Friday, February 26, 2021

From the Internal Narrative of Callidus Igni

"What did you do?"

"What I had to..."

-

I startled into wakefulness. An unfamiliar tent stretched over me. It smelled wrong, felt wrong. Where were my pockets and gear? Why did I... oh. Right. Ody.

"Good, you're awake."

I turned my head slowly. Panna sat outside her tent on a log dragged in from somewhere. She was eating something that looked warm and smelled good. My stomach grumbled and a smile slipped out from a hidden side, showing on her face for a brief moment before being locked away again.

Tatters of the dream still echoed in my head.

-

"What did you do?"

"What I had to..."

-

"Igni?"

I stared at her for a long moment. She said something... something I missed, and it took me several moments to dredge it up.

"Do you want some food?"

I crawled out of the tent. There was a large jug of water just outside, and I poured some into my canteen, sloshed it around with the dregs and dumped it, before filling it once more and taking a long swallow. A narrow tube sewn down one of my sleeves held some powder, and I squeezed it into the canteen, shook the contents, and drank slowly.

Panna made a face. "Do you want some real food?"

I shook my head.

"Secondus needs to speak with you."

"No."

"It didn't sound optional. I think that's him."

A figure had detached itself from the main camp and was making its way towards us. A second spotted the movement and started to follow. It seemed they had a small argument, which the first one lost. Together they continued. As they drew closer, I recognized Secondus and Tertius.

-

"What did you do?"

"What I had to..."

-

"Panna, can you excuse us please?"

She glared at the three of us, nodded to Secondus, picked up the last bit of her meal and walked away. Over her shoulder she shouted, "Don't burn down my tent."

Tertius giggled, until Secondus gave him a stern look. "Sec, I know you have pressing matters to discuss, but before you scare anyone off, can I just say... Igni, you were right, we do have a problem, and it's bigger than just Ody. If there's anything left after Sec is done with you, I'd like your help dealing with it." He turned to Secondus, "Okay, that's it, I'm out, he's all yours." Tertius turned and started back towards camp.

-

"What did you do?"

"What I had to..."

-

"Are you listening to me?"

"What?"

"Dammit Callidus! You cannot flake out on me! We need you. --I'd hoped after your release last night, you were going to go out and meditate somewhere, or take off early, not... What was that about?"

"Check your books."

"You are so far outside... I think you got lost somewhere, Cal. We might have to retcon the season, did you know that?"

"You won't."

"Really? What expert opinion do you have that a dozen storytellers, Primus, me, and Quartus couldn't come up with? Go on, Cal, tell me. What did you do?"

-

"What did you do?"

"What did you do?"

"What did you do?"

"What did you do?"

"What did you do?"

"What did you do?"

"I did what I had to do."

-

"It's called a Reckoning."

"What?"

"It's in the canon. And when it's done, you'll have your game back. It has a built in reset."

Secondus froze. "When?"

"After the fire. Twenty-four hours."

"What's the cost?"

"One soul."

"You--" He paused as realization dawned. "It's Ody. You need me to give you Ody."

"I don't need you to give me anything. I will take him. He's already mine, he just doesn't know it yet."

"I-- Cal-- please tell me you're not actually going to kill him."

"I'll do what I have to do. If he cooperates, if he plays his part, then he can walk out of here tomorrow morning, banishment intact. If he doesn't... I can't make any promises."

"How long is the recovery period?"

"Why? Are you planning on letting him back in?"

"No, just... curious. If it ever happens again."

"Pray it never happens again."

"But how long?"

"Never. There's no coming back from this one. They get trapped inside the time loop so everyone else can get out. Delete one person to save them all."

"And if you fail, there's no peace for any of us."

"No, it's worse. Until the price is paid, nobody gets out. A retcon is a battering ram. The soul is a key. All you'll do is make the door harder to open."

"--Shit, Cal. That's a nasty piece of work. Who wrote that into the canon?"

"I think it was unintentionally grandfathered in when whoever wrote it borrowed rules from something else. It predates me. Probably your first storyteller."

"That would be Primus. And he didn't even know. --Wait, how much gets reset?"

"Everything. Even their memory. Only Ody and I remember it; for the rest, it's like these twenty-four hours were just a bad dream. For him, it's the rest of eternity and yesterday was the dream."

"Next time..."

"There won't be a next time."

"Next time you do a major working, any major working, just give me a heads up, please?"

"We'll see."

--
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Thursday, February 25, 2021

From the Internal Narrative of Callidus Igni

I heard voices as I slept.

-

"Panna, I need to speak to him."

"He's asleep, Secondus."

"Dammit. Why are you protecting him?"

"He contracted my services."

"How much is he paying you?"

"It's not about the money. You know better than that."

Secondus grumbled under his breath. 

"For all that you have praised him, what has you in a fit?"

"Were you in the woods last night? After the fire?"

"No. I moved my gear and went to sleep. Why?"

Secondus winced. "He... there aren't words for it. He feasted is probably the best way to say it. I don't know what he did or how he justified it, but he was less wisp and more reaper. The game is in tatters. Everybody has been set back to at least the beginning of the season, if not further. It's going to take weeks to untangle this mess, if we even can. We just might have to--"

"Don't... don't say it..."

"You can't stop it Panna. Something has to be salvaged. A retcon might be the only option."

"What about Ody?"

"He didn't touch Ody. Crazy, but of everybody who's here, Ody is in the best shape as far as player characters go. He's been under close watch, but he seems... like he's given up, like he knows what's coming. I don't even know what's coming."

"Has anybody been in the forest since sunrise?"

"I don't think so. Why?"

Panna glanced back at the tent. "You probably shouldn't let anybody out of the campground until he wakes. You know him. Would he do anything for no reason?"

Secondus fell quiet for a long time. "I'll see what I can do."

-

I stirred, half waking like I'd forgotten something, before shifting to another position and drifting off once more.

--
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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

From the Memories of Callidus Igni

This memory takes place between 20210211 and 20210223.
--

"But he's only human!"

"Are you sure?"

"I know he plays as a wisp, but he is just human underneath, even if he never breaks character."

"If you're so sure, you go tell him that." The speaker shoved the other in front of him, and out of the shadows.

"Ah, shi--"

Silence fell, and nothing happened for several long moments, before the murky glow of a lantern pierced the darkness.

"Please, please, please..."

A quiet voice reached out. It didn't care for your begging. It didn't care for your gold. It only thirsted for your soul.

-

Igni ran a broadside on the night, and all the stories came crashing down. The players quaked in their boots, the NPCs shied away from the tide, and the storytellers found themselves lost. It was a Reckoning.

When the night grew darkest and the sun threatened to rise, the woods were nearly empty. Even the few with no souls to be stolen fled the forest. Only then did that consuming fire build his altar, from the sweat and tears and workings of all he had feasted upon.

One more soul was needed.

One soul.

One soul to be sacrificed upon the altar, and that soul would find no peace, here or hereafter, when the rite was complete.

Igni licked his lips and whispered one name to the silence, claiming the soul from the night.

"Ody... Narkis..."

--
Index

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

From the Internal Narrative of Callidus Igni

"Okay," she nodded reluctantly. "What do you need me to do?"

"First, you're going to move your tent."

"And put it where? ...No, no, I can't--"

"One, I'm not asking, and two, don't put it directly on the pile of ash, just nearby. On the other side of the tree is close enough."

"You want me to declare my allegiance. To you."

"Is that going to be a problem?" I scowled.

"Not for me. I can't speak for anybody else."

"They saw how I handled Ody. Nobody is crossing me anytime soon."

"But what if they do?"

I said nothing, just stared at her.

"Can I wait until light?"

"No. It needs to be done by daybreak. No later."

"I know you got an exemption, but I still have stories to partake in."

"Then you'd better not waste any more time."

She huffed, rolled her eyes, and the started walking back towards camp.

-

Tertius flinched when he saw me sitting in his tent. "Shit. When-- How-- What do you want?"

"You have a problem."

"You mean other than people with surprisingly good hand-to-hand combat skills sneaking into my tent?"

I said nothing, just waited.

"If it were anybody else, I wouldn't be so forgiving." He ran a hand through his hair, still waking up. "Fine, Igni, what's my problem?"

I flicked a coin at him.

He stared at it in the dim light of the rising sun for a few moments, then grabbed a nearby flashlight and looked closer.

I stood and started climbing out of his tent.

"Where did this come from?" he called after me.

"Ask Ody," I grunted, and then was gone.

I heard him start a swearing tirade as I walked away.

-

Panna was dozing in her tent when I opened it up, though she bolted upright when she heard the zipper opening. "What are you doing?"

"Wisp, remember? Sunlight bad."

"Wait, you... no, you can't sleep in here."

I raised my eyebrows and she threw up her arms.

"Fine, fine, go ahead." Under her breath she added, "I'm going to regret this. Probably would have been better just to go down with Ody."

I laid back on the floor of her tent, pulling my cloak tighter around me and the hood lower over my eyes. "Probably."

--
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Thursday, February 11, 2021

From the Memories of Callidus Igni

"That's it?"

"What, were you expecting to get paid in real gold?"

"No, but I wasn't expecting poorly cut circles of cardboard either."

"Fine, I'll take them back."

"Go ahead. If you keep trying to distribute something that pathetic, inflation is the least of your worries."

"What do you mean?"

"I could counterfeit these so easily, and not even you would be able to tell the difference."

"Okay, you do better."

"What's the budget?"

"Zero."

-

"We'll call you Tercius, you'll be third in command when we take off, and you can play for free if you want to play," Secondus offered, shivering in the wintry air outside the local college welding studio.

"And all you need is for me to make a few fake coins?"

"It's a little more complicated than that. We need a minting, something that's at least a little challenging to counterfeit."

"What's the budget?"

Secondus said nothing.

"Seriously? I thought you were being serious about this whole thing."

"I am. We are. We just don't have any money yet. Once we start bringing in players--"

"You don't even have any players yet?"

"We have a couple of players, just one party so far, but the applications are coming in. We have them, we have the interest, we just don't have the management to handle them yet."

"So you want to buy me off with an honorary chair-like position."

"Just for now. When the money starts coming in, then you'll get your cut, with backpay."

"And interest?"

"Don't push your luck."

"Fine, fine. It sounds like an interesting idea anyway. If it's intricate enough work, I might be able to pass it off as my journeyman project. What exactly are you looking for?"

"Gold, silver, and bronze."

Tercius threw back his head and roared.

"Oh, stop it. That's just what we call the coins. Nobody's expecting them to actually be gold, silver, or bronze."

"Yeah, sure."

"Really. Can you imagine tromping around the woods with a pretend bag of money that's worth actual money in the real world? People would play our game just to pawn off our fake money. We're not that stupid."

"So three denominations."

"Pretty much. Each converted at a hundred to one."

"Is there anything else you want? Your face on one side?"

"Please, no. We just need the denominations clear, made difficult to counterfeit, and not worth enough to pawn outside the game."

"You'll owe me big for this."

"I'm regretting it already."

--
Index

From the Internal Narrative of Callidus Igni

Nobody tried to get me off Ody. I growled at anyone who came too close, until Secondus knelt beside me and shook my shoulder. He helped me stand while Primus and Tercius picked up Ody and escorted him away.

The remaining storytellers shooed the gathered crowd of players and NPCs back to their campsites.

-

"What are you going to do," Secondus asked, when we were finally alone.

"Finish what I started. Go back to bed."

"Do you need to borrow a tent?"

"No. All I need is to be released from my story."

"It's done. ...What are you going to do?"

"You don't want to know."

He patted my shoulder. "You know where to find me if there's anything I can do." Secondus turned from the ashes and headed back to camp.

I stared at what remained a few minutes longer, before heading back into the woods.

-

Panna was more or less where I'd left her, though she shuddered as I approached. "I didn't know, I'm sorry I didn't know."

"What did you know?"

"He was angry and wanted me to follow you and make sure you make it back to your tent. I didn't know he was going to burn down your stuff."

"And me inside it."

"I didn't know," she cried.

"What did he pay you?"

"The purse you already took from me, plus another one just like it after he was done with whatever he was doing."

"Anything else?"

"That's all he told me."

"What didn't he tell you?"

She was quiet for a long minute, tears streaming down her face. "I can't."

I sighed. "Turn on your light."

Panna flicked on a small flashlight and I poured the contents of the purse into my hand, examined them, before putting them back.

"These are counterfeit. They're not game currency."

"How do you know?"

I glared at her. "Turn off the light."

"How do you know they're not real?"

"Because I know who minted the real ones. --You're going to owe me."

"What? But that's all I got--"

"I don't care. You're going to work for me to pay off every coin you thought you were going to earn for setting me up, and I'm not paying Ody's rates either."

"That's not fair."

"Would you rather I turn you in as a co-conspirator? You'll never play here again. Ody is done, he won't play anywhere once this gets out; do you want to risk the same? Do you want a lifetime ban too?"

She stifled her objections, her sobbing, and merely shook her head.

"Do you have any reason to believe I am less than honorable to the game or my ethics?"

She shook her head again.

"Then this is just. You know the cost. It's your choice."

She held her tongue, thinking. "Can I have the counterfeit coins back?"

"Not a chance."

"Okay," she nodded reluctantly. "What do you need me to do?"

--
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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

From the Internal Narrative of Callidus Igni

I locked eyes with Panna and scowled.

She shrugged and then nodded.

I threw my shoulder into her chest again and fumbled around her waist while she gasped for air, cutting away her coin purse where I found it. I hefted it; fairly full, but probably not all she had on her.

"If you move from this spot, money is the least of your worries." I pulled my shoulder away, and though she tensed up, she didn't move.

"What are you going to do?"

"Quiet. If you say a word, warn him, or are not exactly here when I get back, there will be hell to pay. And hell doesn't take this paltry currency."

She balked, nodded, and rubbed her chest where I'd hit her twice now.

I stepped back onto the path and followed Ody.

-

He crouched a few feet from my tent, watching and listening. After a few minutes, he unclasped a bottle from his belt, unscrewed the lid, and started splashing the contents around my tent. As a crept closer, I got a whiff of gasoline, and barely managed to keep myself from gagging on the smell.

Carefully pulling a length of rope from my cloak, I circled around my tent in the other direction, waiting for the right moment to present itself, but it didn't come until he'd finished his circuit, tossed the bottle aside, and pulled out a lighter. 

While he stared into the tiny flame springing to life in his hands, I threw the rope over his head and garrotted it around his neck.

He dropped the lighter.

-

Ody's fingers scrambled at the rope as I tightened it, but he did more damage to himself than any prevention of the rope. I pulled him backwards, dropping us both to the ground while I scrambled to take control without doing any lasting harm. I didn't have a moment to spare to watch the gasoline catch, but as the fire danced in his eyes I succeeded in pinning him, stomach down, one hand wrenched behind his back, and his neck twisted inside a headlock.

And there I held him as we watched my tent burn to the ground.

--
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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

From the Internal Narrative of Callidus Igni

"You can call me Panna. Mercenary and vanilla mortal at your service" She swept her arms in a flourishing bow.

I quirked an eyebrow at her.

"Oh, don't give me that look. I'm not like Ody. I see what's in front of me and make up my own mind. He needed my eyes and had the money to pay for them." She put her hands on her hips. "That's what us mercs do. If you have a need and you're willing to pay for it, I'm in; and if you're nice about it or let me have some fun, I might cut you a discount. --Ody is a jerk. He only gets what he asks for and not a second more, and pays a premium for it too."

I shrugged and kept walking.

-

"Wait, where are you going? Camp is back that way." She twitched her head down a fork that I'd passed, but kept walking with me.

When we finally came out of the trees, it was quiet and dark. Panna looked around for a minute, catching her bearings when she spotted the firelight from the campground, and it was a decent walk away.

"Woah, you camp over here? That's... kinda hardcore. I confess, I'm jealous I didn't think of that. Is this even allowed?"

I shrugged again.

"Do you mind if I brought my gear over here? It's so nice and peaceful."

I stopped and turned to her with a scowl. Panna took a few steps backward and found herself against a tree, unable to retreat from my growl any further. 

"Sorry, sorry. I guess you just want to be left alone."

"No."

"You don't want to be left alone? Look, I'm sorry for whatever I said that offended you. I understand you don't like to talk much, but can you talk to me?"

I glanced furtively around and grabbed the front of her tunic, dragging us back into the shadows of the trees. Before she could do more than open her mouth to object, I covered it with my other hand, put my lips to one of her ears, and in my softest voice whispered "Listen."

Panna stopped struggling against me and I removed my hands.

I closed my eyes and put all my effort into listening. There was a snapping of branches behind us, deeper into the trees, and a light swayed down the path toward us. She jerked in surprise, but I pinned her chest with my shoulder. Whoever it was... they were more likely to see us if we tried to move further off the path than if we stayed put, stayed still.

"Are you sure they came down this way?"

"Nowhere else they could have gone. Brush is too dense around here to leave the trail. And his tent is out there. I checked on that this morning. He always camps away from everyone else."

"If you're wrong--"

"I'm not."

"Well, let's just hope Panna did her job."

"If she didn't, it's going to cost her more than money."

They walked right past us, almost near enough to touch.

"Where are they?"

"Probably in the tent."

"Together?"

"Why not? Panna's a creative gal. She's good at taking incentive to get a job done right."

"Whatever. Look, you did your part, now scram."

"Where's my payment?"

"You get the other half when it's done. It's not done yet. Better hope your little merc has as much sense as incentive. Time to see if Igni can stand some real fire."

"What? Man, I think you're taking this a little far..."

"Then it's a good thing I don't pay you to think. Get out of here. Hurry up!"

The tracker bolted for the main campsite while Ody looked up at the clear sky and flicked off his flashlight.


--
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From the Memories of Callidus Igni

He found himself in a tree.

Callidus wasn't without the memory of climbing it. He knew he had done so, but it happened without conscious thought. He need to be up in a tree, therefore he was. The memory started in the tree.

"Nevaris, where are you going?"

He looked down and saw a party passing below him. Whatever need he had for getting up in the tree vanished from his mind. He closed his eyes and listened.

"Nevaris! Wait!" There was a loud crunching of undergrowth as one person caught up to another by deviating from the winding trail and cutting through protesting undergrowth. "Nev, you can't just go off by yourself."

"Watch me."

"Tertius is gonna kill us both if I let you play without him."

"Then why are you following me?"

"I don't want to play without you, Nev."

"Then maybe you should have fought harder for me. This is the right way. I am going the right way."

"But the group decided--"

"The group is wrong."

"You can't just leave and do your own thing."

"It's not my own thing. It's the thing we came out here to do. I'm doing it while the rest of you are tromping around in circles. Go back to the party, Ody."

"Fine. But if you get kicked, don't come crying to me."

"Don't worry, I won't."

Callidus opened his eyes as the boy tromped back the way he came. He saw Nevaris put her hand against his tree and wipe her face on her sleeve, before continuing on deeper into the woods.


--
Index

Monday, February 8, 2021

From the Internal Narrative of Callidus Igni

They went down in a flail of limbs.

I glanced backwards and found the skirmish had grown cold. The dryads were on the ground before the satyrs, who were trying not to look too pleased by the view. Umbo knelt in front of his target, felled by his weakness for his sister, who lay fallen at the hands of hers.

But I had the caster and the pinnacle, and the circle was broken.

Unfortunately, the other four points didn't disengage immediately, and the resulting power coursed through the missing anchor and whomever was standing there. Or lying fallen.

Their storyteller called out the hit. The caster and the pinnacle stopped writhing and lay still. I dropped to my knees, out but not down. The whiplash burned out my well and my access to it, only luck let me keep my vision.

It was up to the satyrs.

Laetatio pulled his skin from his belt. "I'm empty."

Libita hefted his. "One dose left. Do you want it?"

"Speed or Strength?"

They glanced around the circle, at each other, and Libita answered with an underhanded toss. "Speed."

Laetatio took the last swig and darted forwards.


--
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The End of the World (And Beyond)

I'm going to say this once, so I hope you're listening.

I know things are rough, here and everywhere else. Shit got bad, and you need every able-bodied soul putting their backs into keeping this small refuge of society together. I can help you with that, that's why I'm here.

I'm not especially gifted in anything, but I'm a real nose-to-the-grindstone type. I know my way around a basic carpentry kit and inside a computer. I can tinker; I can hold things while someone else tinkers; I can troubleshoot.

And I can put my back into it until the cows come home. You can work me to the bone... but you shouldn't.

You have a choice.

You can work me to the bone, take advantage of my endurance and my fortitude, day in and day out. But there will come a day when I am useless to you. The harder you work me, the faster it will come, but I can't tell you when it will come until it gets here. Then, I will expect you to pay me back for every second I spent performing your labors. I will be useless until someone takes the time to fix me. And then I will be back to my hardworking self... until it happens again. Every cycle will be a little shorter and require a little more reconstruction to get me functional again, and one day I may never get up again.

Or, you can take care of my needs every day. It will reduce my downtime, but it will also reduce my uptime. And I know catastrophes happen, and when you need me and have nothing to spare, we'll switch to option one. When things calm down again, we can switch back to option two.

You can beat me until I break, but then you have to fix me, and that takes time and has diminishing returns. Or you can perform regular upkeep and maintenance, and I'll run longer, smoother.

Regardless of what you choose, there will always come a day when I don't get back up. The first one tends to come sooner, the they balance out pretty well in the end.

And one more thing. Don't ever forget that I'm still human.