A terrible fire destroyed much of my country residence last night. Jane and I were asleep when it happened. One of the maids left a shawl too close to the dining room fireplace. The embers shifted and the resulting conflagration tore through the manor. My lungs suffered from the smoke, every breath burns as if the fire is still raging. Jane was burned while escaping onto the lawn. She tripped on her robe and…she landed on a smoldering carpet. Doctor Palmer examined her at the hospital and it looks like she will be alright in time…I do hope so. One footman and one housemaid died as well. The estate itself is a blackened ruin with water and sand from the fire brigade strewn about. Stone does not burn, as my grandsire was fond of saying, in time, the main house will be restored. The outbuildings and stables survived, although three horses bolted. I most acutely feel the loss of my regalia, seals of office, books, and furniture. Cost is of course no concern, however, some of the lost articles were irreplaceable…all ash now. Surprisingly, this journal was unharmed. Its pages weren’t singed and it does not carry that noxious odor of smoke. Shocking indeed since one of the grooms only just now retrieved it from the library, nearly twelve hours after the fire began. As it is one of my precious few remaining effects, I ought to keep it close.
neighbor’s dog escaped
shouting and panic ensued
man recaptured beast
autumn has arrived
sharp air, dark mornings, pumpkin
summer can fuck off
“Will practitioners be using any spiritual or other fantastic powers at the dojo, or just physical force?”
“Physical force, but the master is very powerful. Since we are honor bound to accept all challengers, I cannot say what styles they may employ.”
“I am going to list some of our common building materials, stop me when you think the master might be unlikely to break through them.”
“Unintentionally? Because he can shatter almost anything if he wants to.”
“Alright then, let me know when he might have some difficulty. Bamboo, bricks, cinder blocks, steel-”
“How thick is the steel?”
“Six inches solid.”
“Reinforced concrete, lead-lined concrete, lead-lined titanium reinforced concrete-”
“Well…that might present more of a challenge. He could get through it of course, but anything more than two feet thick would take concerted effort.”
“Very well. This chart shows all of our construction prices for the dimensions you provided. All our projects carry a perpetual service and repair contract. The firm will take care of all significant structural damage, regardless of the cause, up to one complete rebuild per year.
“As you can see, the stronger materials cost significantly more, but won’t need to be replaced as often. I recommend the lead-lined titanium reinforced concrete in our 1 meter thickness. Much stronger than necessary for your pupils, but if a powerful challenger arrives, you’ll be glad the building doesn’t collapse.”
“The last challenger, and current master, destroyed the old stone building and made a crater 100 meters wide. We had to rebuild in a different province.”
“Yes Madam, you’ll notice that our contract only covers the building itself, all damage to the ground or utility infrastructure will be between you and the province.”
“Well, you have all the information. Take as much time as you need Madam Kuchiki and let us know when we can get started.”
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The meeting started like any other; with coffee and sugar-free cookies. Thirty or so people wandered into the room before Mr. Peterson, the HOA chairman, called the assembly to order.
A new man slipped through the door before it squeaked closed. He was short and round. Not round, but a bit plump, like he sat behind a desk most of his life.
“Sorry,” he cleaned his glasses, “is this the Shaded Meadows Home Owner’s Association meeting?”
“Yes,” Mr. Peterson replied, “please have a seat so we can get started Mr…”
“Glad you could join us.”
The minutes rolled by as they worked through all the old business, which was mostly just trash restrictions and snow plowing questions. When Mr. Peterson asked if there was any new business, Mr. Westlund raised his pudgy hand.
“The chair recognizes Mr. Westlund.”
“Thank you, I am here today on behalf of Pentos Savings and Loan.” A few heads turned his direction. “Of the 74 residences in Shaded Meadows, only 19 deed-holders have a majority equity stake in their property.” A few heads looked down at their phones, Mr. Peterson exhaled loudly. “This means that Pentos Savings and Loan, as the development’s mortgage backer, effectively owns the remaining 55 homes. As their proxy, I would like to submit a proposal.”
“And what might you have in mind?” Mr. Peterson asked waspishly.
“I propose that every front yard install an advertisement for Pentos Savings and Loan, measuring no less than 20 feet across by 10 feet tall. I have already sent the design to the county office.”
“Absolutely ridiculous! All those opposed?” The entire room voted against the proposal. “Unanimous, motion denied.”
“Remember, Mr. Peterson, that I hold 55 votes.”
Mr. Peterson sputtered, the crowd of polite neighbors scoffed, Mr. Westlund smirked.
Once upon a time, there was a Friend Ship. Long ago, it was just a raft. The rudder was vague, the sail was thin, the deck was easily swamped. The ship grew over time, piece by piece. First, a strong hull developed after they found a shared passion. Next, a wide deck sprung up after they supported one another through a hard time. Finally, a powerful diesel engine rumbled into life after they shared more and more experiences. Now, the Friend Ship could weather any storm.
Years passed while the Friend Ship floated at the dock. They didn’t use it anymore, not like they once had. Its hull rusted, its deck splintered, its engine seized.
Eventually, they came back to try again. They dusted off the controls, repainted the cabins, and hung a new flag. Together, they rounded the island just like they used to.
The Friend Ship thundered through the choppy surf, but then, the winds got stronger. A powerful gale swept into the Friend Ship. Despite the quick cleaning, the Friend Ship hadn’t been in a storm for a long time. Its hull started leaking, before long, it changed back into a humble raft. When the raft sank, they found themselves separated at sea.
Viktoria was a woman. Neither tall nor short. Neither light nor dark. Her hair was brownish, longish, and cleanish. Her eyes were greenish, clearish, and sharpish. She was the perfect assistant manager at Legendary Weaponry. Viktoria thrived in a commission-based sales environment and the customers weren’t afraid of her. She wasn’t afraid of them either.
Legendary Weaponry never closed. They did once, during the Nexus War, but only to resupply. If there’s one thing the warring factions agreed upon, it was their need for an overpowered offensive. The acquisitions department spent four hours looting corpses, the reconditioning bureau spent two hours cleaning the new inventory, the doors opened as soon as the blades touched the shelves. The Nexus is the intersection between every plane of existence. As a result, there’s never a shortage of demand, endless war and all that. Any old shop can sell iron daggers, Legendary Weaponry specializes in unfathomably powerful weapons from every realm. They have a shard of Narsil, a hydrogen bomb, Masamune, the Vorpal Sword, and the Golden Gun. They have weapons forged from mithril, unobtainium, and valyrian steel. They have several iterations of the Ultima Weapon, the BFG 9000, the Buster Sword, and one of Zeus’ lightning bolts. They have three blue shells, the Biggoron’s Sword, and Mjolnir. The owner is negotiating for the Death Star blueprints. Prices are available upon request.
Viktoria’s day started well. She said ‘good morning’ to the store leader, Tarron, and nodded to Luronk and Marlie, the two apprentices. “Morning” was a misnomer in The Nexus since the day-star perpetually hung overhead. This made scheduling deliveries from every corner of the multi-verse difficult. Fortunately, everyone understood two timeframes: Now and Soon.
“Plenty of traffic, but no buyers yet,” Tarron said. “Alexander is downstairs with two potentials. They wanted to test Excalibur against the acid shotgun.” He leaned against the scratched counter. “I told them they were wasting their time, but,” he shrugged, “kids.”
They weren’t kids, but everyone seems young to the Elves. “Corrosive ammunition isn’t free,” Viktoria said. “Alexander’s down there?”
“Affirmative, no need to worry.”
The guard, Alexander, stood over 2.5 meters tall and weighed nearly 200 kilograms. His superlative endurance and strength made him the ideal trouble buster. If he couldn’t stop someone, no one could.
Viktoria had no luck convincing a dwarf that he needed a concealable or ranged weapon, he insisted on purchasing two axes. She didn’t try too hard to dissuade him. Luronk stood at the display case and explained to a hostile specter that the black arrows and launcher were sold separately when the yellow alarm beeped. Tarron rushed below to the shielded sparring arena, green fog crept from the open door. He returned moments later, clutching Excalibur and a large feline customer. Alexander followed with another Khajiit, still holding the blunderbuss.
“What happened?” Marlie squeaked, despite the petrified customers scattered across the sales floor.
“Just a misfire, no need to worry.” Tarron hustled toward the main door. He sure loves that phrase, Viktoria thought as she followed them outside.
Tarron brusquely reminded the Khajiit duo of the waiver they signed and sent them on their way. Alexander opened his smoldering jacket, revealed a frothing spatter, and doubled over in agony. Viktoria dashed into the storeroom, ran back outside, and threw a handful of chalky stabilizer onto the acid. Alexander’s thanks squeezed between gritted teeth before he explained what went wrong.
“It was a misfire. Excalibur absorbed most of the damage for her,” he waved toward the retreating Khajiits. “I got hit with the acid shot and set off the alarm.” He limped toward his post just inside the door. “I’ll be fine, just give me a minute.”
“No,” Tarron declared. “Absolutely not, you need the Healers.” Alexander protested, Tarron pressed onward. “Viktoria, I need you to take him.”
“Of course,” she held Alexander’s arm and pulled him down the street. People stepped aside for the lumbering slab of sinew supported by the straining shopkeeper. They trudged along, block by block, in relative silence. He, more injured than he cared to admit. She, focused on keeping both of them from falling over.
“One more scar for your collection!” Viktoria grinned.
Alexander smiled in response. “This acid is-” he winced “strong.”
“How are you still alive? That spray is supposed to incapacitate on contact.”
“My jacket helped. Dragon scales aren’t cheap, so I’ll send the bill to those damn cats.”
A tall white building with a glowing green triangle stood before them. The Order of Healers only cared for the sick and injured; they didn’t allow any healthy beings inside their centers.
“Good luck,” Viktoria stepped back and let him march stoically into the antiseptic lobby.
“Thanks again Vik, I wouldn’t have made it here on my own.”
The doors hissed closed.
Viktoria shuffled back to work, she was in no hurry. Even though it was early, she bought a watercress sandwich and a cup of gumbo from a vendor and ate in Memorial Park. The War was ages ago, but the monument looked as stalwart as ever. Constructing a monument to a war spanning the multi-verse was no easy task, so the Council commissioned a pillar. It was the tallest structure in The Nexus, covered in small vertical lines. The inscription claimed the pillar meant they were all stronger together.
The repairs were completed before Viktoria returned. Tarron kept a supply of programmable nano-machines for all cleanup tasks. They were expensive, but the little bots fixed damaged property at a molecular level. They even neutralized the remaining acid in the sparring room.
“How is he?” Tarron asked.
“Hurt, but the Healers will take care of it. I’m sure they’ve seen worse.” Viktoria looked at a grayish blur rolling over the floor. “Everything alright here?”
“Yes,” he replied. “These nanos pay for themselves.”
“They certainly stay busy, thanks to our careless customers.”
Hours passed, buyers flaunted their obscene wealth, nothing happened. Three country boys tried out a four person flying mech suit, using an AI for the fourth set of controls. The Nexus accessed every reality, anyone whose home system hadn’t standardized running water was from the country, it’s as simple as that. Viktoria knew they had no business with a mech, but they were welcome to buy the monstrous assault unit if they had the funds. The tallest one, with long hair and no nose, sent Marlie away with his assurances that he’d be careful. His team piled into the Mictlantecuhtli’s torso and fired up the reactor. Viktoria was in the stockroom when they lifted off the ground, spun, and knocked another client through the wall across the room.
“Stop,” Tarron commanded, “power down now!”
A high-pitched whine preceded a hail of gunfire. None of the display weapons were loaded, these ‘country’ boys must have brought their own ammunition. Machine guns spat in four directions at a combined 80 rounds per second. Viktoria laid flat between shelves crowded with counter-attacking swords and hoped the shielded doors withstood the pounding. The Mictlantecuhtli fired missiles and hovered toward the exit. Every robbery in The Nexus was a daring daylight crime. These perpetrators were not just willing, but eager to fly over a pile of corpses to secure their prize.
Tarron smacked the red button under the counter, Legendary Weaponry’s AOE kill switch. The final security measure shutdown every artificial power source within 100 meters. It might also kill androids, luckily there weren’t any within range. The Mictlantecuhtli listed to port and dropped like a proverbial two ton machine onto the sales counter.
Viktoria screamed “Tarron!”
The three orchestrators of destruction crawled out of the debris. Luronk heaved a massive mace and one of them crumpled with a crash, the other two promptly surrendered. Customers and passer-by helped claw through the rubble, Marlie found Tarron’s foot. He looked like a battered ghost, covered in gray dust and wood fragments. The Mictlantecuhtli had crushed him. Bits of bone poked through his cloak. Marlie cried. No one knew what to do.
“As acting leader of Legendary Weaponry I have prosecutory powers,” Viktoria faced the miscreants. “You are under arrest.” At once, shackles materialized and bound them. One spat at her, Luronk’s reply sent him staggering.
“For your actions here today, resulting in the death of Tarron Cyherion, you are banished from The Nexus. Further punishment will be meted out by The Council. Go.” Their chains glowed blue, rose into the air, and pulled them through the streets to the portal. They would be ejected from The Nexus and returned whence they came.
Eight cycles later, Viktoria stood in front of her store. After Tarron’s body was returned to his people, after the damage was repaired, after tears were shed and kind words were said, life normalized. There had been mishaps and robberies at Legendary Weaponry before, but nothing like this. Alexander blamed himself for not being there, but no one else held him responsible. He had already been injured once that day.
The surviving workers accepted a generous settlement for the trauma they had experienced. In addition, each of them received a single weapon for their own protection. Viktoria chose the Ultima Weapon Keyblade.
She sat in the plaza for hours and watched everyone come and go. Humans, Elves, Orcs, Dwarves, beings from every corner of existence, each making their own way. Viktoria realized that she didn’t want to die in a shop. She didn’t want to die at all, not really, but certainly not pandering to customers. Legendary Weaponry’s leader shouldered her pack and gripped her Keyblade. She would get used to the weight soon enough. Viktoria walked to the row of circular portals, transporting people to and from their own worlds, and took her place in line. She stepped forward, selected Random on the display, and passed through the horizon.
We should have found it yesterday, but the dig suffered a few setbacks. The main tunnel flooded a week ago, and then 60 feet of granite nearly stopped our search altogether.
After 38 days of digging, blasting, and scraping, we unearthed the prize. It was a heavy golden sphere, about two feet across, covered in etched runes. The damn thing reflected so brightly I thought it was the sun for one addled moment. No one knew what to call it, the brass kept all the details to themselves. All we deserved was a set of coordinates and a vague description.
I offered to bag and carry the priceless artifact up to the surface. As soon as I secured the straps, I dropped two flash-bangs. After 38 days in the dark and quiet tunnels, my former partners howled on the ground and clutched their throbbing eyes.
I climbed, grinning maniacally. This ancient power-source would fuel one hell of an espionage network.