WAR & REMEMBRANCE
Previously: War Crimes
Themesong: These Dreams by Heart
I was no longer Sio Jang, the guilt-ridden survivor-slayer of Whispering Pines, but I, EssJay, was not doing well, emotionally speaking, over the next few days. The nightmares when I slept were horrifying, and I kept flashing back to the horrors of war I’d seen in Starfleet, the Zombie Apocalypse, as a SPECTRE, and in the all too many wars I’d fought across all too many jumps. I’d been through far too much to allow what I’d done in Psychonauts destroy me, and had ways of fighting off the worst of the darkness without collapsing utterly, but meditation and medication only go so far, and guilt is a powerful agent.
So it was that, one the seventh day after the end of Psychonauts, when I saw that Redwall was the next jump in the sequence I almost wept. Might have too, had I not so completely internalized the emotional control techniques I’d gained from being a Vulcan. It’s strange what sticks with a person, but while the treacherous voice of doubt and self-loathing was speaking in my head, whispering that I’d make an utter hash of this too, the voices of my better… selves… pointed out that a) dwelling in the past was unproductive and b) I had a pretty good track record for not fucking up royally, and c) while there would almost certainly be pepper grinders in Redwall, they were unlikely to be wielded by mad scientists with a fleet of psychic tanks. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much to lighten my mood, but moping didn’t earn the Choice Points needed to keep the lights on.
Also unfortunately, I’d never read more than the first book of Brian Jacques’ sprawling series, although I knew the names of a couple of the latter books. It was all very… Secret of NIMH without the mad science… lots of woodland animals living together and being medieval in the ruins of a Human built abbey or something. The details hadn’t stuck too firmly in my head, especially not with the voracious way I used to consume media… not that I’d slowed down, of course.
Sure, I hadn’t encountered any Jump setting that wasn’t linked to something created on Origin Earth, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t ever going to happen. And sure, I was spending a lot more of my time pursuing other hobbies… but thanks to my reading glasses I could read eighteen times faster than before. Shame I couldn’t process audio files eighteen times faster as well. Someone should invent ’18x Galeforce Hearing Aids… or maybe that would blow out your eardrums and core your brain… but probably not. Of course, I could cheat outrageously in other ways.
By giving Ziggy a stack of books in my pokebag, then using my ability to bring people inside my mind for up to a full day, every day… a day worth of time in which the outside world was paused in time and no one, not even me, was getting any older… I could effectively sextuple my reading time… assuming that I was reading only four hours a day otherwise. Add to that the fact that there were literally two-hundred of me inside my own head? Yeah… we could go through a frightening amount of books in a day… even if most of those books ended up being read multiple times.
What can I say? Different me’s had different perspectives on things. You try having a book club with twenty or thirty of your own pre-incarnations some time. Of course… that was another question… were they pre-incarnations of the current me? or reincarnations of the original me? Or were they both at the same time? Being a jump plays merry hell with metaphysics sometimes.
So yeah… Astral Layers had taken my ADHD to terrifying new levels, though there were now so many of me that I could be spazzing out in a dozen ways and an outside observer would never know because the me in the driver’s seat could be (almost) totally focused. But secretly? On the inside? I could now have enough thought processes all running around inside my head simultaneously to rival Parliament… Congress… the Kinesit… which country was I from again!!? I’d been from so very very many… or not really that many, actually… who’s to say?
In terms of ‘Real’ nations I’d called home (either as a native or emigree), I’d lived in the US (many times), the UK, Norway, China, Japan, Estonia, France, Israel, Russia, Kazakhstan, Austria (pre-WWII), Poland (post-Aku), Scandinavia (both during the Viking Era and after), and Jamaica. I’d also lived in Hoenn, Pokeland, Council Space, Black Marsh, Vulcan, The United Federation of Planets, Bastion’s ‘City’, Megakat City, The Nowhere Islands, Mirkwood, Gondor, Midgard, The Southern Water Tribe, The Earth Kingdoms, Republic City, The Fire Nation, The Maegi-Yternal Technocratic Hegemony (realm of MYTH? I’m hilarious!), The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros (which became The Republic of Jaynusia), Remnant, Gensokyo, Fiore, Academy City, and Poketopia. And soon the world of Redwall, right?
According to my spin on the Wheel of Locations, I would arrive a few miles from the ancient mountain of ‘Salamandastron’ (a name I’d seen on book jackets but never known to be a mountain), currently the dominion of Lord Stonepaw (whoever he was), just as the armies of the wildcat Ungatt Trunn (whoever that is) are marching towards it… though I’ll have a head start. So yay? I could run from the armies of some guy right into the hands of the… I dunno… guards of some other guy. Except here the guys were a cat and… I actually had no idea what Lord Stonepaw was… or who the good guy was.
Anyway, a few seasons (out of the 40 we’ll be stuck in Zootopia) from now… then… from jump start, a warrior named Luke (etc.) would… will set out to get revenge on some murderous pirates… are there really any other kind? I mean really. Well, I guess in fiction, there were honorable pirates who just pirated as a economic thing and didn’t murder, rape, or enslave others. But they were still thieves who routinely ruined people’s lives at gunpoint. Even privateers weren’t fighting warships, they were raiding commerce, and that meant ruining economies and making people’s lives so bad that their government couldn’t continue a war. That was bad enough at the best of time, but since such piracy was usually part of a campaign of terror? It was so much worse. Getting rich off of it was just… deplorable.
So yeah, I guess good for Luke. At least he seemed to be a reasonable sort. Shame about them killing his wife. Had no idea who the pirates were or what species any of these people were… though all this did raise some interesting questions.
Fantasy racism gets a bad rap sometimes, but when you’re dealing with actually different species, each with their own mentalities shaped by evolution and neural chemistry, with different strengths and weaknesses… was it still racism? Was Specism really unfair of the sapient tigers were all murderous sadistic fucks? If the Guinea Pig People were as stupid as a bag of hammers? If the Weaselfolk really did have attention spans measurable with a high end olympic stopwatch? Was it sexist to say that female peafowl were drab, male spiders tiny, and male angler fish functionally useless? Was it transphobic to be confused over which sex a clownfish was this week?
One argument would say that it wasn’t as long as one treated each of them with respect regardless of their differences. That was a fair statement, in my opinion. Looking down on someone just because they were an actual snake was wrong… but how did one deal with species that were too different, too aggressive, too stupid, too foolish, too sadistic, too destructive, too… much?
When did one cross the line from tolerant and respectful to just being a sucker? The Xenomorphs might be sophonts… but they were the kind of sophonts you destroyed with atomic fire as soon as possible or you found yourself regretting it just before your chest was ripped open from the inside out. The Orcs of Sauron, the Orks of Warhammer 40k, the Gremlins of Gremlins… Demons and Vampires, Tyranids and Zerg… some species just didn’t play nice with others. Were there species like that in this world? Was it that optimistic a setting that everyone was redeemable if you tried hard enough? Or did nature override nurture? I guess I’d find out.
Age and Gender were both free picks, which was an interesting (and welcome switch). Maybe that spoke to a high level of optimism in the setting? Or maybe the Jump Crafter didn’t think making someone pay for something like that was very interesting. All the backgrounds were free. as well, which was something I hadn’t seen that often either.
I set aside the question of age and gender for the time being, though I was fairly certain I’d be female. I’d only been male twice now (outside of the Maegi King-Priests), once to avoid the sexism of the early 50s (the glassblower Solomon Judd) and once thanks to a glitch (ex-cop Sam Jones). I had three male forms, courtesy of my Jusenkyo Curse, which allowed me to could gendershift in general, but Soap of the Joketsuzoku was entirely female of gender, regardless of her sex. I’d make my final determination once I had an idea of who and what I was going to be and kind of person that would be.
And that meant Background and Species, of which there were four and fourteen choices respectively… with Species divided into three ‘alignments’; Goodbeasts, Vermin, and Neutral… I guess Redworld wasn’t that optimistic after all.
The Wanderer Background was the rootless vagabond with no history or family or memories… the drop-in in other words. It didn’t speak to me… the last person I wanted to be right now was Sio Jang. whose memories and personality had been spun off into a new astral layer as she faded from primacy… but EssJay was a close second. Sio Jang might carry the weight of those deaths (and was being tended to by some of the King-Priests who had experience with survivor’s guilt), but EssJay’s choices and foolishness had brought her to that pass and not protected her. Sio had been nine; EssJay had been fifteen-hundred times that age. One of them should have known better. A break from both of them seemed in order.
That left three options, and neither Warrior nor Scoundrel appealed to me at the time, for obvious reasons. In fact, in my current state, not only did the relatively pacific Abbey-Dweller seem like a good idea… it seemed like a warm hug… emotionally speaking. A warm hug more than one part of me desperately needed… as for deserved? Who can say? Forgiveness is hard to ask of the dead.
Up next was the choice of species. Maybe it’s girlish of me… maybe I was just counting on there being a Stewart Little, Secret of NIMH, MAUS, Mouseguard, or American Tail jump sometime in the future… but being a mouse now, with so many other choices, no matter how prevalent Mice might be in the books (although, as I’ve said, I’d only read the one), seemed silly. Shrews were out for the same reason… a mouse by any other name and all. Moles have terrible vision and live in dirt. Hares, as much as I love bunnies… I dunno, the lack of binocular vision would get to me, I think, no matter how good the hearing is.
That left Squirrels (poofy tail!), Hedgehogs (spiiiikes!), Badgers (growf!), and Otters (weeee!). With all due respect to the Herbivores… I’m not one. Sure Hedgies are mostly insectivorous and Squirrels are tree rats… they’ll eat anything… but I’d rather go with something higher up the foodchain.
Of course, Badgers and Otters are both relatives of the Ferret, so there was certain appeal there. Sure, I could go Vermin and take Weasel but Vermin couldn’t be Abbey-Dwellers (or Warriors for some reason) just as Goodbeasts couldn’t be Scoundrels. Racial profiling there… or species profiling, I guess. Birds were tempting, but cost two-hundred. Badgers were very cool, but cost three-hundred (as did Wildcats). Serpents cost a whopping six-hundred, which was just bonkers. I couldn’t see paying for species, unless there was some kind of amazing bonuses attached to them, especially since I wanted to avoid Drawbacks if I could. Too many negative associations. So Otter it was.
Before the system took me to the perks, a pop-up popped up on screen (as they are wont to do). It said it was ‘A Note On Scale, Both Temporal and Spatial’. Essentially, it was there to make it clear that the books were less than clear on the exact length of time things took or the sizes of the creatures of the Mossflower region. As such, some clarifications were in order.
First, on the subject of time, my stay in this world would be pegged at forty seasons, not ten years, and while the small creatures like Mice and Shrews could expect to reach an age of, perhaps, eighty or ninety seasons, the larger creatures, such as Badgers and Wildcats could live considerably longer, while the ‘reptiles’ could live longer still. Since Otters range from about half the size of Badgers to considerably larger, depending on the subspecies.
As for size, a thing that had confused me very much as I’d read the titular “Redwall”, was just how big the creatures in question were. It seemed to be mice-sized mice living in the ruins of a human-sized Abbey… but wasn’t always consistent on that subject. I had wondered how, say, a shrew and a rabbit, which aren’t even close to being on the same scale, no matter how small they may be to a human’s frame of reference, might function in the same environment.
The average shrew (assuming we’re speaking of the Eurasian water shrew, which is large in shrew terms) is about eight centimeters long and weighs perhaps sixteen grams. The Etruscan pygmy shrew is the smallest real-world mammal by mass, being perhaps four centimeters long and weighing slightly more than a tenth as much as the water shrew.
By comparison, the European Hare, which shares the same general range as both the shrews I mentioned, rangers from sixty to seventy-five centimeters (all of these measurements exclude the tail length), and mass between three and five kilograms. That is, for the mathematically disinclined, on the order of seven to ten times the size of the larger shrew and two to three-thousand times the mass of the smaller one. A halberd for a shrew would be a toothpick for a hare. Clearly, that was not going to work for a shared environment… not to mention equipment and cooking needs.
However, in Mossflower, the mightiest badger (real world mass on the order of ten kilos… assuming they aren’t bulking up for hibernation, when their mass can reach some eighteen kilos) was little more than twice the height of the average field mouse (fifteen grams). Thus, for the duration of our stay in Mossflower, all our stuff would be scaled to fit the world, regardless of the implications of the Square-Cube law… and anything we took from this world would scale up to human sized… thus maybe a meter and a half or so for a shrew and perhaps two and a half for a badger. That would make me one very big otter, once I left this world behind (Eurasian otters routinely outmass European badgers)… though both of them are dwarfed by the Giant River Otter, the largest weaseloid in the world… which is roughly man-sized even outside Mossflower.
Speaking of rivers, as an Otter, I started off with the perk ‘Born in the Streams’ for free. Not only did it make me better at swimming than almost anyone else, allowing me to swim upstream against a raging river, or keep my head above water in a hurricane, it also came with an overall boost to my strength, and made my belly a bit tauter. Mmm… abs. Sexy… not that I wasn’t already lean and tight. Still, I do enjoy swimming, so being better at it was a plus.
The freebie I got as an Abbey-Dweller was called ‘With Open Arms’, and it made me better are find community, security, and family… or, if necessary, founding them. It gave me a sense for how to make a good first impression, and how to quickly integrate myself into any sort of loose hierarchy I might be invited to join. It wasn’t a guarantee that I wouldn’t find myself cast out if I continued to violate the rules of those communities that had welcomed me, but it did mean that, at least on a first offense, I’d be (probably) be given the benefit of the doubt… especially if it wasn’t something egregious.
Those were both a good start, nice, wholesome, the kind of thing a world weary veteran of the psychic wars… not to mention several other kinds… would want. While I was at it, I figured I might as well check out the rest of the Abbey-Dweller line… and having checked it out, I figured I might as well take it. Lock, stock, and fermenting barrel; all for the low low price of six-hundred Cheese Points… Cheese?
I blinked, looking at the coins for this jump. Yes… indeed, they said ’50 Cheese Points’. Cows were not on the list… nor were goats or sheep… How the hell was there cheese in this world? Rabbit’s Milk? Were they milking sophonts? Did this world even have beasts of burden? For that matter, were the fish of this world sophonts? Because what else was anyone not an herbivore going to eat? “Hey, miss Hen! Can I trouble you for a dozen of your unborn children?” I don’t think that would play very well… but maybe there were both sophont birds and non-sophont birds? Were there deer to hunt? And were they human-scale or abbey-dweller scale? This was going to bother me… but back to the perks.
And speaking of food, ‘Wholesome Home Cooking’ made me a culinary genius, one able to whip up a delicious four course meal on a moment’s notice, or keep a whole abbey fed for weeks under siege conditions. It gave me knowledge of all the various local cooking styles and the ability to make vegan substitutions nearly indistinguishable from the real thing (ha… I’d believe that when I saw it). It was even future-proofed, allowing me to learn the most popular meals no matter where I went. It was, all in all, a fun little boost to my steadily growing art portfolio… plus… you know… tasty tasty foodie-noms. Best thing about Jumpchain, swear to god, was all the food I’d gotten to try over the centuries. And never having to worry about what eating seven cheese-cakes and enough brownies to cover an entire soccer pitch in a single week might do to my figure… or health.
Still, other people did have to worry about that, or just about their health in general, and ‘Expert Healer’ was thus another no brainer. It gave me next gen folk medicine and medical skills across the board, plus the ability to integrate more advanced medical knowledge with the down-home style of this pre-industrial world. That would be good, not only in Mossflower, but places like it, helping me hide futuristic medicine in more folksy ways as I provided treatments to the primitives… and maybe I’d learn something. Herbalism wasn’t homeopathy, after all. Herbs and spices often contained medicinal properties. Birch bark was where asprin came from, digitalis was foxglove, and even athelas contained a potent and fairly generalized antitoxin. Only a fool passed up the bounty of nature without a second look.
And on the subject of fools… I’d have to be a fool to pass up ‘JITTAGALL’, the Abbey-Dweller capstone. Jittagall, an initialism that barely qualified as an acronym, stood for ‘Jumping Is The Thing A Good Abbey Leader Learns’. It would transform me into an embodiment of the seven virtues exemplified by the great leaders of Redwall Abbey. Or so it claimed. I had no frame of reference, seeing as how I hadn’t the faintest idea who those great leaders were. As to the virtues they supposedly possessed (either individually or collectively), apparently those were: Humility, Patience, Wisdom, Understanding, Kindness, Friendliness, and Strength of Character. This was to be no metaphorical transformation; the embodiment was all too real, though it didn’t manifest as a visible glowing aura, but rather as a faint smell of lilacs (which could, thankfully be suppressed at will… I detest lilacs).
Not only would I be granted each virtue to the level possessed by a living saint, but those who shared my values would quickly come to regard me as exactly that, and even my mortal enemies would hesitate to hurt me… there was even a guarantee that those virtues would never come to harm me… Kindness would not weaken me, Friendliness blind me to the failings of others, Humility never make me doubt myself, and Strength of Character never force me to be honest when it was counter to my best interests.
Saintly virtues… I could use a hefty dose of those, right about now. Wisdom most of all… Humility too, for that matter. I put a hard lockout on the Medbay pods containing the Kihara’s. They could not be opened by anyone for ten years and forty days. If I decided to forgive those psychos, it would not be under the kinder, gentler, pacifist me.
Before moving on to the physical components of the Abbey-Dweller, package, I paid three-hundred Cheese for the companion import package . It came with eight slots, each gaining a free background plus three-hundred Cheese for Perks, Abilities, and Gear. Using my newfound wisdom… well, that and a general knowledge of my followers, I selected Velma, Toph, Yoiko, Ryoga, Bao, and Uriel to accompany me. The pokecrowd (and Cirno) were highly unlikely to find fault with my actions of the previous period, and Kendra was, to put it bluntly, furious with me. True, Velma was avoiding me too, but we’d have an entire decade… sorry… two score seasons to work things out. Thus, I had two slots left open, and, after a few minutes consideration, I filled them with Joy & Ahab. One of these days I was going to find a jump that those two wouldn’t be helpful in (that still had companion imports) but this was not that jump.
I could have shopped around for more Perks on which to spend my final hundred Cheese, but if seemed wiser to check out what Gear Abbey-Dweller’s gained discount on… not that I anticipated there being much that could grab my interest; this was a feudal society after all. Of course, right away the VMoD proved me wrong. Wisdom is not precognition, as it turns out.
Free to everyone came a Sturdy Haversack… and not a useless oldtimey one, but a large, rigid-framed backpack with several pouches and compartments (all substantially bigger on the inside for extra excellence). Sure, I already had a PokePack and duffle from Infamous… but the Haversacks came with a bedroll and mess kit, and could, in a pinch, be used as a surprisingly effective bludgeoning weapon. I imported the PokePack into my Haversack… I do love that word. Haaaaversaaaaacccck.
Okay, okay maybe that wasn’t that good, but I had to get it out of the way before I touched on the ultimate prize, free to all Abbey-Dwellers… Infinite Cheese. Apparently, whoever had constructed this Redwall Jump had also wondered where, exactly, in a world without livestock, did all the dairy products come from. That hypothetical entity’s answer was that it was probably best not to think too hard about it. That said, I could now rest easy, since my cheese would come from endlessly refilling barrels in your warehouse, rather than anywhere ethically questionable. Not that I was terribly concerned with such questions… sorry cows… but given the choice of cheese that hadn’t required labor (either bovine or human)? I was going to take it… especially when the word ‘Infinite’ was appended to ‘Free’.
I cackled with glee as a list of cheeses hundreds of items long scrolled across the window of the VMoD… Sure, I had near infinite sandwich cheeses already, but they were sliced for sandwiches… and there are plenty of cheeses that don’t go on sammies… the Infinite Cheese was six massive oak barrels, one full of brine and brined cheeses, the others full of wax sealed or paper wrapped cheeses, ranging from semi-soft all the way to very hard. Mmmm… Behold the Power… I knew I’d chosen right.
For the low low cost of my last hundred, I could also buy an Abbey Kitchen, a fully-stocked kitchen, pantry, and cellar, equipped with hot and cold running water, many ovens, stoves, and cauldrons, the best cooking utensils available, a large deep fryer, fermenting and distilling equipment, and even refrigeration facilities. Not only did it sound downright cozy, there were fiat backed reasons to take it… fresh, clean water was a precious commodity in any world, and fuel was too. Of course, I’d have access to my Warehouse already, but having something that fit in with local expectations would be most excellent. And not only did the kitchen start out stocked, but once per season, my supply of fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables would refill automatically.
Let’s put that into perspective. Enough fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables to feed an entire Abbey… for an entire season. Every season. The largest Abbey in history, Cluny in France, held a congregation of over a thousand, but even relatively modest abbeys could have upwards of three-hundred people. Redwall is not described as being particularly small… certainly far larger than my number of companions… and after my stay in Redworld ended, the kitchen would become an attachment to my Warehouse. What more, really, could I ask for?
Still, I had to check the Drawbacks. It was… necessary. I’d done one jump without looking and always regretted not knowing what was on the list. Always consider your options, even if ultimately you reject them… I didn’t need my new wisdom to know that knowledge was power. I also didn’t need my new understanding to understand that swearing off Drawbacks forever because of what had happened was the height of stupidity. Humility, however, was the quiet deciding voice, as it told me that, as much as I might view myself as the center of my own narrative, the worlds I visited did not revolve around me. To assume that only I had a hand in what happened would be to think too highly of myself. To assume that I’d always get things right? A goddess I might be, but even the biblical Almighty had made a mistake or two in his time.
“Ack…” I commented to no one in particular as I read the Jump’s offerings. No one else was sharing my lonely vigil, and it was deep in the Warehouse’s night and I was all alone in the dark. “All these drawbacks are heavy hitters…” I muttered. VIctoria and Atura, everpresent, wisely chose not to comment, and VIvian had been told to ignore me until morning, unless directly addressed.
Indeed, the Drawbacks, of which there were ten, were not joking around. Even the hundred-pointers were more comprehensively ugh than normal. Where Great Detective’s ‘Chust a Zhoopid Accent’ made me sound a bit silly (and get mistaken for Scots), Redwall’s ‘Incomprehensible Accents’ meant that not only would I have great difficulty understanding any but my native dialect, other people would have difficulty understanding me. Not only did ‘Voice Like a Sack of Boiled Frogs’ make one a terrifyingly bad singer, it made one convinced of one’s own talent… too vain to acknowledge criticism, too proud to attempt to improve, and too foolish to shut up. The less said about the global pacifism enforced on the goodguys by ‘This is a Peaceful Place’ the better. Having a world full of nice guys who wouldn’t stand up for themselves? That I couldn’t have on my conscience.
However, for once I found myself actually considering the virtues of taking an amnesia perk. Called ‘Child of the Storm’, it didn’t actually strip me of my powers. Rather, it would force me to rediscover them and figure out how to properly utilize what I’d discovered. My local memories would gradually return as well, leaving a sense of something missing… that something being all my other memories… memories that were, right now, something of a source of pain… memories that would be available in dreams and brief flashes of insight and understanding.
All said, the prospect of forgetting who I was for even as short a period as a decade was terrifying… but the King-Priests assured me that it was hardly the first time I’d been uncertain of who I was. Each of them had begun to remember who and what they were around the age of four, and had come into their own over the next decade as more and more of the old slowly came back. Each of them had been shaped as much by the past as the future.
So yeah… with the promise of remembering who I was at the end of forty seasons… Child of the Storm sounded good… even though it would inflict that amnesia upon all who came with me. I wouldn’t force them to accept it… any who backed out would be allowed to sit out the Jump rather than be affected. The text was vague on if all my companions would be hit by it or just those imported, but a query to the Banker clarified that any who opted out would be placed into stasis for the decade, rather than be hit with the whammy.
I considered that for a long while, several hours in fact, then finally paused the construction and waited until everyone else was up. I’d go with the majority’s vote… though perhaps that was cheating I had to acknowledge. AJ, Francine, Petra, and Ziggy would back me no matter what. Cirno, Dyna, Zane, and RayRay were a little less dogmatic in their loyalty, but they too would almost certainly stand with me. Uriel relished new experiences, Ahab and Joy would think of it as going deep cover, and Bao would find the entire idea fascinating. Yoiko and Ryoga would be on the fence. Kendra would hate it and claim I was a coward for running away from my guilt. Velma and Toph… I didn’t know how they would take it… but at least the illusion of fairness and inclusion was there.
“Why?” was Toph’s question, though I could tell she was speaking for the majority when she asked. I’d presented the option and given them an hour to discuss it as I meditated and didn’t interfere. To be honest, I had no idea what I’d do with the extra three-hundred Cheese the Drawback would give me, but the temptation not to be myself… or rather, to be a self unfettered by the past… for a time? It had its terrible siren’s song. “What do you get out of this? What do we get out of this?”
I’d known the question was coming. I’d have had to be a fool not to know. “To answer your last question first, nothing. You get nothing out of this besides confusion and hardship. Personally, I think you all should get three-hundred extra points, and I’ll see if I can wrangle that for you with the Banker… but ultimately, I’d ask this of you all regardless. As to Why? I was soo certain of myself, so certain I could handle everything that was thrown my way. Hubris brought me low. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a mere mortal… and while this won’t be that exactly… it will be close.” I sighed, looking around at the group. There were sullen looks and angry ones and few looked reassured.
Finally, I said, “Think of this as a test. Without my history and memories to guide me, will I still be a good person? Without that, will each of you? Yes Joy, I know you don’t consider yourself a good person, and I know Ahab and Uriel have their own doubts about themselves.” I looked around the group, seeing that most of them wore introspective expressions… except Toph, who shrugged, RayRay who looked bored, and Kendra, who looked defiantly up at me as if to say, ‘Bitch, I will stake you if you suggest I could turn evil one more time.’
I leaned in close and whispered, “Faith.” to her. The reminder of her replacement as Slayer, the Slayer who had, in fact, gone over to the dark side for a time, who had committed murder and nearly gotten the entire town eaten, soberred her immediately, even though she’d been in cryosleep for the entire decade. My other companions had been more than willing to tell her what had happened.
Okay, okay, I wasn’t exactly honest there. Ziggy and Dyna didn’t look introspective either. To be fair, that’s because Ziggy’s idea of looking inside himself was licking vitamin goo of his own stomach and Dyna’s species utterly lacked any capacity for introspection as far as I’d been able to determine. Aliens are alien, after all.
Ultimately, the consensus was nearly universal. Only Kendra and Velma bowed out, opting to use the Return Door to spend a decade with the Poke-crew and Cirno in Johto. Unfortunately, that decision didn’t sit well with Zane, who was pissed off at Kendra for abandoning the rest of us and for being a coward. Long story short, he took Velma’s spot and now Kendra isn’t talking to either of us. Great. Wonderful. Just what I didn’t need.
I tried to get him to go with her, but for once he’s was playing the ‘Bro’s before Ho’s’… despite that I’m not a ‘bro’ and Kendra is not a ‘ho’… as she reminded him by throwing Mr. Pointy into his shoulder. Ah… domestic violence… We might be a little dysfunctional sometimes… or we’ve gotten used to having a med bay. The fact that everyone besides me respawns within a day if killed doesn’t hurt. Zane, as a Pokemon, doesn’t even usually die, since he reverts to his Pokeform and is KO’d first.
Sadly, since I’d used the ‘Call it a Test of Character’ justification for ‘Child of the Storm’ I couldn’t then take the ‘Prophecy’s Puppet’ Drawback, which normally would be a lock as it made gaming knowledge of canon impossible… a canon I had virtually no knowledge of. Unfortunately, it did so by making everything adhere to a script… which would counter my ability to deviate from the path laid down by the Author’s Hand. A test of Character where predestination was in play was a rigged test.
As for the other options, ‘Always Hungry’ was right out… No way was I going hungry for a decade… especially not with limitless cheese… though I’d have to remember it was there to take advantage of it… maybe it would show up wherever my kitchen was in setting? I was guaranteed to find my companions within a few days… did that also apply to my purchases? I’d have to ask the Banker when I asked about extra CP for my people.
The ‘Dibbunsitting’ Drawback, which would have saddled me with the care of infants and toddlers (called dubbins in the local ideolect, apparently) might have been a fitting punishment… but it was a fail state waiting to happen since even one death… in a world often rife with violence… would end the chain. It also sounded vaguely like hell.
And speaking of hell, ‘Relentless Riddles’ sounded excruciating… but might be worth it even if it wasn’t worth an extra two-hundred Cheese. In fact, the idea of being challenged by endless cryptic answers and riddles amused me… and it amused me right up until I thought about how Ryoga and Yoiko might take to the lack of straightforward answers… at which point it reaaallly amused me. Hopefully Ahab could keep from killing people in frustration.
To round out the make things difficult for this new and confused me… and test her patience to the limits, I decided to pick up ‘Incomprehensible Accents’. I’m not certain why, since (to be honest) I had no idea what I was going to spend all those points on.
In the end, I settled on a miscellaneous (read as undiscounted) Perk called ‘A Little Light in Every Heart’, which cost me three-hundred of my six, and granted me an unusual degree of insight into the content of the character of others, a sense of when they might have nagging doubts about the correctness of their ideals, and the ability to (with a precisely chosen kind word or two) assuage those doubts… or cause them to bloom and grow. It wasn’t mind control nor a magical alignment change, and there wasn’t any guarantee that it would result in a convert to my cause but it probably couldn’t hurt. It was, apparently, particularly useful for promoting ideals of tolerance and nonviolence, but could almost as easily be used to spread paranoia and distrust, or whatever values I wanted to spread. It wasn’t wonderful, but it came with the added bonus that would allow my companions to bypass the limitations that stopped Vermin from being Abbey-Dwellers or Warrior and Goodbeasts from being Scoundrels.
I considered taking the serpent’s ‘Active Camo’ perk. It was tempting in the extreme, but so were the sensory boosts (hearing, vibration, touch) from the Mole’s racial perk. Also tempting was the ‘Aerial Acrobatics’ perk for birds. But ultimately, I went with ‘Musician and Poet Extraordinaire’ for two-hundred, which not only made me competent in the use of every sort of musical instrument common to the world of Redwall, and a virtuoso level of talent on one instrument of my choice (I chose drums… and not just because they’re excellent for annoying others), but gave me a talent for poetry and songwriting, especially when writing songs about my adventures or those of my friends. It even boosted my memory (as if I needed it), especially with regard to recall of verse, which probably meant increased memory access speed rather than capacity.
Oral history is cool… and embarrassing my friends with heroic ballads seemed like a fun way to while away the long evenings of cold winter months. Poet Extraordinaire even came with a free musical instrument, in my case a finely made and well-maintained hand-drum. I wonder if I could teach Ziggy to play the drum? Belly Drum was a Linoone move… though I guess that meant that the question was “Can Ziggy be taught to play the drum without hurting himself… or others?”
With the last of my Cheese Points I purchased the mousine racial perk ‘Heart of a Mouse’. Of course, in Redworld, that was actually a compliment. Mice may be one of the smallest sophont species, but they produced a disproportionate number of heroes (because who doesn’t love an under… mouse?). HoaM imbued me with a great deal of courage even in the face of overwhelming challenges and a great deal of luck when faced with lopsided odds.
I hadn’t had too much problem with courage issues in the past, but a little good luck couldn’t hurt, especially since the primary reason I hadn’t faced many courage shortages was because I was more than a little bonkers. Bad luck, however, had (in the recently past in fact) utterly boned… well, not me, but the inhabitants of the camp and the surrounding zone of destruction pretty completely… but if I wasn’t the one boned, I was the one who had to live with the guilt and shame. Wasn’t fair, but life seldom is. Before I locked my build down and sent out the pads for those of my companions who hadn’t already departed for farer… or at least less medieval… climes, I pulled up the query screen and made my pitch. For once, the Banker didn’t give me grief about my request. His only comment was that, per the wording of the Companion Import was that companions could not take drawbacks… but before I could argue that I was the one taking ‘Child of the Storm’, he brought it up himself. “They are being penalized not by a worldstate, as might arise from This is a Peaceful Place, but a personal amnesia state. Very well. I agree… though I feel that, if you desire to test yourself, you should see how you do against adversity.”
“Mmm? How? I’m not taking the giant evil bear thing,” I said. There was a six-hundred CP drawback that inflicted Lord Arctos, a bear that could be as large as he needed to be… able to fit through mouse doors one moment and tower over the entire abbey the next. He would also lead a confederation of all the villains from the entire series and possess some of the powers of the worst villains I’d faced on the chain. Considering that ranged from the planet-busting Sephiroth of Final Fantasy VII to the First Evil and Glorificus of Buffy to the Reapers of Mass Effect to Lord Voldemort of Harry Potter… I was going to say no thanks. “I suggest you take Endless Hordes.” “You want me to inflict barbarians upon the land… to test myself? Isn’t that kinda… evil?” “The barbarians as you call them are always there. Civilization is little more than a thin veneer over the seething chaos of what you mortals term ‘existence’,” the Banker pointed out. Even the emotionless words on the screen seemed to pulse with smugness. “What matters is how the barbarians are dealt with. Will you not learn more about your true character from seeing how you treat enemies than how you treat friends?”
“Probably,” I agreed. “But innocent lives would be put at risk by my taking that drawback.”
“Innocent lives will be at risk regardless of your choices.” I blinked. “How do you figure? Do you relocate me to a version of the world where the drawbacks are destined to happen?”
“Negative. It is far more complex than that. Each reality you visit contains the potential to have all drawbacks in play as part of its… Genesis, if you will.” The letters seemed to glow and ripple extra ominously, as if the word Genesis was giving off pulses of something ineffable.
“As for why lives will be at risk… it is the nature of dramatic worlds to be dramatic. Events will attempt to unfold in a way that suits the will of the narrator… what you’d call the Authorial Intent. In Redwall, that manifests… aways, in the battle between decency and savagery. It is a cycle that continues again and again. You cannot stop it from happening… but you can encourage it to unfold in a way useful to your purposes… and perhaps take advantage of it. This is as much a world of redemption as it is tragedy.”
It was, by far, the most comprehensive explanation I’d managed to get out of the Banker ever… maybe he was disturbed by what had happened in the previous jump? Or maybe there had been protests of some kind from whatever subscribers had tuned in expecting The Psychic Shenanigan Hour only to get Slaughter at Whispering Rock instead. But I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the trojans… I simply said, “I’ll consider it while the others do their builds. Thanks.”
A day later, I called council of the Companions, asking them to present their builds and to justify them as best they could. Interestingly, absolutely none of them had taken Abbey-Dweller… I guess they didn’t see in it what I did… heathen swine. There were, however, many interesting… if odd… builds.
Zane, deciding to distance himself from his typical hyper-aggressive noir motif, had opted to be a Bird (not a birdbrain… he always was that). In fact, he had gone for an Owl, a big snowy leopard Owl Wanderer as it turned out. Without the extra from ‘Child of the Storm’ that would have cost him all his points, but boosted his strength and given him some downright fierce claws… but no hands to speak of.
‘Aerial Acrobat’ was free for Bird(brains) which made him a veritable flying ace (or ass), able pull off amazing stunts and turn on a dime… not to mention making flying less tiring for him no matter what might be powering said flight… and Wanderer came with ‘The Open Road’ which made him a seasoned traveller, at home on the road, able to travel farther with less fatigue and make himself comfortable almost anywhere. Came with skill at avoiding natural hazards and, in addition to his Haversack, he (and the other Wanderers to be) received the ‘Abbey Records’ for free.
For the record (haha), those were a bookcase containing, among many older books and scrolls, signed first editions of the collected works of Brian Jacques, as well as DVD copies of all three seasons of the Canadian animated series, which cover the events of Redwall, Mattimeo, and Martin the Warrior… which wouldn’t do a Wanderer much good without a portable DVD player with a screen. It’s a shame they weren’t some kind of magical children’s books where the pages came alive like Jim Hawkins’s book in Treasure Planet… I do hope I get to go there someday… I have such a crush on Captain Amelia.
With the remainder of his points, Zane bought ‘Riddle Me This’ from the Wanderer perk-line and ‘Arguments for Argument’s Sake’ from the Shrews. RMT gave him elevated pattern recognition skills, a talent for wordplay, and an intuitive feel for the intent of the original author of any riddle, puzzle, or word game. It also made him exceptionally good at both solving and making his own. AfAS was all about keeping up with the best debaters, granting a firm understanding of logic and experience of common rhetorical techniques… as well as making the lunkhead all the more stubborn.
In both cases, he claimed it was a defense against both me and his girl Kendra and our wicked feminine ways. He was, in his own words, sick of losing a fight because he was unarmed. Personally, I didn’t think this was going to help, but if it made him happy to try to compete, more power to him. However I suspected that the real reason he took Riddle Me This was that he planned to use it against me when I was GMing! We have a no powers at the gaming table rule for a reason ZANE!
He just smirked at me and said, “Intuition isn’t a power. It’s an attribute.” I glowered, but he was right.
For Toph, her choice of species was something of a toss up. She’d been trained in Earthbending by Badgermoles… and unfortunately, had to now pick between the digging Moles and the fighting Badgers. This resulted in a lot of hemming and hawing and complaining about single natured animals, before she finally (day 20), settled on a Badger Scoundrel, since she was already the best at digging and didn’t want to sound weird (Moles in Redwall have a rather extreme accent… like worse than Welsh).
Personally I think she picked Badger so she’d be able to Hulk Out (at least mentally), as being a Badger meant she got ‘Bloodwrath’ (both a four-hundred point perk and a zeropoint drawback in one inconvenient package) for free… well, free with purchase, since Badger cost three-hundred just like Owl. Bloodwrath was a kind of berserker fury, one raised by harm or threat against a loved one or the presence of a hated foe. It increased the Badger’s strength, speed, and ferocity, and allowed them to ignore anything short of an immediately fatal wound (as long as the fury lasted)… but shattered the Badger’s ability to concentrate on anything that wasn’t CRUSHING, KILLING, and DESTROYING… though, with great mental effort it was possible to direct what got Crushed, Killed, or Destroyed.
Scoundrels just got Dirty Fighting (which was exactly what it sounded like) and some free basic weapons…. plus the Haversack… and a stash of ‘Booty’, a small coffer full of precious and semiprecious stones, as well as gold and silver jewelry.
I was rather amused by her actual perk purchases, since she’d bought the Warrior’s ‘A Welcome for Bullies’ and the ‘Hedgehog’s Dilemma’… which was, as one might imagine, the Hedgehog’s racial perk. A Welcome was all about acting the part of a fuzzy little drill sergeant, taking raw recruits (such as a bunch of peace-loving farmers and monks) and, through motivation and training, turn them into professional soldiers. The Dilemma fit surprisingly well with that, since it allowed her to swap between ‘brusque and standoffish’ and ‘warm and welcoming’ at a moment’s notice, allowing her to keep others (especially overly clingy friends like Cirno or Ziggy) at arm’s length when she felt like being alone, while also being able to signal when she didn’t mind being glommed. Of course, odds were I’d ignore that anyway. I love hugging the prickly. If you can’t annoy your friends, who can you annoy.
Yoiko and Ryoga had also decided to follow the Scoundrel’s path, and they had formulated a bit of a plan to go with that decision. Yoiko would be a big bad Wildcat (a vermin species as opposed to the normally valorous goodbeast Badgers… ah fantasy racism.) while Ryoga would be a Shrew. Together, they’d be the Tom and Jerry of relatively harmless brigandage, though willing to change their thieving ways, if given a chance.
In addition to her free weapons, booty, haversack, and ‘Dirty Fighting’, the former otaku fangirl ended up with ‘Eye of the Tiger’, the ability to size up an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses at a glance and intuit how best to exploit or counter them. With time and contact, that understanding would only grow deeper and could be extended to inanimate structures or even hypothetical concepts. It sounded impressively… angry and damaging to me, but also extremely philosophical in nature. Introspection was often a trait Yoiko lacked.
She also picked up the Scoundrel capstone, ‘Master of Hordes’ which would make her into something of a terrifying warlord, one who inspired fear and loyalty in all who followed her, and one who was a mastery of military strategy, of unorthodox tactics and psychological warfare. She’d gain a long shadow, reputation wise, one that all who opposed her would have to deal with long before they ever even faced her (theoretical) troops. And those seeking glory, vengeance, or violence for violence’s sake would flock to her banner if she let them.
It all sounded a little… worrying… but if she could divert even some of the troublemakers into our camp before they joined our enemies, maybe it was okay. I just had to hope that I wouldn’t have to fight her myself.
When I’d read the description of ‘Eye of the Tiger’, I’d figured Ryoga, already master of the weak-point detection, would follow suit, but he hadn’t. Not only had he gone Shrew for, as he said, ‘the logic’ (remember Argument for Argument’s Sake?), but he’d picked up ‘The Freebootin’ Way’, ‘Bully Pulpit’, ‘Dark Apothecary’, ‘Weaseling Out’, and the ‘Corsair Ship’ from the Gear section. It was, by far, the most diverse build of any of my companions, lacking any real punch but rounding out lots of little bumps and burrs nicely.
Freebootin was all about finding plunder and drink and handwaving away the less pleasant parts of the job (scurvy, digging latrines, having to murder people to get them to hand over their shinies). Not only did it apply to him, but also to his ‘mateys’… so I guess that’s nice. Bully Pulpit was described as a PhD in Mean, giving comprehensive knowledge of all the little ways to frighten and belittle others. It even came with the potential to be a sarcastic but lovable asshole instead of a ruthless sociopath… though it did rely somewhat on being bigger than his targets, either physically or mentally… did I mention that this was Ryoga… in a Shrew’s body? Who the hell was he going to be bigger than? Ziggy?
Dark Apothecary was a fascinating choice for Ryoga… Quite frankly, I’d expected Uriel to take it, but he hadn’t. It was the Fox racial perk, and granted knowledge of all the medical and alchemical properties of any and all plants that he was ever likely to encounter… though it did pay special attention to the dangerous ones, both to brew poisons and antidotes. It also granted natural resistance to poisons, venoms, and toxins… maybe he was remembering eating Akane’s cooking.
If Dark Apothecary was from Foxes, Weaseling Out was from… you guessed it… Weasels. It was all about avoiding blame and or responsibility… and all without trying. Criminal charges would be unlikely to stick to him unless there was ironclad evidence, he’d never seem to be picked first for unpleasant duties (unless he volunteered), and even if he spent 90% of his shift sleeping, his boss would only ever walk in during that rare 10% of the time he was actually doing his job… not that Ryoga had ever had a job… like.. ever. I’m not certain he knew what one was.
Then there was the ship… a sleek, swift vessel, equally suitable for piracy or pirate-hunting, equipped with sails and oars, and a loyal crew of NPCs suited to the task the ship was set to. He imported Black Jenny into it, with my permission… which transformed the ship’s machine intelligence, VIrginia, into a somewhat wooden (pun intended) Vulpine Bosun with jet black fur.
“That’s… very wise.” I was impressed; Ryoga… shoring up his weakness at last… even if AfAS might make him a bit unbearable at times. I couldn’t say that everything sounded useful, but Ryoga seemed happy with his purchases, so eh.
Thankfully, that was the last of the Scoundrels… but not the last of the Vermin. Bao, who’d been born in the year of the Rat, claimed he had no choice but to be faithful… not even when we pointed out that Chinese and European Rats aren’t exactly the same thing… Rat Wanderer was his choice.
The Rat racial perk was called ‘The Scourge’, which made the Rats (who generally, as a race, believed in the concept of Might makes Right) incredibly ferocious combatants, stronger, tougher, and faster than most races and tended to make other beasts respect that strength. While it didn’t make them truly fearless, it tended to give them such a reputation. It also came with impressive facial scars and a badass story to go with them that could be redesigned or suppressed entirely at the beginning of every Jump, and Bao was already designing his scar and composing a tone poem about how he got it… I refrained from telling him that tone poems are not usually considered badass in European style Cultures… maybe in Redwall they would be.
As a Wanderer he got ‘The Open Road’, another set of the ‘The Abbey Records’, and the ever present Haversack… to which he added the Wanderer capstone ‘Prince of Mousethieves’ and the Serpent’s ‘Active Camouflage’. The Prince was a legendary talent for stealth and thievery, to the point of snatching the very whiskers from under a foebeast’s nose. If it wasn’t nailed down or on fire, he could probably steal it – and if it was, he’d just steal the nails and the fire as well. It came with a talent for picking locks, wriggling out of bonds, and ventriloquy, and made him a little more likable, ensuring that his reputation for theft would not be a barrier to people trusting him… great… a thieving rat… wooo. Add in scales (sorry… fur) that was capable of rapidly and dramatically changing color to match his environment… it even worked on his clothing and any items he carried… and extended to limited thermal control to match ambient temperature… If he wasn’t actually invisible, he was the next best thing. Great. Bao the tone poem thief.
Uriel’s choice of Hare Warrior, was, so he claimed based on the well documented valor of the Tamrielian Moutain Hare… As someone who’d slain over a thousand of those cowardly little food packets in Skyrim alone, I didn’t comment, but I suspected it was more about the Hare’s ‘Stiff Upper Lip, Wot?’ racial perk. It was a substantial increase to his stamina, toughness, and ability to recover from both physical injuries and emotional trauma… though relying on it would give him a prodigious appetite.
To go along with all the freebies (Weapons Training, Weapons, Haversack… have… a… sack… sigh) he also bought ‘EULALIAAA!’, which made his voice much more powerful, able to carry over longer distances and be clearly audible over the din of battle. His battle cries would fill the hearts of allies (and himself) with the courage of a thousand hares, boosting their fighting ability and allowing them to persevere in the face of adversity. Apparently, Uriel just wants to be the British Bunny version of the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket… huh… hope that’s not a jump.
He had thought to take ‘A Welcome for Bullies’ as well, but figured he really didn’t need it. He had plenty of experience as it was. Instead he bought the most expensive item in the Gear section, a Prophetic Tapestry that not only depicted many of our past exploits, but showed hints of adventures yet to come. Of course, they were only broad details, most of which would only make sense in retrospect, but it did say that an exceptionally clever viewer might, given even such subtle hints, determine valuable intel on things to come.
Joy seemed almost embarrassed to present her package (Squirrel Warrior), and it didn’t take a telepath to sense that she’d picked it because of the giant fluffy tail more than anything else. Good to see her being relaxed enough not to be the Iron Maiden around us. Her freebie pack included the usual suspects (Weapons, Weapon Training, Sack of Havering) and the Squirrel Racial Perk ‘Treetops and Timber’, a quintessential squirrel skill… forest freerunning that extended to rocky crags and urban environments, making her an almost unequalled climber and granting a moderate agility boost… it also came with a memory improvement for where she’d stashed things for later.
But with six-hundred left to spend, she picked up the Warrior capstone, a perk that had all but been made for her. ‘I Am That Is’ would allow her to call upon the great warriors of the past in an internal capacity, pulling up ancient martial arts or the knowledge needed to defeat an implacable foe, or even the location of some long lost MacGuffin when pushed to the edge. By engaging in meditation – or seeking them out in a dream – she could also converse with her predecessors directly. Each Jump to a new setting, she’d gain access to a new set of ancestral spirits, as appropriate to the setting and to her chosen background. And, if she should ever die for good (something that I wasn’t at all certain was possible anymore), a fragment of her spirit would live on in each world she’d visited, to guide and advise other warriors for truth and justice… and, perhaps, to grant them access some shadow of her vast powers.
This was, after all, the First Boss. She’d already done that once, inspiring a generation of new Bosses… though none of them had her…. ovaries. She paired that with ‘A Welcome for Bullies’ and ‘Musician and Poet Extraordinaire’, calling it the Gurney Halleck package. What can I say, I’d infected her with my love of Dune.
Ahab, last in line, smirked, and said, “I can’t match the impressiveness of all those builds, of course… but I can be… The Mole!” which earned him a bombardment of popcorn and couch cushions… we really need to redecorate… this house is soo… eight jumps ago. Ahab the Mole Wanderer. Haversack? Check. Abbey Records? Check. Open Road? Check! Gurt Diggins? Cheeeck? What’s Gurt Diggins you ask? Me too. It apparently gave him an instinctive understanding of tunneling and mining, whether using tools or his own paws, whether digging for jewels or root vegetables. It enhanced his senses of smell, touch, and vibration, allowing him to function just fine with eyes full of dirt.
Well, that explained the digging part, but what was Gurt? Maybe Ahab’s hundred CP ‘Book of Riddles’ might help explain. It was a book containing a long primer on the underlying theory of riddles and puzzles, a spoiler-filled walkthrough of every riddle or puzzle used in the canonical Redwall series, and a showcase of some of the great riddles of history. The book was also enchanted with a magical cryptanalysis machine. Unfortunately, it only accepted input (and only provided output) in paper media, though I might eventually find a way to bypass that limitation. A note at the back promised that (In future Jumps), the walkthrough would expand to cover some of the most important riddles in that source material. While this wasn’t guaranteed to completely short-circuit any plots, it might allow us to take significant shortcuts. That might come in handy… at least once the jump starts. I’d have to ban use of that book at the gaming table. He also took the Weasel’s Out… why? I’m not certain. Maybe he was thinking about the potential to be actually charged as a non-fuzzy mole.
However, his big purchase was the Serpent’s other racial perk (there was a reason they were six-hundred points, apparently): Mad Eyes. Imagine this, a mole, staring at you, with crazy disturbing eyes. Have you seen the eyes of moles? Well, Ahab the Mole would be able to transfix his foes in place or force them to flee in terror, to hypnotize them by pitting his spirit against theirs, bending them to his will and even, with practice, learning to implant more complex commands. Not only was it more effective when used by cold-blooded creatures… it was more effective when used on them. How odd. I looked forward to that showdown; a mole versus a viper in mortal eye combat.
And that was that. Everyone squared away. Those who were going had already gone, those who were coming with me were ready at last. I looked around the group and smiled, projecting a calm I didn’t really feel.
“Okay, remember, once we drop, we’ll all be very confused. Try and not do anything stupid. Hopefully our implants will still function and VIvian will be able to hear us and learn the local language and then guide us back to the Warehouse, but it might take a little while…. And involve miscommunications, riddles, and who knows what all. And apparently there will be an army on the way, so… try not to get yourselves killed and I’ll see you when I see you. Sure sure, none of us will remember this consciously, but maybe as a kind of vague impulse it will stick. So, so me proud out there. I’ll try to do you proud as well. For the Honor of Team… we really need to come up with something that doesn’t have my initials or the word Jumper in it.” And with that non-sequitur of an ending, I pushed the button.
Wreck of the Merryweather, Churgeon’s Log, day one.
At least I assume I am the Churgeon of the Merryweather. I found this medical case washed ashore with me and the nearby wreck is, or rather was, the Merryweather. Aside from that, I have no idea who I am, nor where, save that there is a seaside mountain not far from here that, for some reason, I believe is named Salamandastron. I cannot explain my lack of memories, for I seem hale enough… indeed… I am far stronger than I believe is normal for an Otter… or even for a Bear. My clothes are unusual as well, as they shed water like fabric but are as hard as the most resilient armor… and they talk. Of course, they have no knowledge of who we are or where, but her voice is soothing, as if we’ve known each other a long time…
Through experimentation, we have determined that although I am (it seems) extremely strong, fast, and tough without her on, I am far stronger, faster, and tougher with her on. Indeed, I was able to cut myself with the edge of my bone saw (a small cut… it healed within moments… though it also took a few seconds for the wound to manifest… curious)… but the teeth of the saw would not even scratch the outside of… Aegis? I think I shall call her Aegis… and, until I find someone who knows me, I shall be… how hard it is to find something to hang one’s identity upon.
I shall be Athena. She who bore Aegis… a shield of great power. Athena Bellweather. Now if only I knew where we were… if only I could fly. How would one test that?
Apparently by climbing to the top of a half wrecked mast and leaping off of it. It seems I can, in fact, fly. How odd. Is this normal? I would think not. A damage resistant, highly intelligent (I seem to have no problem doing extremely large sums in my head and I have little trouble remembering even random strings of numbers or random made up words… somehow something tells me this is not normal), flying Otter… at least that’s what Aegis and I believe I am. Whatever I am, it seems unlikely it is anything of nature. Indeed, I am writing these words, not with a quill (for I have none), but with ink that responds to my will… and I very much doubt it is a property of this ink, as… when I found this journal it was soaked through and the water departed its pages as if drawn from them by a strong force of suction… and I write this in front of a fire conjured out of the wood in much the same way.
I cannot say what tells me this, but I seem to instinctively understand that such things do not normally happen here. I slept, but woke before midnight, feeling refreshed, despite the strange dream I had about being some kind of blue-skinned she-creature in a place with metal walls fighting reanimate corpses. This too is very odd, a riddle given flesh… my flesh… to solve… itself? Then again, perhaps that is the nature of life. I take to the sky to see what I can see, and find ships, a great many of them, several days travel from the mountain. A pilgrimage? Perhaps… but it could be an army. Either way, they might be hostile… or simply never have seen an Otter before.
I land (if one can be said to land on the water) far from them, having left the haversack I found in the wreckage which seems overly large on the inside… and contains quite a number of chunks of cheese… and swim closer. I hear the people in my mind long before I hear them with my ears, a thundering cacophony that drives me under even as all the water around me is frozen by an unseen force, a shimmering globe surrounding me… a defense? I find I can shape the ice… lower it slowly and the… they must be thoughts, dreams, mental noise of all those people begin to leak back in… I have to struggle to find a way to turn the volume down again… a curious phrase… I wonder what it could mean… but it is appropriate.
Just before dawn I venture onto one of the ships, moving with a stealthiness that feels practiced to the point of instinct, the background thrum of mindvoices guiding me towards the encampment. Their words are almost gibberish, a dialect so divorced from the common tongue as to be patois, but the thoughts in their head are clearer… images instead of words… they are an army, led by a fierce Wildcat, heading to the mountain of Badgers and Hares to plunder and kill. I sense no motives beyond that and so I make to leave by flight… only to be attacked in midair by a massive snowy owl.
I sense confusion from him, a dazed scramble inside his head, with only the knowledge that somehow I have done this to him. The fight is hard, long, made longer since I have no desire to harm this creature who I have no memory of harming. Finally, I pin the owl’s left wing and snap, “Stop!”
Over the course of an hour, I manage to explain, carefully, that I have as little memory as this owl… Bubo, I name him… though I do invite him to join me on the quest to find out what has happened. We head together towards the mountain, the Owl asking if it is normal for Otters to fly, to which I can only chuckle. Although we both seem to be having trouble understanding each other in words, the intent comes through and we are able to make due.
A dozen miles from the mountain’s rise, we chance upon a Wildcat and a Badger engaged in a most curious fight. The Badger was scooping chunks of rock out of the ground as if they were soft mud and the Wildcat was causing them to explode into showers of pebbles. They were yelling incomprehensible things at each other and both looked as if neither understood the other.
And that is how I met Nike (the Badger) and Hera (the Wildcat). I had no idea where I was pulling these names from, but they too were missing their memories, smelling of saltwater, and possessed of strange abilities. They were not the last we were to meet that shared such distinction.
Before we reached the mountain, we came upon a Rat I named Hermes, a Hare I named Ares, and a Shrew I named Apollo. We quickly became a bit of a travelling group, forming a mutual help society for the linguistically and memorially impaired. If only we’d been quicker to begin inventing our own language.
Just outside the mountain’s main entrance, we were set upon by a host of several dozen aged Hare Warriors. Things did not go well for the Hares and it took all of my ability to restrain my new companions, keeping them from killing the chronologically blessed old timers, but not before all of them had sustained injuries ranging from simple concussion all the way up to compound fractures.
With great difficulty, I convinced the least injured of the Hares to limp back inside and fetch their leader, while I tended the hostages / my patients. Aegis discovered that she could see inside their flesh and somehow place that information upon my eyes so that I could see it but none else could. Setting bones was thus as simple as writing in ink without a pen, for the blood within these Hares responded to my commands as well. Indeed, the more I focused, the more I found I could manipulate their wounds to repair or restore flesh as well.
I looked around, seeing fear on the faces of these Hares (though they tried to hide it) as my companions demonstrated powers and abilities beyond the normal ken. Thus did the Lord of the Mountain, the Badger Lord Stonepaw, find me in contemplation. We were all of different kinds, some of us from the force preparing to attack, others of the kinds within the mountain, and still others foreign to both factions… all lacking memories… all lacking the ability to speak clearly to each other and to any local not of our kind (Ares seemed to have little trouble talking with the Hares)… and all possessed of strange powers and prodigious physicality.
Nike, our Badger spoke with Lord Stonepaw and, as best I could make out, explained about the coming fleet and how we’d come to see if the people of the Mountain were worthy of our assistance. The Old Badger took some umbrage at that, but Nike was able to subdue him with relative ease… and then sit on him until his rage passed.
I spoke to the gathering of Hares and Badger, speaking slowly, clearly, and loudly so they could understand me as clearly as possible. “We. Are. Not. Here. To. Fight. You. We. Will. Help. You. Fight. The. Ship. People. If. They. Attack. We. Bring. Cheese. And. Our. Strength. If. You. Offer. Us. Hospitality. We. Shall. Pay. It. Back. Tenfold.”
That’s when a Mole dug up from beneath us and said, “Oy, thas wa she sais, init?” We all looked at the mole in confusion, then laughed as an acorn bounced off his skull and a Squirrel landed next to me and said something else in yet another incomprehensible dialect. I wondered how many of these individuals we were going to collect, but this wasn’t the time. We had an enemy navy and the army it contained to fight off.
Wreck of the Merryweather Day 4
Have you ever tried to fight off a massive invasion of wode painted rats and spiders and other creepy-crawlies with a hundred-fifty elderly warriors, a truly ancient berzerker captain, and nine demigods… none of whom speak the same language and only vaguely trust each other? It is not a position I recommend.
Thankfully, a collective enemy gave us something to focus on and we spent the day fighting back the forces of unrighteousness. It was, truth be told, strangely… familiar, as if I’d fought off waves of enemies on multiple occasions… but I didn’t bear any scars nor was I all that old… at least as far as I could tell.
It also seemed clear that we were rather unique, me and my memory challenged friends, for standing up to us, even unarmed, wasn’t safe. And yet, it was, for me at least, a strangely joyless experience. I longed to reach out to these creatures, these ‘Vermin’ and to find out why they seemed so angry, so driven to brutality and cruelty…. But I could not, for I lacked the words.
I retired that night, wondering at that, sitting inside the stone cell I’d been offered, only my thin bedroll between me and hard stone, and yet… I felt at peace. I drifted into sleep… and dreamed of wars… so many wars… wars against dozens of different foes, foes who used sorcery, foes who used science, foes who used words, and foes who used secrets. Metal enemies, flesh and blood enemies, enemies wrought from energy itself. I saw through my own eyes as I commanded the very oceans to rise and crush enemy ships, saw as I stood on the bridge of a ship made of light and metal as it soared through the skies, saw as I cut down foes as they slept, saw the smashed bodies of deformed children and knew, somehow, that they had died at my paws.
Wreck of the Merryweather Day 5
I woke, shuddering, and strode out into the early morning haze, looking down at the army arrayed on the beach before the mountain’s slopes. This would not be. I grabbed Hermes, who was standing watch and snapped, “Hera. Quick.” and he ran off to find the Wildcat. When they returned, I pointed down to the army. “We go. Find Leader. Teach… Lesson.”
We descended upon the encamped army just as they were readying for the second day of the siege, and smashed our way into their numbers, arrowing for the central tent. I ripped the canvas apart with a wave of my paw.
I seem to be able to control the wind, but not as well as I can control Fire or Water… I also have some ability to manipulate Dirt & Stone, Metal, and Wood, though again, not as well as Wind… though somehow I sense my control of wind is part of a larger ability that I am only vaguely aware of and it certainly seems to drain me mentally while the weaker elements drain me… spiritually? And the strongest elements drain me physically and spiritually. I am unsure why, but this seems par for my course… though what Par is or what kind of Course that phrase refers to I don’t know.
Inside the ruins of the tent, I glared up the fierce Wildcat who was just pulling on his armor… though not that far up. I suspect I am quite tall for an Otter.
I pointed to Hera, “Tell. He go or we kill. Not his army. Him.”
She relayed the ultimatum, but Ungatt Trunn (their Wildcat) seemed unimpressed. In fact he smirked, saying something. After I asked Hera, she said, “He say “Us and What Army?’.” I laughed, then snapped the enemy cat’s whiskers off with a thought.
His eyes narrowed and he muttered something that didn’t sound complementary, so I called up the wind and, eyes actually glowing (though I cannot tell how I knew that) shaved the cat bare. “Tell him, come back with bigger army. And bigger…” I mimed testicals and Hera laughed, then spoke to the warlord. He glowered, then nodded understanding, hate radiating out of every pore.
The Blue Horde sailed with the evening tide. I knew they’d be back. We would have to be ready.
The central problem facing us was our lack of ability to communicate readily. To solve that problem would require collecting a ‘Speaker’, a normal member of each of our nine different races, one who would be able to speak for us and interpret, but that would slow things greatly and be useless in combat. Still, we sent to the nearest communities seeking an assistant for those of us without one (we had plenty of Hares and too many Badgers would be a bad idea) but while that was brewing, we communicated in a hodgepodge of mime, yelling, and the written word, something that each of us understood, though even then our handwriting was all different enough to cause annoyance.
We also began working on basic pawsigns for basic things, and reviewing the mountain’s defenses, trying to find ways to multiply the effectiveness of our Hare allies. The mountain contained housing for thousands, and a war forge the likes of which few might have ever seen. It was a foundry of staggering proportions and when at full heat must make the volcano look still active.
Part of the communications issue was that no one here knows how to give a straight answer. Ask what time dinner is and you’re likely to be told about thrushes and winds of autumn. Ask how many days worth of stores the Hares have laid in, find out it’s as many as white stallions graze on yon red hills. Ask what’s for breakfast and get an ode to lidless treasure boxes. Allegory, metaphor, riddles, allusions… straightforward speech is alien to these people…. But at least the Hares are no longer pretending not to be scared of me.
Lord Stonepaw’s son, Lord Brocktree, has arrived, having heard that his father is being held hostage by strange invaders with stranger powers. Thankfully, I have my faithful speaker Urvo, a local Otter, to translate for me when I explain who we are (as best I can) and why we are here (in the immediate sense… existentialism notwithstanding). He brings an army with which to reinforce the mountain, and though there is tension between father and son, it is clear they have affection and mutual respect between them.
Brocktree is suitably impressed after each of us demonstrates a few of the things we can do, and begins flirting outrageously with Nike.
It seems Brocktree’s arrival was well timed. A larger fleet than before has just been sighted bearing towards the mountain. A small squabble broke out today between five different Hare Maidens all claiming that they were walking out with Ares, who didn’t even have the grace to look abashed as he assured us all that he’d never told any of the lasses that they were his only special friend. For some reason, this annoyed Hermes and the two got into a bit of a scuffle. Stars forfend I ever succumb to the call of nature. It seems to make fools of us all.
The fleet will arrive in three or four days according to the scouts who reported it.
We met them on the beach, a tidal wave of rats and voles and weasels. We stacked them up like kindling, and yet they came on and on. Finally I flew up into the air, enemy arrows bouncing off my armor and raised the sea itself to push their landing boats and swimmers and even their ships back out to sea, smashing all the wood together to create a jumbled floating island trapped in a growing sheet of Ice.
I called up Urvo, outfitted in as many defenses as my companions and I could muster, then landed upon the first ship. “Surrender or face the ice,” I commanded, trying to be both regal and demanding. Ship by ship, the vermin gave up their weapons to me, and ship by ship I took the officers hostage against their crew’s obedience.
There were a hundred-and-thirty-one ships, carrying over thirty-thousand vermin. Ungatt Trunn had been joined by his brother Welak Trunn and the dark furred brother did not look pleased to be captured by an Otter.
I spoke, through Urvo, to each leader and each captain, seeking a reason for their invasion, be it climatological, famine, or simply lust for battle. While the latter was foremost, also prevalent was overcrowding of the lands they called home, a rocky, snowy peninsula to the north east.
I explained to the captains that their men would be allowed to come ashore in small work parties to build a compound, a town… to my specifications… which would be both their prison and their home. Twice now has the Blue Horde dared come against lands under my protection, and twice had I spared their lives. Now they would farm and mine for the Lords of this land and in exchange they would learn to embrace peace… or they’d feel the embrace of the sea.
I could feel the eagerness of these treacherous creatures to be allowed into the forests and fields of the countryside, where they would no doubt pillage and burn… but I had a surprise for them. At the far end of the beach from Salamandastron, upon the very stones the Merryweather had wrecked, I had had those of my companions with the power to shape and control dirt and stone, raise a causeway a mile or more out into the sea and at the end of that causeway to raise up a low island, bare of all greenery but large enough for a camp ten times as large as was needed to house all the vast horde.
The leaders were shocked, aghast, demanding to know where they’d find wood or stone to build with, and I pointed at their ships, still trapped in ice. “As for stone… you will have to earn that… as well as farmland… and the causeway will flood every day except at low tide.”
I pointed to the stone fortress that was, even now, rising at the shore end of the causeway. “That’s ours. Work well, earn our trust, pledge peace, and you’ll get all you need to survive. Don’t… and the sea will take you… and don’t try swimming from your island, it’s surrounded by reefs and shoals of knife edged rock and undertows.” Indeed, the entire island was braced by just thirteen pillars of stone and could be sunk into the waves with relative ease. It also had no natural source of freshwater or soil in which to grow crops… and winter was coming.
WHY IS UNGATT TRUN TRYING TO SEDUCE MY HERA? Grrr…. Stupid biology.
I look stupid in a dress. Why do dubbins need a party to celebrate their birth? Stupid horney badgers.
If I smash my head against a stone wall enough, will it make these Vermin stop pestering me? Stars… it would have been easier to just kill them all. Now they want to form an assembly and elect leaders… but every racial faction thinks they should be in charge. The groups with small numbers (foxes, spiders, voles) think every group should have an equal number of speakers… the groups with lots of members (rats and weasels) think they should get more speakers. I point out, through my spokes-otter, that while the rats may have numerical numbers now, that might change, and they’d be at a disadvantage. To the weasels I point out that the more spokes-weasels they had, the fewer they’d be able to keep an eye on… even weasels don’t trust other weasels.
Three per group, all reporting to the Wardens… the council of Brocktree, myself, Watch Captain Ares, Educator Hermes, and Scout Captain Bubo. Politics… so much more hassle than just killing everyone. And it is a problem. Vermintown has more people than the surrounding countryside does… and they aren’t great farmers, though they’re getting better at it… there is a lot of crime, which to me is crazy, poor people stealing from other poor people.
But internal problems are to be handled internally. They respect strength, inasmuch as they respect anything, and the less heads we (The Great Ones) have to crack, the better. The threat of us has kept the peace these last five seasons to a large degree, with each successive mutiny getting less and less popular. The vermin aren’t slaves, merely prisoners working on parole and to support themselves (and pay taxes and tithes).
Hermes wants to create a formal school for the younger crowd, while Ares is trying to make builders out of some of the more enthusiastic and trustworthy of the rats and spiders. Hephaestus and Artemis are doing their best to train the local soldiery up to a higher standard, but ultimately, we’re still outnumbered.
Unrest in the camp. A work detail of some two dozen weasels went out with three otters and a squirrel scout two days ago and the entire group have now disappeared. Both groups are blaming the other and rabble rousers are hard at work drumming up trouble. Nike and Bubo lead search parties sent out to find the missing beasts.
Unrest has become alarm. Nike and Bubo have returned, Nike alone, Bubo missing half his scouts. Both parties ambushed, ambushers unseen, arrows out of the trees, archers gone by the time Bubo could swoop down to ground level, Nike barely surviving several dozen arrows thanks to Bloodwrath. Although the others advise against it, I shall go and have a look.
Have searched the woods most carefully, looking for campfires at night, cannot find anyone. During the day, I see signs of movement, but when I investigate, I find only empty woods.
Something is wrong, smoke on the wind. I rise from the hilltop vantage and see the Catchpole Otter Village burning. I arrive too late to save them, the people slaughtered, dubbins missing. Boats missing too. I move a moment too late, a pair of saber-like fangs sink into the exposed skin of my neck and searing heat floods into my veins. My backhand shatters the teeth, leaving them sticking out of my neck and a sword springs to my hand unbidden.
I cannot see my foe, cannot hear his breathing or thoughts over the throbbing of my veins as something within me pushes the fangs out, black metal forming across my neck and hands. The blade is cold, so very cold in my hand, but right, very right, a familiar vibration, one from hundreds of dreams. I know this blade… this is Soul of Ice… and I know what those fangs mean…. And I unleash a frozen hell upon the dead village, the temperature dropping from the height of summer day to the burning chill of the Heart of Winter.
There is a groan to my left and a figure, covered in frost… long, serpentine body, falls to the ground. I place my sword to his throat. “Speak.” I command, hoping to be able to make sense of his words in time. I bring fire burning on my other hand close to him. “Or Die Screaming.”
It isn’t easy, it isn’t good, it certainly isn’t nice… but I get the information from him. Padraig, Lord of Poison, has brought an army of the Warriors of Summer to reclaim the mountain of the Fire Serpents… And to feast upon the folk of the long coast.
I freeze the toothless viper into torpor and fly as swiftly with my load as I can to Vermin Town. I do not see the stolen boats along the way, but they are there, somewhere. I land in the assembly square and lay my prisoner at my feet as the crowd gathers. Urvo was not there, but his cousin Radd was and he served as my speaker to rally the people of the town.
“We do not ask you to defend the mountain, where we, your overlords live. We do not ask you to defend the mines that bring forth metal to make our weapons, nor the farms where you toil to bring forth our food, nor the woods that provide nuts and berries and wood for our boats. We do not ask that of you, for that would be madness. Instead, we ask you to defend the walls of your town, the forge and mines where your tools come from, the farms and fields and woodlands where your food and the wood for your homes comes from. You came to us as conquerors, and we welcomed you as countrymen. Fight now for your homes, for the peace you have learned is possible. For if you don’t… the serpents will feast upon all our bones. All they have is poison, while you… have me.”
I lifted off into the air, a jump of over a dozen times my height, willing my sword into my hand, and brought it down as I landed, cleaving the Serpent’s head from its neck. “Place this above the gate to show the Serpents what we think of them.
Today Padraig, Lord of Poison, was brought in chains to the hall of Lord Brocktree, his fangs shattered, his wicked eyes blinded. The brothers Trun bested him in mortal combat, at the cost Ungatt’s life. Tomorrow, we shall lay him in state, a cruel man who nevertheless died a hero’s death. Though the serpent horde seems unending, perhaps removing their leadership will cause internal strife… which it will, if I have anything to say about it.
I had a most peculiar dream last night. I dreamed that my flesh would melt and flow at my command… and when I awoke, I found myself in a form most alien, that of a catlike creature, but of more refined, less animalistic form than a Wildcat, and with soft and silky fur. No sooner did I wonder if I could return to my native form… than I transformed again… but not, as it were, into my otterform, but into a smooth-skinned nearly hairless being much shorter than my normal form. Was this, then my natural form? I had seen these strange paws in dreams before, but to actually feel with them was fascinating indeed. They had so much more sensation than my paws and the skin was shockingly sensitive to the touch.
I sought to recall all the forms from my dreams, annoyed that my otherwise nearly perfect memory (baring the whole lack of a past thing) did not seem to extend to my dreams… when I found myself inside a dark, winding labyrinth of dank stone. The pillars were massive, towering vaults a giant could lose themselves in, and there were semi-luminescent clouds everywhere.
To my astonishment, I discovered that, if I peered into a cloud, I saw dreamlike images flowing past. Indeed, they were familiar, for they were my dreams. A Labyrinth of Dreams? Was there then a Library of Memories? If only I could access that… though with my luck it would be…
I found myself in a hall, brightly lit, full of signs and symbols and memories of my life, both before and after the wreck. The rooms of new memories were orderly, clean, and organized… the other rooms, the older past, was a storm-lashed ruin, everything tumbled and tossed. I did find my name however. Symbeline… how odd to know my true name… or was it? For Symbeline seemed to be the name of an Otter… not whatever I was. Was I then an entity of some cosmic realm, manifest for a mortal lifetime as Symbeline? I could not say, but it seemed likely.
I tried to leave the hall, but the door at the end was locked shut, strange symbols writ upon it in a language I had seen in my dreams but did not now know. Mysteries and riddles.
I am really getting sick of killing Serpent Chieftains. It seems like a new one shows up once every hundred days or so… with a longer gap for the colder months. Maybe if I can find out where they’re coming from….
Found out where the Serpents come from at last. Lots of swamp. It’s a massive bog that stretches from the south-east coast of the island we’re on to part of the northern coast of a larger landmass. Oh… and the world is definitely a sphere. Go up high enough and you can see it curve away from you. Very cool. Can totally understand why Bubo spends all his time flying super high… that, and the high speed swooping must be incredible.
Turns out that that far to the north is an island covered in rocks and snow and big white bears. Looks lovely in a stark kind of way. If only I could get the Serpent Chieftains and sub-chieftains there, they’d have loads of fun. That gives me an idea.
Today we poled the massive pleasure barge ‘Poseidon’ into the edge of the bog and called for a summit, just us and the Serpent Leadership. We sent flyers to every clan and sept of serpents. Let them figure out their own order of precedence.
We have plied the Serpent Lords with wine and sweets as more and more of them arrived, explaining that we are waiting until all of the Serpents have arrived until we discuss the Terms of Surrender. The feel of their minds is cold, unpleasant, and full of slow wickedness. On the day of the talks, a thick mist rolls in, blanketing the marsh and warded off only by the torches we have burning all over the barge. For hours the Hares, under Ares leadership, tangle the Serpents up in establishing proper hierarchies, pitting them against each other until the entire thing dissolves into a shouting match, only to repeat.
Finally, one of the Serpents, the most likely candidate for Warlord of the season demands to know when we plan to get around to actually surrendering. At which point I motion for the Hares to leave and the hall soon contains just me and the Snakes and a very brave Urvo.
“Oh. It’s not we who shall be surrendering. It is you, oh venomous ones.”
That got a few laughs… until at my second motion, the mist turned to snow and through the billowing drifts, the Snakes beheld that the ‘Poseidon’, rather than being moored by the edge of the swamps, was deep in the middle of the open sea. It might look like a barge, but underneath the surface, it had rat-powered paddlewheels, eight of them, churning away nonstop, pulling us smoothly through the water.
“You could fight me, but then I’d get to fight back. You could try to swim… but I doubt any of you would make it… the water is dire cold and none of you know where land is. Or you could surrender, pledge peace with the warmbloods, and all that… or not.”
A few of them decided to break the peace-bond and attack. Their frozen shattered forms were left on deck amid the finery and spilled wine to remind the others of what I could do. A few others braved the sea and quickly succumbed to the torpor and then the deeps.
We arrived on the Island of the Snowbears… I do not think the Serpents are enjoying their stay. Most of them are huddled very close to the warmth of the braziers. In fact, once I’d explained that they’d be staying here for the next sixteen seasons and, if they wanted anything from back home, we’d be happy to ship it up to them… as long as they surrendered…
Of course, it was possible their relatives would just write them off, but that would hardly be our fault, now would it?
As it turns out, loyalty is not a snake virtue, and no shipments were ever made. But without their leadership, the various snake clans… ate each other.
For weeks I have been having dreams of going down to the sea. I am no longer a young otter, perhaps sixty or sixty-five seasons, and my companions are all of an age. I have remembered many things of my life before the wreck, but it seems mostly like a dream. The Frogs came against us, but we turned them aside and directed them into the marshlands once held by the Serpents. The Crows came against us and we captured their rookeries and held their eggs for ransom. There were other smaller hordes, but we either converted or destroyed them all. Vermintown is a thriving city now, it stretches all the way along the coast between Point Vermin (the original town) and Salamandastron. Lord Brocktree passed some seasons back, but his daughter, Lady Cassandra, sits as overlord of the Coast. Tomorrow I will go down to the sea, the sea and the shore… and perhaps something wonderful will happen.
Side Story: Return #1
Next: World 27 – I Give You Everything
Addendum… I don’t remember selecting these options, but it seems I lived through them. Endless Hordes (+200) & Bully Pulpit 
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