Chained Reality

Life through the eyes of a writer.

Chained Reality is a collection of Stories and pieces written by me, Andrew Uphoff. Instead of blogging opinions, I've decided to use prose to make people think about their lives. If you like stories, here's your headquarters for works that make you think!

Bartholomew and the Bulldog

Adjusting his tabard, Bartholomew pulled his short sword from it's scabbard. It gleaned in the sunlight like a beacon of hope in these trying times. A breeze brushed his face, carrying with it the sweet scent of dandelions and honeysuckle. An eery quiet fell over the valley as he stood there among the soft grass swaying in the wind.

Before him stood a formidable bulldog, his arms crossed and staring intently at Bartholomew. His brown and white splotched fur blended well with his black cabby hat. Behind the guard was a door Bartholomew must get into. It was a dire situation that called for dire actions, and now was the time for action.

“I say good sir, I must enter the door behind you to save my dear friend Ricky! Might you find it in your heart to allow a kind soul entry in his time of need?”

The dog grunted and pointed at Bartholomew with ferocity.

“Ain't lettin' a pup like you in 'ere. Dunno 'oo dis Ricky is but I ain't ever 'eard of 'im. Dun matter to me wut 'appens. Just doin' my job here, you understand.”

Bartholomew's heart sank. Now he must fight to save his dearest of raven friends!

“Very well sir, have at you then!”

Charging with all his orange fluffy might, Bartholomew swung at the bulldog with a quickness only a cat could muster. Slash after slash, the dog stood there looking at the wiry cat like he was insane. None of these attacks were even getting close to hurting the dog, as the blade never even so much as blew a breeze in his direction.

“Ha ho! What say you now dog? You only get one warning!”

The dog crossed his arms again, and began to pick his nose slightly with his nail. Without missing a beat, Bartholomew began swinging wildly again. Again the blade danced in a fearsome display. Fearsome if the blade had actually ever met it's mark. Bartholomew began to pick up his showmanship of swordplay. Jumping more, and slashing faster, the dog stopped picking his nose and let out a big yawn.

“See, yer still a pup. Can't even go frough with 'urtin' yer enemy. Ain't nottin' 'ere fer the likes of you kitten.”

With a swift backhand, the dog stuck Bartholomew and sent him flying a few feet. His sword flew out of his hands, and flew upwards. It spun in the air until coming down and skewering the ground right next to Bartholomew. With a shake of his head, Bartholomew stood up and clutched his sword. Putting his sword back in it's scabbard, he walked up to the dog with a very unhappy look on his face.

“'Atcha gonna do pup? Scratch me?”

The bulldog laughed heartily, staring down at the poor cat in front of him. Cocking an eyebrow, Bartholomew jumped up and slammed his paw into the dog's nose as hard as he could. As the dog reeled in pain, Bartholomew opened the door and slipped inside.

 

Castle Bragi - Rän's Judgement

Castle Bragi houses many dangers. It's servants are wights, fooling the untrained eye with their demonic magics. Commoners are people living in fear of Lord Loki. Living in fear that even if they escaped all that awaited them was a vast unforgiving lake filled with terrors that even the great Loki built walls to defend against. Each brick of the wall was laid with specific purpose, each enchanted with spells to ward off unwanted attention.

Beneath the foundations lay a realm beyond nightmares. Hel, daughter of Loki, resided in wicked slumber beneath the castle. Some say Loki had banished her to craggy hellfire caverns beneath when she refused to restore life to his now long gone love. Worst of all, she was Hel's mother. To speak the name of the lady of the lake within the confines of those bricks was a death sentence. Loki cared not for the every day corruption of his people or servants, though he monitored them closely to assure his power over them never wanes.

His agents lie in every shadow. Beings none have seen but can swear they are there. Stalkers, we call them. We know they exist only in the pulling in the backs of our minds as we speak of politics. Flashes of movement out of the corner of our eyes. A feeling that your life could depend on the things you say, or do. Death is a common happening, making the deaths by stalker that much more terrifying.

Each time a man is found disemboweled and his blood drained from him. Cuts across his body so sharp one would believe the blade was not made by mortal men. Every time a woman was found mutilated and her body shamed. Things no person would wish upon even their worst enemy. That was when Lord Loki would address his people. While he has never admitted the existence of these beings, he sets a very cold tone in his speeches.

Smooth of tongue and quick of wit, we live in fear of uncertainty of his moods. Tales of his long life among the world tell of his prowess and greed. He contended and bested with even the strongest of deities. Rän despised him most, creating a champion that would eventually be more feared by her than Loki himself. He was simply known as the Blademaster, and he was the reason Loki locked himself behind solitary bunker that soon became his own prison.

Rän sought to strike Loki while he was down, and created a storm so fierce and brimming with the fury of the seas that it created a sink-hole around the mighty fortress. That fateful day, she brought with her Brick, the legendary Golem of the great mountain. They struck a deal, and he moved the earth around the castle. At the raise of a hand, he created a hole fathoms deep and and farther than the eye could see.

Standing in his study atop the highest spire, he watched through the window as dirt and rock began to crumble away with surprising speed. Before he knew it, he couldn't see past the vast dark that now engulfed his new home. Lightning and thunder rumbled with ferocity he had never seen before, and rain fell from the sky like it was being pumped right out of the ocean.

Days passed like moments as Loki watched as his solitary refuge became a barren wasteland of water.

Land of the Ley-Lines - Tyr's Sanctum

Looking down, all Marcus could do to keep himself from getting dizzy was pretend that what he was looking at was actually an illusion. Somehow he had ended up among the clouds, joined only by birds and light chills from the southern winds. It's howling was barely a whisper among the vast reaches of open sky. Beneath his feet was marbled greenish stone, which was lightly camouflaged as the distant land below him was lush with greenery.

“Right then. I, uh, suppose this is a thing.”

The moss covered door lay behind, with no real outlet off of the small ledge which he now stood. A blur of a bird swept up behind him with amazing speed, blasting him with a fierce wind as it flew past and disappeared. Losing his balance due to vertigo, he tripped and fell forward. Bracing himself for a long fall, he watched as a gust of air appeared quickly beneath him to stop his fall. The wind whistled and hissed as it increased in intensity rapidly, creating a strange smoothness that resembled hard ground.

Running his hand over it, he was awestruck.

“Wow... That's a new one.”

A screech resounded in the distance, and Marcus realized the bird was on it's way back. Before he could react, the bird had appeared and stopped with a massive burst of air that threw Marcus back at the temple door.

“I am not your enemy sharpened one. You may stay your blade.”

Brown feathers refracted light, as if the sun itself would stay it's power for the great beast. His beak moved as if he were chirping, yet he still spoke in as plain of a tongue as any man.

A voice familiar, yet distant filled Marcus' ears. Uncertainty was replaced with a feeling of confusion. Before him was the bird he had known many years ago, as a child. Mordecai was a great roc of the eastern provinces. Many days Marcus had spent riding the great hawk around the Freyan valley searching for hunting prey. He had never heard him speak before now, but perhaps there was no need to before.

“Long time no see Mordy. I take it life is treating you well?”

The bird laughed, as Marcus postured himself to appear less frazzled.

“Is life treating any creature well these days? Perhaps you, bladed one, would be most equipped to deal with the hardship our lands now face. That is why you are here, is it not?”

Flapping his wings, the wind below him swirled with barely visible tendrils of light bending. Marcus felt the mark that was now engrained on his back. It tinged with a slight burn, yet it also felt good. A reminder that for the time being, he was in control.

“I suppose I would be foolish to think I could put anything past you. Indeed, that is why I'm here.”

With a screech and a blast of wind from his wings, the air around him swirled with small tendrils, revealing a grid like structure around the whole sky.

“Welcome, old friend. You now stand before Tyr's Sanctum. Watch your step!”

Bartholomew and the Tower of the Squid Lord

It's not every day that a cat got to see underneath the ocean. Bartholomew greatly appreciated his raven friends' technology. Somehow, they had come up with the most clever ways among animals to build structures that could move them to extreme places in search of treasure. This day, Bartholomew held his hand over his sword scabbard with pride on his face. For outside the submarine window, was a coral reef that his kind had never seen before.

Supposedly the oceans were vast, terrifying places. Fish of all sizes occupied them and gave them life. Plant life even grew under water, simply under different rules. Scratching his chin with other hand and flicking his whiskers, Bartholomew pondered what it was the ravens might be after underneath the water. Besides shiny stones that is.

His tail swung back and forth behind him, flicking every once in a while as a reminder he had a tail. Ricky, his dapper raven friend had approached him from behind without his notice.

“Well my friend, what do you think of the deep blue sea? Is it not a wonderful sight to behold? Such vastness of life in many forms! Will we ever truly know everything about such a diverse ecosystem?”

Pulling from a hickory pipe, Ricky hopped up behind Bartholomew with clicking of claws on the steel floor. While Bartholomew was a formidable orange tabby, Ricky was still greater in size as he was in intellect.

“It's amazing Ricky! You ravens will go great lengths to obtain your stones won't you? What exactly are we looking for today old bean?”

Adjusting his raven lord's tabard, Bartholomew looked around at all of the bells and whistles of the machine he rode inside that kept him safe among the waves. Gears turned, steam vented, valves turned on their own. Ravens perched atop copper pipes with the all too familiar black coating that no doubt kept their feet safe from the immensely hot steam traveling through the pipes.

“Today we are looking for the Tower of the Squid Lord sir Bartholomew. Lord Cool Thool will be pleased to meet a new species from the surface. Much as I am sure you would be pleased to meet the ruler of the entire Blahdee Ocean. Are you ready for this?”

There was weight in his words. Something just felt wonderful in my heart of hearts about meeting such a distinguished ruler. Supposedly he had fountains, temples, and even scratching posts made of gold. Perhaps that last part was just wishful thinking.

The submarine shifted and jutted, coming to a stop. Bartholomew had to hold on to a nearby pipe to keep from falling over. A chime came through the loudspeaker and ravens began cawing in approval.

“Well my friend, would you like to meet Lord Cool Thool? He is waiting for us on the other side of this magical breathing barrier.”

Bartholomew flicked a whisker, got a twinkle in his eye and took a deep breath. The hatch opened, and water floated just outside of it. On the other side of that barrier was Lord Cool Thool.

Bartholomew and the Raven's Undying Search

Bartholomew had never ridden a raven airship before. His feathered Raven friends were gracious enough to show him technology and magic. The design was flawless, with shiny stones and feathers attached to scaffolding and lift engines alike. Surely there had never been a finer piece of engineering yet known to Raven kind.

“You see my fine furry friend, we Ravens value one thing over everything else. That is why these airships were built using our magic.”

Walking him through the copper planks and steam valves through the airship's engine room, Ravens were perched on pipes that had protective coatings to keep the temperature of the steam from burning their feet. Wearing everything from top hats, bow ties, and even monocles, the ravens talked amongst themselves.

“This way leads to our observation deck. Won't you join me?”

Pointing with his massive black wing, he summoned Bartholomew through a collection of pipes that led into a room. Bowing as politely as he could, Bartholomew ruffled his whiskers and flicked his tail in pleasure.

“I would be delighted dear friend!”

Ricky had been his friend for many moons, but it was not until this day that he decided Bartholomew was worthy of sharing the secrets of the Ravens. Today was a red letter day! Not even most ravens have seen what Bartholomew was about to. A technology so secret and powerful, it has been hidden from all but the select few of Raven inner society.

Turning and walking through the pipes, Bartholomew's little heart fluttered and pulsed sharply. Excitement gripped him as the light from the room evened out to reveal in plain sight what had been hidden for so long. A room full of computers hooked up to telescopes outside of the airship. Hundreds of them all scanning and calculating every inch of the ground.

“By golly chap! This is incredible! What exactly is it doing?”

Walking over to one of the big screens in the middle, Ricky pointed his wing at the display. Pebbles large and small appeared on it's screen. In a matter of seconds, several were revealed and detailed. Small numbers shown near each and every rock, though many were the same.

“It is doing the work that Ravens have been doing for a near infinite number of moons. Searching for shiny pebbles! It is what we Ravens do! It's quite brilliant really! See it sends the co-ordinates to a central database so that we can send teams-”

Ricky droned on for hours, while Bartholomew was left to ponder what exactly this meant. This meant that this big secret power that Ravens had been toting over every other species was a supercomputer designed to find polished stones.

The Valhalla Protocol - Labyrinth of Daetheria

A crystal explosion had broken the silence within the massive mossy stone halls of the ruins of Daetheria. It was the home a notorious minotaur that resided below his home of the Valhalla Rise. Jericho had grown up there, unknowing of the vast world that lay beyond the endless seas that raged hundreds of feet below the edge of the Rise's bluffs. There was only one way in, or out. A tunnel that had been sealed ages ago to protect us from the world's dangers.

A cough came out of nowhere, as he felt his lungs were filling with blood. He never thought he would even be beyond that tunnel, let alone running for his life from a Minotaur. Feeling his side for the shard, he concentrated on the point that felt worst, and imagined it healing all the way through. A green light emanated from his well worn leather gloves. He wasn't much of a fighter, but he knew a trick or two to stay alive. Tremors pounded like thunder and assaulted the very ruins with the Minotaur's rage.

“Your people's gall never ceases to amaze me. First, you tell me that you require aid. Then, you tell me you are of Valhallan descent. I've had interactions with humans many times in my day young one, but my axe has had many, many more!”

Looking back, Jericho picked up the pace as his wound healed. The beast was five times his size, and he wasn't exactly scrawny. The roar of a massive stone axe dragging through the labyrinth made his ears begin to lose the ability to hear anything but. It was grinding away at his very core. Nervously, he tried his best to come up with something to diffuse the situation.

“I'm terribly sorry if I disturbed you! I assure you I meant no harm! If you are unwilling to render aid, I will gladly leave!”

The noise of the beast's laughter nearly knocked him over. A tribal cloth was all that covered the furred beast. His horns had rings pierced through them, many with skulls attached. A necklace adorned with what must have been dragon teeth and a large uncut ruby left Jericho wondering if it was functional. Hoof after hoof battered the stone beneath, growing ever closer to it's prey. Looking around, All he could see were lines of separate tunnels in front of him.

He had a feeling the beast wouldn't allow him to make it that far. All he had left were his wits, and he wasn't sure what good those would do. Still, something must be done. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small vial of glittering white dust. Popping the lid off, he poured the entirety of it into his hands and let it fall loose. Readying his legs, he grasped the hand full of dust and turned to face the minotaur.

Throwing it as hard as he could, each grain exploded into a blinding burst of light. The beast began to run forward and covered his eyes, believing it to be a simple illusion. Unfortunately for him, Jericho had picked up a trick or two during his experimenting with magic.

The dust covered the Minotaur and as it made contact, each little grain exploded with a burst of air and threw him forcefully onto his back. Jericho wondered how long that would keep him down.

Make the Mose of it

My name is Mose. I'm a zombie, technically. See, the metropolis I lived in was cursed and buried under like, a whole crap load of sand for a hand full of centuries. Although I didn't know him before all this happened, a pretty stand up guy named Kim rose me from the dead. Now, I know what you're thinking:

“Black magic?! Exile him! He is a necromancer!”

Sure, he may be meddling in powers beyond his understanding, but he's actually doing it to be nice! Did you know that he managed to tweak his spell to make us not feel negative emotions? It's certainly splendid if I do say so myself! I lost my eyeball last week and well, it all seems pretty funny the longer time goes on.

I'm sure it'll turn up one of these days! Anyway, Kim is a stand up guy I tell ya and all he wants in the whole wide world is to be accepted into the Mage's Academy in Freya. The town and I really love the guy and we will miss him dearly, but we want to help him move forward in life. So we all thought we would write letters to the academy directors and tell you why he deserves to develop his skills there!

There was this one time, when Deloris lost her left thumb, he actually grew one from the side of a pig and re-attached it to her! Golly gee she was sure happy to be able to play racket ball with us again. We had gone every Tuesday for weeks and one week she passed out at a party and woke up without it! Gotta lay off that cactus juice sometimes you know?

Well, I'm rambling, so I suppose I'll just close with reminding you Kim really is a great guy. Give him a chance, and you'll make more than just him happy! Thank you sir and/or madame!

 

Sincerely,

Mose

Story Excerpt - Land of the Ley-Lines: Kim's Glamour

The hustle and bustle of a bigger city never really was Kim's thing. Even when he was a kid he stuck out like a sore thumb. Albino, born with a host of problems that somehow worked themselves out, awkward demeanor and the like. Wearing a plain navy blue robe, he looked more like a monk than a necromancer. The only thing that might give him away would be if you could see past a glamour that made him look like a spry old man.

In reality, Kim wasn't very impressive. Shorter than most, skinnier than most, and definitely more awkward than most. Tied around his waste was a golden silk rope that held his grimoire book at his side. It was ornately designed, with ancient symbols of life and death, long forgotten in the cultures he now sought to understand. Sitting on a stone bench near the Freyan Castle courtyard, he studied people as they walked by.

Guards eyed him through polished steel as they walked by, suspicious of his presence. A pair of young lads adorned in chain mail and crystal bands around their arms approached him confidently. The smiles on their faces as they bantered at each other from across the courtyard near the tavern told a tale of unkindness approaching Kim. “Ey, old man, where's yer gatekeeper?!” Kim laughed along with the boy's friend at the young man's drunken rambling.

They both wore crystal integration bands, something reserved for wizards and nobility. While they may not look like much more than a piece of cloth with a ruby embedded in it, it could tell a person whether they should be in for the fight of their life, or a brawl that could end them up in jail. Neither are desirable outcomes, but one is definitely more desirable than the other. “Oh, he's just takin' a leak out behind the castle proper for old times sake. Used to run mead from the emirate before the war he did.”

Both young men looked at him in shock, their smug outfits adorned in clan symbols, medals of honor, and house ranking badges. These boys were at the tavern on a mission. One flicked his longer brunette hair to the side and laughed. “Got a lotta nerve sayin' fings like that 'round here old man. But I like you. Didn't get the feelin' ya meant ill of yer words. Be careful out 'ere eh? May not be ye think people can see ya, but we do. Keep yer 'ead low eh?” Maybe these boys weren't just nobility after all.

Story Excerpt - Castle Bragi

There once was a castle, jutting high above a forest of redwood trees. It's simple stone peaks pierced the sky, while balconies littered it's highest spires for those who were well enough off to afford the luxury of a view. Vines grew rampant throughout the bricks. Crystals were embedded outside it's watchtowers. From every glance outside, one would think this abode belonged to a noble of the highest power.

Yet this castle held no true owner beyond itself. Many have lived here over generations, year after year, they forget it's makers and the purpose for which their ancient home was conceived. A society now inhabited the lavish walls of Castle Bragi. It's people have carried out countless acts of kindness and terror alike. For humans, even to gods, are creatures of mystery. Capable of great acts of good and evil alike, humans now live amongst unknown gods and powers beyond their control.

For it was not the makers of this mighty castle that named it. It was the humans who found it and restored it for their own purposes. To them, it's sleek, barren stone walls looked hospitable if given the proper care. Emptiness did not dissuade them from their ideal of making this vessel their own. A single keeper remains from the first who populated Bragi. One who has inexplicably been stripped of their place in time and remains alive yet to this day.

His name is Loki. Here he has built an empire within the walls that expand beyond the laws of space. Rooms appear and disappear, doors which have both been opened and yet still remain untouched. It's citizens are unaware of the dangers that lurk in the caverns below. Fires of an ancient war still rage, kept in check by Loki and the power of the keep. At least, until he bore a son, Vali.

This unexpected child threw Loki into a panic. His compassion bid him to let the child live. Seeing the mother, a noble, distraught at the thought of losing her child caused him to make a fatal mistake for castle Bragi. He brought the child to the lowest caste, fearing nobility may breed complacency in his heart.

Yet what the workers bred was contempt. Contempt for their lord, Loki, and contempt for Castle Bragi. All of this contempt meant nothing, as soon as the true purpose of the fortress was uncovered by Vali. This was no place of happiness. No place of peace. This was the capital of the Einherjar.

The Valhalla Protocol - Odin's Labyrinth

Caverns surrounded him and appeared to shift as he gazed around speechless. No one direction felt like the right way to go. Somehow he had found himself in this labyrinth filled with the stench of decay and blood. Checking his gear, he realized that he was somehow stripped of everything but his bow. Perhaps the enchantment that bound it to him allowed him to keep it even within his dreams.

Imbibing a strange bowl of liquid at an altar wasn't normally the way he found his way around. These however were some extreme circumstances. Wilhelm was honor bound to allow him time to complete the ritual, and that's all he could do to figure out a way out of this mess. A Minotaur wasn't exactly something he wanted to fight. So now he's here, trying to figure out which part of the cavern holds the prize he seeks. 

Stone was carved in places, while the natural openings within the rock a blurred white light through them. To his right was a dark cave that echoed with the sound of running water. In front of him was a tattered and moldy ruins entrance with a stairway leading down. Light crept through the stairway, hinting that he would at least be able to function normally there.

To his left appeared to be a small outcropping in the cave with a large pond. The face of the water was so still he could see there was another tunnel leading through under the water. He could also see something stirring at the bottom of the pool. As he noticed the movement, the sand shifted and began to part. Instinctively, he dodged backwards. Just as he tumbled backwards, a grotesque mass of mud snapped out through the water. A massive eye opened in the vaguely human figure.

"Who are you to disturb this hallowed ground?!"

Land of the Ley-Lines - Necromancer's Blade

Blackened sandstone was all that Marcus could see. He was lost inside of the massive metropolis that dwarfed even the renowned Rángard. Streets laced together with crystal lamps lining them to keep things bright and warm during the cold desert nights. To his left was a string of shops, some of them had glass windows that were still dusty from the sand. The signature blacksmith's anvil lay outside the front of one of them. 

On it was a small broadsword with a ruby fitted into the where the blade met the hilt. It didn't appear to be anything fancy. Aside from the ruby it was pretty plain. Still, he had lost his sword in the sands somewhere, so having one will have to do. Grabbing the sword he looked over it a little more closely. "Interesting blade eh? I haven't seen one like that before. Most swords around here are serrated on one side. Lots of bone cutting with those sand Wyrms ya know?"

Mose was still following Marcus, although it's unclear whether that's good or bad. "Aye. I'm not quite sure myself of what it could be, but doesn't look like anything special. Maybe there's a scabbard inside for it. Shall we?" Mose shrugged. "Sure. Why not? I mean, what's the worst that could happen?" Marcus looked at him awkwardly. "I'm not one for superstition, but that just sounds like a right awful thing to say at a time like this."

Mose chuckled and patted Marcus on the back. "What are you worried about? Even if I'm not the only abomination out there, people around here weren't ever the kind to just start swingin'. I mean, worst case scenario a shade devours you in the shadows. But there isn't one in there. I can tell you that for sure."

Picking up a stone, Marcus willed it to shine like a miniature lamp. He threw it inside of the shop anyway, and the movement triggered crystal lights inside. "Huh. I guess you're right." Walking into the small doorway led him into a much larger shop than he had realized. The way things were built made it hard to tell where one building ends and another begins.

"Oooh! I remember this! Hartford's Smithy! He umm... Made me a thing back in the day. I forget what it was. But he did a thing!" Marcus chuckled and browsed through the various swords and daggers. There were even some pretty fancy bows. "Did a thing? Looks like he did a lot of things. Tell me if you see where he hides the sheathes so I can get one." Mose lumbered over behind the counter and started digging.

"Hey! Look at that!" Marcus made his way to the counter, only to find Mose fiddling with the change drawer. "He's still got some money in here! Not much, only like fifteen rupees total in petty change. Looks like his last few days weren't too good. Poor guy." Marcus sighed, and stepped behind the counter and found the door to the back. "Oh. Hey. Ummm I feel like that's a bad idea. Not sure why, but something's telling me bad. Up to you though. Just be prepared for whatever I guess."

Marcus cocked an eyebrow at Mose. "What the hell is wrong with you? Part of your brain missin'?" Mose just laughed and shrugged. Readying the blade in his hand, he gripped the handle on the door and slowly opened. "You know guys, we should totally do this every week. Not like we don't have time." A dusty voice was talking, with a few others mixed in. It almost sounded like a party.

"Ey Boss, when're we gonna get back to the outside?" A few men were standing in the back of the plainly furnished room talking, with three men playing cards at a table near the wall and another door. "I dunno Milo. Not really up to any of us. We gotta wait until someone drains all the sand. That could be years from now." A woman came through the door on the other side, followed by another. They were talking about fashion and what some of the neighbors were up to.

One of them noticed Marcus opening the door, and wave at him goofily. "Hello there! Would you like to come in? We're not doing much right now, but you're welcome to join us!" Everyone in the room looked at Marcus and Mose. One of the men at the table was wearing a tattered robe, which stood out from the rest of them wearing plain clothes. "Moira? Is that you?" Mose grabbed onto Marcus' shoulder and tried to peek into the room.

"Mose?! You're back dear?! Does that mean the sand is gone?" One of the ladies came running over to the door. As Marcus got a closer look, she also was missing some flesh. More undead. "The sand is gone? Well I suppose that's a good thing... But I was hoping we could you know, hang out a bit more?" The man with the robe stood up and looked at the room. "Oh Kim, we've been hangin' out for sands know how long. We'll get more time soon enough. We want to go see the outside world again!"

Kim shrugged, and draped the hood of his robe over his head. "Alright. Fine. You guys go have fun. But I'll be getting in touch with you soon for another hang out night!" Marcus just let his arms fall in disbelief. The Tyrianan scourge was before him. Yet scourge didn't seem like the right label for what was happening. "Umm.. Excuse me, but I'd really love to know what's going on with the city. Can any of you shed light on this? Kim?" 

The robed man looked at him with a scowl. "Yeah, I can tell you. Are you gonna give me my sword back?" Marcus looked at the sword in his hand, and carefully grabbed the blade to hand the hilt to Kim. "If it ain't rightly mine, I won't take it. Here." Kim looked at him with surprise. Like he wasn't expecting Marcus to offer it so freely. "You aren't worried I'll try to kill you with it?" Marcus cocked an eyebrow and shook his head.

"If you're more worried about hang out time with your friends than you are a strange man walking in with a sword, then I'm not really worried about you being too hostile." Marcus's words must have hit Kim harder than he expected. Kim walked over and took the sword, set it on the table, and hugged Marcus. "That means a lot to me man. Really it does. I'm Kim, and I'm a Necromancer. Everyone always hated me because of it so... Thanks for not." Marcus awkwardly patted him on the back.

"Yeah, it's ok... Now, about what's going on with the city?"

Land of the Ley-Lines - Sleeping Treasure in the Sand

"You mean to tell me this is the Tyrianian Empire? No one informed me it was um... expired." Marcus shifted in his chain mail tunic, adjusting his scarf to cover his now sun bleached hair. Heat beat down on the desert lands like a massive boulder had been placed on your shoulders. In front of Marcus stood a man who had just recently been a corpse rotting in the sand. "Well, yes. Actually, this is mainly news to me but I suppose. Expired is the proper word for what is here now."

The short, balding man adjusted his quite broken glasses. His skin had obviously rotted slightly in the sand, but was replaced by the grains of sand that remained. Mose was his name. "Well then. I suppose I'm not going to find many answers here, then will I?" Mose shrugged, looking around. "Well, I can't say for sure. But may not hurt to look around. I can help with that. Not like I have relatives in town or anything." 

Marcus wanted to chuckle, but there was weight behind his words. Signaling forward, Marcus began walking through the sandy streets he found himself in. Taking a good look around, all he could notice was how every building was black and burnt. Yet there were what looked like Aquaduct pillars and grooves all around the street. "So, obviously it wasn't always this desolate. What was this place like?" 

Mose thought for a moment. His sluggish face contorted in deep thought. "Huh. I can't seem to remember." Marcus spotted a small altar with a crystal stand near the entrance to one of the buildings. He stopped for a moment and inspected it. "I've seen this before. Where though? It's a very fuzzy memory." Mose halted and looked back. "Yeah. Not sure. Oh man, looks like my memory is gone too. Ain't that something?"

Marcus looked at him awkwardly a moment. "Are you smiling? What's wrong with you?" Mose shrugged sluggishly. "Iono. I just feel like everything's ok. I feel safe around you. Maybe that's a clue in itself?" Nodding in agreement, Marcus eyed over Mose another time. "Do you know where we could find a library? Some place with information? Where might that be?" Mose thought for a moment.

"Yeah, I'm sorry I got nothing. It's like that whole part of my brain is gone or something. You know?" Marcus shook his head and began walking forward again. "Let's just get moving then. I'm sure I'll find something around here." Mose nodded and began to follow him down the sandy blackened streets.

Land of the Ley Lines - The Borderlands

Standing up, Marcus brushed the sand off his chest. The trek through the desert wasteland of Hoenir was a pandora's box of horrors. If it wasn't blazing heat, it was stinging sands. Roaming beasts lurked beneath your feet ready to strike any unawares travelers at any point. Yet Marcus tread confidently among the chaos and danger.

None dared attack him, and his survival training ensured he kept his body sharp. A conversion crystal came in handy when water was scarce. Yet even despite his known safety, something unnerved him. The landscape wasn't a threat. The local fauna aren't a threat. A dread wyrm had given away it's location within the sands, yet Marcus knew even it could tell exactly what he was. Who he had become.

Continuing his tread through the sands, he noticed something off about the landscape. The sand banks grew more deliberate. Something was forming around him. It's as if the desert itself was seeking to manifest. Marcus didn't like this one bit. Drawing his bow and pulling up his hood, he chanted a spell. Perhaps now was the time to hone his combat magic skills.

Just as he suspected, the mound of sand in front of him grew to nearly twenty times his size. Sand shifted beneath him, but he was ready for it. Jumping slightly, he sent a burst of sound energy straight below him and launched into the air. The dread wyrm emerged from the sand with massive jaws open. A bellowing roar came first from the wyrm, then from something under the sand that burst forth.

No time. Marcus drew an arrow, and while he nocked it he imbued it with wind energy. Releasing the arrow, he sent it flying. Right as the arrow reached it's target, the beasts jaw, it sent a burst of wind energy everywhere. It boomed with such force it slowed Marcus' inevitable descent back to the ground.

Out of nowhere, a large stone fist pommeled Marcus from the side. His barrier took most of the force, but it still sent him flying at a dangerous speed. Thankfully he managed to slam into a sand dune not one hundred meters away. Painfully. Looking up, he assessed his wounds and his target. His body was bruised, at best. Yeah it hurt like hell, but now isn't the time to let it overcome. 

"Wha?" A golem stood before him, slowly making it's way to destroy him. It made a strange noise that resonated with the sand. The sand itself shivered and displaced at the sound. He's trying to make it harder to walk. Marcus got up, and decided fighting on the ground will be difficult. Searching his mind he desperately tried to think of a way to get a good footing. "That's it!"

Nocking an arrow, he imbued it with a massive amount of fire energy. Aiming towards the ground right below the golem's feet, he released and sent a massive streak of fire just above the shifting sands. The heat started to melt the grains into a liquid, and it became a hot sticky mess quickly. Landing at it's target, the arrow exploded with a huge fireball. Leaving behind a small crater of molten glass, the golem was thrown off balance and fell in.

Drawing another arrow, Marcus imbued it with frost energy, and released immediately. The arrow flew true, hitting the molten mess with the golem half submerged. It exploded with frost, freezing everything around it. The golem struggled in the frozen glass, and cracks could be heard. The ground in front of him was still molten, so he decided to nock another arrow and cautiously walk around to the golem.

"What are you? Why do you attack me?" The golem made a strange noise, and stopped moving. The sand started to vibrate again, but this time he could sense something moving beneath it. Keeping his bow ready, he continued to approach the golem. Air swirled in strange ways, with dust devils appearing rapidly and disappearing. 

"Why... do you encroach...?" A voice boomed from the golem. What does it mean? "I did not know I was. Is there something sacred in these sands?" A calm befell the sand, and it ceased to vibrate. A figure emerged from a dune behind the golem. "We are the ones here first. Our lands sacred. Don't want you here. What purpose does it serve?" It looked like a smaller, more human looking figure. 

"I am looking for someone. Someone important. I have been told that the Tyriani-" The sand boomed awake again, and the figure floated the air swiftly approaching Marcus. "You not Tyriani?!"  Marcus readied himself to attack. "No, I am not. Is that good or bad?" The figure came within a few meters, and stopped. It seemed to be considering something. "Your name?" 

Marcus looked at it seriously. Something didn't feel right. "Marcus Wainwright." Sand trembled, and loosened beneath him. It was creating quicksand. Quickly he sent a burst of sound energy in front of him. It sent him flying backwards into the dune. But his feet weren't in the quick sand. Still, he had to act quickly.

Drawing an arrow, he imbued it with wind energy. "This is gonna hurt." Nocking and releasing, the moment the arrow left his hand it burst with energy and flew forward and lightning speed. It created a small sonic boom near Marcus' hand, causing his arm to jolt away quickly and de-socket. He shouted in pain, but the arrow flew true and shattered the floating rock being completely. The sand settled for a moment, then it seemed to feel lighter somehow. It loosened, and he felt himself begin to start falling slowly.

He tried to watch all around him as he managed to keep himself from drowning in sand. Pillars began to emerge from the sand, and after what felt like a good hour of just trying to stay above the sand, he finally hit something solid beneath his feet. The sand began to trickle away slowly around his body. After another half hour of waiting for the sand to keep going down, he noticed buildings were starting to appear around him.

Sand was draining to reveal a lost city made of onyx colored stone. Whatever he killed must have been it's guardian. All he could do was watch as the landscape slowly unfolded around him. Eventually it peeled away to reveal a retaining wall an impossible distance away. He could only see one side of it it would seem. "This must have been an entire civilization buried under the sand. Things like this don't just happen. I need to investigate. There could be information here that would be useful against the emperor."

The Junto - For the Greater Good

"What do you mean no one cares?" Serge was obviously not pleased. His brow was raised, being lost underneath his unkempt longer brown hair. Jacob stood across from him, arms crossed at the computer desk. "Well, mein fuhrer, there's this little thing called every day life. People really seem to enjoy it. So when you address the nation telling them that chaos is coming, of course they're going to be more interested in how early they have to get up to get a latte before work."

Serge sighed, laying his head down heavily on the table. He mumbled something under his breath. "Oh, I'm sorry? I didn't hear you. Did you have a comment on this problem?" Bringing his head up slowly, he mumbled just barely enough to hear. "People suck." Jacob nodded, his sun bleached blonde hair was just as unkempt. "Yeah, well welcome to reality there big guy. I'll be your guide to the wonders of America." 

Serge shook his head, looking angrily. "I can't believe that people don't care. That people want to remain ignorant of the truth. It will be the end of them." Jacob shook his head and grabbed the coffee next to him in Serge's office. It was decorated with memorabilia from the U.S. founding fathers. "Serge, the reality is people don't care. You have to accept that. Not everyone sees the world like you do." Fidgeting with a pen, Serge looked frustrated.

"They don't have to see the world like I do! They just have to understand that things are coming and if they want to survive they have to be ready to adapt! I honestly-" Jacob held up a hand and stopped his rant. His flowing Hawaiian silk shirt was patterned with flowers. "Serge. Stop. You're getting worked up over nothing. Worry about yourself and the people that are important to you. There's no reason to worry about those who you don't know." 

Serge slammed his fist on the table, making the whole thing shake. "I care about all of them. America is my home and the people here are my community. I may not know them but they are my neighbors and I will never give up trying to help them. E Pluribus Unum. You know that!" Serge's face grimaced. Turning around in his swivel chair, he looked out over Seattle. "Serge. I get it. You're passionate about people. But you have seen more first hand apathy of the American Public over anyone else that has probably existed ever. The public isn't interested with anything other than their own daily lives."

Serge sighed again. Obviously frustrated, he turned back around and looked at Jacob seriously. "Yes, you're right. But just because they don't care doesn't mean that I should stop trying. Maybe there's a different way to approach it. Maybe we need to level with them. Show them how this looming threat effects their precious every day lives. Maybe we need to make some changes to our approach."

Jacob raised an eyebrow. "I... Don't think I like your tone here..." Serge looked at him seriously. "The Junto needs to change. It needs to adapt to provide a level of understanding to the public. Maybe we've been going about this all wrong. Helping people doesn't always mean doing the things that make them happy. Sometimes you have to make decisions people don't agree with. It's time to make a change Jacob."

Jacob leaned in and looked concerned. "Serge. Are you ok? What's wrong?" Serge's eyes glimmered a moment. "Yeah. I'm fine. I'm just starting to understand this problem better. It's time to shake the public to awaken. I'll start fleshing out details soon and have them to you as soon as possible. The Junto will take a different approach soon. As we move forward, please keep in mind that these decisions are for the benefit of everyone."

Falling back in his chair, Jacob sighed and placed a hand on his face. "Serge... You're sounding like the people you say you hate." Serge nodded. "Exactly. It's for the greater good." 

Full Dive Dad - Prologue

"It's gettin' to be his birthday soon. I want to get him something really cool that his other friends won't have. You know, something big." Walking slowly down the detergent aisle, Jeff and I were checking for faced products and where things needed to be filled. "Oh? What exactly did you have in mind?" Stopping at a pallet of off brand fabric softener, Jeff noted they needed to get another pallet down. "That new Virtual Reality thing coming out he's been raving about. Apparently they're just starting to do some beta testing for home console versions. Thing's run a good five grand!" 

He stopped again and looked at me like I was crazy. "Jesus Greg! I know you make good money managing but ye gods man! That's a lot of money for a game system!" Waving my clip board around, the sounds of the morning pre-open store check filled the neighborhood Costco. "Yeah, it certainly is. But it also is a very unique opportunity and something I'd love for him to be a part of. He's so passionate about technology of course I want to give him that!" Things were going smoothly with the morning drills, a few hiccups here or there with lazy employees but nothing out of the ordinary.

Jeff sighed and shook his head while we went through the deposits. I was so excited to tell someone about my awesome Dad plan. I don't exactly spoil him by any means. "Besides, did you know that Costco pulled some strings and got me one! It was supposed to be closed market! Invite only!" So many drawers were wrong. Cashiers suck sometimes. "Yeah I get it man I get it! You did a cool thing! Kinda tooting your own horn a bit too much don't you think?"

###

He was right. Maybe I didn't need to rub it in so much. Still, I was proud of my accomplishment. What was I supposed to do? Either way, there was no way in hell I could have imagined learning so much from that thing. From a game. It taught me one very important lesson: My son has just as much to teach me, as I do him. I want to say I feel bad for him, especially knowing that he'll never know his mother, and will probably never see his dad again either. 

All I know is it was fun while it lasted, and I am going to miss him. Somehow, he'll find a better life. I know he will.

Land of the Ley-Lines - Rángard

Far to the east of Freya, the city of Rángard lies in ruin. Although many on the main land know only fear when speaking of the vast sea that resides beyond the lands of Dorana, those brave souls who lived in this port knew only kindness from the goddess they named their town after. The emirate only recently recognized this town as the capital of the lands of Vör. Vast amounts of riches were spent to erect Rángard, in exchange for continuing their endeavors to conquer the sea.

Many powerful and rich nobles flocked to this town, eager to be a part of something that had long bred fear throughout the hearts of our people. Exploring the vast seas. As the first port town known throughout Dorana, Rángard quickly became flooded with a bustling population.

Spires were erected with gold and jewels. Vast reservoirs of clean drinking water were magically flowing from the sea to the people via aqueducts that stretched to every part of town. Many advancements in every day comforts were made, and the population of Rángard tried it's very best to help it's people. Monuments to the kind and generous nobles who spurred this bustling town were built of every kind of rare material imaginable. Ivory and marble. Gold and silver. Petrified woods and even stone taken from deep within the caverns of Mount Heimdall.

None were as grand as the coral palace built at the very edge of the land, parallel to the docks and ships that ventured out into sea. An attuned magic ruby was placed at the top of the palace, and was used as a shining light to guide ships back into port when they became lost in the fog. I had seen every corner of Rángard... Houses built of sturdy stone, then magically hardened to defend against raging seas. A people united under the hopes of living in what was once deemed unlivable. 

As you know, dear Marcus, prosperity does come with it's problems. Politics became more important than the what and the how. People were divided by their ideas, rather than their struggles. There is a certain level of understanding when disagreeing with others. Yet the nobles shared no love for those who didn't share their ideals. Soon a divide was created that not even the kindest of hearts could repair.

Crime spread like a plague, and the once rich and powerful nobles practiced self-preservation and showed no love for their fellow people. Only greed. One day, this bustling town stopped dead in it's tracks. None know what happened on that day... I am the only one that does. I was still young, at the not so tender age of twenty five. Long gone were my days of innocence and clean hands.

I have always openly admitted my faults. My days of stealing and misdirection had only just begun. Yet on that day, everything changed. I knew not what had caused it, but a massive wave rose from the seas. Though it was not the first to strike the town, it was certainly the most powerful. Magi from throughout the city did their best to protect everyone, but I was on the outskirts of town, dealing in the black market.

Swallowing me whole, the typhoon dragged me from the pier which I had met an accomplice at to exchange some stolen goods. Although I had enough magic training to protect myself under the water, my accomplice did not. I watched him drown... Had I not been so greedy, I might have saved him from such a terrible fate... Yet the bounty which I had carried was much more important than I had known at the time. 

It was an idol, made entirely of a greenish material that I had never seen before. A rather scary figure of a man holding two swords and bladed armor was carved into the stone, and shone with such intensity that anyone would seek to make the idol their own. I knew not where the noble I stole it from had obtained it, but it was soon made clear to me there was a reason that wave struck when it did...

Rán, the goddess of the sea came to me in the torrent of water. Her figure was strong and bold, created only as a vision from the algae in the water. She spoke to me in plain words, and demanded I return the idol which I had stolen. Fearing for my life, I agreed. As soon as I handed the idol over to her, a massive leviathan appeared from the sea and swam ferociously towards me. It's scales were glowing red, along with it's countless eyes shining through the cloudy water.

It swallowed me whole... I can not recall what happened to me during my time in the leviathan, I know only that I washed up on the shore on the west side of the continent. One of your Freyan scouts found me outside of their lands in unclaimed territory. Your father, Percival actually. He brought me back to the closest scouting outpost on the western border of the country. There were such trees there as I had never seen....

So tall.. So proud. So full of life and mystery. Yours truly is a land of wonders. As he nursed me back to health, he asked me how I came to these lands. I could not tell him the truth... Who would ever believe a man who has been touched by a goddess? Although I did tell him of Rángard, I fed him a false tale of being wrecked at sea and being one of the lucky few to survive. With so many questions, one would think that he didn't believe my story.

Yet in his eyes I saw trust. I saw faith in his fellow man. Something I had not seen since childhood. He told me that news had spread years before that Rángard had become deserted after that encounter. Spinning a tale that was one right out of fanciful legends and kids stories, he regaled of how the town became deserted, though no one knew what happened to it's inhabitants. They simply disappeared, and left behind their legacy. I know for a fact, dear Marcus, that these people could protect themselves from the sea.

Their demise was not met from the harsh unforgiving sea. Their towers remained in tact, and monuments untouched. Somehow, the people seemed to cease to exist. Then he told me of you. His son. He missed you so, but saw his duty to his people as a more important endeavor in his life. He wished he could have been there for you, yet he knew his purpose was expanding the borders of the Freyan empire. His eyes... Were so kind and gentle. Yet there was no doubt in my mind he was a more powerful man than I.

Learning of the years I had lost at sea troubled me. I felt like I no longer knew the world around me. Though I was no one important at the time, I certainly felt like I had greater purpose. My time in Freya is what shaped me to be the leader I am today. I still remember back to that day... The day I witnessed the face of a goddess. And I remember exactly what day it was too... That is why it so shocked me to find that the day I disappeared...

Is the day Marcus Wainwright, the man who will come to conquer the hearts and minds of the entire Doranaian main land, was born. Our king was born on the day that idol was taken by the sea... And though you have come to be a kind and loving king... There is still part of me that fears for my people... For in my travels I have learned exactly what that idol was born of. And exactly what it represents...

The Blademaster has returned...

Land of the Ley-Lines - The Tale of Aric and Freya

The city of Freya was not always a bustling one. The fortified stone walls of the Drashiki Empire's capital city being built around the small farm town didn't take away from it's charm. The people loved the town, and the Emperor Ruarc Grimblade. How he came into the title was questionable, but the love he showed for his people was not. There was not a day that passed where Ruarc did everything he could to help those in need around him. Freya's heritage came from a rather interesting folk tale.

Located in a rather lush valley, Freya was surrounded entirely by prairies of tall grass and various herbivores scouring them. Small creeks flowed throughout the prairie with ponds forming between them. On either side of the valley was one of a pair of Greenweb trees. It was a strange natural phenomenon caused by the ley-lines intersecting at either sides of the valley. One massive tree, about fifty stories in height, with large green arrays of intricate vines that look like webs from the ground. 

Some say these two trees were a brother and sister, who had gotten lost amidst the vast tall grass and found their way to either side of the valley. The boy, Aric, was a stout boy of only twelve.  At a young age he had an appreciation for being hearty and well versed in the sword. When he was only seven his parents abandoned him and his four year old sister while they were hiking their way to the next town. In the morning, they woke up to find no sign of their parents or their belongings. All that was left was a small sack with some basic supplies for survival.

The girl, Freya, was always quite fragile. Though her brother raised her to become strong, she still had trouble finding herself appreciating being a strong woman. Nontheless, the separation from her brother when they got lost and she couldn't find him, had made her realize how independent she had already become. Still, she wanted to see her brother again. They both made their way to either side of the valley, doing what little they could to find a way to each other. 

They both managed to find their way to a massive tree, and climbed as high as they could until they had a clear view of the valley. Though the prairie was too large to see from either side, at least they could see a land mark they could use to try and reunite. Just as they had both decided to make their way to their old uncle's farm near a small creek in the valley, a massive burst of ley-energy erupted from the tree and consumed both of them. It was at that moment that the leaves turned into vines, and the trees grew to their impressive fifty story height. 

The uncle watched from the valley as the trees flashed bright blue and streaks of light erupted in the sky. Later that day, a traveler in peculiar clothing arrived at the man's farm and asked to purchase the land. The farmer agreed, and days later the very first house was built next to the farmer's. That was the day that the city of Freya had begun being built. It has been nearly a hundred and fifty years since this day. And even now, you can still see Aric and Freya watching silently over the valley. Occasionally glowing faintly on warm summer nights.

Four Oh... Four - This Means Something...

"All I have to do now is connect the motor and..." Reaching down to my freshly built quad-copter UAV, I connected a wire directly to the motor. It bypasses the usual safeties on small motors like this, so I could overclock it for a bit more speed from the rotors. That means steadier and quicker height control. Whirring came from the motor, and the small plastic blades all started to spin in sync with each other. 

It's a piece of art, really. It looks like a regular quad-UAV, but it had one slight difference. Not only did it have a fully rotational camera on both the top and bottom, but it also had a high quality miniature microphone that could filter out the reverberation coming from the blades for a pretty solid clear sound. Speakers around the bottom of the chassis let me broadcast any sounds I wanted from my phone. Like my voice, or a silly sound, or a bird call to lure out certain species of birds.

The sink is still running in the kitchen. My small apartment living room wasn't really the place to be building my masterpiece, but I didn't have much to work with. Most of my money went into the three-dimensional printer I bought to build it. That was a lot of my grant money for the lab though... Ah still! If this thing works the way I made it to, I'll be waving the patent in their faces and getting a partnership! 

Think of the uses! Probably the best part for me is seeing exactly how the AI reacts to change in stimulus, and how it will learn to scan it's surroundings more efficiently. Oh the glory of robotics! "Peter! Did you leave the sink on in the other room again?" Libby is my late wife's sister. Ah, little background might help I guess... I got married about four years ago to a very lovely woman by the name of Abigail Kingsly. Our two year anniversary was a very special one for both of us, in that I got a phone call, and she got in a terrible car accident.

Save the sob story though, I've heard it enough. Yes, real tragic, awful stuff. But life happens. I loved her, and still very much do, and that's all there is to it. Now I have Libby, her sister, though not in a romantic sense. I just live with her, since they were twins and Abby and I got along so well, naturally Libby and I did too. Only difference really, is that Abby had no issues dating a small person.

Yeah, I'm four foot five inches tall. It's not so bad really, I just have to find other tools to live life with. Hence, my invention here is an exploration drone. Long story short, I live with Libby now because it's hard to take care of some household stuff living alone. Anyway, I used to have a wife, I live with her sister now. Now that that's taken care of, let's get this faucet turned off.

Hopping with joy into the other room, I turned the faucet off. "Do you hear that Libby?" A moment of silence passed, and you could hear the motor and the blades from the drone. "Did you finally finish it?" She walked into the living room, a fit, solid girl in her mid thirties, much like me. Except she was average sized, and looked like she could literally throw me across the room. Strong girl would be an understatement. I hopped back into the living room with a grin right between my black goatee. 

"You're damn right I finished it! Now he just needs a name, and a test run. I think I know what I want to call him." Libby was all smiles on that pretty face of hers. Her blonde hair was tied in a bun behind her head, and she was wearing some comfortable lounge clothes. She wore some pretty intimate stuff sometimes. Told me that since she was twins with Abby, and I'd seen Abby naked plenty of times, it's not like she has anything to hide.

It's true, I guess. I'm still a man though, and that can be kind of problematic. "What's on your mind?" She leaned against the hallway wall, and watched it hover in the air for a moment. "Ed. For Exploration Drone. Pretty simple, but still a name. I think he's booting up his subroutines. I started the bootup process before I finished the rotors since I know it takes a good long time." I excitedly watched as it floated in the air, and Libby cocked her head to the side. "Ed huh? Not bad. Simple. I guess I can appreciate that."

Bootup Sequence Alpha is complete. Status: Charlie. 

Libby looked weirded out by the fact that it played it's status message in my voice. "What? Who else was supposed to record his status messages?" She nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I guess. That's pretty cool there Pete. What's it for again?" Checking my phone, I pulled up the status UI on the app that linked directly to Ed. It streamed it's camera and microphone data directly to my phone, which then bounced that data to a cloud on my desktop at home, and also a backup on my computer at work.

"It's an exploration drone! It's basically so I can just explore cities and parks and stuff and see what I wouldn't normally be able to see." It's easy to see why I'm excited about this right? Is that not something most people want? "So you're gonna use this thing in the city? What are you looking for? People hookin' up with the blinds open? That's a helluva lot of nerding out for a voyeur website startup." I couldn't help but laugh really hard at that. I know that's not what I'm using it for. In fact, I had never even thought that it could be used for something like that.

I guess it could. "No, I built it so I could see your 'hot yoga' sessions out in the city with that guy Terry you keep telling me does such a great class. I've been meaning to get down there but it's just such a hassle, so I built a robot that could be there in my stead while I stream it here and take the class in the privacy of my own home. Genius, no?" That one caught her off guard. We have this thing, where we try to say the least sensible answer we can think of. We've gotten good at it.

"I gotta admit, you had me going with the quoted 'hot yoga' sessions. Thought you were insinuating something else. Which hey, you're a smart guy. Maybe one day you'll learn what some of this subtle talk about hooking up is all about. That is, if your nerdiness doesn't keep you from developing anxiety over the subject." Ouch. That one dug deep. "You're mean. That was a low blow and you know it. Are we really gonna play this dirty?" 

"Like pigs rolling in the mud." Oh, she's feeling feisty today. "Ah, no wonder you're so good at it. You've been doing that for a while now I suppose. I'm still new to this, so thanks for holding my hand with it." That one hit pretty good. "No problem. I'm used to holding your hand too, by the way." She turned around with a smirk on her face, and slapped her toned butt with her hand. "Oh wow. That is a new low." She just laughed, and I realized I set myself up again so bad she didn't even have to say it.

Oh god. At least I have Ed. Wait, where did Ed go? I hear the whirring, but he's not here anymore. Did I miss him go off on his first exploration? He's in the kitchen probably! Rushing into the kitchen, I found Ed hovering above the sink. The camera was scanning the counter, but it kept getting stuck on the faucet. What's wrong buddy? Pulling out my phone, I could tell that the faucet position was causing it to glitch and have to re-scan the entire counter again for a proper picture.

Except it was in an infinite loop because it kept hitting the faucet snag each time. Moving the faucet head so it centered between the sinks, Ed finally got to finish his scan. He started to move back out towards the living room, but instead I made him land on the kitchen counter and shut down. I had to review the programming for the faucet handle and figure out what caused the glitch before I moved on, considering if he wanted to really explore he couldn't have snags like that.

He's still in development stage, and there's lots of kinks to work out, but once I get him fully calibrated he'll be able to show me some pretty awesome corners of the world. So let's see here... First I'll review the footage, see where it glitched, and go from there. 

In Between Moments - The Strangeness of Quiet

It's strange. This quiet calm. It's like a momentary reprieve from what our lives have become. Explosions. Gun fire. Men shouting out orders. I live in a war zone. Why are people fighting here? I honestly can't tell you. I don't fight for either side, I just live here. My home land has become ragged and worn down, if not destroyed in many places. Asphalt lay littered in the streets, along with the garbage both sides bring. Explosions from either side have torn holes in our favorite restaurants. Have made us find another grocery store to provide food for our families. And even made our families find other ways to educate and keep our kids safe during the day. 

Despite the destruction, there is peace yet to be found here. In moments like this. Where regardless of the reasons, both sides cease to destroy. Here I sit, in my bullet ridden car, trying to get into town to pick up groceries on the safer side of town. Everyone is quiet. No one says a word. Why? Because it's not often we get quiet like this. The serene stillness of the air. Hearing with wind blow, without the smell of gunpowder. It's strange, but it's moments like these that keep us going. The hope that our lives may once again return to the normal quiet. Watching the trees slowly sway in the breeze, and actually hearing the clatter of leaves.

Hearing a stranger on the side walk crinkle a bag as they walk home from the store. A couple enjoying small talk on their door steps, while the rest of us just enjoy the peace. We all know it will continue again, and perhaps that's for the best. Perhaps there is a reason there is fighting here, perhaps there isn't. Regardless of the reasons, this is what we have for the moment. Peace and quiet. And perhaps all that fighting, all that destruction and loss, is exactly the reason we appreciate that peace and quiet. I know our struggles are more directly life threatening than most. But the concept is the same.

We do not appreciate the peace and quiet without the chaos and the noise. So while the breeze still blows, and the quiet still remains, I will enjoy it. Because I know once the fighting begins again, we will not have the time to look back on this moment until we have another like it again. Thank you moment. While you may be a small shred of peace in between all the chaos, I will appreciate you regardless.

Four Oh... Four


We live in the age of robots. How awesome is that? Except there was such a huge artificial intelligence scare and it's outlawed across the globe. Something about "They'll wreak havoc and cause deaths rampant!". Or some such bull shit. Personally, I said to hell with this law. I think it's a load of bunk. As far as I know I'm the only one to really think that though.

So one day, I was tinkering with an old airborne drone of mine and thought: Why don't I just write an algorithm that makes it look for other potential points of interest based on wind conditions and visual stimuli? It's that simple. I didn't program him to be anything other than a way to explore the world with my own actions. I didn't expect it to be such a big thing.

Yeah, there was a lot of chaos, havoc, rampant death. But if what I've seen is true, it was never the robots doing the killing. They weren't programmed for that and no one wanted to program them for that anyway. But there was still killing. No one seems to know why. Hive mind? Maybe. Anarchy? Nah. The real problem is humanity wasn't ready to accept what artificial intelligence would do to it.

My friend taught me one thing in all this, and that's that robots are a natural part of progression in cosmic life. Because while the robots may start out cold, emotionless, and only capable of us telling them what we want them to do. But artificial intelligence reiterates the fact that our lives are accumulations of our choices. Humanity didn't want to accept the fact that there's no greater force making them act like dick holes.

There's no voice in the head of the masses telling them to commit immoral acts upon their fellow humans. They can't handle the idea that it was just them being dicks. That's all humanity has ever been on the broad scale. Being dicks about it. God forbid we just accept that our nature isn't perfect and we're designed to love chaos...

That's still not what I wanted though. I didn't want anyone to get hurt. That being said I'd still do it all regardless. I gained far too much out of it. What did I gain?

I gained a friend.

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