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Just One Drop - Ch 77

2023.03.24 12:47 Rhion-618 Just One Drop - Ch 77

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Just One Drop
CH 77 – The Man in Who these Marvels Can Do

It was the day before Shel, and lunch was becoming a more crowded affair.
Since Melondi’s secret had come out, the girls had taken to favoring a mid-sized table that seated twelve – a sensible number. A small affair no more than twenty feet long, the table was well situated, away from the center of the floor and off to one side. That had been useful, as the layout of the cafeteria put the table near the kitchen freezer. There was an awkward chill in that corner of the room which made it unpopular, and without other students about, the table offered relative privacy.
Of course, twelve was ideal, as it conformed to the needs of their class. The girls of the Practical Humanity class had faced more than their share of scrutiny since the term began, and privacy had become a cherished commodity. Whether it was from curious girls wanting to know what the Human was like, to its current, more immediate needs, the isolation of the spot had made the table a welcome retreat.
That said, today it was getting a bit crowded, and with everyone there, an additional three seats had been needed, with girls shoving in from the sides.
Khe’lark’s attachment to Gun’brei… or more accurately, Brei’s attachment to Lark… had started things, of course. There was usually room for one more, certainly if one of the girls was off somewhere else and missing lunch. Since Melondi’s secret had become a shared one, the table had become a place where Mel could, on occasion, talk less circumspectly. While she’d never slipped up otherwise, she could relax and enjoy her friends without being quite so guarded.
Things had been different before, when Brei hadn’t been cleared by Agent Duvari.
Melondi had never resented Brei as an intrusion, but it was a fact of life that she hadn’t noticed before. The ability to talk with her friends, even in the most circumspect way, had replaced her utter secrecy – or worse, the crafted lies about her history. When Brei joined them for lunch, Melondi had to go back into hiding… and Brei’s presence brought with her a visceral feeling of the loss.
When Kzintshki arrived, the twelve and sometimes thirteen turned to thirteen and sometimes fourteen.
The Pesrin girl’s presence was unmistakable. Kzintshkil was… different. It wasn’t only the matter of her being alien – another species entirely, with her own loyalties and agenda. It was more that Kzintshki kept her own counsel, and while Melondi knew how to read people - even people from other races - the Pesrin girl was largely a closed book. It wasn't something she was used to. She was good with reading people, no matter the species. Generally.
…That carrion incident with the Rakiri delegate could have happened to anybody!...
Of course, while it wasn’t always a full table, fourteen was manageable. Today there were fifteen people crowding in for lunch, which was pushing it.
Not that Prindi Ama’dis was unwelcome. The IOTC girl was another friend of Lark’s by way of the campus vblog; thankfully the question of who knew her secret had largely been settled – both by her request, and the actions of her handler, Agent Duvari. Now her friends knew, which was a greater relief than she’d imagined it could be. Professor Warrick knew, and he’d be allowed to tell Professor Pel’avon. He was holding off until they were back from the ‘honeymoon’. It was an odd term for the usual getaway after a wedding, and he’d explained it as something to do with newly wed couples slipping away for a month and drinking a lot of something called mead. Melondi figured she should have a word of quiet thanks to Professor Pel’avon for taking up so much of Professor Warrick’s time… but it would wait until they were back.
Gun’brei had been oddly muted after finding out. While Brei was a baroness’ daughter, Agent Duvari had opted to lay things out to her in private, as ‘she had an abiding interest in the news’. That probably meant several threats behind closed doors, a reading of general order 24, and signing waivers that didn’t mention words like ‘frozen tundra’. They didn’t need to - Duvari tended to make herself clear enough. It was hard to believe the same bubbly music professor could be so frigid as an Agent, but Duvari had no problems with being convincing.
Melondi looked over at Lark and pursed her lips thoughtfully.
…I still need to make things up to her. I don’t know if clearing Brei counts…
That left the IOTC girls, and as she looked up the table at Prindi, it was hard to believe the world she’d crafted here at the Academy had changed so dramatically. As Lark’s friend, Prindi made an easy liaison with the IOTC girls. Even so, it was tight with her here, and if more of them showed up, something would have to give.
She’d planned to tell her friends, someday… After graduation, when she was off on her own, she’d hoped that some of them might still be in reach… and understanding. They’d all be off starting their own lives, working in their House companies, starting careers, or managing the family holdings. Everyone would go their different ways. But her sister Khelandri’s death had changed everything. She could enjoy her friends now, instead of later, wondering if they would still be hers when she revealed herself as a princess.
It was a bright note in a dark situation, and she cherished it for what it was. She had friends. Real friends that had come to know her outside of the Palace, without any agendas… and she had the time – over two more years – before adult life sent them off on their own paths.
…At least, if I live that long…
That was a gloomy thought, and it was hard to hold onto it. She’d only just hung up on a call from Vedeem. Whenever she talked to him, the future didn’t seem so dark. He’d accepted her for who and what she was as a person… and then he’d done it all over again for who and what she was as a Princess.
…Screw Kamaud’re! I want to live!...
“That was Vedeem. He says they’re putting up a sign and closing the restaurant for a week to ‘celebrate the birth of a boy in the family.'Everything’s ready to start the training tomorrow at 9.” She raised her voice over the animated conversations going on. It was lunch, after all, and with all the jockeying of plates and trays and dishes and whatnot, it was a scramble. If any more girls showed up from the IOTC, they’d have to do something… or at least get a round table. No one could reach anything. “Prindi, can you let your cadre know?”
It was bad timing, since the girl just took a bite, but she nodded quickly, chewing frantically.
“Just take it easy…” Mel looked around past the table with an exaggerated glance. “The nod’s all I need, and you’ll like Vedeem… Hands off, though!”
As a young girl, she’d never expected that she’d need to warn anyone away from her boyfriend… when she finally got one, no one would dare. Just now? If all of this felt new to her, it must be like a bucket of icy surf landing on the IOTC girls… and Vedeem was hers!
Prindi finally cleared her throat and nodded again. “Yes, ummm…”
“Melondi,” she offered helpfully. While the IOTC girl had been giving her curious looks now and then, she’d tried her best to hide them. She still looked like she was struggling. “Remember, it’s just Melondi.”
“Yes…” The idea of calling a Princess something informal looked like it was sticking in the girl’s throat, and she took a way out. “I’ll let them know after lunch.”
“Thank you!” Mel called back. It was something Mother had always insisted on and Lady Wicama had taught her well. Good manners were for everyone. It had even seen her through that carrion incident, though she hadn’t even been five at the time…
…Come to think of it, it was Kamaud’re who ‘helped me out’… and was laughing the loudest…
She felt an ugly blush start to rise, but it faded just as quickly. She’d never known her elder sister except as a distant figure, not a part of her life, really. Even without the attempt on her life, It had grown a lot easier in the last few months not to care for Kamaud’re at all.
The table didn’t take much notice. Jax was in an animated conversation with Nestha about business, while the twins were actually giggling about something. Most of the talk had been about class, though Belda was getting a lot of ribbing and good natured pokes from the others. Tonight was the big night, after all. Even Kzintshki was quietly talking to Desi about the weekend. As the outsider, Prindi seemed to be struggling to fit in, though she hid it well.
“I’m glad you could join us, Prindi,” Melondi offered brightly, trying to keep the girl from feeling too isolated. “I know we sort of keep to ourselves; there was a lot of attention after we got into Professor Warrick’s class. It was a little rough after registration, and you wouldn’t believe some of the questions we got after he did the Marriage Fundamentals seminar.”
“That was rough.” Sephir nodded. “I had one girl ask me if he had any boys in his family, and when they’d be coming. That was pretty embarrassing.”
“Embarrassing?” Prindi blinked doubtfully as she reoriented on Sephir. At 6’11, it seemed impossible to miss the girl. Sephir was a star of the Academy diving team with muscles like titanium cables, but she was so polite and unassuming that it often came as a surprise when she spoke up in conversation. She’d been a lot happier since her future in her House had been sorted, though, and at the moment she was grinning cheerfully at the bewildered look on Prindi’s face.
Prindi cocked her head uncertainly. “How was it embarrassing?”
“Oh… It's just… his wife and his daughter were killed when the Imperium arrived on Earth.”
Belda winced, but still looked relieved at no longer being the center of attention; at least she’d finally stopped blushing.
“Professor Pel’avon asked us not to talk about it at first,” said Sephir with a nod. Even if she looked like a recruiting poster for the Marines, she was a caregiver at heart, and had always shied away from talking about what Warrick called ‘the landings.' “Professor Warrick… Well, you can tell it still hurts him.”
“Yeah,” Nestha chipped in. “He’s smart… and a lot tougher than you’d expect. You just can't think of him as a male.”
Human male.” Desi broke off her conversation with Kzintshki. “There’s a whole lot going on with him that even the rest of you don’t see. He and I talk a lot at the museum.”
“Is it true he adopted both of you?” Prindi asked, looking from Desi to Kzintshki and back, Melondi forgotten for the first time. “We all heard things and there were a lot of questions after the wedding… I mean, like the dancers! Where did they even come fr-“
“Yes, it's true! Both of us!” Desi broke in abruptly, interrupting Prindi’s train of thought, and Mel started breathing again. If word got out about the Tide Pool, it would probably need more than a General Order and a very angry Interior Agent to keep quiet. Desi was nodding frantically as she enthusiastically changed the subject. “We don’t talk about the wedding, but it's true! It became official when Professor Pel’avon married him. They’re my mothers and father, now.”
“Wow, that’s…” Prindi’s brows knitted a bit as she struggled with the whole wedding. Sure, the whole school had seen it, but the response had been more of a collective silence from around the table. Prindi took the hint and offered a smile. “So… What do you talk about, then? I mean, if not the wedding? What about this war sim? The rest of the cadre couldn’t believe it! I hope we weren’t whispering too loud. Most of us were glued to our omni-pads, gossiping on our Discuss channel. Everybody wants to know more… I can't wait to go through these files!”
“We don’t talk about the war sim. We have team meetings, but aside from those, we don’t. There’s a lot of extra credit on the line,” Dihsala said firmly, giving her a solid nod. “None of us know what’s on those files, though we had an exchange professor that… well, I don’t think she understood the material.”
“Careful, Dihsala, you’re in danger of being kind,” Pris muttered, though there wasn’t any heat in it.
Dihsala sniffed, but said nothing.
Pris pressed on, waving her fork-full of pickled jawaa like a baton. “She’s right, though. None of us know what's in the files, and we probably shouldn’t. Professor Warrick uses this method of teaching… It’s sort of like discovering the material a bit at a time and figuring it out as we go.”
“That sounds… really odd.” Prindi was canting her head fully now, and Mel could just imagine what the girl was thinking. It had been an adjustment. The IOTC girl looked back at Desi, “Sorry. It just does.”
“You don’t have to convince me.” Desi nodded sympathetically, wearing an easy smile. “Once you get used to muppets and furbys-”
“Oh! And ALF!” Jax’mi, broke in, laughing.
“And his music, though that’s really good,” offered one of the twins, as the other nodded. “And we get free movies - things that haven't made it here from Earth yet!”
“It’s a lot, but after a while nothing phases you.” Desi grinned infectiously. “Oh! Mel! Do we know if Aku is going to make it to… you know… the event?”
“I’ll have to ask.” Melondi shook herself out of the reverie of listening. “I know the invitation is getting sent. We can find out tomorrow.”
“Oh…Right.” Desi nodded, but looked back at her plate, subdued. No one knew they were going to the Palace tomorrow except Agent Duvari, who was going to escort them, and Desi was still looking pretty shy about the prospect. Still, everybody else had practice at Human Food…
“There was something we’re all kind of curious about, from the sim… I mean, it's not to do with the sim.” Prindi bit her lip, looking around as the table went suddenly quiet. “We all knew about Earth - I mean, he’s Human. Not about his family, but… things. Anyway, some of us were wondering, and now I guess I really am… umm… why doesn’t he hate us like we're some sort of enemy? There are stories, you know?”
“Desi?” One of the twins looked over at her seriously, setting aside whatever they’d been laughing about. Her sister sniffed, a beat behind. “You know him best.”
“Well, obviously he doesn’t. Hate us, I mean. I think he really means it about the Imperium making Humans citizens. Something he said once kind of stuck with me.” Desi grimaced in thought. “He said he didn’t think of the Imperium as his enemy, because the enemy is someone that tells you to hate that which is different from you, because sooner or later that hate comes back to you… and he said the Imperium hasn't done that.”
“We have kind of messed up there,” Jax’mi sighed unhappily. “I mean, all the news I get back from my family on Earth is great! I had the best letter from my Uncle… but my mothers told me stories. Some of the Houses first gifted with business grants on Earth abused them pretty badly. Not a lot, but the ones that did… Well, it wasn’t just one mess. A couple of the Houses got really carried away, and it took a while to sort out.”
“That sounds like a job for the Interior! The Imperium doesn’t tolerate… umm… that is…” Prindi sat a little taller, and her eyes shone with conviction before she stuttered to a halt, blushing as she glanced back to Melondi. “We’re supposed to stop that sort of thing.”
Mel watched as an awkward silence fell around the table, broken only by Kzintshki slicing away bits of her turox with another of her occasional mutters of “Ick”. It wasn't like she could entirely blame them.
The Empire needed the Interior. There were the boisterous and splashy ones, like House Reshay. There were the quietly dutiful ones, like Belda’s House So’sona and the pharmacological company run by Sephir’s House. There were the quietly powerful ones in the background like House Chel’xa… All of them working at what they did best… but sometimes there were incidents. Bad matrons who lost control of their ambitions. The Empire was vast, and when the Houses couldn't police themselves, it was time for the Empress to do it. That's where the Interior came in.
Mother had been working to rein the Interior in, over time… to bring it back to its core mission. She didn’t talk about it very much, but growing up she’d seen it happen. She could still remember the rumblings in court when she named Opimea Potac - an Edixi - to run the Ministry of Justice. People had said things around a six-year-old they didn’t think would be understood - or remembered - even by a six-year-old Princess. As for her cousin Yn’dara and Prince Adam… It had taken time, but Mother had gotten things under control.
…If only she were here now… but she isn't. I have to handle this myself…
That meant she needed the Interior… someday. Right now, she needed these cadets. Glancing down the table, Desi caught her eye and suddenly snorted. “Seriously, Kzintshki!? What is it with ‘ick’ all the time? You were ready to eat my father alive only a month ago. Now you turn your nose up at anything sweet or fatty? When did you turn into a picky eater, for goddess’ sake!”
“You do not understand. Food is plentiful here. That is understood…” The dusky Pesrin set aside her cutlery and eyed Desi coolly. “You have never seen a fat Pesrin.”
“No…” Desi rocked her head to one side, in exasperation. Kzintshki had a way of making statements out of questions. “But I’d never seen a Pesrin at all, until we met you. What's that got to do with it?”
“Shil and its worlds live without scarcity. Pesh does not. You will never will see a fat Pesrin.” Kzintshki replied cooly, blinking at Desi once. Melindi couldn't decide if the Pesrin girl was exasperated or amused without seeing her tail… her asiak. It was hidden under the table, but it seemed like it conveyed a lot of Pesrin body language - or maybe it was just Kzintshki. “Wasting food when it is plentiful is as much of a sin as wasting food when it is scarce.”
“I suppose…” Desi chewed over the idea while the rest of the girls thought it over.
“Besides, I have my figure to consider.”
“Hey, that’s true. I’ve been worried about everything for tonight!” Belda grinned suddenly. “So, are there any cute Pesrin guys around?”
“Perhaps... though I would not impress him if I were slow and fat.”
Mel thought over the reply. The pause was longer than the Pesrin girl usually took to answer, and she wasn't blinking. Sooner or later she’d figure her out. For the moment she watched as Kzintshki picked up her knife and fork, and cut away another bit of turox with particular deliberation. “Ick…”
“So… you girls get free movies, too?” Prindi asked the twins, looking between the pair tentatively, “Stuff that hasn't come out yet? What’s that like?”
“A lot, yes. The Ministry of Relations closed down on a lot of entertainment from Earth. It’s opening back up, but Professor Warrick has a lot of things no one has seen,” offered one of the K’herbhal sisters. Her twin nodded in sync. “Even with things opening up, they’re still screening for, you know…”
“Treason?” Prindi nodded understandingly.
“Porn!” The twins said in unison, giggling. “Not that we mind, though you could ask Belda for all the details. She’s seen Liam with his shirt off!”
“Goddess damn-it!” Belda started turning blue all over again. “It was only almost off! Almost!”
“You know, we could put off movie night until tomorrow. We can bring food back after training in the morning. Take over the room, have a movie marathon and celebrate,” Pris spoke up. “That way Belda can watch, too!”
“Hey, could you?” Belda grinned. “That would be great!”
“Sure… aaaaand that way we get to drag all the juicy details out of you, too!” Pris smiled back serenely. Melondi watched as Belda started blushing again, and muttered as the others laughed. Goddess love her, Bel was such a farmgirl.
“Ummm… what kind of movies?” Prindi asked, brushing her hair back. “Could I come?”
_ _ _
“You know, this is going to sound odd, but I kind of miss driving," Tom said, leaning back in his seat between Miv and Lea.
It was a comfortable way to ride, and the company was the best. Even with an alien landscape speeding by, it was the oddest feeling. Until he’d come to Shil, he’d always been the one doing the driving. Autocabs were quick and efficient, and other than his regular trip out to Human Food, it wasn't like he knew where things were on Shil… but it felt odd.
“You don't have a license.” Miv tousled his hair, looking at him indulgently while Lea curled in tight on the other side. She was happy as a clam they were all together, but she cocked her head, looking at Miv. “It's only a few weeks of study, if you want to get one.”
“Nah. It was just a stray thought. I’m good with being able to pay attention to you two, and it’s nice actually seeing the world go by.” He pulled them both closer, which Miv enjoyed, and made Lea squeak in pleasure. Lea had been a real princess about the lack of attention and she loved sharing with Miv, but with her work out in Creantauri, what could you do? He smiled and leaned in, kissing her lightly on the neck. This weekend would be all about making it up to them both.
Speaking of which, they were just about there…
The drive had given him ample time to cuddle up with Miv and Lea, which had been a lot of fun - but also just the distraction he’d needed. He’d tossed a jacket over the seatback showing the map display, but as the autocab turned into their destination, there was nothing for it…
“Miv, what’s this?” Lea was the first to notice, and she stared out the window as the cab turned in. Jets of brightly lit water began fountaining up on either side of the cab as it made its way up the long drive, the highway quickly out of sight.
Miv’eire pulled his coat off the seat to peer at the map and frowned in consternation as she looked at the display, “This is all wrong.”
“Actually, no, it isn't.” Tom grinned, pulling her back. “We’re exactly where we need to be.”
“But Tom, this isn’t our hotel!” Miv stared at him blankly, “Oh, love, you must have put the directions in wrong.”
“I canceled us there. Ladies, remember when you were going to take me on a holiday for a weekend? The one we missed thanks to my unscheduled trip to the hospital?” He grinned, enjoying their confusion. Lea was still looking out the window as the view turned from ‘impressive’ to ‘luxurious’ and was quickly heading for ‘‘opulent’. “When I was in recovery, I asked Prince Adam for three favors. Pushing through Desi’s adoption was one… looking into Olea was another… and a weekend somewhere nice to make it up to you both was number three.”
Tom drew Miv back into the seat beside him and slipped his arm back around Lea as she pressed to the window, the drive opening out on the broad vista and the hotel beyond. “Ladies, welcome to the Imperial Ocean Reserve.”
_ _ _
Following at a covert distance, and it had still been an easy drive. With an hour or two left to go, Sgt. Jel’ke had done the driving, leaving Captain Ce’lani to do the sensible thing and get some sleep. Honestly, it was kind of a relief. The Captain had been keyed up over Warrick, and after finally getting out of the bunker it was nice not to make small talk.
Thank the goddess the woman was sensible, but even so, she still had it bad…
…At least I haven’t had to make small talk along the… waitaminute…
Jel’ke frowned as the autocab turned in off the highway and pulled slowly on to the median. There was no doubt about it, the cab had diverted off the drive and was heading out of sight into…
…Well, fuck me…
Being a Deathshead Commando meant being down in the blood and the mud, deployed to some of the worst situations known to woman… but, every so often, it also put you in the way of protecting the great and the powerful.
Jel’ke knew Big Money when she saw it.
“Captain? You need to wake up.” Jel’ke pulled to a stop on the shoulder of the road, “I think we have a problem.”
_ _ _
It was early afternoon when Aku closed the file on his omni-pad.
The end of his tour had passed. He’d survived… at least on the outside. It wouldn't do to look anything less than your best, after all.
On the inside was another matter. His mistress, the Cliffsinger Tranja, had torn apart his every performance from the time he stepped on stage until the final note. Nothing was right. Nothing was good enough. While she hadn’t said he was an embarrassment as an initiate, she hadn’t needed to. The words had hung in the air - tangible, if unspoken.
This was his life.
Sitting in the dark of the enclave’s library, he thought about the tour. It had been an abject misery. If not for Kas’lin and Ka’mara, he’d probably have lost his mind under the pressure.
…If only things were different. I could be a regular guy. Maybe I could have met them instead, or someone like them! Started a family and lived a normal life…
His eyes crept back to his omni-pad. As miserable as he was at that moment, he knew he was telling himself a lie. Even if it had all been different, there was still the music. It burned inside, begging to be let out, and he yearned to make it happen. Even though his mistress seemed determined to sink his hopes into the Deeps, there was still the music. It could not be denied.
He’d kept away from the other initiates after returning to the enclave. They were his competition. He couldn’t see them as anything else, now… but inside it felt like a losing battle. Only one of them would inherit their mistress’ position and title, and it didn't seem likely that it would be him.
In desperation, he’d turned to the archives.
Cliffsinging was old. It was respected. Revered. Generations upon generations of Singers had practiced their art, handing down their names. Over time, the art had become codified… the Singers had become living treasures… but the original works survived. Every generation had added something of their own.
He’d delved deep into the stacks, diving through the recordings, searching the early works. There were files and archives and even printed records… He’d torn through all of them, not knowing what he was looking for until he’d found it.
The song was old - ancient, even - and written by one of the Singers whose name had not become selected as the final Twelve of Shil. The music was haunting, and it burned with a vibrancy that he didn't see in the more modern works - the kind of thing so often in demand now. There was almost no music - the singer's voice rang out alone, echoing off the cliffs accompanied only by a single steel arecha… but the song spoke to him.
The language was stilted with age, but as he’d translated it into more modern terms, it felt comfortable… it had the yearning that he felt inside, and which almost seemed Human in its power as he transcribed and updated it for his presentation.
It was traditional. It was very traditional. If he was going to reclaim his Mistress’ approval, this was what he needed.
He’d give his performance tonight, in front of his Mistress and the others. Show them he was good enough. Show her that he was better than the rest.
The music called and he had to answer.
Aku sighed again, wondering what the twins were doing at school right now. It had to be better than here.
_ _ _
“You are being such a bitch!” Kas’lin said hotly, scowling over the table at Dihsala. Ka’mara scowled over at the girl before joining in. “She’s right. There’s no call for this kind of behavior!”
“You two brought it on yourselves!” Dihsala crossed her arms defiantly, while Desi slumped the chair, resting her head on one fist, and steadfastly refused to join in.
“What are you talking about!? You’re twisting our arms… and… AND! you’re sucking up to Jax’mi!” Kas’lin was on her feet now, pointing at Dihsala, and Kas’lin rose in defense. There wasn't much more she could add to that.
“I don’t suck up to anyone!” Dihsala snapped coldly, though Jaxmi sat back, preening. It was the first happy look on the Chel’xa girl's face, as she’d been left desperately trying to keep the Japanese out of some city called Mecca. “You two brought it on yourselves, sucking up to England with that marriage proposal. You didn't want to join in, so this is what you get for coming late!”
“There’s nothing to get.” Kas’lin swept a hand up at the map on the screen. “They’ve completely swept everything out of Africa!”
“Well, that’s what you get for joining late. Anything you want to take, you can take out of France,” Dihsala said with finality. “Isn't that right, Lark?”
Khe’lark was looking at her omni-pad unhappily, saying nothing. Dihsala turned to look at her this time. “Lark?”
“It’s fine… Really…” Lark said unhappily.
“What?” Dihsala started to frown, and Desi sat up taking notice. “What’s ‘fine’?”
“Well, I didn't want to tell you this… but I think the Czechs are going to declare independence and revolt…”
Kas’lin closed her eyes and settled back in her chair.
The casualties for everyone along the French front lines had been catastrophic, the Spanish were useless, and now things were going to the Deeps with Austria…
…The things I do for extra credit…
_ _ _
“Well, I think the points we spent working on the Czechs and the Slovenes are paying off handsomely,” Let’zi said confidently, though the look around the table wasn’t encouraging.
“At least something is.” Pris grimaced, gesturing up at the map. “I hate to say it, but I don’t think France can last much longer.”
“She’s right. Rotating units up from the South kept the Germans out of Paris,” Sephir sighed gloomily. “But morale was shot with the units we rotated back South. We hoped they’d recover, but with Spain and Italy attacking? Unless we catch a break, I think our whole army will mutiny soon.”
“They can’t keep it up. They’ve lost all their colonies, now they have to fight in every direction at once.” Let’zi shook her head and tried sounding confident, though it was dimmed. “They can't do it. No one could!”
“She’s right, and England is mobilized now.” Melondi studied the map carefully, “Japan is all over the Ottomans in the South. Russia is… well… holding their own…”
“I’m doing the best I can…” Nestha huffed, crossing her arms. “Though yeah, the Ottomans are turning around and sending troops back South.”
“That’s right,” Melondi said brightly. “Besides, now we have Belda on our side!”
The girls looked over at Belda… who was staring off into space in a world of her own.
“Look, let’s call it a day. Bel has to go get dressed.” Mel grinned as Belda looked up, utterly lost. “She’s got a big evening.”
_ _ _
“Lieutenant, you aren't going to believe this…”
Lt. Peheli Tala looked over from the control board warily to where Sgt Diani was sitting in the right seat at observation. The bunker pods were all jumbled up with Captain Ton’is and Sgt. Jel’ke out on their trip, leaving Tala to fill in. It was a nice change of pace from running checks in the service corridors and updating the gear in the bunker.
Diani had been running the boards while telling long war stories to Sgt Vaeko, who was busily running the odds on that morning’s ‘wargame’ while monitoring the girls’ strategy sessions.
Words like that out of nowhere were not what she’d wanted to hear.
Diani and Vaeko had been keeping up a constant stream of conversation, both talking and only mostly listening to the other. It was enough to make her miss the quiet of the tunnels, and she’d started to tune out the idle chatter. Diani’s words snapped her back to reality in an instant, her heart pounding.
“Report Sgt!” Tala snapped the words out, but she was already pulling up the campus map on the main board, checking frantically for any sitreps from the ground team. No alarms had gone off yet, but it was probably only seconds away.
…Where's the alarm? Why hasn't anyone punched the alarm!? I’ll have to call Agent Duvari, and…
“It’s Captain Ton’is and Jel’ke.” Diani had a cheesy grin plastered over her wide features. “They need us to make some calls and get em a hotel room… You aren’t gonna believe where.”
Tala could feel her heart thudding in her chest. No alarms had gone off. There was no intrusion along the perimeter…
“A… a what?”
_ _ _
The Imperial Ocean Reserve was everything that Tom could have hoped for. It was old by Shil’vati standards, but that didn't mean tired. It meant historic, and walking into the lobby conjured up images only found in history books. The Reserve was a place where parasols graced the lawns in Summer and moonlight walks on the open beach were the norm. On Earth, it was the sort of place you could envision steamer trunks and top hats.
There were three restaurants along the veranda, and a bar, shops, and sumptuous indoor pool that served guests all year long. The hotel was vast. Not in the sense of catering to all comers, but spacious. It occupied its grounds like a crowning jewel.
As for their room?
It had a luxurious bed he could get lost in, more than capable of sleeping six Shil’vati. While he usually wasn’t big on the details, even he noticed the richly embroidered linens, what seemed like down pillows, the plush towels in the marble bathroom, well-stocked bar, and an in-room omni-pad to call for room service and requests.
That the whole suite lay beneath the ocean, with a glass roof and walls looking out from their bedroom at the surrounding coral reef, didn’t hurt either.
It was quite a place, but as the girls got started with the unpacking, he slipped out. It had always been his habit to poke around, and finding the best place for dinner reservations seemed like a good idea. A few minutes scouting out the restaurants would save time later…
At least, that had been the idea. The verandah surrounding the hotel proper had a lovely view directly off the beach, and as anyone would expect, it drew admiring guests… One of which happened to be Lady Vonde, the Duchess of House Jo’lare.
Tom hadn't seen the woman since Pre-term, when she’d attached herself to him in the tour, insistently tried to get him to ‘come for a visit,' and pinched his ass while showing her daughter around the campus. She’d been noteworthy in managing to do it more discreetly than most, but still…
Just at the moment Lady Vonde was in a shouting match against someone named Duchess Pyanfar, who’d swarmed down on him only a minute before Vonde. Pyanfar had started in on him with her retinue, breathlessly cooing about how charmed she was to meet him and wanting to hear all the details about Human marriages, and of course, she’d seen the captivating video on the news. It was just sooo rustic, positively enthralling, going native like that!
But Vonde spotted him and wasn’t having any of it, loudly insisting that he’d agreed to visit, and did Pyanfar know who she was!? Then her retinue started pushing Vonde’s retinue, while a crowd started to gather around the scene…
Tom was the only non-Shil in the room, and being 6’2 and pink, it wasn't easy to make himself invisible. He still did his best, though it was more a testament to the crowd of angry retainers around Vonde and Pyanfar that he got as far as the door of the bar. He kept his eyes behind him on the crowd as he made a break for it, barging first into a glass followed by a massive pair of breasts…
“Oh! Geeze…” Tom stepped back, “I’m terribly sorry Miss…”
A meaty hand clamped down on his arm painfully, and Tom looked up into the ruddy face of Tirola Reshay, Nestha’s kho-mother.
Disheveled and stinking of alcohol,Tirola wasn't in good shape. She’d emerged from the bar with her own crowd of hangers-on, including a Shil’vati guy hanging on her arm, and while she’d somehow managed to hang on to her glass, the collision had drenched her top in Blue Grail. Her eyes widened as she looked down at him and she growled, “You!!!”
…Alright, she isn’t in a good mood, though the last time I saw her she’d been unconscious in a pool of her own vomit…
Tirola made the mistake of clamping down harder, and Tom cried out in pained surprise. “Hey, get your damn hand off me!”
“Oh, you’re coming with me." Tirola tugged him closer…
Tom’s fingers spread and he jabbed. The strike was clumsy and he was off balance, but as eye-pokes went, it did the job.
Tirola let go of him and bellowed, her hand flying to one eye. The skinny guy thrown off her arm shrieked in bantam fury as he was thrown to the ground.
Then things got a little crazy.
_ _ _
Sgt. Jel’ke knew Big Money. She also knew when Big Money was fobbing her off. Thus far, they’d made it to the lobby and the reservation staff.
The ‘request’ had come down through official channels, but the Manager wasn't happy about it. Despite some ever-so-polite words, it seemed another call eventually came through and did the trick. The Manager accepted their story, and started offering over a room key with only a trace of disdain…
Out in the lobby, there was a scream.
It was followed a minute later by the sight of Tom Warrick pelting up the hall at a dead run and ducking into one of the gift shops, pursued by several mobs of women caught up in fighting each other as much as chasing after him.
“Captain, I-”
It was no use. Ce’lani Ton’is had already charged, and was racing across the lobby in hot pursuit. Glancing down at their meager baggage, she had the presence of mind to snatch the key from the Manager’s hand before she could take it back.
Somewhere up the hall Ce’lani bellowed.
Moments later a thunderous crash rumbled from somewhere up the hall. It was followed by the sound of delicate things breaking, considerably more shouting, and a soft cloud of plaster dust that gently wafted around the corner.
Jel’ke turned to the wide-eyed receptionist behind the counter and gave him a rakish smile. “So, what time is dinner?”
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2023.03.24 12:35 FarmWhich4275 MilSim With Humans

"We stand on the precipice of a grand triumph! A triumph for the ages! Both in technology and in military strategy! We shall not hold it against the humans for this opportunity and we shall, regardless of outcome, treasure our friendship with them. But make no mistake! Allies or not, friends or not, we shall wage this war with our full tenacity and strength as we would any other against any other opponent! The entire galaxy is watching us this day, we shall conduct ourselves with the decorum and clarity as we would in any other situation. My brothers... TO VICTORY FOR THE IMPERIUM!!!!"

The company commanders speech roused my countrymen to a beautiful roar as I watched from my campsite. Speeches and commencement dialogues allowed us to use the flat terrain of this strange land with ease. A vast army of seven hundred of my countrymen with full military equipment was arrayed in front of me, I could not help but beam with pride at the sight. Well... if only they knew what they were getting themselves into. Perfect regiments of our finest infantrymen, standing in salute to our Grand Admiral. I heard a beep, then a holographic sign appeared in the sky.


A screen suddenly appeared in front of us all and a logo of a corporation known as Bohemia Interactive appeared in front of all our eyes. Followed by the loud thundering of intro music and a screen that displayed the logo of a game. Arma VI Absolution - Antistasi. My countrymen's objective was to go through terrain owned by a faction of hive minded insectoids from an extinct era known as The Minded Syndicate and liberate towns and bases from them.

A victory is achieved when either side controls all points of interest. There would be a grave period of a few hours, allowing each side to seize land before there can be any direct combat between them. I would be happy about this... If my countrymen weren't about to get curb stomped into oblivion by the most terrifying military force in the galaxy.

I used my tablet device to watch the opening ceremony from the hilltop and waited for my earth comrades to finish gearing up. I had my own gear ready, my traditional garb of an infantryman, only dyed blue and grey to match faction colors. Instead of the usual laser rifle, i carried a human weapon, an M-41-A1 Assault Carbine. A more modern variant of the old school M-4 rifle. My comrades were similarly armed, carrying simple carbines, limited personal armor, a backpack and a few mags of ammunition.

A human, calling himself, Doctor Plague approached, and handed me a small field backpack full of demolition supplies. "Here you go dude. C4, a satchel charge, two bouncing betties and a few Willy Pete grenades."
"Thank you Plague. I must say I am conflicted as to this scenario." I said as I stood up and put my backpack on, towering over my fellow human by two feet.
"Whys that? It cant possibly be that bad, you guys rule half the galaxy after all." He looked at me with a crooked grin.
"Using tactics that have changed little in over six thousand years. I have a feeling they will get one hell of a wakeup call from this fight. They have no idea how humanity fights war." I moved over to one of the civilian vehicles the logistics team already acquired from the area.
"They cant be worse than us." I heard another voice speak, this one of a guy going by the name of Badger. "Six thousand years isn't nothing to sneeze at so obviously they have something going for them."
"It is six thousand years of two hundred species facing roughly the same system of honor, duty and might. They haven't seen what I have spent the better part of the last five years witnessing with all of you guys. This moment is... bittersweet." I climbed onto the back of a pickup and sat on the roof.

A very British accent suddenly yelled up from the noise. "ALRIGHT LADS!!! Objectives are simple, same campaign as always, with a PvP twist at the end. Logistics team will carry on gearing up and securing vehicles. Four teams in all, we are fifty, they are seven hundred. We know what we got ourselves into. Team Alpha, Outposts, team Bravo, supplies and rescues. Team Charlie, heists and patrols. Everyone else, have fun!" Our C.O. Wayman spoke.
"OORAH" Came the enthusiastic reply. With that, my squad of six was off.


Within two hours we had come across seven patrols. Enemy AI in this simulation was a mishmash of an old enemy we eradicated some millennia ago, an insectoid species with acid cannons and other weapons. They were dispatched with ease, far greater ease than my comrades ever managed, and quickly we siezed twelve outposts in the first few hours.

The squad consisted of two riflemen, myself and Plague, with Badger being our heavy gunner and AT, Alexevi being our Medic, Rockman and Saltidude being our sniper team. Yes I am aware the names are peculiar, those are not actual names of humans, just pseudonyms and cool tags just because its a thing that's part of the human 'internet'. Mine is Jaxx for reference.

As we were securing an outpost, looting a weapons crate, we got a broadcast. "All units this is God. We have confirmed sighting of Imperium forces approaching Pyrgos seaport. They are engaged with Syndicate targets."

A scout sniper team had found my countrymen and were now watching. I was fully expecting them to start laughing. I carried out my objective, planting an explosive near a fuel dump owned by the enemy and hopped back in the pickup, heading towards our next objective. "God this is Echo squad. Any intel?" I asked.
"I erm... I am not sure. Battle is still going. Syndicate and Empire are taking heavy casualties. We havent been spotted but erm... Hold on a minute."
"Here we go." I said with a heavy sigh.
"Ahhh... Jaxx this is God... please tell me that your people don't still fight with musket lines and swords? Cause that's the shit I'm seeing."
"Yes we still do fight with musket lines and cavalry charges. Yes we do engage our enemies in close combat when our rifles run dry. Yes, we don't use tanks or armor, or even close air support. NOW do you understand why I limited our sides numbers to fifty? If we had any more than that... It wouldn't have been fair." I explained, sighing heavily as we did a drive-by of a resource point.
"Well... erm... the hell are we supposed to do then? I mean... the hell?"
"We fight the same way we always do you pansy ass bastards!" Wayman said over the radio. "We fight to win. That's how we war. We operate under standard Laws Of Engagement. Don't shoot medics, don't kill prisoners and don't shoot civilians."
"Und ven ze press are not looking, ve use der flammenwerfer ja?" A very bad German accent interrupted, followed by a gale of laughter.

An hour later, the safety barrier was about to come down, and the central airfield at Telos. Up until this point, NATO (that's us) had taken everything up to this point from Kavala to Galati, and were readying a full armored column. We had seven tanks, three APCs and a single angry Irish guy in a gunship.

We decided to go old-school, and give the Imperium a chance. Two Patton M60-A3 tanks, five Abrams tanks, two Stryker MG APCs and a Humvee with a grenade launcher. Our air support was in the form of a Superhind gunship. Half of our troop took up the drivers of these vehicles while the rest of us took civilian vehicles or went on foot to act as snipers or infantry.

My countrymen had no damned idea just what kind of hell was waiting for them. I wa now genuinely concerned for the future of our friendship. What would be the Councils response to this battle? All I could do was hope and pray they wouldn't declare war. The casualties would be embarrassing.

The timer finally ran out and the thunderous roar of an armored column shattered the peace of the area. Engines and smoke blasted through the calm daylight breeze as a human military machine charged through the open countryside and towards a gathering army of seven hundred men. Seven hundred men armed with laser equivalents of muskets and blunderbuss.

The Imperial army arrived outside of the city of Telos via the town of Khalira to the east. The armored column hit them from the open fields to the north. the tanks stopped about three kilometers short of the army, neatly assembled in lines of men ready to engage as they marched towards the airfield. That army was five hundred strong.

The tanks lifted their cannons, and fired HEAT rounds into the assembled soldiers. A hundred men were cut down in the first volley. Then sixty more as the next volley of shells was fired. Panicked, Imperial forces were routed almost immediately, and scattered in all directions.

Mortar fire followed, killing the seventy or so men that took refuge in the town of Khalira, leveling the small town. The armored column began to drive again and within minutes, their weapons began to relentlessly tear through the assembled forces, wiping out a further hundred. The rest of the army was obliterated in a following airstrike, as excitable expletives and creative curse-words in Gaelic and English rang through the comms.

Five hundred men. All wiped out in the space of less than twenty minutes.

We were ordered to advance, and finish the job, only for the advancing infantry to discover that everyone was killed. Twenty towns were captured in quick succession, forcing us to fall back to earlier conquests due to logistics such as ammo and fuel.

The Imperial army was in complete disarray. Although everyone had respawned safe and sound, most, if not all were terrified and refused to rejoin the fight. They had little time to organize, so Admiralty laid charges of treason on those who refused. That rallied everyone pretty quick. But, the efforts were for nothing.

Just as the Imperial army successfully returned to formation, a mass panic gripped them as the angry Irish gunship flew over them, pelting the assault line with rocket pods and cannons. Another rout followed, and even the admiralty joined in the not-quite-so-strategic retreat. Another seven hundred men put in the wait queue as the armored column rejoined the fight and wiped the floor with the Empires men.

The admiralty realized the futility of the fight and immediately surrendered in order to save their fragile egos and stop their men from mass suicide. Such was the fateful tale, of the human versus Galactic Empire Antistasi event. The first, and only surrender in the Empires history.


It was all just a simulation. A joint war simulation to test what humanity was capable of. It was a simple, easy and cheap way to test newcomers to the Galactic stage. It was an effective tool to test combat prowess, honor, strength and mettle in a battle and give the Imperium an easy way to look at a species strengths.

The entire Admiralty board was now on their knees begging the Imperium to sign permanent peace treaties with the Terran Federation. Some were even considering assassinations of members who refused. The video recording of that simulation was now going viral in every corner of the galaxy, now terrified at humanity's capabilities.

The Imperium were both shocked and humiliated at the resounding loss they suffered. Humans, through that entire campaign lost only around seventy men. The Imperium lost nearly two thousand. All to machinery and technology that was beyond two hundred years old to boot.

The incident now has a formerly obscure species, once barely a curiosity, now open to full scrutiny among the galactic community. Archives of previous human conflicts began to leak to the public, terrifying entire swathes of sentient life. Human history slowly laid itself bare, to an audience that was rapidly beginning to count humanity as less a sapient life form, and more an Eldritch horror.

Suddenly everything we knew about humanity's wars with the Garrox, Tyrannis and Kordikan empires were over so fast. Suddenly we started to understand how the Eridisian swarms were so rapidly eradicated. Suddenly we knew why the Immutable Matrix AI swarm was so easily put to the sword. Suddenly... it all made sense.

Within months of the first simulation, the Imperium decided on surrender.
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2023.03.24 11:29 smartybrome Free Courses for 24 March 2023

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2023.03.24 11:29 smartybrome Free Courses for 24 March 2023

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2023.03.24 08:05 Aware-Towel-9746 There should be a new looking at of the second sentence of Stylish Executioner. This it it.

Edit: It's been only 10 minutes since I posted this, and I just saw that someone else talked about this a bit earlier today. Kinda wish I saw that before posting this but whatever. I started writing this probably 12 hours ago, and finally posted it now, so I probably could've seen that post but I didn't. Go over and read u/-TrevorStMcGoodbody 's post before this one if you want. It's a lot shorter, so maybe start with it. He has some ideas about changes, and I have basically a complete description of how the second part of the aspect works. They complement each other well.

I know some other people have discussed this but that was the past. I don’t know everything about the aspect (I think), sue me. I've tried to figure it out myself just now. I think I got everything correct but who knows. Apparently there's a damage buff that just isn't mentioned anywhere. The community is aware of it, I know. I would like it if Bungie would put it in the description but that’s beside the point. I have no issue with the first sentence of Stylish, don't worry. That part is the part everyone uses it for, so most of you won't care if the second sentence changes unless it gets a big buff. This is about “After performing a Stylish Execution, your next melee attack while invisible weakens targets.” This'll be long, so bear with me. Also I apologize if I've misused/overused the bold and italics in some way, I haven't really done this before. If I get anything wrong in here feel free to put it in a comment.

What the second sentence of Stylish even does.

Stylish Executioner's second sentence, as written above, gives a weaken debuff to the next "melee attack" while invisible after an "Execution" as is worded in the first sentence of the aspect description. This is very vaguely worded, bravo Bungie. There is also a large damage buff that is not mentioned anywhere in-game or in commonly seen API stuff, like DIM, the official companion app, or This effect is complicated in a simple way. I will explain it further in depth later. For now I'll speak generally. In order to use the damage buff of 2.5x and weaken, the melee attack (what qualifies will be shown later) must be initiated while in invisibility during which Stylish Execution triggered invisibility. This can include the initial invis from an Execution. This melee buff can be maintained by staying invisible entirely (sorta). You can reproc the second sentence while already invis, though you do leave invis to get the kill most of the time. However, there is a cooldown for this. Too Stylish is a 3 second cooldown preventing the first sentence of Stylish from working.

The methods of possibly maintaining invis, and how/if they work:

How the different melees interact with Stylish Executioner's second sentence.

I am 100% certain that there aren't any bad variables (like a mod being removed between tests) at play here, and the numbers back that up. These numbers should all be good.

Uncharged melee.
The Stylish buffed uncharged melee does apply the weaken (15%) on hit. It also can get the 2.5x damage buff.

Charged melee smoke bomb.
Note: As this already applies weaken inherently we are only checking for the damage buff.
The damage buff clearly does not apply to the only charged melee available on Void Hunter. Also I would like to point out that our uncharged melee does (rounding up to) exactly 20% more damage than our charged melee (on a direct hit). Do with that what you will. Kinda silly.

From what I’ve seen online, glaives don’t consistently count as melee attacks for abilities and exotics. They do not work for this.
For the record: I used Vexcalibur. None of the damage tests included any overshields. Glaive melees don't benefit from Void Weapon Channeling, so that isn't an issue either.
This does not get either the melee damage buff nor the weaken on hit.

For the record: I used a Half-Truths with relentless strikes and eager edge. No damage perks. This test used only light attacks.
This does not apply either the weaken or get the damage bonus.

Basically, only uncharged melees get any benefit from the second half of Stylish Executioner.

What are its uses?

With how strong Gyrfalcon is there isn’t much reason to use Stylish without also using Gyrfalcon, which almost entirely removes any reason to use this part of the aspect.
And with the only Hunter void melee already applying weaken at base there isn’t really any reason to use this part. Even if there is a 2.5x damage multiplier why would I want to use uncharged melees? Maybe if you want to use a different exotic and have a (not really) similar effect at the same time you would use it for this. I for one have never seen someone use it for that purpose. I’ve only ever seen volatile rounds stuff with void weapons, mostly with Gyrfalcon or volatile flow (and maybe collective). Sure, volatile flow is going away at some point but this version of Gyrfalcon isn’t. Even if Gyrfalcon is for some reason nerfed I doubt Bungie would change how it works. They’d probably just lower some numbers or something.
As for non-Gyrfalcon exotics someone would maybe (realistically not) use I can’t think of many. Most of the Hunter melee exotics aren’t super spectacular. The ones that are mostly wouldn’t work with this. A melee kill to make you invisible? Assassin’s Cowl already does that, so why use both? Liar’s handshake? Only on arc melees. Khepri’s Sting? You already get truesight from Stylish, and why use something that gives melee weaken if you already have that. Sealed Ahamkara? Who even uses that? Why would you in this situation? Other Hunter exotics don’t really pair great with it either. Omnioculus? Just use the other two aspects. You already need trappers. Graviton? Maybe. Still no.
Basically, what is the point of that part of it? Why not give us something we’d use? The first half of the aspect, “Defeating a weakened, suppressed, or volatile target grants Invisibility and Truesight” is 100% of what people use the aspect for. I’ve never heard someone say they use Stylish because of the invis weakened uncharged melee, even in addition to the first part of the aspect. Most people probably forget it exists.
I’d appreciate a change of some kind ONLY to the second sentence of Stylish. Pretty much every other aspect in the game gets fully used (people use every effect, cause they can all be good in one situation or another, or they just don't have nearly useless effects) when people use them, whether they’re used often or not. Please just give us something useful in any way, preferably that synergize with the rest of the aspect well. Maybe something that has some general use without needing Executions but that benefits from it. I don't really have many ideas for a change, or any solid plans at all but still. Please look at all of the aspects. None of them should have 1 fragment slot. But that's beside the point. Please Bungie, look at this aspect a little closer and reconsider if it needs that second sentence the way it is. Don't just remove it. Change it.
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2023.03.24 04:31 Trash_Tia Three years ago, I was a research student working on a remote island. We were out of lab rats, so our professor used us instead (Part 2)

July, 2020.
Ever since my colleagues and I became unwilling test subjects in my psychotic professor’s experiments into awakening the supernatural, we have had multiple people trying to hunt us down. Whether they were renowned scientists desperate for the serum for themselves or random people obsessed with cutting us open and seeing how we ticked, these assholes didn’t care that we were human beings, that we were ex researchers ourselves.
They wanted us dead or alive, in pieces, or splattered across concrete. As long as they got that precious serum dripping from our frontal lobe, they didn’t give a fuck. There were varieties of hunters. Some of them tried to play nice with their own nefarious agenda, while others were completely fucking insane. Like the ones who saw us as a mistake; a curse sent from god to end humanity as we know it.
Yeah. They thought we were the next coming of the Antichrist.
Have you ever been stripped completely naked and forced to bathe in salt water for three days without food and water?
That is when I lost my will to fight.
I still remember the sensation of flames licking at my feet, rope wrapped around my wrists pinning me to a tree. They wanted me to admit I was a monster. That I was a curse from the devil and belonged in hellfire. I’ll spend this post elaborating on what exactly our professor did to us, and the burden forced onto our backs—but I will say it saved us at points. For example, the freaks who tried to cleanse us in salt water (and then burn us under a full moon) got their comeuppance. 2020 is probably a year in your lives which didn’t feel real.
You were locked inside and you probably compared what was happening to a movie. We had a similar problem. But while you were struggling through lockdown, trying to fight a wave spreading globally, we found ourselves with bounty’s on our heads. Because we were no longer human to these bastards, and to them? Anything went. Which was bad news for our professor who had fought to keep his research as private as possible, choosing to show only a select group with shiny money bags for eyes. It turns out, no matter how much you think you’re hiding something, it will always be leaked. And people will find out.
Bad people.
The kinds of people in all of my favorite movies as a kid. You know, the evil trigger-happy British guy obsessed with finding buried treasure? Him. But tenfold. I might have felt special about the multi-billion price-tag on me, but knowing all they wanted me for was to dissect and slice me apart like meat to the slaughter—yeah. I can’t say I was thrilled to have so many people after our little group. 2020 was the year when people stopped being human. Stopped trying to be human. All morality down the drain.
Of these certain groups trying to capture us, there was a specific one which I will always remember. Seth’s gang. I’ll remember them because it was the first time I realised my colleagues and I weren’t human anymore, and maybe the freaks trying to label us as The Devil’s Children were right. There were a lot of people after us, as I said. But Seth and his gang, however, just wanted us for the sake of gloating. After hearing of our professor’s experiments, these guys decided they didn’t want the serum, or the research.
They just wanted us. For what, I still don’t know. They weren’t scientists, or in the medical field. They definitely weren’t at the auction, I would have seen them. I’m pretty sure these were just ordinary guys seeing us as nothing but trophies to parade around. I don’t think they knew the significance of the serum, or the danger of it. They saw something shiny and thought to hell with it. Which, I guess looking back, was why we were always two steps ahead despite having 9mm Glock’s shoved in our faces. The hotel room we were being held in was a step up from the cage I had been trapped inside in the lab for the last several months.
It actually had air-con.
Sitting blindfolded on the edge of a queen sized bed wearing the same clothes which were practically glued to my flesh, the graze of cool air brushing the back of my neck and relieving blistering skin was euphoric. I hadn’t had a proper shower in weeks. Maybe months.
It was the first time in a long while I actually felt human. Even when my wrists were pinned behind my back, a slab of ductape suffocating my mouth and nose. Now, I wasn’t completely sure, but I wondered if there was a duct tape shortage on the island. After being kidnapped and held in multiple places, I had never been gagged with duct tape. It was always filthy clothing fashioned into a makeshift gag, or ties and shoelaces. I will never forget some asshole stuffing a pair of panties in my mouth.
Seth’s gang were the first to actually have duct tape and proper blindfolds. I sensed the front-man’s footsteps as he paced in front of us. Despite being blindfolded, I knew he had a gun tucked into his belt, a dagger strapped to his ankle, and a grenade for emergencies. I wasn’t sure what emergencies would justify blowing up a fancy hotel room. Next to me, Riss was practically vibrating with fury. She knew not to act on her fear, because when we did, bad shit happened.
But Riss was a different breed. She didn’t listen to me when we were human, and definitely didn’t listen to me when we were freakish experiments contorted into something resembling a human. No matter how many times I nudged her with reassurance, she inched away from me like I had the plague. “Project Mildew, huh?” The front-man had one hell of an aussie accent. Without my sight, the rest of my senses were expanding, igniting.
Smell. I could smell the stink of myself, body odour and filth caked into my skin. Taste. There was copper in my throat and coating my teeth and tongue. Every step the man made, I felt it prickling in my bones. I sensed him crouching in front of Kaian, who thankfully didn’t move. I was waiting for him to. If I concentrated, I could feel the air crackling with electricity, the hairs on the back of my neck and arms standing up. Just being shoulder to shoulder with my colleague allowed me to feel exactly what he was feeling.
And like Riss, the guy was dangerously close to blowing a fuse. Kaian wasn’t stupid though. If we did something, he knew the consequences of that something. And none of us wanted that. So, staying quiet and submissive it was.
“Alex Quincy’s diamonds!” The front-man flicked me in the forehead, and I had to squeeze my eyes shut to avoid going into sensory overload. He continued in a sing-song voice, his steps becoming playful, like he was dancing. Every so often I sensed his fingers wrapping around his 9mm. Maybe he wasn’t as stupid as I initially thought. “Project Mildew.” He repeated. “You looked better on camera.”
Riss scoffed under her gag. I don’t think this asshole understood that on camera we were still human. It’s not like I was planning on going to a fashion show, but the shorts and t-shirt combo I had been wearing for weeks were comfortable.
Another step. Holding my breath, I gripped the ropes entangling my wrists and prayed they were physical enough to be an anchor.
“The testers who became the tested!” He continued. “Ohhh, man. I’ve heard about you. You’re famous here. Professor Quincy’s human lab rats! And successful ones too! You’ve got a lot of eyes on ya, ain’t cha? Too bad we gotcha first. Yeah, that’s right. We got here first.”
The guy laughed, and I felt both Riss and Kaian start to tremble. Fuck. Not now. I had to keep them at bay, even when my methods weren’t exactly stellar. I had to keep them from plunging. The rope around my wrists wasn’t too tight, and I knew I’d be able to get out of it easily. But that would require strength and energy which was for sure a trigger. There were a lot of triggers. Anger and pain. Sometimes even happiness.
It turned out basic human emotions was what this thing thrived off, so to avoid us going nuclear I had to stay stoic. No matter how much I wanted to tear off this asshole’s face, I had to keep myself together. It only took one slip up before things got really fucking brutal, really fucking fast. I wasn’t surprised my colleagues were losing control. Seth was quite the character, almost like a cartoon villain.
“Damn. I’ve been looking for guard dogs, but I think we’ve found something better, aye.” His palmy fingers wandered where they shouldn’t have, grazing over my left breast and delving under my shirt, causing my body to seize up, and then relaxing slightly when he pulled off my blindfold.
Blinking rapidly, I found myself eye-to-eye with the guy who had snatched us from the lab and thrown us into the back of his truck. I only got glimpses of him during our kidnapping, thanks to the ski-mask covering his face. Now I was looking at a man who was maybe in his early thirties with a balding head and a vicious cartoon smile twisted with mania. His eyes glinted when I found myself shuffling back, my gaze flashing to the Glock strapped to his side. Seth pulled off the other’s blindfolds.
“Now, I don’t want any funny business, alright? I watched that conference, and I know what you can do.” He stuck the barrel of his 9mm into my right temple, and next to me, Kaian ducked his head. “I’m watching you sweetheart.” Seth’s smile widened into a sickening grin. “If you start any weird shit, I’ll blow your brains out.”
I did my best to nod, and he ripped the tape off of our mouths too.
“Alright!” Seth straightened up, eyeing us like we were hunks of meat. “Nice to meet cha! I’ll be looking after you guys from now on.”
“Looking after us?” I spoke up, my voice gravelly. “You mean you’ll be cutting into us and selling our brains on the black market.”
Seth laughed like a fucking hyena. “What?” He scratched the back of his head with his gun. “Nah, that’s fucked up. We just want dogs.”
The man’s smile dampened, however, when his gaze settled on Kaian. Gesturing to my colleague with his gun, he scowled. “What’s wrong with him? Did Quincy rip out the guy’s tongue?” Before I could answer, Seth crouched in front of Kaian with narrowed eyes. “You all spoke at the conference,” he murmured. “Sure, your professor forced you, but you introduced yourselves. All of you did, even your fourth."
His smile curled. "All except him."
A shiver ripped its way down my spine when Seth shot out a finger and pointed at my colleague, and my mouth started to dry up.
Kaian was perfectly reading his lips, every word curled under his tongue, his eyes flicking back and forth to drink in each one, and each word brought more heat, brought more goosebumps pricking on my arms and legs. Kaian’s body pressed against mine was overheating.
I could feel the sensation coming over my body, like a wave of pressure. Riss made a squeaking noise, and I concentrated on Seth—who didn’t seem to notice it. I’ve come to realise, whether you are a human, an animal, or a badly fucked up experiment created in a lab, it doesn’t matter what you are capable of. If you initially appear weak and powerless, the stronger will single you out. Seth was enjoying himself so much he didn’t realise the skin in his cheeks start to crack from all the moisture being sucked from the air. Kaian didn’t move or speak, and that seemed to thrill him even more.
“Speak.” Seth snarled, leaning closer until he was inches from my colleagues face.
“He’s deaf.” I gritted out.
Seth’s eyes darkened. “Deaf, huh? He better be worth it.” Kaian didn’t flinch when the man grabbed him by the hair and yanked his head back. He was completely stoic, like a puppet severed from his strings, allowing the asshole to stick his Glock between his eyes. I noticed the air move slightly around us, blurring and then coming together. It was a blink and you’ll miss it moment, and I had spent months being taught how to notice it. “Three and a half million dollars each, hmm?” Seth said in a breath, dragging the butt of his gun down my colleagues face, grazing it across the flesh of his neck. “I don’t remember paying for a fucking mute. You can learn to talk, kid."
Again, Kaian didn’t even acknowledge the man, and that infuriated him even more. “Hey!” Seth grabbed his jaw, forcing Kaian to look at him. “Are you fucking listening to me? Open your mouth. You either speak or you die. Like I said, I didn’t pay half a million each for a mute.”
Riss must have noticed the significant change in the air and temperature. Between the two of us, it was our job to stop Kaian from plunging.
“You didn’t spend shit on us.” She spoke up with a hiss. Riss was already panicked, and that wasn’t good. “You took us from the lab while everyone else was at the auction because you couldn’t afford us. Which makes me wonder how you afforded this fancy five star hotel."
I had to swallow a yell. I wanted her to stall, not give the guy a reason to start going trigger-happy.
Seth’s narrowed eyes found Riss’s. “Your professor and I had an agreement, sweetheart,” he said. "How 'bout I blow your brains out, huh? Since you like speaking out of turn. And I don’t like my doggies speaking out of turn.”
As Seth moved closer to her, I sensed Riss freaking out. It was too early for her to start the plunge, but she was the most unpredictable out of the four of us. Just like when she was human, her emotions were all over the place. Still though, she maintained a scowl and refused to move when Seth was practically eye to eye with her, hot breath grazing her cheeks. The man prodded her in her right temple. “I bet you’re filled to the brim with all that fancy ass Quincy serum." He dragged his filthy finger down her cheek, and she squeaked. “I’m pretty sure I can just crack you open and take it for myself.”
“Then…” Riss swallowed, choking on her words. I nudged her again, this time enough to shake the bed. But she wasn’t looking at me, her eyes starting to lose vacancy. Next to me, I knew the same thing was happening to Kaian.
But I wouldn’t look at him yet. If I did, I would lose it myself. “Then you’ll be losing valuable cargo.” I was surprised when her lips broke out into an equally psychotic grin. I had no doubt the plunge was taking hold of her. She leaned back almost casually, and the air seemed to move around her, seeping into her skin and taking an unyielding hold. "Considering the crazy lengths you took to capture all of us, I doubt you want that. You're all bark with no bite, asshole."
“Riss.” I said through my teeth, at the exact same time as the air-con behind us blew a fuse and crashed to the ground. “Shut up.”
The plunge started slow, but even when it was barely a prickle in the air it was already beginning its slow purging of every particle.
I watched a mosquito that had been in mid-flight towards the fancy looking lamp on the nightstand bleed into invisible folds of energy which were becoming progressively more visible to the naked eye the more my friends plunged. I could see it perfectly. Like the world around us was beginning to splinter apart. Ignoring Riss, who could stand up for herself, Seth’s attention went back to Kaian, who couldn’t. Or at least that was his façade. Kaian had been labelled the most dangerous out of all of Quincy’s experiments. But it wasn’t just because of the plunge.
“I’m talking to you!” Seth prodded my colleague’s chest, and a wave of heat slammed into me, stealing my breath away. I watched, knowing it was all going to be over in matter of seconds. The front-man grabbed my colleague by the collar of his shirt and yanked him violently to his feet. “You’ve got two seconds to speak,” He spat, before slamming the butt of his gun into Kaian’s head. “Speak, or I give you a frontal lobotomy.” Seth continued in seething breaths, and got closer and closer, failing to notice he was already losing. But so were we.
His lips split into a grin. “Speak, or I start asking questions. Like why I bought four of you— and there are three of you.” He poked the metal prongs sticking from Kaian’s head. I liked to call them horns to make them sound cooler. But in reality, they were agonising when I was human—two pieces of metal drilled directly into the top of my skull. They had been a part of me for a while, but I wasn’t going to forget how they had been forcefully inserted into my skull. While I screamed. “Three. Little. Freaks.” Seth’s lips were practically kissing my colleague's temple.
He prodded the metal horns, and Kaian’s lip twitched. “Without their fourth.”
That struck a chord in both of them—and I knew if I didn’t do something, like right then, a fate worse than death awaited all of us.
"Leave him alone.” I found my voice tangled in my throat. But I could barely bring myself to speak. I felt like I was being fucking suffocated by two separate energy’s around me slowly but surely ripping atoms apart. In the corner of my eye, things were starting to melt into the ground, disappearing completely. The carpet in the room was suddenly singed black, and the wave continued, slicing off the tips of my hair I had only just managed to grow back. “He can’t hear you, asshole.” I said through lingering breaths. “Professor Quincy said he was deaf.”
"Deaf?” Seth let out a belly laugh. “He's my new guard dog and he's expected to fucking bark.” His lip curled,” Now. Speak.”
A second went by.
Then another.
Absent-mindedly, I licked the taste of rusty coins from the corner of my lip.
“I said speak!” Seth slammed the butt of his gun into my colleagues face again, but this time his words broke apart in his throat. I sensed every individual letter shattering into pieces when his body was flung back by an invisible force. I knew that invisible force. I knew the phantom fingers wrapping around his throat and slamming the man into the wall until he was screaming, begging, his feet hovering several feet from the ground. Kaian didn’t even have to pull apart his restraints.
Riss was already screaming, turning to my colleague. Her hands were free, and she was signing desperately. Don’t. Her eyes were wide, lips twisted. Because she knew exactly what would follow. Seth, somehow, managed a spluttered laugh between broken teeth like tiny yellow chicklets sticking from his mouth. “Oh, you don’t like that do you?” More brilliant red spurted like a fountain, and yet the asshole kept laughing. “Look at you! Quincy didn’t hold back on you did he?”
I’m not saying my colleague enjoyed crushing Seth’s windpipe without even lifting a finger—but that is exactly what I am saying.
With a simple incline of Kaian’s head, the front-man was rupturing from the inside, choking on organs erupting into his throat.
And like it thrilled him, the idea of death, the idea of dying at the hands of a supernatural force, Seth continued to roar with laughter.
My colleague was pressing pressure points which shouldn’t be pressed. Especially pressure points in a genetically fucked up man whose trauma had turned him into the wildcard of our group. The amount of shit we had all gone through inside Quincy’s lab was enough to send us into insanity. Except my colleague, according to Quincy, hadn’t responded correctly at the beginning. And being a researcher myself with rabbits before I became a lab rat, I knew the only way to get results was to cause pain.
I never initiated that pain in the rabbits, but I was an enabler. I watched my professor torture these subjects to make sure they were prepped and ready for the serum. Maybe our karma was that the exact same happened to us. But to Kaian, it was on a much larger scale. I was never briefed on what exactly happened to him during the months from March to June. Though it was obvious he had had it the worst. I didn’t know why. I didn’t understand why his brain was different, or maybe he was more resilient. He had been better at fighting it.
Kaian hated two things. Being kidnapped and said kidnappers mentioning our fourth member. And it was those things which made him plunge. Which made him lose all sense of humanity and morality and emotion, essentially turning him into a mindless beast. That was one half of the plunge. “Do you want me to say his name?” Seth coughed up spattered scarlet, and I could already see what was happening to him. Kaian had done enough damage externally. Internally, however? That was another story.
Internally, I sensed every organ starting to peel apart and splinter, bursting into nothing. It started with pressure on his heart which was slow and dragged so he felt everything. Then the brain began to expand. When blood ran in sharp rivulets from every orifice, and Seth screamed, howling like an animal, I looked away, just in time for the rest of the man’s body to pop like a balloon, and a chunk of his skull to land right in front of me. Riss started screaming, and I was half aware of a slight taint of warm blood like paint splattering the side of my face.
When I twisted back to look at him, his body was still hovering without a head, a skeletal hand lifting and waving at us.
Riss dropped to her knees, her head in her hands, trembling, and I followed her, trying to get some semblance of control.
“It’s been a week.” Riss whispered, sobbing, swiping at her eyes with bloody hands, making them worse. “Oh god, what if… what if I was right? What if we’re too late? I knew this was… this was a bad idea. But nobody listens to Riss. I knew he wouldn’t come. Fuck. I knew it.”
“Calm down.” I said. “Concentrate on happy birthday, okay? Do you want me to sing it with you?”
Riss spluttered. “We’re going to dieeee,” she sang. “Can you feel it? I’m plunging, Wren. God, it feels so fucking good.”
She knocked her head into the wall with crazy eyes.
It took exactly half a second for our brains to decide whether we were going to fight it or give in to it.
“Hey. Riss.” I spoke in reassuring hisses, grasping her shoulders and forcing her to look at me. “Happy birthday.” I choked out. “Three times. It has to be three times.” When she didn’t respond, I shook her until her cloudy found mine. Riss was plunging. Like Kaian. The blood vessels in her eyes had popped, her lips cracking apart. If I concentrated, I could see her bare knees starting to melt into air, wisps of her hair starting to disintegrate. “Do it, now!”
I shrieked when Kaian finally let go of the man’s body, and it hit the ground in front of us like a bad joke. “Happy birthday.” I said the mantra over and over again, shaking my colleague until she was responding. “Three times, Riss. Right now.” When she shook her head, screeching, I grabbed her hands and entangled her fingers with mine. “I’ll start, okay? And you follow me.”
To my surprise, Riss nodded—and for the fraction of a second, my colleague, or what was left of her, stopped bleeding into visible particles which were now around us, like a glistening wave of ocean water enveloping us. “Happy birthday to you…” I whispered, squeezing her hands tighter, relieved when she repeated the verse. When I was sure Riss was anchoring herself, I turned to Kaian who was sitting cross legged in front of the mutilated body.
My gaze went to the door. It would only be matter of time before Seth’s goons figured out something was wrong, and the last thing I wanted was them to walk in mid-plunge. “Happy birthday to…” I continued, allowing Riss to fill in a name—before focusing on my other colleague. I’m not exaggerating when I say Kaian was covered head to toe in blood, like it was his canvas, like he belonged in it. It was too late for him. I could already see that in his vacant and foggy eyes and playful smile that he had accepted the plunge.
“Gross.” Kaian signed, pulling a face. He turned his nose up at mutilated flesh and bone, and I had a hard time looking him in the eye.
I exhaled out a breath.
“Kaian.” I spoke and signed calmly, but my skin was prickling and scalding. I could feel the flesh on the backs of my hands peeling off. “Happy birthday.” I made sure to emphasize every word clearly, even when I knew he could read every word from my mouth without even trying.
He started to shake his head, and I glimpsed that panic, the trauma of the last several months starting to bloom behind his eyes.
“No, you have to do it.” I hissed out. “Look around you.” I signed. “If you don’t do it, we’re going to plunge.”
I was practically slamming my hands together with frustration, but he shook his head, his gaze going elsewhere.
“What if I…” He paused signing, his lip curling, “Like it?”
Do you know when you know something is wrong but you keep shoving it to the back of your head until you can’t ignore it anymore?
Yeah, this was one of those moments.
I loved Kaian. I loved him like a brother. But there was something about his face, the way he delved his fingers into startling red pooling on the carpet, that made me want to get as far away from him as possible. Swallowing hard, I shook away the thought and grabbed hold of his hand.
Once I did, the air around us wavered, and flesh on his cheeks started to flake. “Happy birthday…” Riss, who was sitting with what was left of her knees pressed to her chest, choked out a sob, “This isn’t working… Wren. This isn’t fucking working. I can’t.. I can’t fucking do this.” When she beat the floor with crumbling fists, the whole room jolted. The ground beneath us shook, and Kaian shot me a panicked look. Even plunging, he was still scared.
And I didn’t blame him.
After telling Riss to continue, I managed a smile and signed, “Earthquake.”
My colleague’s lips split into an unusual grin, and he mouthed the words, “Yeah right.”
With steely eyes, Kaian’s smile faded and for once he actually looked serious. “Jem.” He signed. “I don’t think he’s coming for us.”
Ignoring a conversation I really didn’t want to have, I focused on the body. “Check his pockets,” I signed back. “We don’t have much time.”
I pulled out a passport, some Indonesian currency, and an old plane ticket.
Checking his phone didn’t help. I was just reminded the boarders were still shut, and this asshole had a whole group chat gloating about his so-called guard dogs.
When I lifted my head, Riss’s wild eyes were flickering around the room, drinking in parts of reality being sucked away.
Her mouth became lopsided, lips drooping like my colleague was having a stroke from the pressure building around her.
See, I describe this in a lot of detail like this lasted around five to minutes long. But no, all of this happened in the space of around two minutes. When footsteps sounded outside, and Kaian’s head snapped to the door, his eyes darkening, a sour paste crept up my throat.
Professor Quincy didn’t just take away our humanity. He twisted us into something resembling an animal inside a human body.
We spoke and acted and felt like humans. But once a stranger was nearby, or footsteps on territory we had unknowingly snatched as our own, we turned feral. I already knew Kaian was a whole new level of unpredictable and unhinged after what the experiments had done to his brain—but seeing what he was capable of even before the plunge, I froze.
The world was coming apart around me and I was plunging, but I couldn’t move. I watched him get to his feet, his fingers curling into fists at his sides. The footsteps were closing in on us getting louder and louder, and Kaian could sense every vibration. I could tell with the way his lips twitched, a whole new darkness clouding his eyes and stripping away what was left of his humanity. I had seconds.
There was no use in happy birthday
I remember jumping to my feet and diving on my colleagues back, bringing him to the floor like a lion would a deer. When the two of us hit the ground, I watched Riss rupture in front of me, her face glitching, becoming moving static, before her body followed. “Seth?” The voice caused Kaian to attempt to wrench out of my grasp, but I had a firm hold of him. The first three weeks of being inhuman, I was taught how to kill people. Kill my fellow subjects.
Apologising profusely into hair which smelled of blood and dirt and Quincy’s lab, I struggled to keep myself from plunging, knowing the room was already half gone, and I was going to get caught in it anyway. “I’m sorry. Fuck. I’ll make it up to you, okay? You should have sang happy fucking birthday, but you are so goddamn stubborn,” I sobbed with what I hoped was reassurance. I knew he and Riss and Jem would do exactly the same to me.
“So fucking stubborn.” I couldn’t help myself, nestling my face into his hair and heaving in breaths while my skin started to peel away.
“Just take a deep breath and close your eyes, okay?” I whispered into his flushed skin. “We’ll find him, Kaian. I promise you.”
He stopped struggling, and for a moment I thought my colleague was actually listening to me before the ceiling began to crack apart.
The ground rumbled again, and I lost my grip on the guy before forcing him onto his back and straddling his legs. Just when his free arm was flying out with intention to send me crashing into the back wall and ending all reality in that room, encompassing us, I snapped Kaian’s neck.
And with the last of my energy, I fucking screamed while my own flesh melted from my face while the plunge enveloped us both.

March 2020.
It was on the 17th day of captivity inside a cell made of glass panes meant to keep in rabbits, when I met an unlikely visitor. There comes a time when giving up is better than screaming until you have lost all of the breath in your lungs, and your throat feels like sandpaper. I hadn’t eaten in days, and what was left of my meals, curry and mash potatoes, painted my cell walls—a real work of art if I concentrated and imagined carving shapes inside congealing potato and day-old curry.
So far, I had tests. I had tests which were an invasion of privacy which I will not expand upon. I had tests where my professor’s gloved fingers ran over my scalp and marked places where he was going to insert the same headset on the rabbits. He didn’t listen to my cries.
He didn’t tell me where my colleagues were. I was nothing to him. I was a subject stripped of my rights. So, I was doing the little I could to protest. Even if it was small, I was refusing to eat. I knew subjects had to eat to stay healthy—to get results. The piece of shit wasn’t going to get much further if I died of starvation after days of no eating. How sad. I was on my second day of refusing to eat, and my gut felt like it was folding in on itself. To combat this, I sat against clinical white walls with my knees pressed to my chest, and my head buried in my lap. I ignored the rumbling of my stomach and my aching joints, the weird squiggly lines in my vision when I bothered lifting my head.
It’s weird. In that cage, I was the coldest I’ve ever felt on an Indonesian island. I didn’t remember the temperature affecting the outcome of the rabbit subjects, but maybe it was different for humans. Still though, I had my solace. I imagined standing in glittering water, bioluminescent plankton washing over my bare toes. I imagined the full moon bathing the sky in warm light, and it was enough to make me feel safe— even so far from home. Far from normality. If I squeezed my eyes shut, and envisioned wading deeper into the shallows, until the water was lapping my thighs, I could calm myself and tell myself to breathe.
Then the water was at my waist, the panic subsiding. Neck deep, ice cold water filling my mouth and suffocating my nose. But if I thought past it, if I plunged myself into the deep, I could trick my brain into imagining that I was escaping, swimming across the wide expanse of ocean. All the way back home to my family.
I was brought out of my imagination when a scratching noise pulled me back to my senses, and I was back inside my cage.
Lifting my head, I searched for someone. But there was nobody there.
“Over here, genius.”
The voice startled me. It wasn’t quite a voice, more of an attempt. Though I could definitely make out the language bursting out. When my eyes swivelled, I found myself staring at a blur of white. I squinted.
No, not just a blur of white. It was Subject Fifteen. The rabbit which had stolen Jem’s heart, and possibly taken control of his mind.
For a moment I tried to blink myself awake, but no matter how many times I pinched myself, the rabbit was still there, pressing its tiny face against glass, and I can see blood staining its fur. Initially, I thought he was a hallucination until I blinked, and he was still very much there.
He was part of reality, lightly smushing its bloody mouth against glass panes. The sight of dark red tainting its fur twisted my gut, and I had a thought which suddenly wouldn’t leave me alone. If the serum did that to the rabbits, what exactly would it do to us? “Well.” Fifteen’s beady eyes found mine, and I swore its rabbit mouth twisted into a grin. It's voice mimicked both me and my colleagues, the perfect imitation of us. I could hear all of us, even the professor, in every curl of its words.
It wasn’t just intelligent, it was something else—something fucking monstrous. Which should have been put down.
No. It never should have been a subject at all.
I slowly crawled towards it and held my breath. I must have looked pretty fucking funny to Fifteen. I was the tester who had become the tested. The one who wore the lab-coat, to the rat forced into light blue scrub like clothes sticking to me. I can’t say I wasn’t curious, though. Baffled.
I was inches from a fucking talking rabbit, and the last time I checked rabbits weren't supposed to talk. Their mouths haven't evolved to form words. But somehow it was figuring out speech. Fifteen was learning fast. That terrified me. After several attempts at speech, it had almost fully mimicked a human’s expression. It cocked its head, and in Jem’s voice, asked,
“Well? How does it feel to be the one in the cage?"
“You’re not real.” I told the rabbit which sounded like Jem.
To my shock, it laughed, and its bloody mouth almost formed a snarl. “Are you sure about that?”
I crawled over to the screen, pressing my hands against glass. “How does…” I licked my lips. “How does what feel?”
The rabbit’s eyes followed me and I shuffled back, a sour paste creeping its way up my throat. “You were always my least favorite,” it murmured. Its nose twitched. “I think you humans call it karma—- and whether you believe in it or not, every action must have an equal reaction.” It moved closer, pressing its face against the glass. I noticed the fur around it’s mouth was stained red. “You drilled into my head, Wren. You hurt me day after day and hid behind a sense of morality that you were a good person because it was for the good of the human race.” Fifteen edged closer. “I wish I could feel sorry for you. I wish I could feel the sympathy you humans use as a pathetic fucking barrier. But aren’t you just… the cutest?”
The thing was mimicking my own words from the start of the experiments. I had pressed my face against the plastic cage, peering at Subject Fifteen, who was hiding in the corner. Quincy told me to turn off my humanity, but that didn’t stop me as seeing them as cute little fury bunnies. It never crossed my mind that Fifteen could hear exactly what we had been saying.
I thought back to a few months back when I had picked it up from its cage and nuzzled its fur. “Aww! Isn’t he just the cutest?”
Fifteen knew the exact moment I gave up, my hands slipping from the glass. It gestured to the band aid uncomfortably sticking to my scalp.
“Nice horns.”
“You have intelligence.” I whispered through a sob. I leaned closer. “Quincy. You need to tell me what he’s doing to the others.”
“You already know what he’s planning to do, Wren.” The rabbit chuckled, lifting a paw in a mocking wave. “Why are you asking me, hmm? What if I am in fact an illusion? You’re not eating. Your mind has been played with. Are you sure you are really speaking to a talking rabbit?”
It cocked its head. “How do you know I’m not Jem?”
“Or Riss.” It’s voice twisted into hers, and then the professor’s.
“I’m losing my mind.” I whispered, pinching the flesh on my bare thighs. “I’m losing my fucking mind.”
“Maybe.” It said, “or you’re witnessing the consequences of your actions. You did this to me if you remember. I told you to stop hurting me, but you didn’t hear me, Wren. You never heard me. Only him. And when I was strong enough, I made him force you to finally listen to me.”
Jem, I thought hysterically.
“You little—“ I slammed my hands into the glass, unable to resist a snarl when it turned to hop away. “Hey! Wait! What did you do to Jem?”
“I didn’t do anything,” the rabbit responded in a scoff. “Your professor, however… have you ever heard of teleportation?”
I stared at it blinking rapidly, until it laughed. “No, not that kind! I mean the new kind. I’m talking about what Quincy is trying to perfect.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it.” The rabbit’s nose twitched, “What you have been working on and researching—what if it was possible in humans?”
I shook my head. There was no way. If professor Quincy wanted to test on us, it would likely be psychokinesis which was possible in rabbits.
“That’s impossible.” I managed to grit out. “With rabbits it’s one thing, and it’s barely even stable! With humans… it’s...”
It’s barbaric.
The rabbits which went through that procedure and survived… their brains were drastically altered. They were never the same.
That’s what I wanted to say.
I trailed off at the thought of forcing a living and breathing human to shatter apart into atoms and forcefully moved from one place to another. I remembered Subject 12. The tiny little thing coming apart slowly, piece by piece, a mixture of fur, blood and bones filling its cage.
No way.
There was no way my psycho professor would attempt it in humans.
The rabbit hopped away. “Huh. Well, you’re dumber than I thought. I guess I’ll be going if you’re just going to look at me like that.”
When I thought it was going to leave me, the furry little shit twisted its head. “Do you want to know a secret?”
It hopped right over to the glass. “Come closer, and I’ll tell you. I want you to get really close so I can see how adorable you are.”
Too desperate to feel humiliated, I swallowed a shriek and pressed my ear to the glass.
“Jem was the first.” The rabbit started to say but was cut off by the speaker above me crackling, a familiar voice slicing into my ears.
“Good morning. I will be with you shortly. I would like you to raise your hands above your head. I will be administering a gas.”
At the corner of my eye, Fifteen was disappearing behind the corner, and I let out a frustrated hiss. “Professor Quincy.” I managed to force my voice into professional, despite the rabbits voice in my mind. Jem was the first to what? I hadn’t seen either of my colleagues in weeks— or heard from them. I swallowed hard. “Professor Quincy, Subject Fifteen is on the premises and is showing signs of heightened intelligence!”
The rabbit tskked. “And to think I was going to help you. Good luck with the experiments. I will have a front row seat.”
Before it left me in puddling static however, the rabbit didn’t hesitate to drop a bombshell which sent me crumpling to my knees.
“Oh, yeah! I forgot to say.” Subject Fifteen’s words slammed into me as I was choked once again with gas filling my mouth and nose.
“Jem was the first to die.” It said in a sing-song symphony of all of our voices, “And you don’t even know the best part!”
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2023.03.24 02:40 eternalrestfuneral Brett Dennis Buckman, a beloved resident of Bel Air, Maryland, passed away on March 20, 2023, at the age of 21. Born on December 3, 2001, Brett's tragic and untimely death was due to a rare and aggressive form of leukemia

Brett was known for his generous spirit, infectious laugh, and ability to light up any room he entered. He was a dedicated student at Bel Air High School, where he excelled in academics, sports, and extracurricular activities. After graduating, Brett pursued a degree in engineering at the University of Maryland, where he continued to make a lasting impact on those around him.
A funeral service for Brett Dennis Buckman will be held at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Bel Air on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, at 10:00 am. The family will receive friends and loved ones at McComas Funeral Home, located at 1317 Cokesbury Rd, Abingdon, MD 21009, on Monday, March 27, 2023, from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests that donations in Brett's memory be made to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to support research and help others fighting this devastating disease.
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2023.03.24 00:59 Logic_Sandwich JoJo's Bizarre OC Tournament #6: R4M7 - Mx. Wah vs Brandy Judge

The results are in for Match 5. The winner is…
Electra wanted to scream.
She’d seen it. Nadine’s face, exhausted and resolved. A dull and empty, hopeless resolve. Electra was still fighting, knew that she’d got Nadine to really, truly take it seriously. Just a month or two ago, she’d have felt giddy. To see the wrappings of false positivity, false and weak hope torn away, to show something tough underneath.
Electra wanted to scream, she wanted to stop, she wanted to call it off, she wanted to leave. But she couldn’t, now. She’d done it again, one of her “friends” had disappointed her, and there was this…this pit, this awful fucking pit of darkness, it’d covered her, her face and body covered in shadows. A nobody in the shape of a girl, a yawning void. A black hole. It couldn’t let it pass, it had to drag them closer, drag them in, drag them down.
Down to her level.
There was no chance she could get out of it. She’d won, been too successful. She’d seen Nadine’s problems, seen her strife, but she’d just pressed and pressed to see what she would do. It was she that threatened Nadine if she backed down, went easy.
This was Nadine’s checkmate. Electra surrounded on a bare platform, surrounded by electrified water, ready to push her under. Oh yes, Electra could fight back; Nadine had left a spot of shadow behind her, Electra could lash out, could have a vine chomp on her neck, or throw her away, or strike from her own inked body….
And then Electra let go. She relaxed, brought up her arms, and let the vines all vanish. She felt the wires of Nadine’s Stand wrap her, Nadine already looking away. She was tugged, a second crystal stunning her completely, though she had no intention to resist. In that instant, Nadine’s face was obscured in brilliant, terrible light.
Part of Electra giddily wondered if this is what Aisha had felt, the unmerciful resolve, cable digging into her skin. The vines of her own Stand came from the ground, into the water, acting as a ground, something Nadine wouldn’t see.
A part of her was grateful she wouldn’t, that Nadine would not see her so vulnerable, see her in any weakness.
A part of her knew this would really fucking hurt.
Electra hadn’t looked away. That’s something that she was proud of, that she kept her eyes open, didn’t go under, didn’t look away.
It took her a minute after Nadine had relented, thinking her unconscious, had took her down.
She fucking hurt. Every nerve on her body felt like it was fried, and Electra couldn’t move anything properly. It was all she could do to breathe, to keep awake and think. But she could think. Nadine couldn’t see her eyes, thought she was still unconscious.
Electra felt vines sprout from her face, wrap around her limbs, two tiny ones in her mouth to move it. She stood up, looking down at the catatonic Nadine. There was a brief, fleeting thought of finishing things here, but as she breathed, she forced her mouth into speech. There was only one way, only one thing she could ever do to try and fix things. As she spoke in her raw, hoarse voice, Nadine looked up in shock, acted on instinct.
“Rock, paper…”

Electra Heart, with a score of 68 to Nadine Sokenna’s 66!

Category Winner Point Totals Comments
Popularity Electra Heart 16 (4.5+2) - 14 (3.5+2) A fairly even voting period, with each side gaining a slight advantage over the other at their own points.
Quality Tie 20 (6 7 7) - 20 (6 7 7) Reasoning
JoJolity Tie 22 (7 8 7)- 22 (7 8 7) Reasoning
Conduct Tie 10-10 Nothing to report!
The two sat next to each other. There was a pile of documents, of hard drives, and mercifully no congratulations. Nobody had ‘won’ the fight, but the desert had accepted the other game.
Electra kept a hand to her neck, remembering the feeling of drowning, of pain, of having every part of her body crying out for help. She felt sick. Everything hurt. But she could still talk.
“I’m sorry.” The statement was simple, but she had to force it out, carrying far more weight than Nadine could ever know.
“I made you do this. This was my idea, but when I saw you, looking like…like me, I wanted it to stop. I wanted to stop. I didn’t try and calm down when you opened up to me. I didn’t try to listen to you. To help. I thought I did, kind of, but a part wanted to see if you could be taken down. I’m envious. And then when I saw that resolve, I…I did what I’d thought everyone else had done. I betrayed you. You brought me here, and I hurt you.”
“What’s wrong with you, Nadine? What the hell's wrong with me?“ She began to sniffle, wrapping her arms around herself and digging her trimmed nails into her tawny skin.
“I haven’t always been…like this, you know.” She made a half-hearted gesture to her face. “But in a way, I always have. Let me ask you a question. When you look at me now, what do you see? Do you see me? Or do you see an empty, black void?”
“No.” Nadine whispered. Then silence. Electra moved her hand so it rested inches away from Nadine’s.
“Well, it’s a trick question. The answer is that there’s no difference. I was hollow…I still am. I have one big aspiration, and it’s to get to the top, no matter what. Win and win. But look at me now. Still empty.”
“I don’t have any answers for you. I didn’t give you anything. I think…maybe I took something away. I thought I hated you, but I…I can’t. I won’t. I won’t let you become someone I’d hate. I don’t care if you leave me here. I’d deserve it. But I don’t know what to do now. Anything that’s inside me is so…fucking unpleasant. I don’t know what to chase after.” Her face felt hot and wet and numb.
“You were right. This was useless. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I don’t know what to say. I can’t fix anything. I’m just fucked up.” She gagged. “I…whatever it is, whatever the answer is, it can’t be…that…this. It can’t fucking be this.”
Nadine grabbed her hand, looking intently at her face. “No…” Her voice was a hesitant, awed whisper. “It isn’t.” Electra wilted at the intensity of her stare. “You aren’t empty. Look.”
She pointed to one of the walls, and Electra looked at her reflection, her eyes sullen, puffy and red-
Her eyes. They widened, black encroaching on them, but dripping out onto her hands as tears. For the first time in years, she saw her eyes, hers. Green and gross with one of her contacts slipping, but still hers.
She didn’t wipe them. Once her tears were gone, the shadow would return, but….
She had to leave. There were no answers here. She squeezed Nadine’s hand.
“I want to go home.”
If you’re sick of back-to-back water-themed matches, check out this match between an android and a contract demon fighting water clones in the middle of off?!
(Shoutouts to the team of Atrocity Exhibition for the match concept and write up!)
Scenario: Suburb of Belgrade, Serbia — 2:16 PM
This used to be a hospital, but it clearly hadn't been used like that for some time. Orange and purple paint streaked the walls like blood, the foliage inside grew even more dense, the sickly-sweet air growing more humid by the moment. The hallways were packed with people, but Brandy Judge could hardly linger as she was rushed higher into the complex.
She was no stranger to working with other criminals, even those with weird theming—one of her teams’ collaborators commissioned himself a weaponized fursuit, after all. But this was on a whole other level—if anything, this overrun hospital brought to mind the one she infiltrated on a rescue mission in Tunisia. Thankfully, there were no no plant-overrun zombies around, just people in cultish garb, she reassured herself, before preparing herself to meet with their leader.
In the room that once was a hospital administrators’ office, lounging on a throne made of plants, metal, and wood was Frederick Loverman, or rather, what was left of him after his untimely demise in the Algerian desert. He looked far different than the last time Brandy saw him- when the two butted heads while searching for information in a Moroccan bazaar.
”Well well, it’s been some time, hasn’t it, Ms. Judge?” The former Atrocity Exhibition leader smirked, basking in the singular ray of sunshine that streamed through a hole in the roof, the only source of light in the room. Brandy couldn’t help but notice the obvious.
“Dude, what the fuck happened to you? You…you look like a houseplant.” Brandy tried to project confidence into her voice, though she couldn’t help but think about Tunisia. But had to be something else, something to do with his reported death at the hands of COLOSSI’s Sovereign.
Frederick sneered a moment, before the expression curled into a smile. The former human looked to be half nature spirit and half corpse. He tapped the arm of his throne with an arm of twisted wood as he watched his former adversary with gleaming blue-gold eyes.
“It's a bit too much to explain, but you’re here for business, not my personal life.” Frederick laughed. “I’m glad you were open to my probe. I have no lack of followers, but they still retain their human weaknesses. I am in need of Stand users to help me in my campaign. I have eventually decided that you might be able to help.”
“Everyone else turned you down, didn’t they? Not much of a surprise, you look like a real creep.” Brandy tried very hard to keep her gaze above Frederick’s thorny crown as she spoke. She did not want to stare too long at the large, maw-like wound in his abdomen. It pulsed with whatever vine-like cobalt organs kept Frederick alive.
She hadn’t seen the fight with Mx. Wah, but she had heard the rumors. Brandy found herself having to swallow a sudden jolt of anger. Sure, Frederick was an absolute son-of-a-bitch, but to do something like that to a person…It was unthinkable. Not to mention the fact it must have made him into this thing.
Frederick simply shot Brandy a sneer. ”I see you haven’t lost your attitude,” he glowered down at her, as the golden roses adorning his body ruffled angrily.
Brandy’s ward, Evelyn, stood next to her, steepling their hands as they glanced between her and Frederick. She was the one who contacted Brandy, as she was currently working on Frederick’s behalf. “Let’s just, uh, move to the deal.”
”Of course, Evelyn. Let us continue.” Frederick gave a wide grin and shuffled to clasp his hands together, gesturing towards Brandy. Evelyn shuffled uncomfortably at that. ”But regardless…You have a bone to pick with the Millennium Collection, don’t you?”
Brandy’s eyes narrowed. “Well, I- Wait…I thought they were your boss?”
Frederick seemed agitated at that, slamming his wooden hand against the arm of his chair. “Those fools control me no longer! I am my own ruler!”
“Yeah…gotcha.” Brandy shrugged. “So…you want me to beat up some guys?”
“In essence, yes. Specifically, I want you to target their financial department in Bulgaria. It’s been exceedingly weak as of late, and my team has been able to siphon both information and funding. We see it as a perfect first step in our greater fight against the Collection.”
“Sure, sure. Not the first time someone’s hired me for this, probably won’t be the last.” She thumped her fists. “Just…break shit, steal things?”
“…Sure, you could put it that way,” Frederick rolled his uncanny eyes. “Evelyn here will escort you there, and we can take care of the details on the w-”
“Wait.” She raised her voice, interrupting Frederick. As Frederick gave her another glare, she met it with a defiant look in her eyes. “I’m not doing this for free. I’m here looking for information…specifically, info on my mom.”
“Your…mother?” Frederick seemed surprised by that for a moment, before he started laughing. His laughter was mirrored and distorted sixfold phantom voices, emanating from the darkened corners of the room. “Oh, you are far from the first, Brandy Judge. Another…contractor was looking for information on a lost love, and Evelyn here…actually came to me for a similarly personal matter!”
Evelyn glanced away, and Brandy gave her a brief curious look before turning back to look at Frederick. “…Sure, whatever, but if you’ve got anything on my mom, I want it now.”
”Why, I haven’t even started looking. But I assure you, as soon as my acolytes find what you’re looking for…We’ll get it to you.” Frederick leaned forwards, combing through his hair with the wooden claws of his hand. ”But I’m curious…why come here for this information? Our last meeting was a competition, which you lost. But here you are. Why? Couldn’t you have just…put her face on some posters? Milk cartons, maybe?” he smirked.
“She’s…deep in the criminal scene here, I’m pretty sure, at least.”
”Ah, of course, of course. Maybe she too became caught in the gears of Millenium Collections’ horrific machine…” He settled back into his seat, stealing blatant glances in Evelyn’s direction that even Brandy could notice. ”I’ll tell you what. Complete this mission for me, and maybe you’ll even kill two birds with one stone!”
“Maybe, maybe.” Brandy rolled her shoulders, and gave Frederick one final glance. “But you’d better fulfill the end of your bargain”
But of course! Look at Evelyn over there, she’s one of my most faithful associates.” He gestured out towards Evelyn, who was already turned away, glancing at her phone.
“Alright, fuck up the finances, get my mom back. Easy peasy.” Brandy turned around towards Evelyn. “Let’s move.”
”Yes, let’s.” Frederick grinned, and stood up from his chain. He extended his hands out, the flowers in his body rustling as he gave them both a glowing, fanged grin. “May this be the first fallen domino in the path that will decimate the Collection.”
Brandy was already bored and uneasy, walking away with Evelyn with a shiver down her spine. The two left the room, back into the winding halls of the colorful, floral complex, she let herself vocalize her thoughts. “Jeez, he’s…somehow even creepier since last time.”
Evelyn only gave a look of understanding as the two walked silently back out the hospital.
Scenario: Provincial Istanbul, Turkey — 5:37 PM
Before the Byzantine Empire gave way to the Ottomans, it spent the millennium in a state of change. It flourished, and then deteriorated, and then flourished again. Yet, through every victory and each defeat, the empire endured. It seemed infallible, too massive to die. But by the start of the 11th century, the empire’s troubles were piling up. It lost territory after territory, bled wealth into neighboring republics, and suffered repeated attacks on its Balkan territories. The Crusades became a terrible power struggle with the West which ended in the first loss of Constantinople, and though the Byzantines barely managed to wrest it back, by then it was already too late. Its infallible status had been chipped away; the Ottoman empire was rising, and quickly swallowed the remains of the Byzantines. However, even the Ottomans were worn away by the sands of time and social upheaval. Following a series of horrific wars and subsequent defeats, the Ottomans lost their grip and became Turkey. After 1500 combined years, two of the most powerful empires in the world were no more.
However, limping on from their fall was the Millennium Collection, clinging onto power with snaking tendrils coiled around the region, one of which is its Financial District, a clotted cluster of buildings located throughout the Balkans, with the main center sitting in the heart of Bulgaria. Much like the Collection itself, the District is a labyrinth of cubicles, spreadsheets, and bank accounts, heaving with ill-gotten gains. It is large enough that someone could regain access to his account and start siphoning money without the Collection even noticing. For a little while, at least.
But “Final Judgement” Alalu, leader of the Millennium Collection, has finally caught Frederick’s scent. While she did not care to spend the resources on pulling weeds, it’s clear he means to become a nuisance.
So she has arranged an audience with the person who killed him.
While a recent raid on the Collection had dispatched many of her fellow high-ranking Stand users in the organization's upper echelons, and ousted the former Final Justice, there was a silver living. Alalu had been informed by the late Crammentazenta, assistant to one Solsbury Hill, that COLOSSI was willing to reach out. So reach out she did.
Mx. Wah had heard that the leader of the Millennium Collection lived in a big island estate, but was surprised to be invited to a cozy log cabin, deep in the woods outside of Istanbul. The door opened to reveal a middle-aged Turkish woman, eyes creased with smile lines.
Wah squinted, before flashing her a sharp-toothed smile of their own. “Have no fear…the Wah is here!”
The woman chuckled, before nodding once, inviting them inside. The moment she turned around, Wah rolled their eyes at her crucifix jewelry, before following behind. The cabin’s interior was predictably quaint, though Wah was surprised to see it covered with animal furs and taxidermy. Yeesh, they thought to themselves. At least Wah has some sense of interior decor. But this meeting was all about putting differences aside for the sake of business. At least there aren’t any…antique record players, the Sovereign shuddered.
Wah draped themselves on the nearest armchair, watching as Alalu poured them both cups of steaming tea, before she took a seat.
“It’s an honour to finally meet you, Mx. Wah,” she began.
“It’s an honour for Wah to meet you too, Judge Judy.”
She gave that one a hearty chuckle. “Please, call me Asli. I’ll be honest though, dear…I’m surprised you agreed to this, after all the trouble our organizations have caused each other.”
Wah shrugged, adding six sugar cubes to their teacup. “Please, that’s in the past, Wah’s already forgotten. There’s no point in fighting, Wah would rather not explode both gangs in a big firestorm. That’d just play into our enemies hands~” They reached forwards for their tea, before grabbing a sugar cube and popping it into their mouth instead.
Asli nodded, casually retrieving the project she was working on. It appeared to be a massive strip of leather, though its surface was tangled with dried blue vines and golden flowers. “Indeed,” she responded, continuing to clean the strange hide. “I called you here because of our common enemy. I found this snooping around my financial headquarters. It seems it wasn’t enough for Frederick to steal our Prestige…he’s been using it on people.”
“That thing was a whole guy!?” Wah shuddered, peeking through the hands covering their face. “Eeeewww ew ew, that’s so gross…”
“This was just a scout…I’m sure there’s more of them. It would be a pain to waste valuable resources dealing with this alone…so that’s why I’ve called you, Mx. Wah. You’ve dealt with Frederick before, and I know that you are a highly capable leader. I admire what you’ve done with COLOSSI, I hope to do the same with the Collection.”
Still crunching their sugar cube, Wah snorted. “Oh good luck, the Collection has always been a hot mess.” Ever since they were Byzantines.
“I am aware…I’ve been working for them a long time, almost forty years now.”
Wah had to hold back a laugh. That’s ‘a long time’? How adorable!
“Even if it’s a mess, it’s large enough to have its own gravity. If you ever try to leave, it simply…pulls you back in.” Quietly, Alalu looked at the only picture on her mantle. It was a faded image of her a couple decades ago, standing with a man and a child. Even there, she looks distracted, as if her spirit resides elsewhere. “I’m sure you know how that feels.”
Wah glanced up from the tower they were idly building out of sugar cubes, looking rather disinterested. “Hm…? Actually, the Wah is kinda here for business, if we could get back to that.”
Alalu laughed again, looking sheepish. “Yes of course, so sorry, dearie. I’ve gotten sentimental at my age. But yes…business. You’ve already fought Loverman once. I suspect he’s planning some sort of attack. If he shows up to gloat, could you be there to finish what you’ve already started? I’ll make sure it’s worth your while, we’ll start this relationship of ours by owing you a favour. You have my word.”
Wah considered this a moment, before sticking out their hand to shake.
“Hmm…alrighty! When Wah finally destroys Frederick, somehow, Wah will figure it out, then we can have our wonderful Wahlliance!” When they gave Alalu that same sharp toothed smile, she returned it with a shake of their hand, as the Collection and COLOSSI pulled themselves closer with gravity shared.
Scenario: Sofia, Bulgaria — 3:41 AM
“Aren’t you a little too young to be going after the Millennium Collection?”
Brandy kept looking out towards the streets the two were driving by, not moving her gaze even as her Evelyn spoke to her. She smirked to herself, reclining in her seat. “Yes, yes I am.”
Evelyn squirmed in the driver’s seat as she chauffeured Brandy to her destination. They knew that her girlfriend had made amends with the girl sitting passenger after the two fought some time ago, but this whole situation put them off. “So…you’re also trying to find your mum by working with Frederick?”
“Mhm.” Brandy finally glanced back. “Freddy said something about you also having some,” she air-quotes, putting on a brief haughty air, “similarly personal matter that you went to him for. What’s that all about?”
Evelyn merely took a breath. “I found out my mom died by the Collection’s hands.”
“Oh.” Brandy looked away. “Sorry to hear that.”
Evelyn focused on driving the car deep into the Bulgarian backstreets, and after a long, awkward silence, they parked in an alleyway. “Here’s where you get off.”
“…Cool, thanks for the ride.” Brandy was quick to unbuckle her belt and hop out of the car, before Evelyn finally looked over, placing a hand on the dashboard as their gray eyes peered into Brandy’s.
“Even if you manage to find your mum because of this…she might not actually be your mum. Or she could be dead. So, uh, be prepared for all of that.”
“…right.” The worry in their voice made Brandy tense up. But she had handled a lot worse, and no matter how shifty Frederick was, this Evelyn person seemed to get what she was looking for by working with him…didn’t they?
“Okay, uh, the door to the records is just down the alleyway. Good luck.” As Evelyn drove off, Brandy was struck by the fact that despite their professional air, her driver had genuinely meant concern.
No matter. There was a job to do.
Brandy found herself facing the side of an office building, similar to the structures around it, though it was painted a worn, fleshy pink. Frederick had informed her that much of the building was underground. However, what drew Brandy’s attention was not the architecture, but the small crowd gathered around it. Noticing that these were Frederick’s ‘acolytes’, she approached, only to jump back as one turned to look at her. Their eyes were glazed with gold, palled skin crawling with yellow blossoms. It was the closest look she had gotten at one of them, after being rushed through the hospital to meet Frederick.
Suddenly, memories of that horrific excursion struck her like lightning, her hands trembling as she remembered shocking one of those afflicted P-zombies to death. This wasn’t the same as the P-Virus in Tunisia, she reminded herself. It couldn’t be. Which meant…there was more than one. Brandy tried to compose herself, before the acolyte spoke.
“You are Brandy, the one that our Lord sent to command us. What are your orders?”
Brandy felt her stomach tie itself in a knot. Their Lord? Seriously? But of course, this was Frederick; she should have expected this. She wasn’t sure why this was just now upsetting her. But the memories of that rescue mission kept tangling through her mind. The realization that she was dealing with another plant-infested, god-complex maniac, and that she was helping him? It was almost too much to handle.
The acolyte was still looking at her, waiting for orders. Brandy squeezed her eyes shut, fighting the wave of nausea and bitter rage.
She didn’t want to look at it anymore. She didn’t want to remember.
“Just…go on ahead. Fuck them up. I don’t care. Just get- get away from me.”
The sound of footsteps surrounded Brandy, before vanishing into the building. When all was silent, Brandy took a deep breath, opening her eyes. To stop her hands from trembling, she held them. Maybe, maybe when she found her mother, she could hold her hand instead.
“Just get through this, Brandy. Just let them handle themselves, steal as much cash as you can carry, and figure out where she is. You can do this. You can do this.”
With one more breath, Brandy steeled herself and entered the Financial building. The place was mostly silent as she circled the stairwell into the lower levels, taking her time within the isolated. She could hear distant gunshots throughout the building, and tried to ignore them. Maybe if she spiraled down this staircase for long enough, it would already be over.
That was when a new sound tore through the building—the horrible, distorted cry of a wolf. As Brandy frantically looked around, she could see the ghastly pattern of faces in the brickwork. Whatever this was, it probably meant shit was going sideways. As little as Brandy wanted to deal with this, she knew that if she blew this mission she lost her chance at information. She had to at least check.
When Brandy finally burst through the nearest door to find out what was happening, she walked right into a group of acolytes, staring down at one of their fellow followers, whose leg was currently caught in a strange sort of bear trap.
As Brandy tried to swallow her fear, tried to figure out what the hell to do, gunshots echoed through the ceiling above her, before they suddenly went silent. Brandy could feel it, someone was approaching. As 「Concrete Schoolyard」 gleamed within her ring, she braced herself for the appearance of some horrific, sadistic crime boss. But the door opened to reveal a middle-aged Turkish woman, her eyes creased with smile lines. Brandy blinked, staring her down with wary confusion.
“Oh, you must be Brandy! How nice to meet you, dear,” the woman greeted warmly. “I’ve heard about your exploits, it’s always nice to see a capable young woman making a name for herself in the Mediterranean. I only wish I could offer you some tea, but…”
Brandy unlaced her fingers and raised her hands defensively. “Ah- what? No, I- you’re definitely with them. You have to be. Who the hell are you!?”
Taking those words as a sign to attack, the acolytes started forwards, guns drawn. Before Brandy could stop them or join them, the woman simply smiled.
“Howl, 「Wolf Murder」.”
The moment the guns fired, the air around her twisted with deep red light. The air filled with the sound of metal striking metal, and then it was over.
Towering above the woman was a massive, hulking form. Its powerful body was completely flayed, revealing red, raw musculature wrapped in layers of thick pelts. Blood dripped over its face from beneath the wolf’s head that it wore atop its own. Between the taxidermy and its own visage, three glassy wolf eyes glared the acolytes down with black and golden rage.
“Let me deal with these weeds first, dearie.” Her smile was warm as blood.
「We Will Commit Wolf Murder」 bared its fangs as the acolytes charged towards the threat. Snarling, it unfurled a massive skinning knife from its back, a blade nearly as long as Brandy herself. With a single, arcing slice, every acolyte was cleanly sliced in two. Their flayed bodies were flung about the room with the force of the blow, blue flesh squirming with yellow blossoms, which began to writhe and die without the life energy of their hosts. The leathery pelts that peeled from their bodies rained everywhere, joined by pelts stripped from the walls, the floor, everything, all of them twisting into yet more grinning jaw traps. Brandy watched with horror and nausea and anger. Why did everyone take lives so fucking lightly!?
“My name is Alalu, Final Judgement of the Millennium Collection,” Alalu said simply, without gravitas. Even the ceiling in front of her was torn open by the arc of the blade. “I promise, I mean you no harm, dear. I’m simply trying to protect my pack.”
Brandy, unable to summon the words that would express her utter exhaustion, instead turned to the acolyte caught in the trap. Kneeling, she used 「Concrete Schoolyard」 to change the trap into a gelatinous substance that she could pry apart. The acolyte stared at her, shaking, unsure of what to do.
“Just- just hide in the stairwell! I’ll handle it!”
Brandy watched them weakly pull themselves towards the door, before she noticed those same twisting faces in the tile below. Running on reflex, she terraformed the floor upwards to shield them…just as a desktop computer SMASHED into the surface, aimed right at their head.
Her gaze snapped up, only to watch a figure descend from above. They leapt with startling grace, their pale hair drifting around them as they gazed down with eyes as dark as the abyss, and sharp fangs gleaming with hunger.
The killing intent that radiated off of them was ancient and absolute.
Then they took a better look at Brandy…and a switch flipped.
“Awawa? Ooops! You’re not Freddy…Wah’s mistake!” They smiled sheepishly, poking their cheek with a finger. Brandy sucked in a breath as she realized who she was dealing with…before her body shook with a rage redoubled.
“Me!” Wah landed with a little twirl, before looking to Alalu. “Business homie…is this little scamp bothering you?”
“Are you fucking kidding- you two are working together?”
Alalu nodded, before looking at Wah.
“I’m glad you could join us, Mx. Wah. Miss Brandy seems to have fallen in with some unfortunate company,” she sighed, before looking back to the young woman in question. “We have come to an agreement. Both the Collection and COLOSSI fill important roles in the social ecosystem. We have a duty to fight…invasive species.”
Alalu looked between the two for a moment, before smiling. “But this gives us an opportunity…you’re both Stand users, and it is the nature of Stand users to seek each other out, and prove which one is stronger. I’m quite curious about the answer to that question…so I’ll tell you what. Whoever wins, I’ll compensate you. We’ve got a bit of money stored away…I’ll even take you out for tea,” she beamed.
Then, before Wah or Brandy could agree or disagree, Alalu’s legs took on the flayed appearance of her Stand, and she leapt through the ceiling and out of sight.
That left Brandy Judge and Mx. Wah, standing amidst the corpses and their pelts.
“Sure thing, homie!” Wah called after Alalu, before turning back to Brandy and raising a brow. What a shame they wouldn’t be facing Frederick himself. It was just like him to send someone else. Still…Wah knew well that they were stronger than a little whelp like this. This was an arrangement they made as the leader of COLOSSI, and they were not about to be schooled by some petulant kid up past her bedtime.
If Brandy and her little smugglers’ ring really wanted to play with the big dogs, Wah’d bite. They weren’t worried, this was just another little rebel to quash on their way to the top. It would be fun! With a sharp-toothed smile, the Sovereign gestured Brandy forwards with a curl of their fingers.
Brandy stared at them a moment, shaking as that other plant-infected basement seeped into the corners of her vision. But her mind and body focused itself with the click of the stairwell door behind her. Everywhere she looked, there was a new megalomaniac trying to play god. The Mediterranean itself felt diseased. But here and now, she could fight back. She could prevent the meaningless slaughter, she could make up for what she did.
Then, one day, she’ll be safe with her mother, somewhere far away in a place she bought with the money she stole from this big, stupid empire. She’ll hold her mother’s hand, give her a smile, and tell her about the time she beat up a crime boss.
As Wah and Brandy started forwards, they finally, wordlessly agreed.
This is the next step towards their ambitions. As Stand users, they must fight.
It’s in their nature.
OPEN THE GAME! (Shoutouts to u/AusterCab for the match art!)
Location: In the financial department of the Millennium Collective, the area here is 30 by 40 meters with each tile being 2 by 2 meters. The ceiling of this area is 4 meters tall. Brandy and Wah start on opposite sides of the map as represented by their character tokens.
The light purple tiles represent the hallways between rooms, and the doors between hallways and office space are represented by Purple Rectangles. The Red tiles areas are meeting rooms, the Yellow tile areas are cubicle spaces, the Green tile areas are break rooms, and the White tile areas are supply closets. The rooms contain everything you’d expect to find in an office space.
The “X” eyed faces are the bodies of dead acolytes and the 6-pointed shapes are 「Wolf Murder」 Pelts jaw traps.
Wah starts next to a watercooler, a dolly and a vending machine.
Goal: RETIRE your opponent!
Additional Information: 「Wolf Murder」 has the ability to skin the surface of objects and turn these skins into ‘Pelts’, which can then be shaped for their own uses. Though the user has a much higher proficiency working with them, others can shape unshaped Pelts by hand and get them to hold form or stick to other objects.
The 「Wolf Murder」 Pelts on this map are shaped into working jaw traps and will snap shut in response to pressure. If broken, they will revert to torn pieces of unshaped Pelts, with damage corresponding to how the shaped version is destroyed.
With unshaped Pelts, players can shape them to wrap around objects, or shape them into functional simple traps such as snares and jaw traps. More complex shapes take longer to make.
Pelts are B Durability with the rough consistency ranging between that of a thick fur pelt and antique steel, or a strange hybrid of both depending on how they are shaped, or more specifically how the person shaping it generally wants them to be shaped.
Both characters’ Stands can treat Pelts like any other object.
Team Combatant JoJolity
COLOSSI Mx. Wah “I'd like to make a deal here. Please try not to see things from only one perspective.” You’re here to cement a deal between COLOSSI and the Millennium Collection, and this kid won’t stop you. Embody Authority!
Anvil Procession Brandy Judge “Stop talking to me! I'm going to end everything here and now!” You’ve had enough of all this bullshit, but you have to steel yourself and see your goals through. Embody Rebellion!
Link to Official Player Spreadsheet
Link to Match Schedule
As always, if you would like to interact with the tournament community and be among the first to get updates for the tournament, please feel free to PM a member of our Judge staff for an invite to our Official Discord Server!
A few weeks ago…
Another member of the all-but defunct Atrocity Exhibition landed at the foot of the island of the great, dreaded Cyclops, an island filled with traps, mostly made out of rope, designed to snare both beast and man. Dirty Ghost easily evaded these rope traps with its own mastery of the material.
There was abundant wildlife: goats and bees, making honey and cheese enough to sustain it another week, perhaps even the whole remainder of its journey home. Still, it reasoned there must be some owner of these traps and of these animals, and once the Cyclops rears its head from its cave, the Ghost hatched a ploy.
Very good, mastermind of war, came the voice of Izuru. The monster’s Perception is his weakness, trick him like Odysseus before you, and your own Skill should prove superior.
As Odysseus played the part of ‘nobody,’ the Ghost played ‘somebody,’ pleading for its life as the Cyclops, hard of sight and unknowing of what a human truly is, grasped it in its palm.
A precarious situation for any man, in the palm of a giant, but this was no man- this was Dirty Ghost. With its own ropes, and those stolen from its would-be captor, Dirty Ghost escaped the Cyclops’ grasp to rappel up the giant’s shoulder, shedding its mask and showcasing its true self- the true ‘Nobody’ it should fear.
Something to know, came the voice of the late Dr. Lister, you can reach the brain easily from the eyes.
Suffice to say, it did. As for the monster’s animals…the stoic Ghost was alone no longer. If it is made to feel like a hunting beast, or a trapped animal…perhaps it could seek some comfort in the other creatures. Still, its loneliness did not abate. Out there on the ocean, it has not yet found the place where it belongs.
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2023.03.24 00:05 PenseesFleuries Ma copine est partie pour que des bonnes raisons, mais j'ai grandi entre temps et souhaite qu'elle puisse le comprendre

Bonjour à la communauté. Je suis désolé si c'est long et très brouillon.
Cela fait un mois que ma petite amie, avec un bel an et demi au compteur (que j'ai vu passer extrêmement vite), a décidé de rompre par téléphone. Je tombais malade (une bricole) et en train de gérer un déménagement compliqué, et j'ai énormément de choses à gérer dans ma vie (je suis constamment épuisé et la tête ailleurs), donc j'ai juste baissé les bras, acquiescé à ses raisons à la va-vite, et décidé de la laisser tranquille un mois pour ensuite aller lui reparler (au risque que ses sentiments soient partis). Depuis j'ai horriblement mal et ne pensais pas pouvoir souffrir autant, mais ça m'a fait réfléchir.
Elle tombe amoureuse tous les cinq ans. Je suis son plus grand coup de foudre. Je suis le seul ex avec qui elle souhaite garder le contact.
On s'est énormément aimé. On a fait des choses incroyables. Notre connexion était magique. Elle m'a fait rêver. Je l'ai couverte de petites attentions. Nos souvenirs sont chérissables au possible. À l'opposé, j'ai eu une mutation imprévue, qui m'a contraint à vivre entre ma première ville, ma nouvelle ville, et sa ville à elle pendant un an. J'ai tâché de conserver mon appart (blindé de collections) et mes connaissances (très nombreuses) dans cette première ville. Je me suis beaucoup donné au travail dans la deuxième. Et j'ai reçu plusieurs fois ma mère qui est assez envahissante. En bref, ma petite amie n'a pas réussi à trouver sa place dans ce "système", comme elle l'appelle.
De ce qui est ressorti de mon introspection, et des échos que j'ai eu de nos proches communs (outre le fait qu'elle semble vachement décidée et semble vivre sa meilleure vie... en apparence en tout cas), j'ai identifié neuf pêchés capitaux dont beaucoup sont inter-dépendants (avec un seul j'étais déjà mort). Il paraît que je n'ai à ses yeux pas été toxique, et elle m'a dit que je n'avais rien à me reprocher. Je pense si elle dit vrai que j'ai été toxique au moins pour moi, et qu'on peut me reprocher tout ça :
Ouais elle a été courageuse hein. Vous devez tous vous dire qu'elle a carrément eu raison. Moi aussi en fait, même si j'ai aussi des qualités (mais elles ne servent à rien ici. Bref, avec tout ça, elle m'a dit qu'elle ne voulait pas me changer, et que ce n'était pas ce qu'on devait attendre de quelqu'un. J'ai fait de la merde, mais un mois de plus et j'avais déménagé, et beaucoup de ces problèmes disparaissaient, et me laissaient me concentrer sur ma bien-aimée et sur mes autres problèmes plus compliqués à résoudre. Mais évidemment que la pauvre n'allait pas endurer ça pendant un mois de plus. Il y a vraiment eu un déclic d'un seul coup car elle a changé en une soirée et son comportement et ses lettres étaient hyper tendres et confiants juste avant.
Cela a été un électrochoc quand elle est partie. Même si on ne croirait pas, j'avais commencé à travailler plus ou moins vite sur certains trucs et j'avais à coeur de contrebalancer la situation (80% des déplacements étaient de moi pour aller chez elle pour lui épargner la route et j'ai passé des journées entières cumulées dans le train, je me suis mis à me coucher super tôt comme elle pour pouvoir passer du temps avec elle, on cuisinait des trucs de légumes quand on était à deux, une semaine de télétravail chez elle par mois, désengagement de certaines activités ou groupes, enfin lancé le déménagement dans la nouvelle ville, choisi un appartement pour nous deux où se projeter...). Je précise qu'on était en couple ouvert et que je n'ai jamais cherché à en profiter par manque de temps et d'envie (à la base c'était pour moi car ça l'intéressait et finalement je m'amusais à lui trouver une partenaire et elle était intéressée). Et j'ai réfléchi après son départ. Beaucoup. Et voilà que maintenant, je n'ai pas "changé". J'ai grandi. Et putain ça fait du bien. En un mois j'ai fait des années d'avancées.
Je me suis distancié du travail et mis des barrières. J'ai accepté mes émotions, de pleurer, et que je n'étais pas un robot. J'ai arrêté de dire de manquer du temps et pris des rendez-vous que je repoussais sans cesse. J'ai contacté une psy. J'ai décidé de me séparer de plusieurs collections. Je me suis mis à ne plus garder des trucs inutiles. Avoir pris conscience de mon rôle de pas doué m'a fait sauter tous mes aprioris et maintenant je veux tout tester. Je me suis mis au vélo et je l'utilise pour aller au travail; et je vais reprendre la conduite (j'ai le permis mais je conduis mal/peur). Du jour au lendemain je me suis mis à manger des légumes alors qu'hier ça me faisait presque vomir. Maintenant que j'ai déménagé et veux me délester et récupère de la marge en mobilité, ça me va de la suivre pour son boulot. Vivre avec elle me faisait peur (toujours à cause de cette accumulation débile) et maintenant je me sens libre de le faire. J'ai plein de projets de vacances et de sorties. En bref j'ai l'impression que je m'étais mis des tonnes de barrières qui n'avaient pour beaucoup aucun fondement, et que je me concentrais sur des conneries au lieu de sur notre couple. Et que tout ça... m'a fait tout perdre.
En bref subitement je suis beaucoup plus ce qu'elle aurait voulu. Mais pas pour elle. Pour moi. Je serai et resterai et continuerai ainsi même si elle ne veut plus de moi. Et je me dis que si je suis maintenant beaucoup plus sain, pourquoi elle n'en profiterait pas? Je sais bien que ça fait très arrangé et comme par hasard, mais c'est la vérité.
Je la soupçonne de pas être entièrement sûre d'elle, mais de le cacher à ses proches. D'avoir juste voulu se protéger (c'est bien normal) et de maintenant vouloir à tout prix maintenir sa décision (elle l'a annoncée à tout le monde très vite et je doute qu'elle ait envie de se dédire), même si c'est se priver d'un tas de futurs bons moments et de nouvelles découvertes. Si elle a peur de me refaire confiance par peur que mes travers reviennent, je le comprends et l'accepte. Si elle ne veut pas revenir car elle ne veut pas me changer... pourquoi elle devrait décider à ma place? Quel mal j'aurais à être devenu beaucoup plus sain?
J'ai oublié des trucs mais c'est déjà bien long. Je dois passer pour un gros connard mais je vous assure qu'on avait vraiment une belle relation et que si j'ai tout foutu en l'air, ce n'est quasiment jamais ressorti à part vers la fin quand elle a commencé à me soulever deux ou trois de ces quarante points. Tout ça a été une accumulation de broutilles qui isolément n'auraient pas menacé notre couple. Elle a été ultra-patiente et supportive mais je comprends que ça l'ait bouffée. Je sais que maintenant ça irait mieux car je suis libéré de mes maux et suis en grosse marche avant pour règler les problèmes résiduels. On se voit dans deux jours pour enfin en parler en face, moi pour l'écouter, reconnaître mes torts, avancer ce qui nous reste et mes axes d'évolution... elle peut-être pour confirmer que c'est mort de chez mort mais j'ai espoir. On pourrait s'orienter vers une amitié. Et je ne pense pas qu'elle changerait d'avis dans le futur si le non est confirmé ce jour-là.
TLJPL - Ma copine m'aimait énormément. J'aimais énormément ma copine mais n'ait pas su lui donner la place qu'elle méritait au milieu de l'énorme tas de trucs que je supportais au quotidien. Elle est partie il y a un mois car ne voulait pas changer tout ce qui n'allait pas chez moi (pas par manque de courage mais parce qu'elle ne trouve pas ça bien de me changer). Je l'ai fait tout seul, pour moi, et espère qu'elle pourrait revenir sur sa décision. Je dois bientôt lui parler en vrai (enfin).
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2023.03.23 23:55 LiseEclaire [Leveling up the World] - Academy Arc - Chapter 718

Out there - Patreon (for all those curious or wanting to support :))
At the Beginning
Adventure Arc - Arc 2
Wilderness Arc - Arc 3
Academy Arc - Arc 4
[Previously on Leveling up the World…]([Leveling up the World] - Academy Arc - Chapter 717)
Book 2 (start of the Adventure/City Arc) available on the 29th!
Purple symbols appeared on the walls and ceiling. All that was missing was the sound of sirens to make it clear that the building was under attack. Given how calmly the apprentices within had reacted to the destruction outside, Dallion thought they wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. He was wrong.
Panic filled the corridors within seconds of the symbols lighting up. Mages and apprentices alike flooded the corridors, running and flying from one place to the next without a particular plan. Emotions of fear filled the space like soup.
Has this happened before? Dallion asked out of habit.
Only moments later did he realize there was no one to answer him. Looking at the chaos, though, it was safe to assume this was the first time.
“Hurry up!” He grabbed Phoil by the collar, pulling him through the crowd.
The large boy was doing his best to follow, though in reality he was as helpful as a waterskin tied to a horse’s tail. It was through a combination of quick reactions and frequent combat splitting that Dallion managed to pull the two of them through the flow of people on their way to the mage’s building.
Normally, he could be certain that Enroy would be there, but right now Dallion gave himself a fifty-fifty chance at best.
Without a doubt, it was rather convenient that the “alarm” had been triggered just now. Whoever was keeping an eye on him wasn’t slacking.
Reaching Enroy’s building, Dallion stopped at the doorway, pulling Phoil next to him.
“What will happen?” he turned to the larger boy.
“Huh? How Should I—”
“Not you,” Dallion hissed.
“The building has been fully sealed,” Phoil replied, though in a more authoritative voice. “No one can go in or out. Only the Archmage and a few others can remove the protection seal.”
The negative sides were obvious, but there was a positive one as well. At least now Dallion didn’t have to worry about shardflies or enemy reinforcements. Sadly, it also meant there was no way to warn anyone on the outside.
“The young master is safely outside. Doesn’t look like you’ll be joining him.”
A bit of good news, at least.
“Can Enroy break the seal?”
There was a moment of confusion. Phoin scratched his chin, then his ear.
“He’s the highest-ranking mage in the Learning Hall. He shouldn’t be able to do such a thing, but knowing him, he might know a way out.”
“So, all we have to hope for is that he’s here.”
Dallion took a step towards the door. The air did not let him, solidifying like an invisible wall. Apparently, the alarm had triggered additional defenses around certain buildings. Either that or the mage had put them in place himself. If Dallion had his harpsisword, he could easily slice through the barrier. Sadly, the weapon wasn’t with him. On second thought, maybe it was better this way. Using spark attacks would bring too much attention.
Splitting into five instances, Dallion drew his Nox dagger and struck the air barrier. The blade slid through without resistance, as if it were slicing silk. With one brisk action, Dallion slid the weapon down, then—taking a few moments to look around—took a step forward. The invisible barrier was no longer there.
“Phoil,” Dallion whispered as he opened the door.
The entrance hall was a lot different from what he remembered it. The place appeared barren, almost completely deprived of magic. One might think that the mage had abandoned it months ago.
Illusion, Ruby said.
Dallion nodded. With his perception level, he could see the small indecencies in the corners. Whatever the spell was, it had been cast hastily, probably at the very last minute.
“We’ve come for your help, mage Enroy,” Dallion said. “I know what’s going on.”
Nothing happened.
“Are you sure he’s not here?” Phoil asked in his normal voice. “Maybe he was called to—”
“He’s here.” Dallion replied. Thanks to his layer vision, he could see the shimmering beneath the illusion. “I know the Academy is under attack,” he said. “And the person behind it.”
The shimmering changed location. A ripple went through the entire scene, replacing the current decrepit state of the room to the glorious foyer it was supposed to be. Ten steps away, at the top of the staircase, stood Enroy. He dressed in a rather elaborate blue robe with blue designs. Despite that, Dallion could sense the fear emanating from him.
“I tried to find Katka, but she wasn’t in her room.” Dallion took a step forward, but the moment he did, the mage pointed at him with his left index finger.
“Stop!” he said sharply. “What do you think you know?”
“Someone’s using shadflies to destroy the Learning Hall, maybe even other parts of the Academy. In the meantime, someone inside is covering things up.” Dallion paused. Was it the right thing to throw Adzorg under the bus? There was no actual proof that he was the one that had engineered everything, just suspicions and circumstantial evidence. “I think the person behind it is Adzorg of Nerosal.”
“Adzorg?” A mixture of surprise and relief emanated from the man. “You’re sure?”
“No, but there’s enough evidence to make me believe so. I have an echo of his inside my realm.”
The mage’s fingers danced through the air, drawing dozens of runes at a time.
“I have a blocking ring!” Dallion raised his hand. For all the power that the mage had projected not too long ago, he didn’t expect him to be so pathetic. “It’s okay. No one can hear us.”
“Of course it would be him. He’s come to get me for what I did to him!”
Dallion couldn’t say he was surprised. He still remembered the disapproval Nil had shown back when Alien had appeared in Nerosal. At the time, Dallion believed it to be nothing more than the echo’s general disdain of people who saw themselves as superior. Now, there was little doubt that the two had had issues before. What did Enroy have to do with things, though?
“I think it’s a bit larger than personal vendetta, sir…”
“Oh, it’s not just me. He’ll have the entire Academy burn. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s taken the chance to destroy the empire itself!” The mage lowered his hand. “He wouldn’t dare when things were calm, but that idiot Gassil made things easy for him.”
Normally, this was the point at which Dallion expected to hear a solution to the current problem. Solutions, though, were something that came from leaders. It was becoming more and more clear that Enroy was nothing but a manager, a middle manager.
“Is there a way we could leave the building?” Dallion asked after a few seconds. “You must have the authority.”
It was risky so openly using his music skills to instill a bit of calm and courage into the mage. The man’s paranoia risked him mistaking that as an attack. Thankfully, he was too busy being terrified what Adzorg’s plot might be to notice.
“There’s a way.” He hesitated.
“Show us. If we get out, we can warn the Archmage, the emperor, and everyone else. They’ll believe the children of nobles,” he added. “All you have to do is make sure we get out somehow.”
Presenting Phoil as their best hope was far from ideal. Sadly, in this instance, it wasn’t the boy to blame. Dallion would have much preferred to find a cocky and arrogant mage capable of dealing with the storm of shardflies outside.
“Follow me,” Enroy said, heading to the private area of the building.
Dallion and Phoil quickly followed.
Statuettes and items filled Enroy’s inner sanctum. For a moment, it almost seemed as if this was a teenager’s action figure collection. Only those with the magic trait were able to see the power that was held within the room. Every item had far more magic that it was supposed to, often covered with patterns and symbols Dallion had never seen. Part of them he recognized—restraints.
“I’ve got a key to pass through the seal, but it only works once.” The mage took a jade statue of a frog with a purple gem on top. “I’ll need some of your magic for it to work on all of us.”
“My magic?” Dallion instinctively took a step back.
“Either that or your Moonstone. Don’t worry, you won’t lose it. When Adzorg set up the seals, he made them block anything with magic that tried to go outside. Yet even back then, he was thinking about himself. Any item with divine magic could easily pass when carried. I’ll petrify you two, then trick the seal using your magic.”
A solid plan, without a doubt. It did raise one question, though.
“I didn’t know that Adzorg put on the seals.”
“He was the bloody Archmage, why wouldn’t he?”
Adzorg was the Archmage?! Back when Dallion had seen Gassil’s memory fragment, he had entertained the idea that Adzorg might have held such a position. The notion was quickly discarded, though. There was no way people could keep such a secret, or so he believed. Suddenly, so many things became clear. No doubt Hannah knew the truth. Dallion thought she held the old man in high regard because he was a guild captain. In fact, she knew precisely who he was.
How many secrets do you have, Hannah? Dallion wondered. There was no way to be certain.
Putting the frog statue in the pocket of his robe, Enroy started casting a ten-circle spell. Dallion went up to him, focusing on extending some magic out of his fingers. Just then, the impossible happened.
Phoil, who had been left to his own devices, rushed forward at a speed far greater than Dallion had seen him capable of. Before anyone could react, the tip of a blade emerged from the palm of his hand, thrusting forward.
In Dallion’s head, time froze. His body and reaction traits weren’t in condition to help him do anything. His high perception had allowed him to see the thing he had missed before. Among the rings on the child’s fingers was one he had seen before, one he was supposed to be quite familiar with.
Vermillion’s tears, Dallion thought. The item made it possible to create a portal between realms. In some instances, it even allowed items to be hidden within someone’s personal realm. The items in question had to conform to certain requirements, but a sword made of silver glass did just that. Watching it pierce Enroy’s chest, Dallion remembered the conversation he had had with Nil not too long ago. The old echo had told him that such a sword was no better at killing mages than anything else. That was very much true. However, it was infinitely easier to conceal.
The mage’s face twisted in shock and disappointment as he was pierced. There were rectangles, no warnings, just one quick strike putting an end to his life.
Dallion burst into instances. Half of them attempted to move away from the boy as quickly as possible, while the rest waved the Nox dagger in his direction. Unfortunately, Phoil was already one step ahead. A large crystal sphere had somehow found itself in his left hand, and was not on a trajectory towards Dallion.
Before the tip of the dagger could reach his target, the crystal ball came into contact with one of Dallion’s instances.


All but one of Dallion’s instances vanished as he found himself in a small, windowless room. There was no furniture, decorations, or light sources other than a glowing blue rectangle.

You are in the SPHERE prison realm.
Escape the realm to reclaim your destiny.

Other than Dallion, there was one other person in the room. Or, more specifically, there was an echo of a person.
For a long moment echo and person looked at each other without saying a word. Finally, the echo spoke.
“Well, this is a bit awkward, dear boy…”
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story, consider joining my patreon or check out my other stories on redditserials:
The Scuu Paradox (a Space Opera Sci Fi)
The Cassandrian Theory (a Space Opera Sci Fi)
The Impeccable Adventure of the Reluctant Dungeon (Dungeon Core Adventure Comedy)
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2023.03.23 23:55 Jacob_Cicero A Blessed Death Chapter 5

First Previous
Greetings from Felix to his friend Thoth,
My thoughts have been lingering on that day. You know the one. In a single day, a hundred cities lost to the Var'shun. My actions still haunt me. I was young then, you understand. This was before I met the Architect, it was before He freed me. I know you've heard it all before, but I wish I had stopped it. I wish that I had been old enough for the Pale Court to bring me into their confidence. I know I've told you this a thousand times, but I was just another drone! I barely even had a mind, let alone the ability to comprehend what we were doing. You once told me that the onset of the Faceless Men was worse. I still remember our conversation the last time I came to visit you. It's hard for me to envision it, though. To think of a time when villages and cities did not have walls, when travelers went about in their ones and twos - it seems quite impossible to me. It is difficult for me to imagine the acres of defiled corpses the Faceless Men left in their wake. I can barely comprehend the first time I witnessed their handiwork, small though the scale was. I've only witnessed the one Apocalypse to your many. You may grow weary of my apologies, but the guilt I feel for my hand in it will always haunt me. I hope He truly forgave me. It's hard to believe He did. Nobody should forgive me. I don't deserve it. Farewell.
Crows shrieked. Vultures circled overhead. A setting sun bled harsh, red light into the sky. Parched grassland stretched for hundreds of miles, broken only by the occasional copse of trees. An unseasonal heat afflicted the plains.
Titus and Lavonius travelled the Governor's Road, pack llama in tow. Titus wore a thin red cloak, the symbol of the Black Throne emblazoned upon his shoulder. His head was uncovered, and he walked tall. His heavy boots crunched along the dirt road, every step loud enough to be heard for twenty paces. He liked being loud. The strong don't need to be quiet. They need only be strong.
Titus's eyes lingered on his odd companion, who had insisted on wrapping himself in a full head-scarf (or, as Lavonius called it, a shemagh). Lavonius marched silently forward, his light feet not even disturbing the dust.
Long, flowing travel robes billowed about the bard's legs as he marched along. So all-encompassing was his garb that not a single inch of skin showed.
Lavonius insisted that he was the target of a dragon called Shadow-Claw, whose treasure-horde he had robbed several years past. As such, he tied his shamagh tighter than a miser's coinpurse and cast his eyes upon the road lest the dragon fly overhead and recognize him.
Titus almost believed him.
The boy was firmly convinced that Lavonius had been the son of a King's ranger stationed in the Fasach Desert. It really was the only explanation for so many of his odd behaviors. He never left tracks. What kind of man never left tracks?
But then, how had the loremaster become a loremaster? Where had he found a Royal Library to delve into if he had grown up on the frontier?
At times, Lavonius spoke like an old man, and would even change accents mid-sentence. One moment, Lavonius would maintain his stiff upper-lip nobleman's accent, as though he'd been born in a governor's palace. The next moment, the bard would pronounce his words with such a bizarre cadence and intonation that Titus suspected he wasn't even born in the Westlands.
And if Lavonius had had time to delve into libraries while also studying to move like a ranger, then how had he learned to tell stories such as he did? There is only so much time in the day, after all.
Even had the bard been the most baby-faced man imaginable, he couldn't have been older than thirty-five. He looked to be Titus's age, but nobody in their early twenties said things like 'my boy.'
Perhaps he was a prodigy. Perhaps he had studied in the King's Library as a child only for his father to drag him into the wilds as a teen, then he was apprenticed to a bard as a young man.
But that couldn't work, because how had Lavonius learned to leap and dive like an acrobat? The bard was a puzzle that Titus was dead-set on solving. It should have been obvious to him, my good librarian, just who the loremaster was. Titus knew the stories, after all. The Custos were lovers of the epics. But you know as well as I, my friend, the bamboozling effect a man such as he can have on an unprotected mind such as Titus's.
Pulkra gurgled discontentedly. The llama's fleece was damp with sweat. Her head drooped. She was entirely unused to the heat, mild though the locals had found it.
Titus patted her neck. His eyes spoke of worry. He looked over at the bard's hooded form,” you're sure there's water up ahead?”
Lavonius's head remained bent,” aye, the pond oughtn't be more than two more miles.

“You said that two miles ago.”
Lavonius's finger shot up, pointing to a thick stand of trees that obscured a bend in the road, perhaps a mile away. His eyes remained glued to the road. “That grove contains the only wild olive trees to be found for a hundred miles. The pond is there. I stand corrected.”
Titus sniffed. He had never met anyone quite so odd. They kept walking.
The boy's eyes lingered on the grove. A single massive tree stood taller than the rest, its leafy canopy seeming to spread over the treetops like a protective mother. Even from afar, its trunk looked to be as thick as a castle tower. Its branches stretched impossibly wide, its canopy easily as large as a dozen lesser trees combined. Titus had never seen its like before.
A hot breeze tickled Titus's face, carrying the scent of rotting flesh. He wrinkled his nose. “Tell me you smell that, too.”
“Course I do.”
“Any idea what it could be?”
“Well, that's specific.”
By Calestros, he hadn't been able to get Lavonius to shut up for days at a time. If he'd known that all it would take was a bit of heat and walking to get the bard to turn quiet, Titus would have insisted they leave the day before.
They approached the grove. Many hundreds of beech and olive trees formed a miniature forest beneath the gargantuan sentinel that spread its branches above them.
They were the only trees to be found for nearly fifteen miles of walking. Since leaving the village behind, there had been nothing but grass, dust, and the occasional ground-squirrel.
The pair rounded the bend. The smell of death grew stronger. The reason was quickly made obvious.
Broken ox-drawn carts sat uselessly in the middle of the road, wheels torn away from their axles. Several dead oxen lay rotting on the ground. Chests and sacks were torn to pieces, their contents strewn across the road. Titus's eyes, however, were drawn to a bizarre sight - from afar, there looked to be dozens of pieces of furniture neatly arrayed on the side of the road.
They walked closer. The furniture gained clarity. It seemed to be covered in grisly decorations. Bits of bone stuck out of chair legs, skinless faces with lips stretched wide adorned the foot-stools, and intestines seemed to be stitched into the cushions of couches.
The scent of rotting flesh assaulted the nose. Flies buzzed about the place, and crows hopped between the pieces of furniture.
“Brace yourself, my boy.”
Titus wondered what precisely he ought to be bracing himself for when it struck him. They weren't decorations. It wasn't furniture. They were people.
He slowly approached the grotesquely arranged furniture. Every step brought him closer to vomiting.
The duo first approached what looked to be a man sitting on a narrow tree stump. With each passing moment, however, the truth became clearer. Spikes had been driven through each of his thighs, holding his knees bent to a perfect right angle. The man's torso had also been impaled on a long spike, its pointed tip peaking out of his grotesquely wide mouth. Planks of wood were nailed to his rotting arms, pinning them in place as arm-rests.
Titus stopped three feet away from the grotesque chair. His eyes watered at the smell. The poor man's face had been meticulously sliced away from his head, leaving the tendons and muscles exposed to the air. It looked like a drawing in a doctor's notes.
Bile rose. The young man choked it down. Flies buzzed all around.
The youth tore his eyes away from the chair that had been a man. His gaze fell on what looked to be a couch. Three people were impaled on spikes, just as the man had been. Two more people lay facedown across their laps, nailed in place. The two facedown corpses had their knees shattered and legs bent upward into armrests. Spikes and stakes had been driven through various limbs and joints. Bones had been broken to bend limbs in ways they were never meant to bend. Intestines had been torn from torsos and wrapped around bodies in odd patterns. Through it all, the skinless grinning faces of the dead.
Acid burned Titus's throat. It was a purely physical reaction. He tried to hold it back. He failed.
Chunky bile clawed its way from Titus's throat. He fell to his knees and retched on the grass. It felt like everything he had ever eaten came pouring out of his mouth. Soon, the day's food had all left his body. The stomach acid kept coming, though. Tears leaked from his eyes. Vomit dribbled from his nostrils. He screwed his eyes shut.
He retching slowed down. It came in spurts now, a bit here, then a bit there. Every time the boy thought was done vomiting, more acid scorched his throat. After several minutes, it finally ended. The young man shivered. His throat burned. His eyes stung. His nose was on fire.
With a force of will, Titus stood back up and wiped his mouth. He couldn't pull his eyes from the horrors in front of him.
He saw children fashioned into stools. Men and women stitched into tables, blood still leaking from the spikes driven through their flesh to hold them in place. Groups of people had been fashioned into long benches, their bones broken, their limbs contorted in ways they were never meant to bend.
Worst of all, every single corpse had had the skin sliced cleanly from the face, leaving not a single damaged artery beneath. There had to have been a dozen and a half bodies here. Titus could not comprehend the cruelty of it.
The Guardian had seen men eaten alive while he watched. He had charged into battle, and seen his brother cut down by Faceless Men before he could be saved. The young man had slain monsters, both alone and in good company. He had walked through the ashes of his home, and looked at the severed heads of his friends and family. He had seen his father impaled on a stake in front of his childhood home. In spite of it all, he had never been as horrified as he was in that moment - the moment he looked into the eyes of a child's corpse with the skin peeled from its face, its tiny body fashioned into a foot-stool.
“Step away, my boy. You don't need to keep looking.”
With a start, Titus remembered he wasn't alone. He turned toward the grove, stumbling away from the grotesque field.
“I don't - I can't... It - it just....”
Lavonius grabbed the boy by the shoulders and led him around to the other side of the carts. Several dead oxen were tethered to the carts. Their corpses were somehow undefiled. A large cart stood between the living and the dead.
Titus took several deep breathes. He willed his stomach to be still. He didn't understand his body's reaction - he'd seen death before. Was this really so much worse?
What was even more confusing was how still he felt his mind to be. His chest hurt and his stomach roiled and his throat burned, but he didn't feel anything. He wasn't afraid. He wasn't sad. He wondered if his body was weaker than his heart. He resolved to be angry.
After steadying himself, Titus met his companion's worried gaze. “Look, I've heard of the Faceless before. Hell, I even fought them.” Eyes closed. Two deep breathes. Eyes open. “A band of Faceless Men had been spotted near Sweet Iron. A Guardian led us out there, and we ambushed a band of them. Didn't leave survivors.”
Lavonius placed a comforting hand on Titus's shoulder. His violet eyes were stained with worry.
“I've just never seen the aftermath before. I never had to see the bodies. Scypio told me”- eyes closed -” he told me they cut the faces off their victims. That was how we knew they were near Sweet Iron. I never tried to picture it.” Eyes open. Deep breath. “No one ever told me they did that with the bodies.” Titus's hand gestured viciously to the corpses, as though to backhand an invisible attacker.
Lavonius nodded. He understood. He'd reacted a good deal worse the first time he'd witnessed the aftermath. “Aye, my boy. We often shield the hearts of the young from horrors such as these.”
I wasn't supposed to be shielded!” Titus shouted. His eyes were wide and angry, fire all but leaping from them. His voice fell to a murmur,” I was meant to be the shield.”
“Some things are too horrible to speak of.”
“I just can't - it - it's just - they...” Hot tears leaked from the boy's eyes.
Lavonius wrapped his arm around the boy's shoulder, squeezing him tightly. They sat in silence. They stayed there, leaning against a broken ox-cart, one man holding the other. The sun sank beneath the horizon. Dusk crept over the world. The shadows grew long.
The silence was broken by Pulkra's gurgling llama voice. She walked over and pushed her long face into Titus's own. She hummed, her voice somehow sad in spite of itself.
As though the llama had broken a spell, Lavonius shook himself and pulled his arm away from the boy. “It would have taken a substantial band for them to raid a caravan such as this. I've only ever heard of them picking off lone travelers this close to the Royal Road. It would take a large group indeed for them to wander so close to the King's Land.”
“This is the King's Land.”
“Land belongs to those that kill for it, you don't own land because of lines on a map. You know as well as I that we won't find a patrol for another twenty miles. This is as much wild country as the mountains you call home.”
“I don't care!” Titus smashed a bare fist into the nearest cart. His knuckles bled. He felt nothing. His body felt angry, but his heart was as empty as ever. “We hunt them down and we grind them into dust.”
“Judging from the sheer quantity of tracks I've seen around this hellyard, there must be at least fifty of them. You might have your fancy armor, Titus, but even you would drown beneath so many bodies. Fire magic will do you no good against these things.”
“I don't care.”
“The grove I spoke of is right here” Lavonius gestured to the tiny forest,” we need water. Let us make camp and discuss our next move over supper.” The bard's hand squeezed Titus's shoulder,” your llama is going to keel over if she doesn't get water soon.”
The boy cast a worried eye at Pulkra. Her eyes met his, and he thought he saw concern in them. He grabbed fistfuls of her wool and buried his head in her neck. She hummed warmly. She had been with him for as long as he had been a man. Through long mountain treks and short hunts, quick excursions and arduous rites of passage, she had been there with him. She was as much his home as all the dead friends he'd left behind. He had lost everything, but he still had her. He still had her.
With a steadying breath, Titus looked over at the tall, shrouded man. “Lead the way.”
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submitted by Jacob_Cicero to u/Jacob_Cicero [link] [comments]

2023.03.23 23:07 macktruck6666 Worst job ever.

Worst company ever formerly RGIS which was acquired by WIS
So, I have been progressively getting worse jobs even though I have a bachelor's in electrical engineering. It's always, you need 5 years of experience, but they never give anyone experience.
Anway, RGIS did inventory for stores. Think: Walmart, Kohls, Stop & Shop, Target, Seven Eleven, Home Depot, Bed Bath Beyond. We did inventories for all those companies because the job was so horrendous, they didn't want their own employees doing the work. We got paid minimum wage and in almost every case were paid less than the store employees. We would come into that store once or twice a year and count everything and we would do this every day at different stores. I would have to speak to cops 3 times a week because we we're in stores past their closing times (with permission).
Anyway, I started the job because I was entirely desperate. Only job I've ever had that never did a background check. I haven't done anything bad, but very odd. At the very beginning, I volunteered to be a driver as we carpooled to each job. They paid like 20 cents a mile + minimum wage. I eventually stopped for two reasons. One, employees I drove to events would openly talk about suing the carpool driver if they were ever in an accident. They would literally do this 3 feet from me. I understand people have the right to seek compensation, but to chat about it so brazenly in front of me lack any discretion. Second, I would regularly arive at the carpool meeting site early only to have a supervisor arrive 20 minutes late, pull rank and get the additional pay for driving. This would eventually cost me hundreds of dollars each paycheck.
On some days which I was not the carpool driver, I would have to drive an hour only to work for 2 hours. I would have to spend half my days wages just to arrive at the job site. I also had my catalytic converter stolen and someone smashed my bumper while working.
Then other times, they would schedule me for 40 hours straight. (not a typo, I literally couldn't walk straight after that because I was so tired)
Now the work. Places like Kohls and Target don't have any air conditioning in the inventory rooms. Imagine working multiple 12 shifts in 100+ rooms. Places like Home Depot you're completely covered in dust. Place like Agway, you completely covered in Bird shit (not exaggerating, their outdoor inventory is regularly covered in bird/rat shit) Places like stop & shop was divided based on who you were friends with. If you were friends with the supervisor, you would get the easy stuff like soup and pallets. If you did you job without complaining, you would get the difficult sections. I was stuck in HBA (Health & Beauty Aides) for 3 years. Once had a supervisor complain it took him 3 months to be promoted to supervisor.
So, everything stopped during the pandemic and we eventually came back. RGIS was bought by WIS and then WIS started firing everyone. I'm not a top counter, and I don't drive for them anymore, so they fired me. Thus completes the worst job I have ever had. 12 months latter, still don't have a job.
submitted by macktruck6666 to antiwork [link] [comments]

2023.03.23 22:18 wakanaman Bel Monte 50-miler race report

Ran my first ever 50-miler at Bel Monte two weeks ago. TL;DR: Awesome organizing team, beautiful trails, well-stocked aid stations, and overall great vibe. Will totally do it again next year. (Last year I ran my first-ever 50K at the same race so I'm growing attached to it.)
Race prep. I have been loosely following Krissy Moehl’s plans (what an awesome book) but the endurance phase in her 50-mile prep kicked my ass, so I got into Jason Koop’s book and worked up an adjusted plan using his approaches. It maxed out at about 50mpw with 90% or so on trails and with moderate-hard intensity. I had to sacrifice plenty of long runs due to a heavy travel schedule - I work in Equatorial Pacific countries where the weather is hot and humid, so not really great to go over 15 miles, plus there are feral dogs all over the place. Instead I tried squeezing in two-per-day runs during my travels and supported it all with plenty of hiking on challenging trails. I did a gradual (50% / 30% / 20%) 3-week taper leading up to the race, which I complemented with light-moderate cross-training (rock climbing, ice skating) and lots of walking. We stayed at a condo on the campground next door to the race (Sun Retreats Shenandoah) and it was really nice to just walk to the starting line in the morning and pick up the race packet a few minutes before the gun went off - starting the race feeling fresh and ready to rock (if a bit jittery).
Race day. The weather in Shenandoah is always a wild card: last year we started out in blowing snow, while this year fierce winds and subfreezing temps greeted us in the morning. The weather slowly warmed up as the day went on, hitting lower 40s in the afternoon so it wasn't too bad overall. I was running in my Alta Lone Peak 6s, wearing a Nathan Tempo Quarter Zip sweatshirt combined with Patagonia Houdini against the wind, and a Nathan VaporAir hydration vest. I started eating about 45 minutes in to the race, and continuing every half hour. I alternated between Snyders mini-pretzels and Clif Bloks, gulping down Gatorade with every mile reached plus with every food intake. This "system" of about 50-60 grams of simple carbs per hour served me well as I managed to avoid hitting the wall and / or cramping (though for sure I don't want to see pretzels or Clif Bloks for a few months). A couple of highlights:
Overall this was a fantastic and very well organized race - all aid station crews were just amazing, and generally the event had a really nice and chill vibe. I felt absolutely no pressure throughout the race, I just wanted to run as far as I possibly can - and was elated that I managed to complete the distance (my watch actually clocked 53.5 miles).
Recovery. I am about done with a 2-week recovery period post-race and I think it has been going reasonably well. I was hurting for a few days, but not too much. I think it was important that I was up and walking a few miles already the next day, plus I would also like to think my vegan diet helped. I did a lot of stretching and some yoga in the first couple of days, and used a massage stick every few hours during the day. I went back to climbing the second day, and gentle running on the fifth day or so. Some nagging pain still haunts me from what seems to be an injury to my left big toenail (which I guess I'll lose at some point). I should be able to gently settle back in to the next training cycle next week or the week thereafter - for the CIA / OSS night 50-miler in June!
Stats. Not that they matter... but I ran 11:41: 51 finishing at 16th place overall (out of 30 finishers) - which I feel pretty good about (especially for a first 50-miler).
submitted by wakanaman to Ultramarathon [link] [comments]

2023.03.23 21:04 SocialTel Tales of the Terran Mercenary Group (1/?)

The engines of the dropship kicked on afterburners, roaring into overdrive as they neared their final descent. The inertial dampeners whined in protest, and Nikos felt his stomach flip flop as gravity spasmed around him in a desperate attempt to correct back to Terra normal. Niko gasped in exertion, his vision blurring and darkening around the corners. On his heads-up display, he could see his heart rate spike as his vitals went haywire. In response, his suit upped the oxygen percentage in his air supply and he felt something prick him in the nape of his neck. His heart rate slowed, his vision snapped into razor focus and he heaved with relief. Above them, the red combat light began to flash. Niko reached to his side, brushing his gloved hand against his rifle, and ran one final suit diagnostic. Then the dropship slammed into the ground, the combat light turned green.
“GO! GO! GO!”
The backdoor exploded open and Niko was on his feet, racing out of the dropship. Men peeled off the moment they exited, running to either side of the dropship to create a perimeter. Niko was one of the last out and he blinked in surprise at just how crowded the city was. Hundreds of bugs were scuttling away from them in all directions, trampling each other in their haste. Niko’s foot hit something wet and viscous as he stepped off the metal ramp and dashed toward his position in the perimeter. A couple of xenos were trying to drag something from under the dropship, screaming in their disgusting language all the while.
“Get the fuck back!” he roared, raising his rifle toward the bugs. His suit translated his words into the unintelligible bug speak and they froze. The one closest to the ship was still clutching onto the upper half of another xeno that Niko’s suit informed him had already flatlined. They froze just long enough that his HUD blinked red and an angry tone played in his helmet. A grin spread across Niko’s face and he opened fire. His rifle automatically cycled to anti-personnel rounds. The xeno closest to him disintegrated in a spray of razor-sharp flechettes. The second was just beginning to look over at its companion when Nikos cut it down as well. The remaining bugs began to run from him and the drop ship. Right over a huge red square that flashed on the ground less than ten feet in front of him, warning him not to step underneath it. The xenos couldn’t see it however and they didn’t even have time to react before another dropship crushed them into a paste.
Gore splashed onto Niko’s faceplate and he raised a hand to wipe it off his faceplate. When his hands came down, he saw the smooth side of a dropship. It was smeared with slime, so much of it that it nearly obscured the Terra Military Group emblem emblazoned on its side, a combat helmet with the faceplate up, revealing a grinning terran skull with two crossed rifles underneath. Written around its edge were the words, “We endanger species
More troops poured out of the new dropship, taking positions around their own dropship. As they did so, Niko shifted his position to fill the new perimeter. On his map, he saw the blue markers of a dozen other dropships on the ground around them and the hundreds of smaller blue dots of other soldiers, “all units are on the ground and accounted for.”
The dropship engines roared again, scorching the pavement underneath them and causing a fog of evaporated biological matter to waft into the air. Then the massive dropships shot off and into back towards high orbit, leaving the terran troops in the heart of an alien city.
“Move to secure primary objective.”
That was all that the humans needed. As one they turned towards one of the massive pristine skyscrapers and made their way to it. Each squad leapfrogged closer as the others covered them from behind. They moved like a well-oiled machine. Xenos civilians sprinted to get out of their way. Niko grinned as one stumbled, falling to the ground before him. His grin widened as he felt bones crunch underfoot. Everything was going exactly as planned.
Then the windows of the lobby of the skyscraper shattered. Niko dived to the ground without a second thought, the only thing that saved him from being gunned down. A veritable wall of tracers reached out from the building and he saw one man take two rounds before he hit the ground. Niko’s eyes flitted to the casualty report to find that the man was fine. His armor had taken the brunt of the damage.
The response from the humans was swift, a hollow thunk sounded behind him, and the bottom floor of the skyscraper erupted into flames. A shockwave of rapidly expanding water vapor followed right behind. There was a noticeable decrease in return fire after that.
Niko was back on his feet again, charging headlong into the flames. A careful approach would do them little good anymore. He raised his rifle and started firing into the smoke and flames as he slipped into the building amidst the gunfire and alarms. The lobby was a mess. Fires roared in every direction, smoke clogged the entire chamber, and the dead and dying lay in crumpled heaps of scattered limbs half fused to the ground, walls, and floor. One bug soldier was wandering around aimlessly, the lower half of one of its arms hung on by threads. Niko drilled it in the head and it dropped.
“Keep moving! It is imperative that you capture the target before enemy reinforcements arrive!”
Other TMG operatives had made it into the building and they were forming up by one of the stairwells. Their point man, a breacher in a huge suit of powered armor tossed something into the stairwell. Niko barely picked up alarmed screeches before the doors to the stairwell erupted outwards, bits of glass and shrapnel sprayed in all directions. The TMG breacher rushed inside a moment later and was immediately blasted with a hail of tracers. For a moment, Niko was sure the man was dead. But the breacher’s thunderous return fire blew away his doubts. Twin antiarmor cannons roared to life, creating two continuous fireballs that glowed like miniature suns, and illuminated the entire stairwell in a fashion that could only have been described as apocalyptic. The rest of the operators slipped in as the breacher continued his suppressing fire and began to bulldoze their way up the stairwell. Niko bolted up right behind their new pointman, a slim woman in specialist gear, careful to maintain team cohesion. As he ran, he saw the specialist pull a drone from her belt and toss it underhand into the air.
The baseball-sized package hovered in the air for a moment before it blinked to life. The drone shot up the staircase and Niko’s data display lit up with information. The drone sent out high-powered radar pulses that could have cooked an unarmored biological in seconds if they were close enough. In seconds, it had mapped out the first ten floors and was moving up. His HUD showed chaos. Civilians marked in fluorescent green ran in all directions, interfering with their security’s attempt at defense. Friendly fire incidents began to mount as the TMG operators made their rapid accent toward their target.
A door burst open and a flood of green vomited out, clogging the stairway in their desperate attempt to claw their way out of the burning building.
“Contact front!”
Niko paused just long enough for their specialist to clear a path through the horde before they continued up. The harsh bark of rifle fire and the wet thud of bodies hitting the ground echoed from behind him as a fireteam split off to cover the open door. They went up a dozen more floors, taking out green and red with equal efficiency before a bell rang in his helmet and a new marker appeared, highlighting a blotch in purple.
“Objective located.”
His suit told him that the purple blotch was nearly fifty floors up from their current location. At their current rate, it would take them another ten minutes to fight their way up. Just as that calculation set in, his suit chimed up again, “Native reinforcements on route. ETA 7 minutes, 35 seconds.”
At the same time, the specialist before him crumpled backward, tumbling down the stairs. A crack like a heavy whip snapped out a second later. Niko dove for cover, crashing through a thin plastic door that led into one corridor of the skyscraper. More than a dozen green bugs froze in front of him, barely an arm's distance away. Close enough to swarm him if they wanted to. Luckily for him, they didn’t. They were too preoccupied writhing around on the floor holding their heads as rolling booms echoed up and down the stairwell loud enough that even his helmet’s noise suppression couldn’t keep the sound below painful. He glanced at his HUD. Someone had dragged the specialist behind cover, still alive but heavily wounded and combat ineffective.
Then the specialist’s drone gave one final ping before something took it offline. It was like a light switch had been flicked off in his HUD. The amount of battlefield intel he had access to narrowed to what the sensors of the operators around him could see. But Niko didn’t need to see it to know what had taken out their drone. From a vantage point somewhere above, the defenders had set up a heavy machine gun. Its slow methodical firing hammered down on them, blowing basketball-sized holes through several feet of concrete wherever they hit. They hadn’t managed a direct hit since the start of their ambush but the suppressing fire had pinned the humans in place and showed no signs of stopping.
Worse still, their drone’s final ping revealed a wave of red approaching their locations. It appeared that the xenos had finally regrouped and were about to bring down the brunt of their force on them.
“Keep moving, retain the initiative!”
“Where the hell is that cannon?”
Niko peaked his rifle out into the stairwell, looking through its camera. Methodical muzzle flashes lit up the west side of the building some twenty floors above. He’d just started pulling his arms back when the concrete pillar he’d been using for cover disintegrated before his eyes. One round went straight through the demolished cover and smacked him right in the chest, knocking his ass flat in an instant. The air was punched out of his lungs with gut-wrenching force and he felt several ribs crack simultaneously. A hand reached out and yanked him back behind cover by the carrying handle on the back of his armor. At the same time, Niko felt another prick in his back, and the pain that had just begun to flair up in his chest was put out. The panic that had gripped him when he’d watched their specialist go down dissolved like snow under a plasma cutter and left him with only an adrenaline high the likes he’d never experienced before and a razor-sharp focus he hadn’t thought possible.
“Good shit finding that gun Niko!” someone said over the squad comms, “we’re taking that fucker out. On my mark, peak, Val’s going to fire another thermo at those xenos.”
Green acknowledgment lights flashed.
Niko leaned out again, this time at a different location, and started spraying up at the machine gun. A flash from the floor below forced his visor to darken momentarily as a rocket zipped by. A second flash on a distant floor came a few seconds later. Then silence.
“Mission success is in jeopardy. Valkyrie suits authorized.”
That was all Niko needed to hear. He pulled himself from the ground and rushed the stairwell again. Somewhere above, a guard sent a wild spray of automatic fire at where he had been less than a heartbeat ago, the impacts sent dust erupting behind him. Niko didn’t even notice it as he leaped over the railing, plummeting toward the ground, now more than twenty floors below. Air whistled around him, tearing at his limbs. He felt a click, then his entire suit shuttered and for the second time in less than half an hour, his stomach lurched and he felt the G-force claw at his body. Floors passed by him in a blur, his heart rate spiked and he screamed, screamed with pure adrenaline. Twin turbojets roared to life like a pair of mythical dragons on his back. Geysers of blue flames burst from his Valkyrie suit. His entire body vibrated from the force of thrust.
He shot up like an arrow, followed seconds behind by a dozen other operators. At the same time, the remaining operators laid down suppressing fire, filling the stairwell with tungsten darts. They flashed past a blackened blasted floor, one side completely was completely missing, exposing offices and cowering civilians within. The mangled wreck of an autocannon jutted out from the roof. In seconds they had flown twice the distance they had managed to fight through and Niko’s suit began edging him toward the west side of the stairwell.
Then, as abruptly as they had started, the jets cut off, leaving him at the mercy of gravity for a brief moment. He whistled on, carried through the air by inertia alone for several floors, still moving towards the wall, close enough that he could almost touch. When he finally hit the apex of his flight, floating in apparent freefall, his suit gave him one final gentle push and he landed in front of a door highlighted in purple.
A pair of surprised guards blinked at him from either side of the door for just a heartbeat before he dropped them with a spray of automatic fire. Beside him, the rest of the Valkyries landed in near silence. The air around them shimmered from the heat. Their breacher stepped up to the door, feeling at the edges. The specialized sensors in his gloves mapped out what was within to micrometer precision and he began moving with perfect efficiency. He pulled a line of plasma cord from his belt and applied it to the door like an artist drawing his masterpiece.
The cord burned a brilliant blue as he laid down the final piece. The light was so intense that Niko’s visor went dark for a moment, leaving him almost blind. He looked away, flicking the setting on his rifle to stun and setting his grenades to non-lethal. As the final bit of cord went out, their breacher gave the door a light press with one hand and it collapsed inwards. Before it had even hit the ground, a swarm of bullets flew out like a broken wasps nest.
Niko pulled the pin on one of his grenades and tossed it into the room followed right behind by another grenade from the breacher. A quick countdown began in the corner of his HUD. As the countdown hit zero, the grenade exploded with an eardrum-shattering boom and a flash of light even brighter than the plasma cord had been. At the same time, he and the breacher turned the corner and slipped into the room beyond.
If he hadn’t been in his suit he would never have been able to make sense of the chaos around him and he would never have had time to switch his rifle back from stun. But he was in his armor and that was all that mattered. His rifle clicked automatically back to lethal and he held down the trigger and didn’t let go. His rifle spat death at several thousand rounds per minute. The xenos didn’t stand a chance. When the bullets stopped flying they had a new problem, none of the smoking, bullet-riddled corpses were highlighted in purple. Instead, a second much more imposing armored door blinked purple highlights at them like some video game.
Their breacher shook his head and got back to work, somehow moving with even more efficiency than before. Which was just as well since the sensors of one of the operators outside picked up the sound of xenos coming toward their position. In seconds, the second door was blazing and Niko flicked his rifle back to stun as he moved behind concealment.
This time when the door opened, there was no fire. The breacher peaked the barrel of his rifle into the room and it relayed data to the rest of the operators. The room inside was lavish. Or it must have been to a pre-FTL native. It was dominated by a large table and sitting behind it was their primary objective, glowing a happy purple and smoking something that would have obscured Niko’s view if not for his suit's sensors. Other than that, the room was empty.
Niko entered, raising his rifle at the xeno, “Hands in the fucking air! ”
Their objective ignored them, continuing to smoke. The breacher followed him into the room a second later, “Hands in the fucking air!” he echoed, blasting the translated speech at full volume.
The objective put down its smoking thing and raised three sets of hands into the air, then it spoke, making farting and hissing sounds at Niko, who could not understand a word of it. He ignored the xeno’s words, “stand up and turn around and this will all be over in a minute.”
As he said this, he flicked through the menu in his HUD and turned on his audio input translator.
“I was told that you would come for me.” the alien said, the translator giving the thing a deep, resonant voice, “your hairless monkies warned there would be consequences if we refused.”
Niko cursed, pulling out a pair of cuffs, specially tailored to fit the objective's specific freakish proportions, “shut it.”
It did not, “they showed us what happened to those who refused, you thought it would scare us into following. It has not.” The objective clamped down its mandibles and Niko heard a faint crack, “But I will not be paraded around my cities like some sort of sick attraction. You will have to watch me turn a martyr.”
One of its several hands reached out and slapped a large, blue button on the desk. At the same time, the breacher put half a dozen shotgun shells flying at the objective, turning it to mush.
“No don’t-”
Niko bucked, pulled off the VR jack, and gasped. He twisted his hands from their place in the suit and made to stand. A pair of hands pushed him back, “that would not be wise.”
“That was incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like it,” he gushed, blinking his eyes in a vain attempt to focus them on the person before him. He couldn’t remember where he was, or what he was doing. The fog that clouded his mind was thicker than any he had ever experienced.
“And that is just a taste of the adventure you can experience if you join up with Terra Military Group.”
Niko gasped, wiping a sheen of sweat from his forehead, “was that real?”
The woman hummed, “the operation that you just took part in was real and the experience that you had was entirely through the unaltered point of view of one Captain Alexander Sinew. But some parts had to be removed for the sake of operational security.”
He squinted up at where the woman was, imagining fighting across the stars. His eyes may not have been working perfectly but his consciousness had never been clearer, “Give me a few minutes and I’ll sign.”
The woman gave him a curt smile and nodded her head, “I’ll have the paperwork for you waiting,” she stuck her hand out, “welcome to the TMG, bringing the light of humanity across the stars.”
submitted by SocialTel to HFY [link] [comments]

2023.03.23 19:48 Sarjenkat Overture Of The Renewal Symphony Chapter 20: No One Gets Left Behind

First Previous
Around the hidden launch site, Task Force Basilisk was setting up everything. They'd made sure to quietly sabotage the launch vehicle. It would pass all remote checks, but if they tried to launch, the pumps were designed to fail once throttled up to max for longer than 10 seconds. They had checkpoints along every road in. As there had ben no reports of stolen aircraft, Major LaPierre was almost salivating at the chance to take down this terrorist and traitor.
"Sir, we've set up the last checkpoint, there's no way in hell they're going to make it in without us seeing them on the thermal sweeps."
"Sarge, this guy's slippery. Last time they thought they had him in a box, he blew up the box. Be alert for ANYTHING out of the ordinary, even if it's a cat fart out in the field, i want to know about it and have it investigated." LaPierre smiled, he knew his prey was stuck otherwise.
Up in the air, Ben studied the screen. "Ok, they're using thermal and radar sweeps. I don't see a way we can get in with stealth, do you?" Mal shook his head.
"Ok. Shy, anything you can do about weapons?" Ben mused, their craft just hovering, using a holograph to hide them from sight for now.
Shyloh gave an impish smile on the screen. "Well, I suppose we could use the tentacles to attack, or were you interested in something a little more aggressive." With a playful titter, she opened several wall sections, each with a turret with a wicked looking rotary barrel in place. As Ben slid into the closest turret, the display lit up, with targets shown with bright spots dancing on each one.
"Shy, execute plan B!" Ben made sure everyone was strapped in and ready, the injured all in safe cocoons to protect them through this. As he double checked, Shy began making matter of fact announcements.
"We are now at condition red. Please ensure you are strapped in and weapons hot, feel free to pray and spray, Shout HOO RAH! Iron Ion drive reconfiguration commencing. Preparing matter integration uptake and repatterning diodes for reconfiguration of launch vehicle fuel into compact power. Landing in 5, 4, ready, steady, CRAB ATTACK!" Shy shouted, and while the humans were a little taken aback from the strange announcement, Blue heard the command, and as the ship landed beside the launch vehicle, she started her crab hunting technique, going after gun emplacements like they were tasty treats.
Major LaPierre stood there, unable to move, speak, or even think. Out of NOWHERE, a giant octopus looking thing fell out of the sky and was attacking the whole ambush. Blue screamed in intense joy "Give them a five fingered death punch, land dolphins!" Ben laughed as he heard this, pretty sure the silly cephalopod hadn't known there was a band by that name either.
Eight angry red tentacles snaked out and started slamming into gun emplacements and those carrying the heavier weapons. As if it wasn't bad enough, it was lashing out with multiple WEAPONS??? As people would get hit, electricity would arc around, and anything electronic would die in the vicinity of a shot landing. Ben kept the trigger mashed down, watching as the gun's heat management system started pulling up from green to blue. The moment it licked the mark and hit blue, the individual blue white bolts flying out turned into a pure stream of lightning, streaming as if aimed by the gods.
Mal started guffawing as he slammed the intensity levels to maximum, and pushed his turret into the red faster than anyone else. While he started out being more disciplined with his fire, the higher intensity made him hit overload levels where everyone else had still been in optimal. His stream went from a blue white lighting to a white hot stream of flames, leaving the earth glowing red where it lingered for more than a split second.
"Launch vehicle docked, matter transfer commencing, 2 minutes till ready to launch. Warning, Iron Ion engine will blast open nuclear waste storage below, recommend use matter integration for extra fuel"
Blue agreed in her colors as she rampaged around, feeling like an eldritch god among the helpless land dolphins. Meanwhile, tracers from smaller arms and grenades launched seemed to have no effect on the rampaging thing among the troops. LaPierre lost it, screaming into a comm. "Get me air support here NOW! We have a giant THING rampaging, How the HELL did that traitor pull THIS out of his ass? NO one's come up with anything this insane!"
Amidst the chaos, everyone could see the launch vehicle melt into the octopus and get consumed into it, dissolved and gone , leaving this even more massive octopus, which had the bottom starting to glow. At that glow, EVERYONE's Geiger counters and dosimeters went off, alerting them to intense radiation.
The engines reached down, with hard light tentacles like roots in trees, finding the aged and leaking storage facility. Like a horde of ravenous worms, these roots slurped down every trace of radioactive materials, pulling them up and forming carbon/iron lattices to trap them into power generating materials. If these atoms had any sense of self, they'd be quite confused as the photons tickled and bounced them into new places and shapes with photonic interference.
"Launch time, hold onto your waste orifices!" Shy chirped, and the octopus that was there suddenly vanished. Leaving a sleek, black torpedo looking thing, a teardrop with a flattened bottom, still glowing intensely blue from the radiation streaming into the base. The light started to shift, turning purple, then reddening to an intense red.
"Iron Ion engine primed and ready, initiating launch now."
At that, a stream of simulated iron started streaming at near lightspeed into the launchpad. Even though the particles were each microscopic in size, they hit with immense energy, sending a blast wave out the bottom, ripples of electricity spewing along the streams of molten iron as the dark spike clawed it's way into the air. The last thing that went through Major LaPierre's head, other than the wave of molten metal, was [How did he pull that off, there's no way......]
submitted by Sarjenkat to HFY [link] [comments]

2023.03.23 19:41 plombiertropical P'tite rage coupable et assumée

Je rentre du boulot et de la manif comme si de rien était en slalomant entre les lacrymo et les voitures de la bac qui roulent à toute vitesse dans les rue piétonnes, j'évite soigneusement les lieux où ça a chauffé dans la journée pour préserver mes pneus et chambres à air des débris. Me voilà donc arrivé comme de par hasard derrière la gare de Caen, ya une belle route 1x1 voie pour les tutures et de chaque côté de la route, ya une piste cyclable plutôt généreuse en largeur (où il y a moyen de pédaler sans trop de faire tailler un short par les bagnoles) MAIS, la où je voulais en venir, v'là t'y pas qu'ya la piste cyclable qui ne sert non pas de piste cyclable mais de dépose minute pour la gare, au début, je toc aux vitres pour signaler aux pilotes qu'ils ne sont pas très bien garés mais en avançant, je vois que ce ne sont pas que deux ou trois voitures qui squattent la piste cyclable mais bel et bien des dizaines ! Soit dit en passant, ya un beau dépose genre pas à cent mètres de la gare, mais pile poile à côté de la sortie de la gare (et souvent vide accessoirement) Vu le nombre de voiture et la météo peu clémente pour un pauvre cycliste, j'ai continué mon chemin en retournant tout les rétroviseurs des véhicules garés sur la piste cyclable, j'ai bien eu des claxons d'encouragement et quelques insultes de soutiens. :)
Rassurez-vous, les voitures sont aujourd'hui équipées de rétroviseurs qu'on peut plier dans tout les sens, un petit coup de pouce pour le remettre en place et c'est de l'histoire ancienne.
submitted by plombiertropical to EnculerLesVoitures [link] [comments]

2023.03.23 19:30 ATobiaMD A further look into: 'Thinner'

Thinner (1996) is a horror film based on a Stephen King novel of the same name. The film depicts Billy Halleck, an overweight lawyer who accidentally runs over a Gypsy named Suzanne Lempke. He is acquitted as part of a cover up with Judge Cary Rossington and the local police chief, Duncan Hopley. Outraged by the injustice, Suzanne's father, Tadzu Lempke, places a curse on Billy on the steps of the courthouse by touching his face and uttering “Thinner.”
How it relates to the field of psychiatry
The film is a 93 minute binge episode of Billy Halleck. At 00:40:33 into the film, Billy tells his wife “it’s not anorexia” that can explain his involuntary weight loss. It’s reasonable to interpret this as Billy not having a fear of gaining weight despite being underweight (a necessary criterion of Anorexia Nervosa). However, since denial is a common defense mechanism employed by individuals battling this disorder, the clinician (viewer) must continue to search for additional clues for AN.
Additional Evidence for Anorexia Nervosa
Billy Halleck has electrolyte disturbances common in AN including hypokalemia: at 01:00:41 of the film, Dr. Fander gives Billy potassium tablets supporting the notion that Thinner is a fictional case study of Anorexia Nervosa (AN).
There are two subtypes of AN: a) restricting subtype and b) binge eating and purging subtype. When at the dinner table (00:24:35), Billy tells his daughter, Linda, that he can “eat all you want and still lose the weight,” it is established that he has the binge eating and purging type.
At 01:03:30 of the film, Richie discusses involuntary hospitalization underscoring the point that a critical part of treatment planning for individuals with AN is providing hospitalization when clinically indicated.
Finally, 1 in 5 anorexia deaths is by suicide (1). As this is highlighted at the end of the film, Linda’s death is also explained in that 50-80% of the risk for anorexia (and bulimia) is genetic (2).
  1. Arcelus, J., Mitchell, A. J., Wales, J., & Nielsen, S. (2011). Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders: a meta-analysis of 36 studies. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68(7), 724-731.
  2. Trace, S. E., Baker, J. H., Peñas-Lledó, E., & Bulik, C. M. (2013). The genetics of eating disorders. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 9, 589-620.
Anthony Tobia, MD, Copyright © 2019 Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. All rights reserved.
submitted by ATobiaMD to u/ATobiaMD [link] [comments]

2023.03.23 17:40 as_nadim What Actually Happened with the City 2022 Launch: An Inside Look from Apollo's COO

What Actually Happened with the City 2022 Launch: An Inside Look from Apollo's COO
This (very long) post describes a lot of the behind-the-scenes issues and challenges that Apollo as a company and our customers went through with the launch of the City 2022 scooter last year. The announcement of the City 2022 was met with positive feedback, but there were significant delays in delivering the product due to various production and transportation issues. The hardware itself also had issues which compounded customer frustrations and led to some hard lessons learned. We’ve implemented/are implementing big improvements to the production process and QC, customer experience, sales and marketing, and supply chain to ensure that these issues don't happen again. A couple other notes:
  1. We’re extending the warranty of all City 2022 owners that purchased their scooter before November 1st 2022 for an additional 3 months to make up for the delay. We’ll share more details soon.
  2. We’re releasing an upgrade kit that will address the City 2022 issues that were fixed on the City 2023. More details to come but it’s most likely a new handlebar assembly (handlebar, throttles, turn signals, folding hook that actually stays latched) and a new kickstand. This will also be compatible with the Air 2022.


The City 2022 launched today last year, so I thought I’d take the time to share a bit of a retrospective on the launch, the scooter, some of the issues we experienced with the launch, and what we’ve done since then to improve the City 2022 and City 2023. This post is a summary of our City 2022 Post-Mortem that we did at our annual retreat in December 2022.
When we launched the City, we were focused on features that would make it the best commuter scooter on the market. It was the first scooter to feature a smart regen brake that actually allowed riders to reduce mechanical brake usage. We worked hard to implement turn signals and quality suspension, to make it safe and comfortable for daily rides. We dreamed big with the app that would proactively diagnose issues and guide users through resolutions, putting them back on the road with minimal delay. City 2022 was the culmination of our ambition at that time.

Recapping the Launch

The announcement of the City 2022 was met with so much positive feedback from customers and reviewers. That positive feedback helped make the City the most successful launch for Apollo ever and marked a new era for us. That being said, there were (numerous and well documented) issues with how the City was rolled out and it wouldn’t make much sense to discuss all the positives without also addressing the negatives.
It all started with the announcement of the City. The name didn’t sit well with a lot of our customers because it wasn’t a clear evolution from our previous City Model. We also launched the City on Pre-Order - which is great because it allows customers to reserve their unit in advance, but comes with the expectation that the product launches on time. With the delays that came with delivering the product came the well deserved criticism of our inability to meet the delivery dates.
Delays, Delays… And More Delays
So why was the City not delivered on time? Here are the main reasons:
  1. The opening of our new factory and assembly line was delayed
  2. We experienced significant component delays - parts needed for production were not delivered by our suppliers on time
  3. China’s COVID-Zero policy meant that factories and businesses were closing frequently, for weeks at a time
  4. Production capacity was below our target and it took too long to ramp up production
  5. We made design changes late in the process that further delayed production
These delays set us back - but we build in buffers into our delivery dates. For the City, we communicated a delivery date 1 month later than what we had originally anticipated. What really pushed the delivery of the first wave of City units was the customs checks on some of our containers, first in China and then in the US, that set us back another month. The Chinese Customs delay forced us to miss our ship - and we had to rebook transportation (another delay). These delays meant that some customers in Australia (we sell via a distributor in AUS) received their units before our North American customers. The pent-up excitement of waiting for the City, coupled with posts of City 2022 units in the wild, led to a barrage of customer enquiries asking when they can expect to receive their orders. An ETA we weren’t able to communicate effectively because of the customs holds - we actually had no idea when those containers would be cleared. The containers that did clear customs without any checks arrived but had limited quantities and we began delivering what we could. Customers in Canada received their units first because that’s where those containers landed. With the delivery of units to a small number of North American customers, we started to see a lot of customer frustration with our inability to communicate updates and answer questions. The increase in volume put our A-Team in a backlogged position and our response/resolution times sky rocketed.
The customs delays absolutely destroyed our timeline. Containers were arriving in the wrong order and the US containers arrived almost 2 months late. At this point, we were scrambling to get orders out as quickly as we could. We started shipping across the border and covering the duties costs. We offered discounts and free accessories for customers who were waiting far longer than they should have. Cancellations were rolling in. We started manually processing every single City order one by one to make sure the people who ordered first, received their scooters first. We split all our deliveries in waves and started sharing these updates with customers every Friday (some people weren’t receiving our emails either - and complained that we were not sending our updates on time). Our logistics manager and fulfillment team reviewed and inputted 50000 orders manually to make this happen. Cross-border fulfillments were held up by customs, UPS lost a bunch of packages, and there was a lot of internal confusion that came with this very convoluted fulfillment process. Tickets increased, customers got angrier, and the trust we had worked so hard to build within the community started to erode significantly.
The Hardware Problems
The delivery issues were the first big part of the problem - next came the issues with the hardware itself.
At first, small issues started to pop up - which is normal. These were mostly wear and tear issues. For a long time, our parts were stranded in customs and we simply did not have what we needed to ship to customers and to our repair partners to fix issues. Many units were bricked with no end in sight.
We then started to hear about defective chargers. Not all customers had these issues, but we reported a 25% defect rate - the voltage was incorrect and the chargers were dying, sometimes on the first charge. We started shipping Fast Chargers and whatever stock we had (which was limited). The containers that were held up at customs were also the ones containing all of our City 2022 spare parts, so we were out of chargers, out of spare parts to fix some of the hardware issues, and had no way of knowing exactly when these replacements would arrive. More frustration, more tickets that can’t be answered, more customer inquiries that can’t be resolved. Kickstands were also breaking, stems were getting loose and wobbly, and we had some customers raising concerns about the folding mechanism (which turned out to be fine but require more tightening than we would have liked). We made the changes at the factory and started air shipping the custom parts required to fix these issues to send out to customers for free. Then we started hearing about issues with the throttle. This was where we made the decision to halt fulfillment of all City orders, release the City Feedback Hub indicating incidence rates for all issues, and allow customers to place free orders for the parts they would need in case these issues arose. These parts were available for all City owners, regardless of whether they actually had the issues or not. Outside of the chargers, our incidence rates were really low - but we don’t take any component issues lightly and we always overcorrect. We shipped washers to every single customer as a temporary measure to help with the throttle response/lack of response and started production on a throttle fix. We also sourced off the shelf handlebars that we could ship to customers to speed up the replacement timeline.
Our Response and the City Feedback Hub
We engaged regulatory authorities to understand what we needed to do from a compliance perspective. We spoke with government agencies in both the US and Canada and prepared what documentation was required. We opened a dedicated channel for customers experiencing City 2022 issues and started implementing our action plan to fix these issues. The deliveries we halted were at our warehouses in Vancouver and Knoxville and so we sent two teams of 4 to each location to swap out the acceleration and regen throttle on every single unit of the City. This repair took about 20-30 minutes to complete and our teams worked like crazy over a 1 month period, away from their homes, families, and loved ones, in order to make this right for our customers and make 100% sure that any safety related issue, no matter how small, could not take place. At the same time, our supply chain team was dropshipping throttle replacements to every customer in the US and Canada. We made this service free to for anyone who was in a city where we had our own service location (NYC, LA, and Montreal). We did this with an incidence rate of less than 2% across all of our markets.
Our A-Team saw more and more tickets. Our volumes were 3x what we had forecasted for the year and we were not able to keep up. We had turnover on our A-Team as it was starting to become too much for team members who could not handle the daily stress that came with managing this launch on the day to day. We started hiring and began training and upscaling agents as quickly as possible. We were looking for ways to give our customers support options faster and implemented our chat assistant to give customers access to the most common questions and answers (which was a really big success in the end!). And all throughout this saga, we knew, each and every day, that we were letting our customers down. I know there are some people that do not like Apollo and have many strong negative feelings about us and this probably will not mean much, but what I will say is that the humans that spend their time trying to make the electric scooter revolution a reality, really care. We’re all doing what we can to be the best company we can be, serve our customers in the best possible way, and achieve a level of excellency because we ultimately love what we do. We’re not a billion dollar company with thousands of employees, we’re a small team of dedicated individuals that find value in the work that we do.
All of this was taking place while we continued to grow more generally. We hired over 30 people in 2022 and grew our sales by 30-60% MoM throughout the year. Life for the second half of 2022 was… hectic. We went from being a small and relatively unknown scooter brand with a dozen employees that launched one really popular product, to a company with ~50 employees that is routinely compared with Segway (a company with a market cap of 3.6B USD) in the span of a 6 months - almost exclusively due to the City 2022. This scooter is an amazing scooter that does so many things amazingly well. Unfortunately when it broke, it did so in a lot of little ways all at the same time. This review sums up the City 2022 pretty well:

Lessons Learned

In the end, after retrofitting the City models, shipping out all spare parts, catching up on our support ticket backlog, and were finally in stock on the City 2022, we got back to what is the status quo for day to day operations at Apollo. It was now time for us to reflect on what went wrong, where we made mistakes, and how we could ensure that none of this EVER happens again. For our customers and our physical and mental health. The work didn’t stop and we made some amazing improvements to our business:
Hardware and QC
  1. We implemented three stages of testing pillars:
    1. Internal testing: Strict protocols, FEA, and on-site inspections of all components and monitoring of the assembly process
    2. Stress testing: On-site rig testing (at our factory) and off-site rig testing (at our office/warehouse)
    3. External testing: Contracted third party QC companies to perform incoming and outgoing inspections
  2. Industry leading testing requirements on all our productions. The industry standards are not enough and we’ve set our own targets that far surpass those of off-the-shelf components and competitor scooters
  3. Improved Protocols:
    1. Over 150 pages of technical documentation that covers all the electrical components, frame and suspension, and subcomponents
    2. Testing for 10,000km - this is 2-3X the industry norm. We set a ridiculously high benchmark and reverse engineered all testing thresholds to ensure we deliver on our reliability commitments
  4. Inbound and Outbound QC of any and all components used in production
  5. Upstream QC: we’re inspecting critical components and subcomponents in the factories where they’re produced
  6. Over 200 pages of FEA analysis per model, done over multiple iterations and on the subcomponent level
  7. Pro Early Access Program: collecting real-life usage and feedback to improve the product and eliminate the small issues that can easily be fixed
Customer Experience
  1. We expanded our limited warranty to cover more parts
  2. We launched the first three core products of Apollo Plus
    1. QC+: free replacement for out of the box defects at no cost and free with every order
    2. Ship+: coverage for issues related to shipping that can be purchased at check-out
    3. Warranty+: extended warranty that can be purchased at checkout and both expand and extend the warranty for years
  3. We revamped our return and cancellation policy and implemented self-service portals to automate the process for customers
  4. We beefed up our team headcount to stay on top of volume spikes and not fall into backlog
  5. Launch of Video Support for technical issues
  6. New product manuals and information for customers out of the box (complete screw list, preventative maintenance guides)
  7. Hundreds of support articles and documentation shared with our customers
  8. Basic toolkit with every scooter sold (coming soon)
  9. We put programs in place to make working at Apollo better and more fulfilling with the bet that happier employees leads to happier customers
Sales and Marketing:
  1. Elimination of pre-orders on launches and moving towards a small refundable deposit
  2. Greater emphasis on proactive and timely communication with our customers
  3. Engaging with the community to have more frequent conversations and collect even more feedback on what we can do to improve
Supply Chain:
  1. Overstock on spare parts (as of next month 🤞)
  2. Implementation of ERP for better business planning

Conclusion and Mini-Announcement

If you’ve made it this far, then first of all thank you! Second, I wanted to reaffirm our commitment to be the best scooter (and soon micromobility) provider in the world. That’s our ambition and I’m excited that people continue to choose Apollo each and every day. We know we make mistakes, we all do. Where we have, continue, and will forever set ourselves apart is in the way we respond to those mistakes. For the City 2022 owners out there, we understand (on a deep level) the issues and frustrations many of you have had by trusting us with your purchase and we have no forgotten about you.
For any customers who purchased before November 1st 2022, we’re extending your warranty for 3 more months to make up for the delay in receiving your scooters. We’ll be communicating more details about this shortly!
We’re also launching a kit that can be purchased at our cost that will adapt the City 2022 into the City 2023 and address many of the initial issues with the scooter that have not already been retrofitted (Handlebars, Turn Signals, Better Buttons, Better Throttles, Better Folding Hook, Metal Kickstand). If you ride an Air 2022, you’ll have access to this kit as well. More details on all of these to come but here’s a snapshot of what the kit will look like:

Proposed City 2022/Air 2022 Upgrade Kit
As always, ride safe and let me know what you think below. Look forward to the feedback, both negative and positive.
Apollo Scooters COO
submitted by as_nadim to ApolloScooters [link] [comments]

2023.03.23 17:23 One_Position_8251 [Request] [Survey] Consumer Perspectives on fitness Anxiety, Stress and Insomnia (18+)

Hi all, I need another 50 responses to hit my target - please help me out if you can spare 3 minutes! I will do my best to do my part and help out with others' requests. :) As a startup team, we understand the impact of anxiety, stress, and sleep on daily life. That's why we're developing innovative products based on AI and clinical cases to track and improve sleep, mental, and physical activity through fingertip pulse. This is a really interesting topic for me - anxiety, stress, and insomnia have caused troubles for many people. Your reply can help us design products better and solve the problems of anxiety, stress, and insomnia for people. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this survey, I need as many participants as I can get! Thank you for your help, everyone, Kevin
submitted by One_Position_8251 to SampleSize [link] [comments]

2023.03.23 15:19 Zorothegallade I'm Fixing Throne of Night, Part 13 of ?? - War in Dammerhall, The Mausoleum

Previous Post
Drive document
Told ya this was ready already. The next one will cover the rest of the locations in Dammerhall and the final dungeon of Book 3, which should hopefully let DMs who want to run a 13-level campaign about dwarves reclaiming their ancient kingdom everything they need to do that. It might take me quite a bit of time (real life commitments and other projects eat away at the time I have for this) but be assured I am still working on that.

D - Necropolis mausoleum

This tall building of gray stone has a downward staircase leading to a sturdy iron door , which is barring the only entrance. The door and walls have somber dwarven faces and runic circles carved on them.
The mausoleum is the center of operations of the Necropolis, where the unquiet spirit of High King Gurnir has taken residence with his most élite undead retinue. If the PCs are allies, they can use the mausoleum as a base and even request magical items listed under each room’s Treasure entry if they can convince Gurnir to let them take it with a DC 30 Diplomacy check. The only item Gurnir will not relinquish until destroyed or laid to rest is the Scepter.
Otherwise, they are likely here to destroy Gurnir or put him to rest, whether on their own terms or on behalf of Lady Dirge.
The mausoleum is completely dark, and its ceilings are 15 feet high. All walls are decorated with carvings and bas-reliefs depicting the feats of the dwarves that are (or were) interred here, from battles fought by soldiers to the discoveries made by scholars and masterpieces crafted by artisans.
All inner doors of the mausoleum are made of reinforced stone and have 60 hp and hardness 10. As long as the desecrated obelisk in area D2 exists, the entire mausoleum is affected by CL 15 desecrate and unhallow spells with a specially prepared dispel magic effect tied to it, which attempts to dispel hide from undead, death ward and any spell with the good descriptor from creatures entering the building. Furthermore, if anyone within the Mausoleum attempts to cast one such spell or a spell that employs positive energy, the dispel magic effect attempts to counter it: this latter effect can only occur once per minute. The effects of desecrate are already factored in the statblocks of the NPCs in this section.
Finally, as this crypt belongs to Gurnir’s ancestors, he’s able to use his forebear’s visage spell to communicate via the bas-reliefs on the wall.
If the PCs destroy any of the undead occupants of the mausoleum but Gurnir isn’t destroyed yet, he is quick to summon replacements by pulling back troops from the city, which return in 2d4 hours. The warsworn in area D5 is the only exception.

D1 - Atrium(CR 8)

The entrance to the crypt sports a large sunburst carved into the floor. Two unlit braziers stand at the sides of the room.
The iron gate giving access to the mausoleum is open if Gurnir is expecting allies. Otherwise, the PCs will have to either break through (80 hp, hardness 10, DC 30 to force) or pick the lock (DC 35) on the gate.
Creatures: A group of powerful wights is constantly keeping watch here. They attack intruders on sight to stop them from going any further.

Wight guards(4) CR 4
XP 4,800(1,200 each)
Advanced unhallowed wights
hp 42

D2 - Obelisk Room(CR 10)

This room is almost entirely taken up by an ominous obelisk standing tall at its far end, which glows ominously with a sickening thrumming.
This room houses one of Gurnir’s most aberrant creations: an obelisk that was once a prayer memorial to the spirits of the dwarven forefathers to wish the dwarves interred here a safe journey to the afterlife, now corrupted into a beacon of necromantic energy by the ghostly king and his minions.
The obelisk is the source of the unhallow and desecrate effects that permeate the entire mausoleum. It can be removed by casting dispel evil on it and succeeding at a DC 26 caster level check or destroying it (it has 720 hp and hardness 16); the necromantic energies churning within it deal 2d6 negative energy damage to anyone physically striking it.
Creatures: Two more of Gurnir’s creations are guarding the obelisk by coiling around it: they are enormous snakelike constructs made out of linked vertebrae and rib cages and animated by fell energies named tombslithers. They attempt to neutralize anyone who tries to damage the obelisk with their dance of death before tearing them apart with their teeth.

Tombslithers(2) CR 8
XP 9,600(4,800 each)
Variant advanced necrophidius
NE Large construct
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +0
AC 20, touch 11, flat-footed 17 (+2 Dex, +8 natural, -1 size)
hp 105 (10d10+50)
Fort +5, Ref +7, Will +5
DR 5/bludgeoning; Immune construct traits
Speed 30 ft.
Melee bite +18 (2d6+12 plus paralysis)
Str 24, Dex 15, Con —, Int —, Wis 11, Cha 1
Special Attacks paralysis(1d4 rounds, DC 17), dance of death(DC 19)
Base Atk +10; CMB +18; CMD 30(cannot be tripped)
Skills Stealth +10 Racial Modifiers +12 Stealth
SQ death-infused
Death-Infused(Su) A Tombslither has been created via foul magic fueled by negative energy. As such, it counts as an undead for effects that can target or affect undead (such as desecrate; the bonuses from the effect are already factored in the stat block) and can be harmed by positive energy and healed by negative energy as if it was undead.
XP Award: Award the party 9,600 XP if they successfully neutralize the obelisk.

D3 - Burial Room

This chamber is lined with stone sarcophagi, each depicting the likeness of a dwarven warrior on the lid, his or her hands clutching an actual weapon embedded in the stone of the lid.
The corpses in the eleven sarcophagi lining this room haven’t awakened yet. At your discretion, either the PCs or an NPC may use spells such as animate dead or create undead to turn them into powerful undead creatures. If this happens, the newly created undead arm themselves with their respective weapons if they haven’t been taken away already.
Treasure: The warriors within the sarcophagi were buried with the weapons they wielded in life embedded on the lids. The weapons can be pried off with some effort. In total, they amount to three masterwork warhammers, four masterwork greataxes, a mithral earth breaker, a +1 mithral battleaxe, two +1 heavy maces, and a +1 giant bane true mithral greataxe.

D4 - Memorial Hall(CR 11)

The walls of this hall are covered in rows of carved runes.
This hall is where the names and elegies of all the dwarves who should have been buried in the mausoleum, but whose bodies were unable to be recovered. There are about 100 names carved in total.
Haunt: The undead uprising has awakened several disquiet spirits who gravitated to this room, lamenting the dreadful fate of those who were denied their eternal rest. These spirits have taken the form of a haunt.

Lament of the Unburied CR 6
XP 2,400
NE persistent haunt (Area D4)
Notice Perception (DC 20 to hear sobbing coming from the walls)
hp 27 Weakness fooled by hide from undead Trigger proximity Reset 1 minute
Effect The haunt telepathically sends a mournful moan to all living creatures in the area, making them shaken for 6 minutes (Will DC 16 negates).
Destruction The obelisk in area D2 must be neutralized or destroyed, and a funeral ceremony must be held reciting the names of all memorialized in the carvings.
Creatures: A group of will-o’-wisps has taken residence in this room, basking in the agony of the mournful spirits. They have a truce of sorts with Gurnir and will not attack his allies, though they will glut themselves on the PCs’ fear and cackle contentedly if they become shaken from the haunt. For enemies of Gurnir, they wait invisibly until the haunt triggers and then eagerly attack.
Will-o’-wisps(4) CR 6
XP 9,600(2,400 each)
hp 42 (Pathfinder RPG Bestiary pg. 277)

D5 - Contained Monstrosity(CR 14)

Whatever this burial hall must have once looked like, it is now in shambles. Stone rubble fills the room, and the remains of skeletal bodies and broken weapons are scattered about.
This was yet another burial chamber, though it is now unrecognizable due to its current occupant rampaging through it. The entire room counts as difficult terrain. A barricade has been erected to block off entrance in the room, but it can be clambered over with a DC 15 Climb check or smashed down (40 hp, hardness 5).
Creature: Gurnir once attempted to create a powerful undead from the warriors buried in this chamber, but while he partially succeeded, he was unable to control it. The uncontrolled warsworn fortunately proved unable to exit the room in its agitated state and is currently dormant. If attacked from the corridor, it will retaliate by using its animate objects, telekinesis and scrap ball attack to damage the PCs at range.
Gurnir won’t resent the PCs if they destroy it, seeing as it serves no purpose for him, but will appreciate it if they use magic to take control of it and employ it in fighting the Hazzuk-Mun.
Once controlled, the warsworn can be made to calmly squeeze out of the mausoleum within 10 minutes.
Treasure: The room contains a total of ten greatswords and four suits of masterwork full plate. The warsworn uses them against the PCs with its spell-like abilities (each suit of armor deals 2d6 damage when thrown via telekinesis). Embedded in the warsworn is a wand of enervation Gurnir used in creating it, with 7 charges remaining.

Lesser Warsworn CR 14
XP 38,400
NE Gargantuan undead
Init +0; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +24
Aura frightful presence (60 ft., DC 26)
AC 26, touch 6, flat-footed 26 (+20 natural, –4 size)
hp 189 (18d8+90)
Fort +12, Ref +8, Will +16
Defensive Abilities channel resistance +4**; DR** 10/bludgeoning and magic**; Immune** undead traits
Speed 40 ft.
Melee 2 slams +20 (2d6+11 plus energy drain)
Ranged scrap ball +9 (2d6+11)
Space 20 ft., Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks absorb dying creature, energy drain (1 level, DC 23), trample (2d6+16, DC 28)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 18th; concentration +22)
3/day—extended animate objects (7 Medium weapons only), telekinesis (violent thrust, heavy armor only)
Str 28, Dex 11, Con —, Int 9, Wis 16, Cha 19
Base Atk +13; CMB +28; CMD 38 (can’t be tripped)
Feats Awesome Blow, Blind-Fight, Greater Overrun, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Overrun, Lightning Reflexes, Power Attack, Step Up, Strike Back
Skills Climb +30, Perception +24, Swim +27
SQ profane magic

D6 - Room of Ashes(CR 11)

Several niches surround this room, each with various large urns standing inside.
Though burial is the typical way of honoring the dead in dwarven culture, in some cases such as during plagues or wars it was infeasible to arrange for the burial of every victim, thus cremation became a necessity. The burnt remains of over 200 dwarves are stored in the urns here.
Creatures: Relomin, one of Gurnir’s retainers, is keeping vigil in this room, joined by two burning wraiths who rose from the souls of the cremated. If the PCs start a noisy fight with the will-o’-wisps in area D4 or are fighting Gurnir in area D7, they come to join the battle in 1d4+1 rounds. If the PCs previously attacked the Mausoleum or the obelisk in area D2 is destroyed, Relomin relocates to Gurnir’s room to defend him, leaving only the wraiths here.
Thane Relomin CR 10
XP 9,600
Female dwarf graveknight fighter 7/stalwart defender 2
LE Medium undead (augmented humanoid)
Init +6; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +12
Aura sacrilegious aura (30 ft., DC 17)
AC 34, touch 14, flat-footed 31(+11 armor, +5 shield, +2 Dex, +2 dodge, +4 natural)
hp 110 (7d10+2d12+54)
Fort +11, Ref +7, Will +9
Defensive Abilities bravery +2, channel resistance +4, rejuvenation; DR 10/magic; Immune fire, cold, electricity, undead traits; SR 21
Speed 20 ft.
Melee +1 battleaxe +18/+13(1d8+11 plus 3d6 fire), slam +11(1d4+2)
Ranged throwing axe +15(1d6+8 plus 3d6 fire)
Special Attacks weapon training (axes +1), channel destruction, devastating blast(6d6 fire, DC 17), undead mastery (DC 17), defensive stance(9 rounds/day, +2 AC, +2 Will, +4 Strength and Charisma), defensive powers(halting blow)
Str 21, Dex 14, Con —, Int 12, Wis 18, Cha 16
Base Atk +9; CMB +14; CMD 26 ( vs trip and bull rush)
Feats Dodge, Endurance, Shield Focus, Combat Reflexes, Bodyguard, Power Attack, Weapon Focus(battleaxe), Weapon Specialization(battleaxe), Improved Critical(battleaxe), Improved Initiative, Mounted Combat, Ride-By Attack, Toughness
Skills Intimidate +23, Perception +12, Profession(soldier) +16, Ride +22 Racial Modifiers +8 Intimidate, +8 Perception, +8 Ride
Combat gear potions of inflict serious wounds(2)
Other gear ring of tactical precision, +1 flaming battleaxe, +2 heavy steel shield, +2 mithral full plate, masterwork throwing axes(3)
SQ armor training 2, phantom mount, ruinous revivification
Languages Dwarven, Necril
During Combat Relomin positions herself next to an ally and activates her defensive stance, defending them fiercely with her Bodyguard feat and attacking any who dare approach.
Morale If fighting alone, Relomin retreats to heal when reduced under 22 hp. If she’s protecting her liege, she fights until destroyed.

Ash geists(2) CR 6
XP 4,800(2,400 each)
Variant advanced wraith
LE medium undead (incorporeal, fire)
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft., lifesense; Perception +12
Aura unnatural aura (30 ft.), ash cloud(5 ft.)
AC 22, touch 22, flat-footed 17 (+7 deflection, +5 Dex)
hp 67 (5d8+45)
Fort +10, Ref +8, Will +10
Defensive Abilities channel resistance +2, incorporeal; Immune fire, undead traits
Weaknesses sunlight powerlessness
Speed fly 60 ft. (good)
Melee incorporeal touch +10 (1d6 negative energy plus 1d6 Con drain and burn)
Special Attacks burn(1d8, DC 19)
Str —, Dex 20, Con —, Int 18, Wis 18, Cha 25
Base Atk +3; CMB +10; CMD 25
Feats Blind-Fight, Combat Reflexes, Improved Initiative
Skills Diplomacy +12, Fly +9, Intimidate +15, Knowledge (arcana, religion, planes) +9, Perception +12, Sense Motive +12, Stealth +13
SQ create spawn
Languages Dwarven, Ignan
Ash Cloud(Su) An ash geist is constantly surrounded by a swirling cloud of scorching ashes which grants it concealment from ranged attacks and deals 2d6 fire damage to every creature that ends its turn within it. Moderate or stronger winds or taking area damage from a cold or water effect disperses the cloud. The ash geist can reform the cloud as a full-round action.
Treasure: In the center southern niche, a ring of immolation can be found by searching the room with a DC 30 Perception check.

D7 - Gurnir’s throne room

This vast hall’s walls are covered with bas-reliefs depicting dwarves performing feats of heroism, building mighty walls, slaying dragons and giants, and donning lavish jewelry. Beneath the largest decoration of all, a noble dwarf raising an exquisitely carved scepter, a tall throne carved of stone stands imposingly in front of a round table..
This is the hall where Gurnir holds council with his closest allies. As the room where the late king was supposed to be buried, this place holds a lot of sway on his spirit, both binding him to the land of the living and acting as the seat of his power. On the throne a special glyph has been inscribed, which will trigger a desecrate effect centered on it if a command word is uttered.
Creatures: Gurnir can be found in this room, holding the Scepter of Dammerhall, one of the three symbols of rulership of the ancient dwarven kingdom, in his ghostly hands. As a legitimate High King of Dammerhall, his bond with the regalia is so powerful that he can wield and manipulate them with his incorporeal body as if they possessed the ghost touch property.
The interactions between the PCs and Gurnir will depend on their standing with him. One way or the other, the undead king must be put to rest if they are to claim Dammerhall. There are two ways they can go about that:
Destroy Gurnir
This is the most straightforward example, and the only one available to Overlords, as Gurnir will not compromise with them and defend the necropolis fiercely against drow, not even considering making them allies of convenience against the Hazzuk-Mun. To permanently banish Gurnir from his undead existence, his ghost must first be destroyed, the obelisk in area D2 destroyed or dispelled to remove the unhallow effect on the mausoleum, and a hallow spell must be cast in the throne room.If the PCs haven’t made an enemy of Lady Dirge, she can instead bless the area and prevent Gurnir’s rejuvenation after he’s been destroyed.
Either way, Gurnir’s destruction sends a wave of despair among the undead still fighting in Dammerhall. The chance to encounter patrols of undead in the streets of Dammerhall falls to 25% and the Hazzuk-Mun gain 10 Integrity points as they gain the upper hand against them. The PCs also gain 5 points of Attention from Lady Dirge, who awards them their final rewards according to the table at the beginning of this chapter.
Lay Gurnir to rest
Explorers who either ally with Gurnir or reach him after recovering the Axe of Dammerhall (area XX) and the Sash of Dammerhall (area XX) can alternatively get him to pass on by showing him a Dammerhall once again ruled by a legitimate heir to the throne, be it an actual descendant of the ancient kings or a successor nominated by Gurnir himself. For all his folly, seeing the great city being once again under dwarven rule is the one thing that will convince him to depart peacefully from this world.
When granting audience to the PCs in person (whether they are his enemies or allies), Gurnir starts by rambling on, musing bitterly on how he plans to strike back at Hazzuk with everything he can muster and cursing the psychopomps for meddling in his justified vengeance. If the PCs interject and broach the topic of who will rule Dammerhall once Hazzuk is slain, Gurnir snaps to attention. Read or paraphrase the following:
“Who indeed will rule Dammerhall. Do you believe you can shoulder the responsibility of that station? Return our glorious kingdom to its ancient splendor? Do not besmirch the greatness of our kingdom by implying you can reclaim it by merely marching troops through its lands and placing a crown upon your own head!
No, Dammerhall will not have its new High King so long as Hazzuk still draws breath in our palace and the three regalia of the dwarves lay scattered. If it truly is my blood, or at least those of the true warriors of Dammerhall running through your veins, you will not make such a claim until you have reunited the scepter with the axe and sash, and painted the palace’s floor with the usurper’s foul blood!”
If further pressed, he keeps directing the PCs towards recovering the two regalia and killing Hazzuk. At this point, he will not attack the PCs, secretly hoping they will accept and be up to the task, or at least damage Hazzuk’s forces while trying to achieve them.
If the PCs return to this room after achieving those feats, Gurnir’s attitude shifts dramatically. After briefly asking to confirm that the dwarf carrying the two regalia is the one laying claim to the title, read or paraphrase the following:
The ancient ghost rises from his throne, holding the scepter in both hands. In a booming, solemn voice, he speaks to you.
“The bloodline of Dammerhall is restored. The lineage of kings continues. By the name of the Tarnhammer inscribed in our ancestral regalia, and baptized by the blood of the usurper, I declare you, [name], my legitimate successor, heir to the throne of Dammerhall, Jarl of the kingdom beneath the mountains, High [King/Queen] of the Dwarves. May your rulership be keen as true mithral, solid as the bedrock, and long-lived as the caves.“
Said that, he presents the scepter and waits, unmoving, for your hands to take it.
After the PC who is to become High King has taken the scepter, Gurnir draws one final, relieved sigh. His crooked visage turns briefly into the stern, wise image of a king, before the ghost dissipates completely into thin mist. A wave of stillness washes over Dammerhall, the last command of the king’s final vigil compelling the undead to abandon their unlife. Incorporeal undead instantly dissipate, while corporeal ones march to the Necropolis and crawl back into their graves, returning to rest unending. This resolution earns the PCs 8 points of Attention from Lady Dirge.

Gurnir Tarnhammer, undead High King of Dammerhall CR 15
XP 51,200
Male ghost dwarf sorcerer 10/fighter 4
LE Medium undead (augmented humanoid, incorporeal)
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft. Perception +10
AC 21, Touch 17, flat-footed 20(+4 armor, +1 Dex, +6 deflection)
hp 171 (10d6+4d10+112)
Fort +13, Ref +7, Will +12
Defensive Abilities channel resistance +4, rejuvenation Immune undead traits
Speed fly 30 ft.
Melee Scepter of Dammerhall +15/+10 (1d8+6), corrupting touch +7 (15d6) or corrupting touch +12 (15d6)
Special Attacks corrupting touch(DC 25), frightful moan(DC 23), telekinesis, malevolence(DC 23), corrupting gaze(DC 23), touch of destiny 8/day
Sorcerer spells known (CL 10th, concentration +16)
5th(4/day, DC 21) - cloudkill
4th (6/day, DC 20) - freedom of movement, animate dead, bestow curse
3rd (7/day, DC 19) - protection from energy, vampiric touch, fireball(DC 21), air geyser(DC 21)
2nd (8/day, DC 18)- blur, false life, blindness/deafness, shatter(DC 20), web
1st (8/day, DC 17) - alarm, break, repair undead, ray of sickening, floating disk, true strike
0 - mage hand, prestidigitation, detect magic, read magic, bleed, touch of fatigue, daze, acid splash, ghost sound
Str -–, Dex 12, Con —, Int 12, Wis 14, Cha 22
Base Atk +9; CMB +10; CMD 20 (can’t be tripped)
Feats Eschew Materials, Arcane Strike, Iron Will, Craft Magical Arms and Armor, Lightning Reflexes, Leadership, Weapon Focus(heavy mace), Weapon Specialization(heavy mace), Ability Focus(corrupting touch), Spell Focus(Evocation), Greater Spell Focus(Evocation), Combat Casting
Skills Diplomacy +10, Intimidate +13, Knowledge(arcana) +11, Knowledge(nobility) +11, Perception +10, Spellcraft +18, Stealth +9 Racial Bonuses +8 Perception, +8 Stealth
Other gear Scepter of Dammerhall
SQ bloodline(destined), fated +2, it was meant to be 1/day, bravery +1, armor training 1
Languages Dwarven, Elven, Undercommon, Necril
Before Combat Gurnir casts mage armor on himself every day. If the obelisk in area D2 is destroyed and there isn’t a graveknight providing him with the benefits of desecrate, he uses a standard action to activate the desecrate glyph on the throne, afterwards he casts blur and freedom of movement on himself. The bonuses from the spells have already been factored in his statblock.
During Combat Gurnir casts greater command from the Scepter to make his enemies lie on the ground, then casts cloudkill to wear them down while they’re immobile. Afterwards, he activates his corrupting gaze and blasts them with his array of offensive spells, resorting to melee combat with his scepter and corrupting touch only as a last resort.
Morale Gurnir fanatically defends his throne room until destroyed.
Treasure: Besides Gurnir’s equipment, the room contains several treasures and magic items, some of which are heirlooms Gurnir had brought here from the other crypts, and others magical items he and his followers used to grow his army of undead. In total, there are two scrolls of harm, a ring of feather falling, a wand of resist acid (CL 7) with 15 charges left, a jar of stone salve, two scrolls of summon monster V, a diamond-studded mithral bracelet worth 2,500 gp, an exquisite map of Dammerhall embroidered in gold stitching worth 1,800 gp, a leather pouch with ten blood-red rubies worth 250 gp each, 270 mithral coins, 1350 gp, 6500 sp and 8,800 cp in dwarven coinage.

Scepter of Dammerhall
Slot none; Aura strong (conjuration, enchantment, transmutation); CL 15th;
Weight 8 lbs. Price 42,600 gp
This exquisite scepter, carved out of stone and decorated with an intricate pattern of runes and dwarven heraldry, is one of the symbols of rulership of the ancient dwarven kingdoms. It can be wielded as a +2 heavy mace, and grants the wielder a +5 competence bonus on Knowledge(local), Knowledge(nobility) and Knowledge(history) checks related to dwarves and dwarven culture and settlements. Finally, it acts as a magical staff. If the wielder is a dwarf, they can cast the spells as if they had them on their spell list and once per day they can attempt a DC 20 Wisdom check to restore one charge to the scepter. It can cast the following spells:
Command (1 charge)
Forebear’s visage (1 charge)
Stone shape (2 charges)
Wall of stone (2 charges)
Greater command (3 charges)

submitted by Zorothegallade to Pathfinder_RPG [link] [comments]

2023.03.23 13:53 RobyourVaultTecRep Harford District Cub Scout Day Camp

Day camp for Grade school age kids. You don't need to be a current scout to attend. Need older youth and adult volunteers as well.
submitted by RobyourVaultTecRep to harfordcountymd [link] [comments]

2023.03.23 12:41 Prestigious_Quiet I am 30 years old, make $31/hr, and have paid off $2,620 in debt since January 2023


Job: Clinical Research Operations & UX Researcher (the latter role, is something I carved out at this position because they needed it’s a career pivot I want to make). Currently looking to escape academia
Industry: Education / Clinical Research
Location: Atlanta, GA
Context: Much of my debt narrative is inextricably linked with my mother who will be mentioned quite a bit. Saw her detrimentally affected by lifestyle creep and terrible financial decisions and I’m realized I repeated many of her same mistakes as I lived with her until I was 29. You know that diary where the lady had an account in the red but was ordering $16 bagels and had no savings? Everything about it reminded me of my mom.

Current Debt and Assets

To preface, for this debt payoff in the title, I didn’t want to count payments on credit cards where I paid the minimum and then ran up new charges because well then I didn’t pay any debt. I realized I really needed to get my financial affairs in order and plan.
I started the $5,050 Envelope Savings Challenge – it’s pretty popular on financial YouTube. Essentially, for 100 days you set aside $1 to $100 save and by the end you will have saved $5,050. I adjusted this plan a bit since I’m paid on a weekly basis and it’s easier to manage at the end of the week. I am a bit behind on my plan but hoping to finish by April 2023.
Credit card debt: Only have three cards and plan on keeping it this way for quite some time
Discover: $5,261.44 / $8000.00
Citi: $2,310.22 / $4000.00
The Discover and Citi credit limits were increased automatically in the past couple of weeks, but I have incurred no additional charges.
My Basic Pity AMEX: $0 / $500 (yes it’s just 500, but this helps me pay it off every month if I do use it, since I’ve gotten much better with spending)
Personal loans
Paid: $1489.13/$2500, which is 59% principal amount only). After getting settled in my new place which put me in debt as my emergency fund and savings had run out unexpectedly due to my mother not paying me back and learning she blew through her money despite making a base salary of $120K.
Payments were originally $89.07/ month, I have now begun escalating these payments and hope to pay it off by the end of this year instead of the projected 2025 pay-off date.
Medical debt: None! (Tip: get itemized bills of your hospital visits as many times there are inaccurate codes applied to your bills)
Student loan debt (for what degree): $52,000. Originally attended an expensive private university in the East Coast and sadly due to financial circumstances had to drop out after a year. I was not educated about school finances and thought that prestige of the school was essential and had dreams of escaping my boring suburb. After working retail and customer service jobs and having difficulty finding a decent paying job with no degree, I was able to transfer to a public university in my home state and switch my major to Neuroscience (one of the best decisions I made) and applied for scholarships, that covered most of my education. The private school takes up like 85% of the student debt.
Remaining mortgage balance if you’re a homeowner: I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it.
Auto loans: None! Proud moment that I outright own the car. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for family to have cars repossessed, it happened to me with this car.
Retirement balance: ~ 500.00 through a Roth IRA. I have paused payments on that while I tackle this debt, but want to aim to max it out every year. I’m a contractor wasn’t offered retirement benefits.
The importance of retirement was never taught to me as I’ve seen my mother cash out her 401K multiple times – once to fund a vacation we couldn’t afford. When I received my first full-time job, I really didn’t think much of it as I was young (26) and didn’t bring home a lot and with rent, I felt like a waste to contribute to retirement. When you’re conditioned to live paycheck to paycheck, thinking about the future can feel like a practical joke on a cosmic level. I do regret not educating myself about this more.
Savings account balance: $2,659.89 Has been drained multiple times due to help family and financial irresponsibility (I sound like I’m making so many excuses), but once I moved last summer, I started moving $40/week to a HYSA account for emergencies which has ~$1800. The other HYSA is for shopping expenses which I haven’t touched.
Checking account balance: $114.00 (Recently began moving rent payments to savings)

Section Two: Income

Income Progression:
- First ever job was a high school internship I did at national science laboratory doing physics writing and some basic website building when I was 15. A whopping $8.25 / hr!
- Later worked front desk at a YMCA for some community outreach program to help low-income minorities. $10/hr
- During my gap years from 2012 – 2015 and when I needed to make some money when I returned to finish my degree until 2018: Mix of retail and food service jobs in delis for minimum wage or just above that. The trauma of customers presenting me with years old Kohl’s Cash they found in like their aunt’s casket and insisting it should be accepted will never leave me.
- Graduated! In 2019 found a full-time position working as a transplant and infectious disease research coordinator and researcher for some projects. I have a salary now! ~36K/year.
- In June 2021 left that job due to the terrible environment and mistreatment I faced, I left the job with no backup plan – however the job owed me significant backpay since for some research studies I was on call 24/7 – used that money to cover four months of expenses including rent!
- In November 2021, after needing money, I take a job a nearby insectary where I helped with day-to-day care of mosquitoes and helped with some insecticide product development and research. $16/hr – no benefits.
- I need more money and working at an insectary can take a toll on the body! Lease is up, I apply to higher paying jobs in Atlanta at the recommendation of my mom as she moved to Georgia for a job, land my current role of $31/hr.
- Now: still there, but looking to take my talents to a higher salary!
Main Job Monthly Take Home: $3,648 / month, however if I call out sick, the company doesn’t allow me to make up the hours
Side Gig Monthly Take Home: $0 (currently looking for a side gig)

Section Three: Monthly Expenses

Rent (includes all utilities) - $1425
Retirement contribution - $0
Savings contribution - $160/month (currently paused as I try to pay down some debt)
Investment contribution - $0
Debt payments - Right now the two credit cards mentioned earlier and the loan. Pay above the minimum on all due to the savings challenge.
Discover - $137 (but I have added an extra $100 on top) and this does not count toward my debt challenge
Citi: $98 (do not count this toward the debt challenge)
AMEX: varies, but at most $150
Cellphone - $27.00
Subscriptions – Netflix ($15.49/month), Hulu ($7.99/month), Peacock for my IndyCar and Real Housewives fix ($4.99/month), F1TV ($9.99/month) - 38.46
Gym membership - $0 (workout at home or at the fitness center at my job, one perk of working in higher education)
Regular therapy – none, but next month I plan on signing up for a low-cost therapy collective
Paid hobbies – Babbel for learning Italian ($26.85 every three months)
Food + Drink – My vice is indulging in groceries since I like cooking ~$200/month + plus a convenience shop/café at work $70/month. I really need to be more diligent with meal prepping.
Home + Health – Health insurance ($263/month) and Dental ($12/month)
Transport - $80/month on gas
Storage - $160. I’m hoping to save enough to clear this out by the end of 2023, just holding onto things is psychological weight.

Debt Diary

Apologies as I know the template says detailed, but some of this stretches back almost ten years, so I can’t recall every debt, sadly. Get ready, it’s a doozy!
2012 – 19 years old. Applied for and received my first credit card to establish credit history. $500 limit the minute the envelope came, I ripped it open and went right to Nordstrom Rack and charged $200. Young dumb, didn’t realize you have to like pay it, so to get a bill for the minimum payment was terrible. Only made minimum payments, quickly maxed it out, so applied for another card because I just thought that’s what you do – maxed out that one. Then applied for a Kohl’s card as I worked there and you get employee discounts stacked with card discounts and my mom really wanted a Dyson - $600 limit maxed out.
Only paid the minimum as I paid other bills so payments lapsed and my original credit card is “closed” but still shows as an open credit line with no balance, but the other credit card and the Kohl’s card went to collections. Had to make payment arrangements to get the collections discharged.
Total debt: ~$3000 (includes interest payments, late fees, collection fees, etc.) but paid off
2014 – Took out personal loan #1 for $3000, don’t recall the interest rate, but I was broke and was approved so it’s like a less evil payday loan. I can’t really remember why but I know it was to help cover some personal expenses and help my mom with some bills (yes, my mother’s bad financial habits have been tied to me since I was a kid. As she supported me, she would often use this to manipulate me to cover for her poor choices). Some payments were returned due to insufficient funds and it took me four years to pay it off as I paid only the minimum with maybe one or two extra payments.
Total debt: ~$5,692.00.paid off in 2018
2015 – Working part time at Costco. My mother insists I purchase a brand-new car as I need it for school and she was sick of dropping me off, completely fair, however the advice of getting a new car was something I should have avoided. Saved $2000 for a down payment and financed a $33,000 car. My mother’s credit is shot so she’s not a cosigner.
Total debt ~$40,000 paid off in 2021
Later had to chip in more with bills and rent, so got behind on my payments and the car was repossessed. Worked with my mom and the finance company to retrieve my car and took extra work to make payments and paid her back. Car is mine now paid off! Though I wish this moment is where I would learn my lesson about finances.
2019 - Personal Loan #2 for $2,100 from the same loan company. I needed this for a university pre-med course (already graduated so I wasn’t eligible for funding for a one-off class) I was taking as I had ambitions of doing MD-PhD programs, couldn’t afford and hadn’t yet landed my salaried job. Was working retail to pay expenses and take the course. Mom promised she helped pay for the course but used to our financial instability knew that wouldn’t happen.
HOWEVER, managed to pay this off in one year as I doubled payments one I got my full time job. I didn’t really have a plan or budget, I just sorted out monthly expenses and paid what I could. Since I have an active loan with this company, I can still reference the payment history. Told myself I am never getting one of these loans again! 🫠
Debt Paid to loan $2468.05 paid off in 2020
2022 – Took out the personal loan of $2500 that I am currently paying now. Moved to Atlanta with practically nothing after helping my mom, but I realized our relationship was done so I decided to find my own place instead of living with her. While I was trying to get settled, applied for places only to be ghosted or hear that other potential tenants got them so I charged staying in some budget motels for a few weeks which totaled round $1000.
I get my place the weekend before I start my new job, so I have no checks! I had whatever I could bring in my car (basically had a terrible landlord at my previous place that moving was a chaotic, terrible experience with no show movers). Honestly, why can’t we teleport things now? Furnished my place using thrift store goods, plastic furniture from Lowe’s, and my biggest expense was a mattress, bed frame, and portable washing machine for my studio. All charges that were racked up on credit.
Total debt: ~$3000

Okay, a long tangent to explain

I grew up in quite a financially unstable household – one glaring example was my parents borrowing money from me as a kid and them draining a bank account I had when I was 13 without telling me.
As my mother got more established in her career and earned high salaries in a MCOL area, the lifestyle creep set in a lot. For reference, I’ve seen my mother
It took me years to realize that even though my mother did her best, that was a not a healthy relationship with money, so the financial lessons I learned and was taught by her was entrenched in delusion and misinformation. I didn’t start saving money until I was about 29 years old once I got my own place.
All through this my vice with credit cards (which is why recollecting the debt is a blur) is shopping. Seeing a lot of flex culture in family, I inherited a penchant for purchasing designer discount stuff on eBay, TheRealReal, thrift stores, consignment and lots and lots and lots of pricey skincare I didn’t need. My check went to rent, bills, and if I had anything left or if it was on a charge card – I was on eBay or TheRealReal. I would make these dumb excuses of how I was in my 20s with a professional job and needed to be more polished and invest in quality pieces. Turns out when you buy nice things, you have the things and not the money? Who knew!
Over the years I’ve dealt with depression then with 2020 and working in infectious disease and transplant research, online shopping has been a real addiction. Basically, it was a façade like to demonstrate to the world I wasn’t struggling, but I was - cosplaying "rich" when I was in the red - something I inherited from … from… from…
come on doooooown, you guessed it! – my mom (who inherited it from her mom. The stories I could tell about that!)
I have been accustomed to a certain lifestyle me draining my bank accounts and savings to cover her lack of budgeting, trying to flex. She would ask to borrow my credit card for gas, say it’s the only thing she needed, and then the statement would come showing charges for online shopping, fancy lunches, random crap. She wouldn’t respect my boundaries when I confronted her about these charges, she would argue how she supported me when I went to school, though that’s not really true as I contributed significantly to household expenses including rent. Emotionally I just lost the energy to fight it.

Reflection: Prioritizing Myself

Now, I live on my own without and I broke off contact with my mother though I do really worry about her financially and still harboring a lot of guilt after telling her I couldn’t financially stretch myself thin for her. She has never acknowledged or respected this decision, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she continues to make the same mistakes. I realized much of my financial lapses were psychological which is why I want to begin budgeting for therapy. Over the past few years, I have tried to do a bit of soul-searching and prioritizing. The first time I ever made a savings plan was for a trip to Italy in 2022 and I managed to stick to it. I realize that I want to travel more and was upset about how all the money I spent on clothes and beauty products could’ve been invested in my savings and probably a really nice trip.
For my debt, I’m using thing $5,050 challenge to escalate payments on the loan and my credit card debt. Crossing off those numbers has been great, and I haven’t been perfect at it, but trying to make a plan to do better like be more strict with my food budget. I have gotten a lot better with curbing impulse shopping though I love clothes and fashion. With that, I made a rule – if I wanted to purchase one piece of clothing, two things had to go, it makes me assess if I want something – turns out, a lot of the time I don’t.
These challenges are motivators, so I hope to continue with more savings and more debt payoff challenges.
I did express wanting a higher salary especially after learning how the research I did could net me more than $17/hr, but I’m trying to be grateful with what I already have because I realize I have a lot more than most – some savings, my health, a roof over my head, reliable transportation, a job, my life. And a high salary doesn't beget financial responsibility.
I apologize as my writing can be quite chaotic (and this was quite stressful to write) to say the least, but feel free to ask me any questions and I’ll try my best to answer. Thank you!
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