The ground where Asamu-Oni sat was saturated with wrong. The Sygola trees around it, lush with life only days before, were dead and decaying now, their leaves gone, their trunks split open and festering like corpses. The lagoon was a deep red, like an eyeless socket, a pit of blood in the jungle. Gone were the laughing Zipsum of the Riverswift Tribe, the birds of the air, and the frogs in the lagoon. In their place maggots and bacteria swarmed, greedy for this hoard of carrion, but an observant eye would see how quickly the scavengers were destroyed by the malevolent presence in that place. Their shriveled corpses piled up, becoming food for the next insatiable but doomed flesh-crawler.

Karia wept to see the destruction as she asked the presence, "Who are you?"

I am Asamu-Oni, the one who rots.

"Why are you here?"

I was called.

"What is your purpose?"

I will avenge my brother, Garandou-Oni, the one who takes.

The trunk of a giant Sygola tree collapsed with a noxious fart. Rotting from the inside, foul gases built up until they forced their way through the soft bark, rending the tree in half. Karia shuddered, the smell was horrible. Asamu-Oni shifted his weight, sending black tendrils leaking along the ground, pulling himself like an obscene pile of refuse through the jungle.

"They will be expecting you."

That is good. The taste is sweeter when the death is foreseen.

"Many things have been foreseen regarding them."

But only one of these is certain.

"I have given them gifts and curses for moments such as these."

Your breath is wasted Karia. I am going to eat your children. All of them. And then I will shit them out and they will sit on you, rotting, for eternity.

New Technology Summit

The seabirds of Marina wheeled through the air above Goshi's flagship Mothra. The crew today was unusually tense. The Executor had returned from his summit with the Biomade Oversight Council visibly pleased. Seeing a man who never showed emotion, and whose whims could result in your death, being outwardly happy was a very unsettling thing. Every sailor and officer on that boat was making every effort to be invisible.

For one person aboard, being invisible required no effort. Her livid eyes materialized out of the shadows, followed by a bright pink bob. Her footsteps making no sound, she slipped down the corridor and out the hatch, stepping nimbly into a shore-boat and nodding to the man at the engine. Without a word he took her skipping across the waves toward the docks. No one on Mothra knew who this girl was, and no one wanted to know. The Executor kept his own council and it was safer that way.

Slipping through the streets of Marina she drew no attention. Despite her remarkable appearance, she had a gift for being inconspicuous. In a city like Marina - full of plazas and monuments where people congregate for long strolls and outdoor meals - it was even easier. No one noticed her slipping the lock on a wealthy townhouse door. She was forgotten before the door closed behind her.

Inside was a subtly lavish apartment. It had a furtive quality to it, as though it knew it was expensive, but didn't want you to know. No big show pieces, but here and there little touches peeked out, indicating someone with champagne taste. From upstairs the steamy sweet smell of a Thula pipe (a local opiate) drifted down. She made her way up the carpeted staircase and into the room from whence the perfume emanated.

A skinny Biomade man with more than a few broken veins in his cheeks failed to notice her until she was already seated in front of him. He jumped suddenly, disturbing the coals under his Thula pipe and burning his knee.

"Ow. Oooh. Hot!" He patted the spot with a cool silk pillow and made awkward faces. "How did you get in here?"

"Nevermind. You sent a message."

"What? No I didn't. I mean, not to you. How did you know?" He shook his head, trying to dispel the fog from his mind. Focus would be necessary and he could hardly see straight.

"You're slow today Sawaguchi. If an old friend of former director Yamoto..."

"Lord Tsuchinaga Yamoto," he corrected her.

"If an old friend of Lord Tsuchinaga Yamoto starts inquiring too much around this business I'm going to find out."

His eyes narrowed and he looked at her suspiciously for a few moments hoping desperately that she was not reading his mind at that very moment. It was a desperate ploy to stall for a moment to regain some sobriety.

"But, your story seems so unlikely," he protested. "I'm sure that his factor was a girl called Samara and he would have told me if he'd changed something that important before his death."

"Fine. Don't believe me, but then, how did I find you, Sawaguchi? How do I know so much about your relationship to him? Why do I keep intercepting your messages? You must have a better explanation." Despite herself, she was enjoying the game, a little.

Head swimming, he admitted he had no such explanation.

She leaned closer to him and put her index finger under his chin. Her smile was impish, and he had to admit, sexy, the kind of girl Yamoto would have liked. "Listen," she said, "Just tell me what you wanted to give to the Biomade Oversight Council today, before I intercepted the message."

The walls were sprouting lilacs. The drugs were taking effect.

"It's just a file. Lord Tsuchinaga Yamoto made me promise to deliver it to the Biomade Oversight Council when Executor Blade was making his proposal to them about some new technology. The Lord was convinced that this technology represented a terrible danger and he said the file would prove it." Sawaguchi paused and she blinked her big red eyes at him in anticipation. "He said if we delivered it too early, then Blade would have time to do damage control. Too late and the technology would already be approved. But if we did it at the Summit then the licenses would be revoked, the project sunk, and that would be that."

Sawaguchi couldn't tell if it was her touch, or her proximity, or the drugs, but something was making him very dizzy indeed.

The girl pulled her hand away and gave him a pitying expression. "Apparently you didn't hear then?" she said.

He stared blankly.

"They moved the time of the meeting up this morning. Blade got his technology approved hours ago. The demonstration was a huge success. Apparently he teleported a HeiShi soldier across the room before their very eyes."

Sawaguchi suddenly looked more alert - and very alarmed.

"But... no. But, my contact on the council said the meeting was this afternoon," he felt the floor crumbling out from beneath his feet.

"I'm afraid that I intercepted those messages too."

His face melted into tears, "He only asked me for one promise. For years he was doing me favors and he only asked me for one promise..."

She watched him sink to the floor and dig his fingers into the lush carpet. "The DisLocators are already in mass production. With this announcement, Goshi is ready to start deploying them. Soon Geneva Prime will have thousands of soldiers equipped with them - the most mobile army in the world."

Every word made him shrink. He sobbed feebly and grasped for the pipe, sucking white cloud through the bubbling tube.

In his incoherent state he babbled, "Maybe it's not too late. I can still give the file to the Council. They might review their decision."

He was still babbling when the psychic knife passed through his temple.

"The permission was just a formality in any case, but Blade would rather if you didn't hand that file in after all." She drained his life right out of him, and kept on draining long after he was unconscious until his body was a dried husk on the floor.

A clear acrylic disk sat on the top of a beautiful wooden chest of drawers nearby. She snapped it in half and strolled casually from the room.

Fractal Games

Infinite curves on invisible planes generate, turn, swell, and simulate 3-dimensions across a lighted acrylic screen. Each iteration no matter the level of magnification, mathematically identical, formed from some portion of the whole. Rei had never seen such a complex fractal.

Not that she was a mathematician mind you, but she dimly remembered Dr. Soren using fractals in his lessons about predicting the movements of the tides, or the shape of trees, or the way different materials would crack when impacted by a bullet. The shapes were burned into her memory bank, deep in there, and none of them compared to this one in terms of the disparity between their Hausdorff dimension and the topological dimension.

Whole days had gone by before she even discovered that Spark's Journal had an interface. She could manipulate the image slightly, zooming in and out, or freezing the movement. Rei turned the picture over from every angle time and again attempting to discern if it was following a pattern of exact self-similarity or quasi self-similarity, or whether it might be an optical illusion entirely generated by mere statistical self-similarity. It was work dredging up these childhood geometry lessons. More tinkering eventually brought up a blank command prompt. She stared at it, with no idea what to type.

Evening after evening of examining the damn repeating curves began to have their effect after all. Rei was dreaming in fractals. When she closed her eyes she saw fractals. The fractals were leaping out at her from the forest as she walked; in the clouds in the sky. It was as if her vision was being trained by the prolonged focus. The world itself seemed to be taking on a pattern of predictable sets in infinite iterations. Meaning, is the illusion we see when our mind has transposed the fractals into plants and faces.

Then one morning, before the sunrise, Rei woke up with a start. Spark you genius! The fractal is multi-stable. It can be calculated in two ways. You built choice into this journal of yours.

The cursor in the command prompt blinked. Rei could begin the calculations for the fractal as if it were in either the deterministic or the stochastic mode.

Which would it be?

For the Love of Backstory

Moses is almost always forthcoming.

"I, uh, well, my parents died when I was about 8, I think - a cave-in. They didn't double-join the i-beams in the tunnel above ours and...well, anyway, there was a cave in. I was stuck down there for...I dunno, a long time. I slept six times before they found me. I think the news said a week. I knew my parents were dead, and for a while I thought I was too - that I'd become a ghost, down there, until I heard the digging sounds, and then I felt all of the pain. My arm" he holds up his right, mechanical arm, " was crushed and my leg too. The female bone." No, you correct him, probably the femur. "Oh."

"So I was sent to an orphanage. I had a lot more of me mechified than most of the other kids, but it was just, um, prosthetics at the time." The word is said carefully and slowly. "It was weird, because my brother, Tank, he survived. He's my big brother - older too. Really big. And I still have a couple cousins, but..." He stops.

"I don't know where they are, now."

After a while he continues. "But I ended up at this orphanage. And I was kinda famous, so people would come to see me sometimes. They just wanted to look, and I didn't talk then, so that was ok. Then - have you heard of Amuro Namie?" You have - she is the daughter and sole heir of a powerful Allskin family in Geneva Prime with connections to Goshi. "Well, she came to see me, and I remember that she was so pretty, I said 'you're pretty', and I hadn't talked in a while, so everyone was surprised. So after that I lived with the Amuro family, in their high-rise, in the middle of the city."

"It was really nice. I was really happy, and Namie was happy. I got much better upgrades, and I got to thinking about what I would do with myself, what my Job would be. I figured, I'm a survivor. I survived a cave-in, so how could I do a Job that was about surviving? That's how I got to be a Deep Delver, and I started fixing myself up to do that."

"So things were going good, and I grew up, and they tried to teach me a lot of stuff about the First Minds and about sitting still and about bowing. I think some of it stuck. But I turned 15 and it was time for me to get a job on my own, and I was all set to be a Delver. But Namie had another gift for me. She had this box" he indicates, pointing over his right shoulder, to the warm, clicking box that is now scuffed with wear but still quite intact "and she had a socket for it specially made. We mounted it, me helping and looking in a mirror - she didn't want anyone to help, and didn't want me to tell anyone. I didn't figure out why for a while - I just thought it was a secret, like our secret. And I guess its also that."

He walks for a while, very quiet (for a Mechified) and doesn't respond to your further prompts for some time.

"I'm changing. Everything is changing. So fast. I feel I always keep seeing clearer, but I can't...say what I see. Its so different." After a few false starts at going on, "But after I left the Amuros, I think Namie's dad was happy I was gone, and she couldn't really visit me in the mines. She wrote a few times but...I'm not much of a writer, so I guess she gave up on it. Its...getting from the mines to their high-rise...its a long way, you know? Not just miles."

"So I was a Deep Delver, got promoted to Second Class. I saw my brother a couple of times - he's a 'spitter, and...well, I told you how big he is." Moses holds his arm over his head as far as it will go to indicate what he means. "But I think he was doing ok. Finding good work. I wasn't close with my cousins, but they helped me get in on a delving team. I got good at tossing big rocks onto a conveyor, and alter did my own delving. I was pretty good at it. Careful. cave-ins for anybody else. And that's about that, before...all this happened."

Walking... and more walking

Well now, intrepid adventurers, you have 600km to traverse overland just over half of which is forested (not jungle anymore, but temperate-wet forests - like California Redwoods). I'm going to stick to my previous number and say you guys make 25km/day (you are faster over the plains, but much slower through the woods, it evens out). Thus you have 24 full days of travel ahead of you, to arrive on the 25th day at your destination - the landmark Inari's Grandmother, about 10km away from the Grand Chantry. You can look on the map to get your bearings.

The purpose of this 4th-wall breaking post is to begin a conversation about what you do with the journey. Use the comment threads to tell me, and each other, how you spend the evenings and nights. What do you chat about? How do your relationships with each other change as you get to know one another in long conversations? You may feel free to actually post story entries describing the journey if you are moved, but at least drop me a comment so I know where to pick up with you at the start of next session.

I am not saying that the journey goes smoothly and nothing happens on the way there. I will deal with any events that happen along the way separately, but for the remainder of the time spent walking and walking some more, I want to cover it out of game so that the actual session can focus on interesting action. Lacking Peter Jackson's budget for panoramic landscape shots, this section of the story will be much less interesting than when the Fellowship walks for years on end.


Hope on the Horizon

The Wandering Star peeked over the horizon. It was late rising tonight, though it is difficult to call something late which never follows a schedule. Nevertheless, as Luna slipped beneath the sea of leaves that is the canopy of the old growth forests around the Grand Chantry, Elder Moon thought to herself that the star was late. Waiting for it to come up she had lost a great deal of sleep.

Yes, waiting for the Star, that's it Moon, my dear. It has nothing to do with the message you received, or the butterflies you've had ever since it arrived.

Elder Moon gave her inner-critic a stern look. A member of the Elder Council could certainly expect to retain a certain amount of dignity - even in her own mental monologue.

Nevertheless, it was true that she had been giddy this evening, an odd feeling for a fox-daughter of her age. Yet, even the oddness of it gave her pleasure. She felt light and hopeful, which made her all the more nervous and cautious. Now was not the time to go getting one's hopes up. All the signs, all the omens, all the observations and predictions were pointing to catastrophe. Daily news arrived from the mouth of Zipsum messengers describing more and more deforestation by the Children of Steel. Rumors were beginning to fly of demons haunting the jungles. The very behavior of the Wandering Star seemed ominous in the context of the oppressive reality of impending disaster.

Moon had countless reasons to be worried, which is why she found it so worrisome that far from feeling afraid she felt... excited.

One week ago the delegation of the Choir of the Seasons arrived at the Chantry carrying a sedan with the Most-High Soul-Singer Elder Winter inside. The rare visit, of the most honored living Prill, was occasioned, he said, by the near certainty that something prophesied to him long ago was about to take place. So certain, he said, because he was about to leave this sorry world and his aching body behind and so it had better happen any moment now, or else... Moon had to admit that it had taken several days of patiently listening before she honestly believed that he wasn't just a senile old baritone.

Why the Elder Winter had specifically summoned her and demanded her presence by his bedside every day since his arrival, she could not fathom. However, he had ceaselessly shared with her the things he had been told to expect in his youth. He had told her of the coming of spring. He had spoken of the arrival of guests, sojourners, bringing with them the tide of renewal. He had explained the secret meaning of the Wandering Star and even taught her a portion of its private symphony. Whether anything he said was true or not, it was an incomparable honor to be given this time in his presence so close to his final hour, for beyond doubt his health was deteriorating rapidly. He would not again depart the bejewelled halls of the Grand Chantry.

And then... this afternoon, she heard a whisper on the breeze. The gentle caress of a distant loved one carrying a message - just as her own Mokuzai was fond of doing. The message said, "We are coming. Me and some companions. Meet us at Inari's Grandmother."

She nearly swooned. He's alive! He's alive and he's coming back to me! She'd relived the moment a thousand times in her heart since the message came and each time new joy sprung out of the weeks and weeks of worrying. Mokuzai was coming home, and though it was difficult to imagine that anything could be more wonderful than this news, it was also true that he was bringing companions, guests, sojourners. Is it possible that this could be a coincidence? So soon after she had believed Elder Winter's prediction? Is it not more likely that these companions were the very ones Winter spoke of? The ones who would bring renewal?

Despite all of her attempts to chide herself into reserved hope, she could feel the music bursting from her soul, a triumphant melody of resurrection. This, she was certain, is what it has all been pointing toward. The Dusk Sages and their obscure lore, the Anakarix and their mathematical prophecies, the Prill lore-singers and their aural wisdom - were they not all singing about this moment? About these people? About this historic culmination?

The Wandering Star rose late tonight - an omen of doom. Staring straight at the orb of light on the horizon she said, confidently, "You don't scare me. For I have heard the music of salvation."

Rei's Legacy

The Gogajin might have written this for Rei:

Rei, she was a wee lass
Who thought that we were too crass
She stood up to our women
Who put Kiyoshi's head a-swimmin'
And now she's lyin' on her ass!

The Worth of the Gift

I feel ill when I take the lock of hair from Edana. I try not to show it. I want to refuse it. I feel the urge to throw it down in the dirt. But if I refuse it, I'd offend her, and I'm beginning to suspect that there are few things more dangerous than offended Gogajin. To remind me that I am desirable? Why would I want to be reminded of that?

I stuff the gift into my pack and mumble a faint thanks in Zipsum.

Oh yeah. I speak Zipsum now. It's very strange. It came very naturally to me, this squeaking Karian language. From what I've heard of Gogajin, I am sure that if I studied it, it would come just as easily, just as naturally. Was I designed with a talent for languages in mind? If so, why wasn't I trained in this before now?

Maybe it doesn't matter.

I am glad to be leaving. I see the bloody smear in the quarry that marks the place where Kufu devoured the mad Biomade sniper, and I stop short. Mokuzai has discovered something in the grass.

"May I?" I ask.

He holds the object out to me. It is a strange device, oddly shaped, but clearly Cheldrun. I don't recognize it, but Eris's blood still covers it. Moses opens the end of it, and shows that there at the heart of it, surrounded by circuitry, is a tiny shard of White Rock.

"White Rock," I murmur. Mokuzai looks disgusted.
It always comes back to White Rock. Everything.

Based on the design, I'd guess it was probably meant to be... inside the body. Eris had this?

White Rock. It touched her life just as it has shaped mine. I was born from the White Rock. If Inase Spark is my father, then the White Rock, whatever it is, is my mother. I am stained with its power. Maybe that's what the Kyo-TeeShee mean by 'goddess.' Maybe it's someone who was made with White Rock.

I frown.

Moses wasn't made with White Rock. Neither was Kiyoshi. Mokuzai was touched by White Rock, but I don't think High Dive or Una had ever encountered it before we all met. Maybe being made with White Rock is just one of the ways you can qualify for the state which the Kyo-TeeShee think of as 'godhood,' whatever that is.

I clean the device as best I can, wrap it in cloth, and slide it into an empty dagger-sheath on the pant leg of my leathers.


Two days later, after we have made camp for the night, I walk a short ways into the wild woods, the strange device in one hand, the lock of Gogajin hair in the other. I look at each in turn. Gogajin hair. Cheldrun device. Remembrances. I didn't know Eris the mad sniper, but it doesn't seem right for her to die like that out in the jungle with none to remember her except for the Jevumm that ate her. I wonder what she was like. Did she have any friends like mine? Were there people who thought she was desirable? ... Probably.

Who cares? She's just some crazy sniper that Kufu ate.

A memory comes back to me suddenly. There was an old Cheldrun holo-vid that Sever and Stitch snuck into the compound, once. It was the first time I had ever seen anything from the outside world. It's a story about comrades. Two soldiers, Biomade both of them, fighting at the front against the Gogajin. At the end, one of the two is dying, and she turns to her comrade and hands him a small locket. Within is a picture of her in happier times. She'd always said that she kept it to remember the better times, and to know that they'd get better again some day. But this time, this time she said, "Take this in remembrance of me."

He did.

Two possible remembrances. Two paths in the forest. One the last material witness to a dead Cheldrun sniper, the other a part of a Gogajin who gave unwanted attention. It's not a difficult choice.

In the end, it's the lock of hair that I discard like the piece of trash that it is, and the Cheldrun device that I re-wrap in cloth and carefully put back into the empty knife-sheath.

Edana didn't take something important into account when she handed out her gifts. Something that should have crossed her mind, but didn't.

I don't want to remember being desired.

Episode 15: The Ballad of Edana Griolsa

Where am I?
Where am I?

There's an echo in the darkness.

Who are you?
Who are you?

No, not an echo. I am not alone, even here.

I thought, in the end, I would be afraid, but I'm not. I don't know where I am, but I am not afraid.

Where am I?
Where are you?

Ah. There you are. I have so many questions -

But it all falls away in a torrent of fiery agony, pouring like liquid metal into my skull, filling it like a bowl of pain.

I sit up, see that I'm back in the quarry. Una mumbles "that's odd" and collapses on top of me, utterly exhausted. I feel bad because I'm not very soft. Someone carries her off to rest. The pain dulls to a throbbing ache that consumes my skull. I can barely think around it. The pain distracts me for a long time - we tell something of our story to Edana and the other Griolsa, and they tell us of their own story. Its...incredibly sad. Another mark against us.

We should never have come here. We should have...I don't know. Died out among the stars and left Karia alone. We've brought nothing but evil. Their people are Goshi slaves. The ones they sent to find out what happened were enslaved or killed as well.

What is there but to tear it all down?

That night, we ambush some Eyeless who have come upon our hideout. It feels...good, and also terrible, to kill them. Kyoshi is a whirlwind of steel, genuinely frightening. I...wish I had his focus. He is fierce but...measured, maybe, is the word. He makes me feel clumsy, swinging my heavy arm and throwing rocks.

But they do the damn job, don't they.

The next day I end up looking for Edana. Una wakes up really sick and we need to find that cure that Highdive was brewing. And I realize that all of the Gogajin who got cut might be poisoned too. Edana doesn't like it, but Larkin already has the idea, and I just jump on with him. Its weird. I don't want to do anything that Edana thinks is a bad idea - but the Gogajin aren't afraid, so I don't let myself be afraid. There's a hole in my head, and I'm still bandaged up, but so are they, and they're just flesh and bone.

I love these people. I love them so much. I want to live here forever. But by coming here, I've destroyed their home.

We go into the village and everything is going good until Kyoshi and I come upon this...I dunno, crazy lady, digging through Rei's bag. I figure she's not a threat and go to take the bag, but she somehow throws me on my ass. She's a lot stronger than she looks. She whips out of the way of Kyoshi's sword but isn't fast enough to dodge a shower of rocks. She has second thoughts after that, but scampers off. I tell her 'nice throw' - because it was, and it seems to surprise her. I just don't know if she was that serious. If she's that good, and all she did was throw me...I'm not sure what she's after. Then she goes...fuzzy...and leaves. I don't have time to think about it - good riddance, I guess.

Heading back, I see a flash, and a bang, and before I know it I've called up...something - I dimly remember calling on it yesterday, it's...something inside of me. Will. Mana. Something. But I give it out, and shields come up just in time. The bullet misses Kyoshi - he's so fast! - and just slams into me and stops there. Nice try.

And suddenly she's flying off the cliff, with Kufu behind her. I hadn't forgotten about him. I wondered where he was in all of this. I guess it makes sense...hunting. And now he's...eating. I feel...ok about that. She shot me. Maybe twice. And for no reason I can figure out. She said something about how we were supposed to be 'evil'. Who's telling her this stuff? Well, now she's tiger-shit.

I think all of this is getting to me. But I know she's being eaten, and...I don't feel that bad. I guess...there's bigger stuff going on than one more damn crazy person trying to kill us. Get in line, whoever you are.

A lot of our time after that is spent helping the Griolsa and just watching them. I watch Edana going among them, encouraging them. I can't imagine how they feel right now, but they accept it. They see good in it. I can't, but they do, and they're the ones who have lost a lot.

When Matthew wants to talk to me, I wonder what it's about. He has to have something to say, because it looks like he's stuck here, cut off from the maniacs who brought him here, except for the Zipsum he calls Tricks. Maybe Eris was with him too. I just don't want to find the time to figure it all out.

Matthew wants to know if I'll come with him back to Geneva Prime to pick up with this plan that Ryu-whatever told him about, about how the First Mind experiment was wrong, and how we should all be one. And I start talking to him. I tell him all the things I tell myself, and he just talks right back, about how I'm special, about how I'm different, I'm famous. I don't want to be famous! He has no idea of how much others have had to suffer because of me. Everyone I've known longer than a few months is dead for all I know. Crushed. Scattered. Buried. Burned.

And I see something, wondering if it's true. There is something different. I couldn't see it before. Something different about all of us. I see...that Matthew won't come with us. So I push him. I tell him a true thing; it sounds true, and it feels true.

There are some people who find out what is happening, what is wrong in the world, and they feel like they have to do something about it. And there are other people who know something about what's going on, but they don't feel that...whatever it is. Maybe they think someone else will do something. Like the Cheldrun, they think it is someone else's problem, or that it can be fixed with money or bombs. Or like the Gogajin, they know what's happening but they love their lives as they are, they can't see all the things they can do, all the strength they have, apart from their life now. They're...too selfish, or too...I dunno...beautiful to see. At least, to see like I see.

I ask - which kind of person is Matthew? But I already know. He followed Ryu here and he wants to follow me home. He just doesn't see. And I don't know what else I can tell him to make him see. But I see that we're parting, and that he's not a threat to the Gogajin. He's not a bad person. But I'm not who he's looking for, and he's not what this...what this world needs. Maybe someday.

I respect that he's honest about himself. I think we part on good terms. I look forward to one person, at least, who I won't have to fight if I ever come back to Geneva Prime.

If I ever come back. With every kilogram of me, I don't want to. But can I get away from it? Can I really leave? I don't know. Maybe the Prill know.

Una's powers are growing. She cured everyone in the quarry. It was funny talking to Tricks about it - yeah, she has magical healing powers. You either get it or you don't. But Tricks is looking for the angle, just like a junkie. It isn't just drugs, it's the way that you think, the way you look at the world. Looking for the angle. How can Tricks get some of that? If you knew, you'd have it already.

Go home Tricks. You don't have anywhere near the stomach for it, buddy. Go home and look for angles there. There aren't any angles where we're going. There's just a price, charged over and over and over again. And this isn't for you. Keep Matthew safe, if you can, if you're really a guide. I hope no one pays you enough to make you try to shoot me one of these days. You'll just learn the hard way.

But after all of this, I relax. I see more clearly. Edana talked about how it is that we could be risking all of this - what would make us risk all of this, what would make us keep going even when all these horrible things keep happening? And I didn't know what to say. None of us said anything.

Because we're not thinking about it that way. The cost? Cost!? No, we don't see it that way at all. We see something terrible happening, and we have to do whatever it takes to make it right. We have to do the thing that Matthew can't, that Tricks can't, that even Edana can't, not because we're better, but because we have to. I look around at these weird people who have become the closest thing to family for me, and I know that they have to too, that even Rei feels something like what I feel.

So we're going to see this through to the end.

After that, I feel so free, so calm. I play with the Gogajin kids a little. I take a nap. I was dead and now I'm alive. I've been buried more than once and have dug myself out. I've been stabbed, burned, and filled with bullets of all kinds, poisoned, paralyzed, thrown around, hit by a train, slashed with evil mind powers. I've fought a giant demon and been thrown into a building while stuck in a train car.

And dammit I'm still here. And if there is anything I can do to see that people like the Griolsa are still here when it's all said and done, then I'll do it. And I think these people I'm with will do it too.


When we're leaving, Edana talks to us, and she gives out gifts. So that we'll remember, as if there was any way we could forget the Griolsa, with their mighty blade and their huge hearts and the great cairn they'll build to honor their dead. She gives us gifts, when she has nothing, and humbles us all.

She gives Rei a lock of hair, to remind her that she's desirable. I think Rei turns the deepest shade of green I've ever seen, aside from maybe frogs and grass. She gives Kyoshi a mead-horn, to remind him of temperance - and when he shouldn't be temperate too. Looking back, its probably good he never got that donkey-sex. She gave me a stone, to remind me that it isn't the work, but those you work with that matters. I know. Believe me, I know. She gave the gathered tears of the Griolsa clan's grief to Una, to remind her that she doesn't need other Vorax to be loved. She wilted and straightened up at the same time, and her feathers stood out as if she was cold. Even when I feel really bad, I know that I'm not the last Mechified. Not by a long shot. But...poor Una. Adonna gave a bag of oats to Highdive, to remind her of hospitality. I'm not sure if she got the message, but maybe she was still mad at Tricks. I thought she was going to kill that guy when he started talking about his wild cousins. And finally she gives Mokuzai...breath. I'm not sure I get it, but Mokuzai looked happy.

And so we took our leave, and shortly after, Kufu took his leave of us. I wonder what he learned from Eris.

I wonder if we'll see any of them again.

I'd rather have a bite from a Jevumm or a kick from a Gogajin than a parade in Geneva Prime.

The forgiveness of the Griolsa clan is so heavy...I can hardly bear it. And even now we can offer nothing in return, except our departure, which might buy them some safety. Its so heavy, but I can carry it.

And I think we'll have to carry a lot more before this is over.

Episode 14: Innocent Bystanders

*gurgle* Ow. These Zipsum are too damn fast. The horror that was once Leaps-over-lakes drags his poisoned blade from my gut, I fall back utterly frustrated, but in no shape to garner a second attack. Everything was a bloody blur for a while...I know I healed myself at some point...then...huh? Rei? Rei was standing in front of me, blocking an attack from another abomination. I think, "Wow, Moses is really getting into her..." Then she was brutally cut down, and my fury at the destruction of a beautiful sentiment in action rose me to my feet. The rest of the battle was a whirlwind of blades and energy. How quickly a holy place falls.

As soon as the dozen or more altered Zipsum were dead I flew up to be sure there were no more coming. I can't explain my relief when I only saw two Gogajin at a dead run towards the top of the mountain. People gathered, and we all headed back toward the village. Turns out several of us were poisoned, and Mokuzai wasn't sure how to heal it. Great. I take this happy moment to notice that the discolored spot on my wrist has spread all the way to my elbow. Great. Can the day get any happier? Oh yes! Kiyoshi delightfully informs us that the Leaps-over-lakes said that all who helped us would be destroyed. Dare I say it? Great.

There seem to be Cheldrun visitors in the village that Larkin and company aren't too thrilled with, but at this point an impending Zipsum invasion weighs heavily on our minds. High Dive tries to brew an antidote to the poison, but too soon hordes of Riverswift are seen running toward the village. The large Gogajin drums beat ominously. A happy youthful Gogajin tells Edana there will be a big party because the Zipsum are coming...I just hope he doesn't die.

He can't die. There has to be something I can do. I am tired of my impotence against these unnaturally powerful beings. I fly high as the rest of my friends prepare for what seems like a hopeless battle against several hundred soul-sucking Zipsum. I felt hot tears boiling over my cheeks as my heart desperately hoped for some way to stop the onslaught, my ire rose, and I flew. I flew over the center of the seething mass, looked them in their non-existent eyes and screamed like I have never screamed before. I saw light shining impossibly brightly and then I was drawn into the black. "Please," my dying consciousness pleaded, "let me have saved my friends..." I blessedly didn't have time to consider the unlikeliness of that outcome.

I came to far from the battle, and didn't take time to wonder how I got there. I flew up and right back to see how I could help. To my horror I saw Kiyoshi unconscious at the tip of another man's blade. I silently dived toward the man to knock him off the roof, hoping to mess him up, as well as get him away from my nest-mate. Annoyingly, the man landed with a graceful roll, and still in possession of his blade, but at least he was farther from Kiyoshi. Blessed Edana picked up Keibatsu and Kiyoshi so that I was free to retrieve High Dive from the fray.

Rei was having fun with some sort of tornado effect she had whipped up, but we still decided that given our grievous injuries we should head for the cave in the quarry with the others. We arrived at the cave to find many badly injured and poisoned. Moses and Mokuzai were unconscious. Poor Mokuzai was just drained from the stunning things he had done with lightning, but Moses had a hole through his head and a life force that was barely existent. I cracked my proverbial mana-knuckles, and walked over to begin some much needed healing.

Shrouded House of Bones

Jin-kalys stares, sputtering, into burning golden eyes framed in a face of bright orange and black. The creature lounging easily before him thrums with power barely withheld. It yawns, showing teeth shining like blades, then transfixes him once again.

"Tell us a poem." The voice vibrates the air and Jin feels it thrumming in his chest cavity like a Zipsum drum.

A poem. Oh gods.

A full season past, Jin-kalys departed Sighing Web of Trees, the village where he had lived his quiet life up to then, leaving the Academy where he had been carefully trained in the sophic arts and sciences at the feet of the Great Doctors of Arborealis Heliophilius, in the ways of curves and lines, of truth's vertices offered in sunlight's verity.

He has since wandered, seeking something he cannot comprehend, but which he knows is crucial. The calculations are...inerrant. Inexorable. The ineluctable Nexus drawing ever closer. It comes to him - nine branches. Each branch is necessary in its own way, providing the balance of angular measurements at the vertices he's found, meeting at the Apogee and Perigee and bending on their course through time, aligned to intersect with the Chronologic Ellipse. Instantaneous angle is approximately equivalent to the distance in time between each as they pass into the Eccliptic, at which point, they resolve as one would expect, intersecting at the Nexus. The key is the curvature -

"Lizard. Give us a poem, or give us your flesh."

Jin is wrenched back out of his reverie. "I. Ahem. Yes. A poem." He closes his eyes and lowers his tail and slows his breathing. The breathing of the Jevumm standing around him in a semicircle is utterly unnerving. He smells their predator stink and the musk of their terrible meeting-place, deep in the jungle.

It comes to him when he's finally calm. Saborakalys. Of course! The first poem he ever learned, in an ancient mode inherited from the Dusk Sages themselves (or so it is said). Jin clumsily renders it into his halting Jevumm, hoping the syllable patters translate -

Dawn burns, sets alight
Kindling the mind - molten gold
Mist is departing

Slowly morning stirs
Sluggish blood thaws and slips free
Murmuring gently

We inherit dawn
Speakers of the love of Sol
Loving speech of leaves

Incline inward, now
Sitting quiet breathing with
Sighing Web of Trees.

Bright golden eyes narrow. Isilo Govelara, his muzzle whitened to show his age, power undiminished, smirks, if such a thing is possible.

"You have brought no fire...yet neither do you bring offerings. You say you come here in peace - it hardly matters. You will be eaten regardless. But we are curious. Your poem has purchased some time for you. How do you wish to use it?"

Jin's vision swirls madly and a great fist clenches his heart as it hammers against his chest. Eaten. No! Not now! I've only begun! He looks around, eyes wide. They are all watching. A few draw closer silently, and he can almost feel their breath.

Behind Isilo's massive form, there is the Bone House, the ancient meeting-place of the Govelara Jevumm of this region. There is no broader Jevumm culture, only local cultures. Truly, somewhat like the Anakarix, though two races could hardly be more opposite.

The Bone House is constructed entirely of bone and sinew taken from the victims of the Jevumm for generations. At the base, filthy bones are yellowing and cracked. In places they have been replaced with gleaming bones, fresh from Jevumm jaws.

A low growl of impatience snaps him back to his awful present, out of reverie.

"I...Great one, lord of the G-Govelara, Isilio Who Sups On M-Marrow, I...I introduce my...h-humble self, Jin-kalys, student of Helio-...student of great m-masters of Sighing Web of Trees, far from this forest. I. Yes. I come in peace, of course. I come speak to you, Great lord of hunters. And-and your people."

How can I say this? With a mathematical schema scratched in the moist dirt with my tail!? A detailed chain of argumentation drawing on rich sophic traditions they've never heard of!? Gods! That one licked her lips!

"Great lord. Karia is dying! If you will help me. If...if a particular one of you will help me, and if we can find others...we can save her."

The laughter of the gathered Jevumm is terrible to hear.

There is no sound when one of them slams into him, bearing him down, grinning, crushing him beneath its weight. She begins to laugh with the rest, mouth wider and wider, coming down to crunch out his life.

"Your name is Varissa! You have walked the earth for thirty-three journeys of the sun! You've taken a-a bullet, whatever that is - the wound lingers! And-" he can't go on. Her eyes are wide and her paw is lighter on his chest. The clearing has quieted.

"What is the meaning of this!?"

Varissa ignores him for a moment, pretending to be caught up in the kill, risking retribution despite the blood-hallowed ground. She leans close until her great head is all Jin can see.

"How do you know this?"

Despite himself, he leans forward a bit, painfully, struggling to breathe under her weight.

"I'm. Wisdom. Of Karia. I. Know. You. ::wheeze:: Hunt. Vorax."

She leaps back, snarling, looking around in alarm, but Jin was quiet, so only she would hear. He braces himself against a nearby tree and pulls his battered body upright. They are all watching now, intent. He has to be careful.

"Yes. I know. And I need you to find one for me. No one else can. Then, we need to -"

"This is foolish. Stop playing with your food. Are you eating this lizard or not?"

Isilio is standing, now, larger than the others, some of whom melt back into the jungle before evening falls, no longer interested in what seems like abject foolishness which could become much worse, fast. They depart silently, with no goodbyes, for this is a rare meeting, and will not occur again for many seasons.

Varissa glances to him, but pins Jin with a glare of mingled hatred and shock. "No. I will not eat him. Yet."

"Then go. The kill you offered pleases the spirits, and its blood has fed the land, mingling with the others. Go and take that lizard with you, to do with as you wish."

She slowly changes to her two-legged form, and Jin is unmoved by her feline beauty. He sees only his mission, his vision, his very life, hanging by a whisker-thin thread. She says the ritual words to Isilio without taking her eyes off of Jin. "Feast on the marrow, and may the spirit-gift sleep within you until Karia claims you."

She shoves him ahead of her, still far stronger than he is, taller as well, radiating hatred and musk. Jin's tail is rigid with fear.

When they are a few dozen meters into the forest, out of sight, she grabs Jin by the dewlap and slams him into a nearby tree with bone-loosening force. Her grip moves to his throat and begins to squeeze. She hisses and growls in his ear.

"Now, lizard, explain yourself, and I might not tear you apart."

A Requiem for Riverswift

Inari had always liked the Zipsum. You could mess with them all day long, and the next day, provided you had candy or a particularly tasty nut on hand, they'd forget all about it. Usually. Well, he thought so, anyways. I'm getting a ways away from the point, here. The point is, he'd always liked the Zipsum, and was therefore horrified by what he saw when he came over the deep, verdant rise and saw the Riverswift encampment off in the distance.

The young Prill's heart was close to the forest; he could sense the wrongness coming from the distant tree-village far more than he could make any details out visually, and what he sensed chilled him to the bone.

What he saw was almost worse.

First dozens, then hundreds of the Riverswift Zipsum, swarming out the front gate of their village, dressed for war. But that wasn't what horrified him.

No, what horrified him was the bloody, empty sockets where their eyes had been. Not all of them were eyeless at this point, but enough that he didn't want to get anywhere near them.

'Well,' he thought absently, his mind oddly detached from the horror of the eyeless Karians racing through the valley below, 'I guess that means I won't be able to ask Speaks-Profound-Always for her insight in my Quest...'

A shift in the behavior of the racing Zipsum. A dozen of them changed course and rushed straight towards his position.

Inari's eyes widened. Not knowing what else to do, he immediately began to sing. His was the song of Wood; the song of vitality; the song of all that was green and growing. In his song could be heard the joy of spring, of nature's first golden green, and the precious, precious illusion that there would be no new winter to come. It resounded over the rise, and all around him the voices of the wind through the trees, of the growing grass, of the birds, of all Karia lifted up in denial of the horror below.

The Zipsum were upon him. None of these were eyeless, but those that he had seen had made such an impression on him that he felt no desire to remain here.

Inari ducked underneath the poisoned blades of the first of his attackers, then the second. The others circled warily, waiting for an opening.

He did not intend to give them one.

Another slash, another frantic dodge. His back collided with a great purple-leaved tree, and he knew that he would not be able to dodge again.

"Sorry, friends," he sang, every word matching a new note in the song of Wood. "But this is one dance I'm just going to have to sit out."

With that, he stepped backwards into the supposedly solid tree, and was gone, leaving the angered Zipsum furiously stabbing at the knotted bark with their poisoned blades.

A moment later, a hundred kilometers south of the Riverswift village, a completely exhausted young Prill staggered out of a huge, cragly old tree and fell to his knees. He took a deep breath, and then another, and another. Damn. He'd seen his whole life flash before his eyes! That had taken more out of him than he'd expected, but he was glad to be alive. Whatever was wrong with those Zipsum, it was bad, bad news.

Bad enough that he might just have to make a little side trip to the Grand Chantry and report directly to the Choir of Elders.

He'd never had much respect for authority figures, but at this point, he wasn't sure what else to do. Hopefully, once he'd made his report, he'd be able to head back out and continue with his Quest. No, scratch that 'hopefully.' 'Definitely.' He didn't want to get stuck with those tradition-bound, terrible old Prill for any longer than he absolutely had to.

But what he had sensed, there... he felt bile creeping up in the back of his throat, and immediately he began to sing once more. The sheer growth and vitality of the song of Wood soon formed a kind of a buffer around his mind, a shield made out of life and joy and the promise of renewal.

Soon, he was back to his old, cheerful self.
Still, best to warn the elders. Besides, maybe one of them would be helpful. Give him a little insight into his Quest. Not like Winter.

Tossing his pack over his shoulder, and almost instinctively hiding his trail with every fox-trick he knew, Inari began the trek back towards the Prill lands.

Meanwhile, a hundred kilometers to the north, the Riverswift made for Ben Hamor.

A Promising Career

Dr. Mizuki Watanabe had never been in this much pain in her entire life. She stumbled along a jungle-path growing dizzy with the profusion of purplish life getting denser around her. What the hell had happened back there? What kind of nightmare is this planet?

Her bag, her equipment - all those valuable drugs! They were gone now. She left them behind in that ass-hole of a village while those eyeless freaks swarmed over everything. She ran, holding her hand over the bloody stump of her left arm, ripped off at the shoulder by unnatural strength. Her coat was soaked and clinging to her all along the left side, and she was so... dizzy.

Fuck you Ryuunosuke you revenge obsessed maniac! Fuck you for dragging me out here into this demonic wilderness! Fuck you for making it seem sexy - for being sexy, for misleading me! I had a promising career ahead of me. Okay, so I was a criminal working for criminals, but it was better than this...Where the hell am I?

She looked around.

The looming vegetation, the wild hair of Karia, pressed in around her. There were too many sounds to distinguish anything useful. All she knew is that downhill, whence she had come, was a stone village full of demons. Up hill, toward the mountaintop is where Eris had been stationed, that lunatic sniper. That was a slim kind of hope, but since Ryuunosuke and Matthew and Tricks had all been lost in the onslaught it was all she had to cling to.

Up she went.

The dizziness ebbed and flowed, and she wondered how she found the strength to keep moving, after the moon was up in the sky, but terror will give a girl a surprising amount of go-juice. Heh, go-juice had been a pet name Tricks-the-Wind gave one of her custom cocktails. She never tried any of that shit herself - though right now, she would definitely break her own ethics on the matter. Fuck me up with something really strong, Doc. I don't want to remember this month, when I look back at it on a calendar.

Suddenly, the foliage cleared. There was a fire, crackling. Smoke, rising. Hanging from a branch directly in front of her was the bloody body of a Jevumm, without it's skin.

"Hello, Doc. Watch out for the kitty. I killed it, cause I got hungry. Want some?" Eris was holding out a rib, with a hearty, greasy, hunk of meat on it. Eris was wearing the skin like a cape.

Dr. Watanabe keeled over. So dizzy!

What are you going to do doc? I'm bleeding too much. I need Eris to help me. The crazy cannibal Eris who shot the sedated Jevumm Matthew captured a few days ago. I wanted to do some more tests on that Jevumm... dammit.

"Eris," she managed to gurgle the word past the blood in her throat. "Eris have you got any medical expertise?"

The sniper shrugged, "I took a few courses back at the academy. I can do stitches and stuff."

"Eris, I need you too look at my arm. Tell me how bad it is."

Eris got up and walked over to the fallen doctor. She pulled the doctor's coat off the left shoulder and examined the wound for a second. She poked a finger into the mangled tissue and then casually licked the blood off.

"Doc, I don't think you're gonna make it," she said matter of factly.

For Dr. Watanabe the world was spinning, "What? Why do you say that?"

"Because," Eris said drawing her pistol.


The Difference Engine

No one looks closely.

If you looked closely, you would see

Deep within the gaping head-wound, still leaking hot blood, threads unfolding from the corrugated knot of brain-stem, blossoming like spiderwebs of wire, stretching and threading themselves through the pinkish-grey meat, parting to send dendrites deep into the limbic nest, binding and connecting, firing with brief flashes of bright red like tiny shooting stars, reaching tentatively for the slumbering cortex -

Open wounds gleaming like pewter at their edges, soft puckered metallic lips, opening to flesh with a greyish tint beneath the blood, hints of a carbon sheen just beneath cheekbones, the knuckles and elbow of his left arm, his raw left knee gleaming -

A slight sheen to the teeth that echoes blunted knives -

The staring, vacant eyes going from dark brown to gunmetal grey...

If you listened closely, you would hear:

Click clickity-clack clack-clack-click clickity-clickity clack

The heartbeat smoothing to a regular, deep pulse, the bloodflow slowing, the breathing deep and even, like one who is deep in needed sleep

dreaming of red flashes in a sea of night.

Shadows on a Cave Wall

It stinks. It stinks of blood, and I hurt. Poisoned blades had found their mark again and again. The knife-wounds would heal with minimal scarring. Probably wouldn't even be able to see them. That's one of the perks of having your body's natural healing processes designed in a laboratory: you can hardly see the scars at all.

They're still there.

Scars aren't what worries me. What worries me is the poison. If I let myself relax, I can almost feel it crawling around in my veins. Hello poison. Do you like crawling in Rei-veins?

That's the blood loss talking. It's harder to keep control of myself when I feel light-headed. The battle-high doesn't help, either.

A gogajin child sleeps not two meters away. She got away from the fight unscathed. She's probably got life-energy to spare. I don't know why it's such a struggle. It's tactically smart. She can't use all that energy. I can. I clench my fist, and my blade flickers to life for a moment.

Moses's face flashes before my eyes. Horrified.
Una's face flashes before my eyes. Horrified.

My blade flickers out.

I hate this feeling. This feeling of helplessness. This knowledge that I have no choice but to simply wait for my body to heal.

Who are you? What do you want?

The questions come almost unbidden, echoing in the innermost chambers of my mind. I still don't have an answer to either of them. Even losing myself in battle did not provide answers. It only dulled the awareness of the Questions.

I put my feet up on the bedroll, try not to jostle my bandages too much, and produce my mini-computer. It glows faintly with pink light as it boots up.

I plug the journal of Inase Spark into the data port.

Fractal images fill the screen, and I stare at them, utterly at a loss. What does it mean? What does it mean? What am I for? Why did you make me, Father?

Outside, the moon rises over the valley, bathing the ruined Gogajin village in ghostly light, casting strange shadows over the bodies of the fallen. Strange, shifting shadows that move when you're not looking.

In the cave, surrounded by wounded Gogajin, I resign myself to study the journal until sleep takes me.

My dreams are full of fractal patterns.

Idle Thoughts and Just Causes

“The fuck are you doing?”, came Ryuu’s voice from somewhere above him.

Matthew surged to his feet. The Gogajin children that had been trying to hold him down tumbled about in giggling, smiling piles. Two or three of them clung to his neck and shoulders and dangled above the ground as he stood. “What?”

Ryuu gestured to the children. “Do I really have to ask again?”

Matthew shrugged, causing one of the screaming Gogajin to fall to the ground on top of some of his fellows. “I like kids.” Some of the children were industriously beating at his legs with sticks, trying to bring him down once more.

Ryuu just glared. “You do know who just came through here, right? Who it has to be?”

“Yeah, I know. And you don’t have your magic sword yet, so you’re not ready to face ‘em anyhow.”

The Cheldrun man looked like he had swallowed something that did not agree with him. “Just don’t get too attached to those little brats. If Donkey Man doesn’t live up to his part of the bargain and they won’t tell me where the blade is, I may have to ‘persuade’ them.”

Matthew’s face darkened. “With all due respect, Ryuu, fuck you.”

Ryuu was too startled to be angry. “What?”

“If Donkey Man doesn’t want to make good, your beef is with him, not the rest of the village. You try to take it out on them and I’ll stop you. That ain’t the way we operate.”

“What, you’re not falling in love are you? You’re not plannin’ on staying?” He chuckled at his own joke.

How to explain? Ryuu would never understand how he felt. He liked the Gogajin. They were a little wary around him because he was a Mechified, sure, but they still accepted him, they welcomed him into their village, they let their children play with him and were not terrified by what he might do. That felt good. It was good to not be feared and mistrusted because of his size. A lot of people thought he was dumb because he liked to think things through before he made a decision. When you were his size, haste could hurt people. The Gogajin understood that; he could be happy here. What he said, though, was “Naw, I can’t help the Cause from here. Just leave ‘em alone, okay? They haven’t done anything to us.”

“I’m not promising anything, but… yeah, sure, I’ll try to keep it between Donkey Man and me for your sake, you big oaf. Never thought I’d see a giant fucking weapon get all whiny on me. Don’t look at me like that, I said I’d not hurt ‘em, okay? Sheesh.” Ryuu walked away grumbling.

Matthew frowned. Ryuu had given him the cause, years ago when they first met. Before that his life had been meaningless, with no way of surviving except fighting since an… incident… in his past ruled out regular work. But Ryuu had made it all seem so simple: Cheldrun are Cheldrun are fucking Cheldrun. The Great Experiment was over. The castes just hurt things anymore. If they could just make everyone the same, give ‘em bio enhancements and machine upgrades, figure out how anyone could use the First Mind artifacts, then there wouldn’t be anymore oppression, anymore need for division and strife. Everyone would fit in. He wasn’t sure anymore if Ryuu was the same man he had thought he was, though, all those years ago. He seemed to be obsessed with getting this sword and beating this Daitokuji guy, proving he was the best. Well, hopefully they could get that over with soon and then he could figure out if Ryuu truly cared about the Cause anymore or not.

He mused idly if he would get a chance to talk to Moses. He wasn’t sure if Moses knew about the whole of the Cause, but what he had done in Geneva Prime had been great steps in the right direction. He respected Moses; if Ryuu wasn’t up to it anymore, Moses would be the perfect person to lead the Cause. He might have to put down that crazy Biomade bitch if it came to that, but that shouldn’t be too tough.

A slight jolt broke him out of his reverie. He glanced down to find that some of the kids had grabbed a sapling and were industriously using it as a battering ram against his knee. He bent down and picked one up, then started swinging her around as she laughed hysterically. He idly wondered if he could get her over that tree this time…

Duty and Honor

I am to be Guardian to a mountain now? What is the weight of a mountain to one who has already taken it upon himself to save two peoples? Just one more duty. I will continue to do my duty until it is the death of me.

These... things... tell us that we are gods. That we are each of us the embodiment of a concept, an ideal, an emotion, and not very good ones at that. They tell us that our very being generates the Enemy, or at least draws them. So be it. Even more reason for me to dedicate myself to fighting them if I am somehow partially responsible for them. I am not sure I believe that, as the Enemy is ancient, but I cannot afford to simply dismiss it. We ran and we hid, but they found us anyway. Now there is nowhere else to run. We will fight or we will die. Perhaps we will fight and die. Either way, the line will be drawn here!

Will these Kyo Tee-Shee help us? They give us nothing but riddles. They say that they eat the Enemy, feed on this 'manna', but it seems that 'manna' is just soul-stuff. The same thing that the Enemy seem to feed on. Can we trust them? All they seem to do is give us more damn riddles! They say that we may be able to stop the Enemy, but they offer no advise as to how. They sit up there, so smug, possessing so much power but refusing to do anything but watch! They say they do not want the Enemy to be stopped! As far as I am concerned that is the greatest dereliction of duty. They have the power to help, yet they refuse. In that case, begone! If you will not help then you stand in our way! Begone or my blade will find you next!

Una says I am behaving wildly, childishly. Do you not understand? These honorless creatures have no right! No right to define us, no right to sit in judgment over us. They will not even fight to save their own planet! They say you are the incarnation of vengeance. No! You deserve more than that! You are the kindest, most nurturing person I have ever met! You deserve to find a healthy young Vorax mate and save your people, not be drawn into a hopeless battle with an Enemy that has chased my people across the stars!

All of you deserve better. The Karians, so full of life and light and wisdom. We brought this upon you, and for that I am truly sorry. Moses, so gentle and good, always willing to put himself before others, always willing to love his fellows. You deserve a life in which you may follow your ideals and see the bloodshed end. You are a better man than I will ever be, for while I understand and follow the precepts of honor and duty, you live them by default; they are ingrained in your very soul. And even Rei, who was given the worst possible start, who sometimes does not even seem to be a whole person, but the important thing, the most important and wonderful thing, is that she is trying! Do you hear that, Kyo Tee-Shee? We are people! Complex and growing and alive! We will not be your one-dimensional gods! We deserve better than that.

Sometimes I think that perhaps it would have been better if we had never escaped. If the Enemy had simply finished us off so long ago, and we had never come here. We have caused so much pain, so much trouble to this world, I have to wonder if we even have the right to go on. But if we fall, the Enemy will not be sated. I have seen that they can possess Karians as well as Cheldrun. So for every one's sake, Karian and Cheldrun, I must stop them. Somehow, some way, I will dedicate every breath left to me to stopping them. Because the people of this world, no matter their origins, deserve better. And it is my duty to give it to them, god or not.

Episode 13: Guardians and Gods

Saying goodbye to the Gogajin village is harder than I thought it would be. I think they like the storage house we built. Its the first really useful thing I've done in a while, and it felt a little like waking up.

Going up toward the holy mountain, the Gogajin let us know they want to hear about our families and...our sex lives, is how it comes across. And I suddenly don't want to talk about anything. Sometimes I'm easy to ignore, and its good.

I know that almost everyone I ever knew in the world is dead. Gone forever. I remember, the cave-in, seems so long ago now, the last time I saw my mom and dad, when the world buckled and crumbled and buried us. I knew they were dead because I didn't hear digging, or anything. I knew bones were broken, dirt getting into where they came through the skin. It was hard to breathe.

But breathing was all I had to do, so I kept doing it.

Later, they let me watch a bit of the news. They talked about me. Days, I spent down there.

...and suddenly the Gogajin are saying goodbye. I say goodbye and want to go back to their village again more than anything. Build houses. Break rocks. Drink mead. Where else am I supposed to go? There's a big scraped-out hole in me where everyone I knew used to be. If I say their names I won't get up in the morning. If I picture them I can't move. Like I'm all emptied out.

I look up toward the mountain, rising higher than the others. Even I can tell the clouds at the top aren't right.

Our Negotiators come back with burns all over them. So that settles that. We start running up the mountain. The Guardian is up there, some kind of crazy Prill stone-master who's maybe going to bury us alive.


Kyoshi is climbing past spikes that jab for him out of the rock. Highdive looks bad. I ask Mokuzai if he wants me to toss him up there - I won't make it but he sure can. He doesn't say no - I'd be nervous too - so I heave him up the cliff and over. I follow it with a tree and a rock, but the old tough bastard shrugs them off.

Oh, right. Master of stone. So I'll need to get closer to bring him down.

The earth buckles and nearly tosses me off the damn mountain. I duck my head and keep running. I can't see through the trees - shouting and Rei keeps screaming and then gasping and then screaming again. It sounds like Mokuzai is singing, and the sound of the two old Prill singing at each other batters at my ears. The earth and the sky groan and I groan with them. I keep running, even after it gets quiet. I figure, either they're dead or they won, but I've got to get up there to find out.

Wheezing a little, I come up and Mokuzai is there, asking me something. I just need to breathe for a minute. The old Prill is lying on the ground, not moving, Rei standing over him with that look on her face.

For the thousandth time I'm glad she doesn't use a real knife.


I'm not sure why Highdive pissed on the book, but Mokuzai sure got pissed about it. I thought he was going to zap her right there. She looked shredded up, and I can see why she was mad. She keeps getting torn up by people Mokuzai just wants to talk to.

I keep wanting to offer to fix the book...but. But something's a little wrong. I lose time, sometimes. At night when they're all asleep. Suddenly its dawn and I don't know where the night went. There' a door, and when the door opens, I go out...and I don't know who goes in.

I've got a guess.

Mokuzai clears the old Prill's head and Kyoshi talks him down. I try to help but it just goes bad. A hammer can't turn a screw. They bark and jabber at each other, and everyone goes to sleep and wakes up again, and suddenly Kyoshi has the gong after some more barking, and...he's the protector of the mountain now? The Prill seems happy with the deal. He walks off, through the mountain, carrying his teapot of sand.

We finally turn to the last leg of this little trip. Up the mountain to try to evict some Kyo-tee-shee. I don't like how excited Rei looks. These Kyo-tee-shee are bad news. When you want one thing all the time, no matter what, and get all excited whenever you might get some more, and never feel satisfied, that's called being a junky. There are always a few down in the mines, trying to cut corners and take things the Biomade doctors prescribe, and then it gets a hold of them, and it never turns out good. Ever. And now we have these huge glowing supernatural junkies following us around, wanting something they can't even explain so it makes any sense. Oh, and sometimes they kill dozens of people with explosions, or golden laserbeams. So that's just fantastic.

Mana. Mana. Mana-mana-mana.


We get there, and...its some kind, someone says. Echoey. And old. There are more stone columns, covered in writing that maybe Mokuzai can read. He doesn't say. It comes to me to try the gong - maybe it'll bring the Kyo-tee-shee out where we can, um, try to evict them I guess. Maybe Kyoshi has a plan. He's the guardian of the mountain now, after all.

The gong kind of works. There are six pillars. Six of us. Six colors. The mana-things we do...have colors. Gold. Green. Red. Blue. Silver. Purple. And so on. And animals - Racoon, Fox, Horse, Flying Snake, Crane, Eagle, appear in those colors on the pillars. We each touch them in unison.

Oh, good. Here they come.

Mastery. I feel like I'm supposed to be in control. I'm supposed to be in charge and to figure out how it all fits, to make it fit, to make everything fit. To make everything make sense. I need to do it right, to do everything right. But it isn't right. Nothing is right. Everything is wrong. I did the only thing I could do - I left. Because I can't control anything. I tried. I tried and they betrayed me to help me, and the killing just got worse and worse, and there was nothing I could do. Everything went wrong, and everyone paid for it but me.

And they tell us we're gods. This is so stupid. How can we be gods? A bunch of flying, glowing idiot junkies are telling us we're gods, this supposed to make any sense?

And more of the eyeless are coming for us. How can they be? We left them behind! We left! I left!

And the eyeless are here...because of us.


Its a long time before I realize where I am again. I'm yelling at Rei about something. She doesn't understand. Do any of them understand? We can't go anywhere. Ever. We're not gods, we're a curse. Even the Karians, but us Cheldrun more than anything else. We're a curse. Everywhere we go, things go wrong. Everywhere. People suffer and die because we're there. We're causing the eyeless, weeping tears pouring from faces I knew, faces I worked with, other Mechified, brothers and sisters, turned to demon-monsters...because of us. Because of us.

Kyoshi is shouting and shattering the columns. You won't tell us who we are! The big stupid junkies are leaving. Kyoshi is angry, his sword coming alive in his hands.

But Kyoshi has seen. He should know exactly who we are. I see him look at meat. I see him flinch when I do. He saw the first ships burning their way into the sky, spewing waste materials, slamming into Karia wreathed in flames, burning, killing, spreading like a plague over the planet, devouring, shitting out pollution, enslaving everything, covering everything in filth. Over and over and over. We're a plague. We're a curse.

I feel the door opening. I know that I can go through and leave this behind, but I don't know what will happen then. I move the chunks of column like Rei wants, in a daze. If I speak I don't know what I say.

The Zipsum appear, and Leaps-Over-Lakes changes right before our eyes. The demon rises up and takes hold of him. And I see clearly that we have killed his entire tribe. Somehow we've killed them all. We ate and drank with them, and they judged us not to be defilers. They made a fatal mistake. They should've killed us when they had the chance.

Una rushes him but he's fast, he parries her overhand attack and buries another blade in her. The five others watch and twitter and twitch, weeping matching bloody tears.

No, I know what I have to do. I can't get away from it any longer. They've come for a purpose. I see now that my purpose is wholly evil. There's nothing I can do to stop it. I will not fulfill that purpose, but I will let them fulfill theirs. I sense I have Mana inside of me, and I will pour it out on these stones.

Tanuki can starve, or find another god, because I'm done.

Questions Without Answers

Purpose. Determinism. A chain of causation links me from the distant past to the present moment. Inase Spark mixes my DNA in a test tube. Doctor Soren teaches me that I am distinct from everyone. Sever and Stitch lie to me in their minds. Mama Pain instructs me in basic interrogation techniques. My first mission. My second mission. My third mission. Every mission. My last mission. Moses. The long flight. The battle. Gurandu-Oni. The long journey. Mistakes in the jungle. Zipsum. Jevuum. Gogajin. Prill. All connected, all bringing me inexorably towards this time, this place, this moment. I feel the truth of it in my bones: the hidden Purpose of my life is at work here, now.

It feels like everything I've ever wanted; it isn't what I wanted.

The pillars rise high all around me. Energy whirls behind me. They look down on me.
Kyou-Teeshee. Kyoti-sidhe? Susanoo. Tanuki. Amaterasu, as beautiful as ever. Poetry in motion, bringing death in the wake of her burning thoughts.

"Who are you? What do you want?" Even as I speak, I know that the words are only half directed at them. Moses and Kiyoshi's thoughts flow through my awareness; I am they and they are me. But only to me. Is that who I am? Am I Moses and Kiyoshi? Pride. Mastery. I feel them like they are my own emotions.

"I am Amaterasu," she says, looking down on me, birdlike and curious. She looks eager. They all look eager. "I want mana."

"I know your name," I say. "Who are you?"

"I am Amaterasu," she replies again.

I feel disappointment. I had hoped for something grander. Something... meaningful. Something more than a name. "Is that all you are?" I ask. "Don't you have anything of your own? Anything that wasn't provided, defined, and numbered by others?" Even as I speak the words, I know that I'm not really asking her at all. I am asking me. If there is a me.

She laughs. They all laugh. "This one of all the gods wants something more than what is provided and defined? This one of all the gods wants more than determinism?" They mock me. They all mock me. My disappointment deepens. Amaterasu is everything I want: Purpose, surety, beauty in destruction; everything I want is empty and unsatisfying.

Earlier, I told the Gogajin I was happy.

I'm not.

I don't want a man. I don't want ploughs or furrows. Aimi has that angle covered well enough, I think. Even if I weren't completely disgusted by the thought of such intercourse with any man, I don't want that kind of companionship. I have larger concerns.

I want to know why I was made. Why did you make me, Inase Spark? What is my purpose? I used to know, but it was all a lie. A lie propagated by Doctor Soren and Mama Pain. I am not who they said I am; Who am I? Do I have anything that wasn't provided and defined, numbered and approved for me?

My gaze flickers to Moses. Moses, who confuses me more than anything else. Moses, who feels more like a brother to me than Nero ever did. I know emotions I'd never experienced before because of him: shame, guilt, and horror. Everything I do horrifies him.

Kiyoshi, the mundane, who was willing to sacrifice himself to save my sister. To save Aimi. I've heard that Allskins don't just form domestic partnerships, but join families together into one. I don't really want Kiyoshi for a brother, but I suppose that's unavoidable now that he belongs to Aimi. I dislike him. Everything I do horrifies him.

Una. Una, who is the only thing that ever frightened me which I have not felt the urge to destroy. She makes me think of Mama Pain, but she's is more terrifying than Mama Pain ever was, and yet the thought of harming her or allowing her to come to harm is utterly revolting. Why?

Mokuzai. A useful resource. An irritating old man. He likes the sound of his own voice too much. Even so, I would not see him hurt unless it were necessary. Everything I do horrifies him, but not as much as everything I represent. I don't need to read his thoughts to know this.

High Dive. Free spirited and annoying. I never laughed near as much before I met her; I never laughed at all before I met her.

Rei. Zero. The empty void. The hollow girl. Bearer of the godstone's taint. Blood of the Scion. Reddened eyes. Determinism incarnate. Goddess?

The Kyou-Teeshee are waiting for your answer:
Who are you?
What do you want?


Conflicts of Interest

My hands quiver as I catch little bits of parchment as they fall from the rafters.

How... how could... why...? WHY!?

The little chittering source of my frustrations looks down from its perch with glee in its eyes as it nibbles on a tome of buckskin filled with musical lore. My eyes gaze sorrowfully upon the smudged script.

Why you little... RODENT!

I'm vaguely aware thet I'm sputtering nonsensical protests; spittle spraying about the room as I make feeble attempts at enunciation while frantically waving my arms in protest. The little demoness is laughing at me now, losing control of its bladder and micterating upon the already damaged tome. I can feel my rationality slipping away swiftly until it is but a small voice in the back of my head.

The room reverberates with the crack of thunder as the song of Tempest surges within me, driven not by need, but by rage.

Wait... don't do it!

My mind becomes a warzone. Rationality duels emotion while desire presses the attack against responsibility.


I feel like a bystander as I feel my rage take temporary control, summoning all the energy of the Tempest I can feasibly control... and perhaps more. The last time I became this angry was in the Goshi tower. The last time this happened, it ended in death. My eyes turn white as the core of a bolt of lightning and my voice becomes the wail of a hurricane wind accentuated with cracks of thunder. Then a hesitation.

She doesn't know! Ignorance is not deserving of death! You are a teacher, not an executioner! Stop! Please, for the love of Karia, stop!


A creature's worth is not for you to decide. You know this. Would it not be better to educate than to destroy? Of course it would. You know this. You accept this.

It seems reason has temporarily swayed the battle in its favor. I manage to choke out a few words of warning. "Squirrel! Out! NOW!" It just keeps laughing and smiling. The little demon has no idea of the intensity of the battle that is being fought for her life within my strained mind. It would be so easy to give in. It would be so easy to leave the little beast as a pathetic pile of ash. It would be so easy, just this once, to do not what my responsibilities dictated, but what would feel satisfying at the time.

I watched it all play out in my mind; my throat unleashing the few notes that would spell the doom of the otherwise ignorant Zipsum. Her eyes exploding open in surprise... literally. Every fiber in her fragile little body being heated hotter than the temperature of the sun in less time than the eye has a chance to notice. Her normally supple fur incinerating in a flash, followed closely by the vaporization of her internal organs and bones. Come to think of it, there wouldn't even be much ash left; just the stink of ozone and burnt hair.

Then the ramifications.

Moses looks at me like I'm the cruelest creature on Karia.

One of the gentlest hearts you have ever known, and you may have just broken it, old man.

Kiyoshi and Una have a look of betrayal in their eyes.

You swore to protect them. How can they trust you now?

Rei giggles.

Everything, even the removal of a demon, has its price. Are you willing to pay this one?

Reason reassumes full control of the battlefield as I watch Rei gently transfer the now dozing form of High-Dive outside. The Tempest resides, taking my visage of wrath incarnate with it. I feel frustrated tears welling in my eyes. It is difficult to become so enraged and not have an outlet and so, my outlet becomes my tear ducts. My hands are shaking uncontrollably as I cradle the tome. Una looks at me with concern in her eyes.

If she knew what sort of battle just took place, how would she think of you, old man? How would she react if she knew how close you were to destroying everything within 10 meters of the place you stood, all because of a book? What if the others knew? What if the squirrel knew?

For now, she offers me kind words, tea, and cleanses the tome of High-Dive's urine.

I begin reading quietly, pondering a solution to my conundrum. The trick would be getting High-Dive to understand without having her witness it first-hand.

Hell of a trick, that.


All Zipsum wise-women have two stomachs. That's what Profound-Speaks-Always believed. One stomach is just the normal shit-making one. The other stomach is their intuition stomach. The intuition stomach gurgles in highly complex manners. Good wise-women can read these gurgles and make smart decisions from them. Her intuition stomach had been gurgling a lot lately.

It gurgled, for example, the entire time the Vorax-who-did-not-want-honor and her non-defiling-defilers were staying in the enclave. It gurgled before that when the Kyo-Tee-Shee crashed into the forest floor and made a glass-cave. It gurgled after they left, when a few days later demon-defilers appeared out of thin air in the enclave. Yes it gurgled angry gurgles then.

The Riverswift Tribe attacked at once and annihilated one defiler so completely she disappeared. The other died and sunk to the bottom of the lagoon. They retrieved his corpse and cast it into the jungle, but for three days Profound-Speaks-Always declared the lagoon poisoned and no one drank from it.

The whole tribe heard her gurgling intuition stomach during those days and no one needed her to interpret it for them. Cheldrun Defilers had found the enclave, and only a few days after they released non-defiling-defiler prisoners back into the jungle. Profound-Speaks-Always wondered if she had lost her gift for interpreting the gurgles. Had the gurgles told her to execute them and she didn't listen? Had she wanted to believe the Vorax and the Fox-Son and a fellow Zipsum that these particular Cheldrun were not demons? Perhaps she was getting tired of fighting this war and in her secret longing for peace she had overlooked the danger...

And now here people were doomed as a result. If one group of Cheldrun had found them, others would come soon. The Riverswift Tribe could not win in a pitched battle. They would be forced out of their enclave. Forced to find solace somewhere deeper in the jungle. Winter was near and they would have to abandon their cache of nuts and pray to every mighty Kyo-Tee-Shee that Karia would be merciful.

Gurgle. And something else was wrong. Something more immediate, more sinister and completely beyond the wisdom of her intuition stomach. Ever since they'd fished the Cheldrun corpse from the lagoon and the three days had passed and the tribe had begun drinking the water again... People were getting sick. Acting strange. She had never felt this kind of existential dread before. Whatever it was the Cheldrun had unleashed, it completely unmanned her. She evacuated her bowels, failed to sleep, and wept and wept.

"Leaps-Over-Lakes, follow their trail. Take 5 warriors and go after them..." she'd said it earlier this morning in a desolate voice. "Find them and come back to me alive if you can. If we can, the Riverswift Tribe will repay them for betraying us, all together."

She'd been weeping every moment since she made that decision. She wept for her tribe. She wept for the jungle which would lose another guardian and be even more vulnerable to the loggers. She wept for Karia and this rising horror that she somehow knew would consume it all. Most of all, she wept for herself and her incoherently gurgling intuition stomach. It no longer spoke to her in a language she could understand. She wept and when she looked at her reflection in the lagoon she realized that her tears had turned to blood.

Episode 12: Ben Hamor

A mountain fell on us. Hunh.

The last thing I remember seeing of our destination was the giant red raccoon... thing. Probably another one of those Kyo Tee-Shee like the giant purple bird earlier. I wonder if it caused the avalanche? Oh well, no time to think about that now. I am fighting for my life, running, dodging, splitting stones. We are not going to make it. I yell at Moses to grab Mokuzai and run. I hope he heard me. There is no sign of Una or Rei. I do not even bother to look for Highdive. I am sure she got out of there at the first hint of trouble.

I was right. I did not make it. I am pinned against the side of the mountain, a boulder slowly crushing my leg. My left shoulder was hit; every nerve in my body cries out with the pain. Highdive shows up and tries to help. Wait! No! Stop! Blinding pain shooting from my leg. She is going to crush me! She stops, and Mokuzai arrives to help. I think about it for a bit and figure out the correct sequence and leverage I need to get out. I direct Mokuzai to move first one stone, then another, and then... yes! I am free. I think my leg is broken, but I am free.

We make camp at the bottom of the now-blocked pass. Surprisingly enough, everyone made it, and I am the only one injured. I just have all the luck. Highdive and Una go scouting for another pass while the rest of us rest. That damn Jevuum is laughing at us and stalking outside the firelight. Let him face me in a fair fight and... I shudder. No. I do not relish the thought of killing a Karian. The vision has faded somewhat; I think I could stomach meat again, for instance. But I do not think I will ever be the same again. The planet itself is alive, and every Karian is part of it. A strange concept, but true.

Una and Highdive return hours later, and with them a few Gogajin. We have been offered shelter at their village. Well, this is certainly more hospitable than the Zipsum were. Rei had splinted my leg, but I would still slow us down, so Una healed me. I wish she did not have to cry to do that. We traveled to the Gogajin village nestled in the foothills, arriving just before dawn. The men were ushered to one building and the women to another. They were odd buildings, made of trees. Not just made of wood, but just raw logs bound together it seemed. Inside was row upon row of cots, like a soldier's barracks. I did not care; I was exhausted and fell asleep almost as soon as I laid down.

I did not get to sleep long. The Gogajin are early risers, it seems, and loud in everything that they do. I rose and cleaned myself as best I could. I practiced some sword forms and then Una asked to spar. I was surprised but accommodating. I found an appropriate bokken, which seemed to surprise Una. Did she really think I was about to use Keibatsu against her? I surely did not want her dead or grievously wounded! She, too, took up a bokken, though she left her armor on. I did not say anything about it; if this is the way Vorax spar, then so be it. It was over quickly. Though I hit her twice as often as she hit me, her armor absorbed most of the blow. Meanwhile each of her strikes against me sent pain coursing through every inch of my body; I could not long stand up to that, and conceded the bout.

Later on I tried entertaining some young Gogajin with sleight of hand. I should have known better. They quickly became angry at their inability to track the coin and tried to forcibly remove it from my person. I quickly dissuaded them of that notion, and tried to teach them a thing or two. Their minds and fingers were both too clumsy for the exercise, however, so I left off.

Later that evening there was a party. I remember the beginning well enough, with everyone dancing and singing and having a grand time. I tried some of their honey drink and found the taste to be quite pleasing. I suppose it was a little too pleasing, as I do not remember much after that. There are vague half-memories of very large women, Aimi's face (though I know she was not there), and for some reason my face hurts.

I awoke the next morning and wished that I had not. That drink packs quite a punch, and, yes, my face did hurt quite a bit. I hoped I had not made a fool of myself falling on my face or some such thing. We were gathered before the leader of the community, an older Gogajin woman. She explained that we would have to undergo trials. Was every Karian settlement going to make us prove ourselves? First there was a trial of work. We had to build a house. Let me reiterate that. We had to construct for the Gogajin a new house. I hoped that one of my companions had some knowledge of such things. As it turned out, Moses did know something about construction, and we finished the project handily.

The next trial was of courage. Now that I was feeling much better I agreed to stand in this challenge. Essentially, a Gogajin threw a boulder at me. I wish I was kidding. I entered the Void and used Keibatsu to slice the thing in two. There was no way I was going to attempt to catch it! It turned out that the stone was soft and hollow, however. Either way, I passed the challenge.

Then there was a challenge of trust. Highdive was blindfolded and had to... drink. A good deal of drink. This was starting to get ridiculous. Well, she managed to down a horn twice as big as she was, and so won the challenge. Finally, Mokuzai was given the challenge of wisdom. He had to choose between three objects which was the most important. Figuring this had something to do with Karian culture, and that Mokuzai had everything in hand, I took the opportunity to ask Moses about the happenings of the preceding night, figuring that I could trust him of all of my companions to give me the facts without embellishment or judgment.

Apparently, three or four (!) Gogajin women had decided to be... intimate... with me while I was drunk. I was, of course, horrified to hear this, but it seems that Rei stepped in and put a stop to this. By hitting me in the face with a shovel. To stop me from cheating on Aimi. Had the situation been any other than it had been, I would have been livid at Rei. As it was, I felt compelled to thank her.

Mokuzai did pass the test and we were given directions to our destination. Apparently the mountain we sought was known as Ben Hamor, and it had long been a sacred site to the Karians. It had an old Prill guardian, the Guardian of the Song of Earth, whatever that meant. The Guardian had apparently gone mad and now attacked all who came near. It was presumably this Prill that had caused the avalanches when we first approached. Fun. As we set out, I rather hoped that that was a trick it could not repeat often.