started life enforcement like great-grandfather, I wouldn’t know this amazing place. None of it. I wouldn’t have grown at all: I’d just be that same old Theresa like in Alric.”

“I liked that old Theresa,” he said emphatically. “Just like I like ‘new Theresa’.”

“Right, and I like old and new Alex. But look at you. You’re so strong now in so many ways. You’re having the time of your life and…”

“And what?” he asked.

“…sometimes I think that you getting The Mark might have been…maybe it was a bad thing. But…maybe a lot of good came from it too. I’m almost glad you got it now.”

Alex froze as Theresa turned away.

“Sorry,” she apologized quickly.

Her hand slipped out of his.

“We are ready for passengers to disembark!” the captain announced.

“Alright,” Isolde said. “Let us go. I already see Vincenzo waiting below.”

Alex turned to Theresa. “We’re going to talk about this, okay? Soon. Like literally after we get into the ballroom.”

She nodded, her cheeks flaming red.

Alexander Roth, The Fool, and runaway Hero of Thameland, considered carefully what Theresa had talked to him about. The thought had crossed his mind before: once, in Jules’ lab when—in his ignorance—he’d wondered if other people could detect The Mark or could remove it.

At the time, he’d considered if he wanted it gone and how it had changed his life.

Now, he wondered about other things as well.

He considered certain things he had before, and how his life would have been different without The Mark. For one thing, he knew his life in Generasi would have been a far safer one. It was something that had occurred to him before, but now in considering things—since slaying both a mana vampire and a xyrthak—he truly began to question if it would have been a life he would have preferred.

The Mark had taken much from him: only now was he starting to get very close to being able to cast force missile, though he doubted it would ever be useful to him in combat. Certain paths of magic were closed to him, and in some ways, there were some struggles when he’d first gotten to the University.

But, he’d also gained a lot from it.

If all had gone as originally intended: no Mark, no Ravener or anything like that, then he would have come to Generasi and likely focused on himself, his studies and his sister. He possibly might have made friends with Khalik, but he’d only gotten to know Thundar, Isolde, Baelin and the others because of COMB-1000.

He wouldn’t have built anywhere near as much strength of mind if it weren’t for The Mark’s interference, and the Alex who’d been focused on only being a baker’s assistant and then a wizard, had never shown any interest in physically building himself up.

Not until The Ravener’s threat had forced him to want to prepare himself.

He wouldn’t have had a golem if it weren’t for The Mark increasing his learning speed and skills in alchemy,, or for the dungeon core’s remains…

…Theresa might have come with him, or she might not have. He didn’t know.

It made him wonder if—at the end of it all—he was actually better off having The Mark than not having it. That wasn’t to say that The Mark didn’t frustrate and cause him problems, but perhaps more good had come from it than not.

He was contemplating this as Vincenzo—the Partizia’s butler—called them forward.

“Lady von Anmut,” he nodded to Isolde. “The Patrizia will be so glad to see that you have arrived. Come in, come in, I shall announce you and your other guests in the main hall.”

He glanced toward Brutus and then at Theresa. “Shall I direct your handsome pet to the groundskeeper so that he might be reacquainted with the Patrizia’s hounds?”

“Yes, that would be great,” she stepped up beside Brutus. “Be a good boy now, and have fun, okay?”

The massive cerberus whimpered and gave her a lick, before giving Selina a lick and then—to Alex’s surprise—giving him one too.

He watched in amazement as Brutus trotted off with the groundskeeper when the older man quickly appeared.

That was another change too. Would he and Brutus have such a good relationship if they hadn’t gone through so much danger together? He didn’t know. But, he did know that all of the threats they’d faced had given him a much greater appreciation for the cerberus.

He looked at Theresa and smiled, offering her a hand. “Shall we?”

His smile widened as she took it.

“Er, Master Roth, I understand that he is yours?” Vicenzo said, looking up at Claygon somewhat dubiously. “Will you be…er…”

“No, I’m not bringing in the golem,” Alex said. “I might be able to show him to the Patrizia during the evening.

“Of course, of course, he would likely enjoy that. You may have your golem stand by the carriage house if you wish.”

“Right,” he looked at his golem. “Go and be good now, Claygon,” he said while adding what he wished for him to do in mental commands.

The golem turned and strode toward the carriage house, drawing gasps and eyes from the nobility and servants present.

“Er, the golem’s name is Claygon, sir?” Vincenzo raised an eyebrow, and his tone was very polite. Alex caught a flicker of disdain in his eyes though.

To one side, Isolde made choking noises.

“Now announcing Lady Isolde von Anmut!” Vincenzo announced. “As well as her party: Master Thundar, son of Gulbiff, Master Khalik Behr-Medr, Mistress Theresa Lu, Master Alexander Roth and Young Mistress Selina Roth!”

They entered a ballroom right out of a fairy tale.

Much of the room was made of glass like a greenhouse, and it was larger than the entirety of the Lu’s inn. Tables were set up on the sides of the room, heaped with trays of fruits, pastries and candied breads. Casks of wine stood at the ready on one side of the room with servants ready to pour the contents into fine silver goblets. The aroma of all of that beautiful, delectable smelling food made his mouth water.

Massive glass doors opened out onto the gardens where long tables were set-up with dozens of chairs beside them, and servants bustling between them with trays of wine and finger foods. All was lit by the light from blazing fires in braziers, glowing force balls, and fish-shaped illusions made of light that swam in the open sky above the guests.

A fountain rose above all, carved to look like a toga-clad woman pouring water into a pool at her feet. Alex watched as Najyah landed on her head, nestling in and watching the festivities.

Several men and women sat around tables outside, playing games of cards and…

Alex paused and nearly burst out laughing.

There were honest-to-Uldar jesters capering about, entertaining guests—both young and old—by dancing wildly, juggling balls, and short painted clubs. Selina giggled with excitement, clearly wanting to go see them.

In the centre of the inner ballroom was a massive dance floor, and a full orchestra—tucked to one side—played a slow, stately waltz for the guests.

As they were announced, guests turned around—all masked—watching as the newcomers entered.

“Hey, check it out,” Thundar nodded toward some guests outside.

They were clearly dryads, clad in leaf-tunics and masks made of wood, ivy and bramble.

“Well, you’ll know where I’ll be,” the minotaur said. “…getting some food, but then you’ll know where I’ll be right after that.”

“No no,” Isolde said. “First we greet my cousin and then you can go to the forest women and embarrass yourself-er, have a chat.”

“I heard that.” Thundar grunted.

“Selina, I think the first thing you want is to see the jesters from up close, am I right?” Khalik asked her, smiling.

“Yes! Can I, Alex? Can I?” she asked.

“Sure you can,” he said. “But first, let’s go greet our host.” He looked at Theresa and lowered his voice. “And then we can talk. Preferably while dancing.”

High upon a lone tree on the grounds of the human dwelling, the lean hunter peered down, having tracked the strong pinging to the gathering of mortals. Its eyes were fixed on one tall figure in the light of the transparent room.

The Ravener’s quarry.

It had found it at long last.

A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Deleted Scene: 
Alex: "Oh boy, I can't wait to confess to Theresa!"
Patrizia's staff: prep fireworks to set off just as he confesses to drown him out.
Ravener: prepares to show up and attack right before Alex confesses.
Theresa's secret fiance: despite never existing until this chapter, prepares to show up at the party right before Alex confesses.
Theresa's mother: suddenly collapses and sends a letter saying that she did, which will arrive just before Alex confesses.
Amnesia: prepares to manifest in both Alex and Theresa right before he confesses.
World-ending meteor: swerves toward planet just before Alex confesses.

Lol, did I miss any of the other usual suspects?

Alrighty, everybody, I'll catch you tomorrow!

Big thanks to all my readers—I appreciate each and every one of you—and a very special thanks to my patrons on my Patreon

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