Second Life by GrinNoCat

Table of Contents


This is a work of fiction written to entertain the masses! Space and time have been rearranged to suit the convenience of the author and book. Except for public figures, any resemblance to persons dead, living, yet to be born, or from alternate timelines or universes is coincidental. References to other works are for dramatic value and entertainment purposes. You should patronize those works that interest you to understand the hard work that earned them a place in popular culture. The author claims no psychic ability, and should a public figure be ‘assigned’ a date of demise, it is for dramatic purposes and does not constitute a prediction, threat, or the like, no matter how convincing the story is. The role played by any person in this narrative is entirely fictional, even if their behavior or actions abide by generally known facts of actual historical events and people.


This web novel is an ongoing work that started in 2022, it’s owned by Majestic Ambitions, LLC and the details of authorship may be obtained through them. Copyrighted and All Rights Reserved.

01 Waking Up

There’s beeping and the hospital smell. I’m not dead. I’m supposed to be dead.

Somebody is speaking to me, and I don’t recognize the voice. “Easy now, John, things aren’t what they seem. Please take a deep breath and open your eyes.”

Angrily, “I’m NOT dead!” Looking around, “I’m still laying here in my hospital bed! Who are you – you’re not a doctor.”

“Whoa, now – actually, you are dead. Take a moment. You signed the experimental revival amendment for your cryogenic freezing contract. If the notes are correct, you stated, ‘Even if I end up like the Bobs, it’ll be worth it.'”

He’s being calm and patient, whoever he is. I did sign that amendment – wait, there’s no pain, and I’m not hooked up to anything! There aren’t even any machines in here, even though there is the annoying beeping. I have a body, so I didn’t end up as a Bob…but something is…

“I am sure it’s a little disorienting. Go ahead, sit up. There’s nothing wrong with your body anymore. The cancer is all gone. You are wearing a jumpsuit instead of a hospital gown, so you don’t have to worry about exposing yourself.”

Peeling back the covers, I see he’s right. I am wearing a jumpsuit. When I sit up, he sits in an armchair in the corner of the room. There’s another one diagonally facing him, and he indicates with his hand that I should join him. “Ok…what’s going on?”

“Please, come on over and sit. We find that it’s a little less of a shock when we bring somebody back if they are in the last place they saw before undergoing the procedure. You’ve been a frozen head for a little over two hundred years. Please take a moment and think about this: It was made clear that by the time the technology became available to revive you, everybody you knew could be dead – but it’s a little different when it’s a possibility and when it’s true.”

I walk over and sit in the other chair. “Ok…is everybody dead?”

“According to the files, your parents passed before your cancer diagnosis. Your ex-wife passed. Your children are both passed, and your granddaughter, Kathryn, has passed too. Kathryn had two children, both passed, and you have one Great-Great-Grandson in his late forties. He does not yet know of your revival and has no living descendants.”

“All dead…everybody I knew…nobody knows me…”

“That’s right; you are starting over. The system is helping mitigate your shock, and we’ll talk about that in a few min.”

“Ok, what am I starting over with?”

“That is where this conversation starts to become interesting. I understand from your historical profile that you were an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy novels. This is going to sound a little like one of those RPGLit books. You are now, essentially, in a video game.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“Nope, go ahead – say, “Character Sheet”.

I do, and there’s the traditional blue box I read about so often:

“Why don’t I have a name and wha-“

He’s smiling; “Hold on, I just wanted you to see some evidence. Let me give you ‘The Speech’ and then you can ask questions. Ok?”

“Sure, why not?”

He sits up, looking a little more official. “Ok, here we go. Bookmark ‘Life Acceptance'”

“Welcome to Nirvana. You have been revived from cryogenic sleep under Federal Statute ALA 3.1 Recovery of Cryogenic Human Assets. You do not have to accept this artificial life and may choose to die a ‘True Death’ under the law with no fear that your digital or biological assets will ever be used. A ‘True Death’ is defined as a complete cessation of life as before the ability to scan and recover memory, personality, and more became available in 2073. You will not exist in any medium digitally, chemically, or biologically. Your scans and DNA will be purged from all records and databases. Should you continue with this artificial life, you will be enrolled in the Digital Citizen Registry, and your DNA sequence will become your personal property and an asset at your disposal. Please choose now:

“Ok, that’s pretty heavy out the gate. However, the whole reason I chose cryogenics was that I might be brought back.” I select the ‘LIVE’ button.

“Congratulations, and Welcome to Nirvana! As this is your second life, you may keep your original name or select a new one. I do not recommend picking anything ‘funny’ or with special characters in it. You may be stuck with this name for a very long time because it is very expensive to change.”

“Hmm. I often went by JEB before I died. Let’s go with ‘Jebediah Walker’. It’s not a complete break, but it’s far enough removed I shouldn’t be constantly reminded of who I was since it sounds like that’s not who I am going to be.”

“That’s a very enlightened outlook. I am Revival AI Administrator Bob, and it’s a pleasure to meet you, Jebediah.”

“Bob? They named you Bob!? Is that in any way related to the Bobiverse series?”

Bob’s looking a little sad at this, “Yes.”

“I’m sorry I brought it up. Though that series is one of the reasons I signed up for Cyrogenics.”

Bob sighs, “Don’t worry about it; the series has become a cult classic, and everybody, rightly, assumes that the AI names derive from it. We can’t change them because other users won’t believe you are an Admin AI without showing your character sheet unless you have a ‘Bob’ name; even then, about 40% still ask to see our character sheet.

Speaking of other users, let me tell you a little about Nirvana and help you get started in your second life.”

“What about the ‘real world’. Don’t I have financial assets and things still?”

“You do, however, the law requires an adjustment period of one PY, physical year, for all Revived Humans before you can access resources external to Nirvana. You will have no bills, fees or other financial obligations before that PY is completed, and your second PY hosted on Nirvana is paid for by your cryogenic facility under the ALA,” replies Bob.

“Ok, I have a few questions already. Why are we specifying a PY as opposed to simply saying, ‘a year’ and what is the ‘ALA'”

Nodding, Bob says, “Good questions; most are still a little lost at this point. The ALA refers to the Artificial Life Act and is the set of laws covering AIs and biological organisms that have been converted to a digital medium. The law is now 173 years old and has been unamended for seventeen years, although there are several pending suits. We distinguish PY, Physical Years, from DY, Digital Years, because many systems provide time dilation, and minors are still a protected class of citizens. Minors spending a PY in a 10x virtual space cannot be treated as ten years older regarding physical world rights. You will see differences for this on any character sheet you review.

Nirvana, where you are, is one of those 10x virtual spaces. So there will be 10 DYs for every PY that passes. And, yes, this is on purpose. Many of the first revivals had significant issues adjusting to a virtual life without a significant amount of time in a virtual space. This is for your sanity and mental health.

Additionally, this guarantees you 20 DY of life before you must begin to provide for yourself. Most revivals play for the first PY, and about 40% spend the second year going through reeducation in current history and the sciences before rejoining society as part of the workforce. The other 60% choose to try to earn a living as part of Nirvana itself. There are no AI characters in Nirvana; everybody is a visiting human or a digital human.

There are also no social laws imposed by Nirvana servers or its’ AIs. Behavior is up to each individual, and social rules are imposed by the community you are in. Players can die in Nirvana. However, you will be reborn after three digital days (yes, that’s a nod to Christianity); live players, ‘Visitors’ also have a three digital day lockout and suffer all the same penalties. The pain of death is the only pain in Nirvana that is muted by the system; simply to reduce trauma. The penalty for death is that you will be reborn naked, with an empty inventory. Death results in the loss of all items you were wearing or carrying with you. There may be exceptions to this; explore and discover them if you are interested. There are no EXP penalties or skill losses.

When revived, your body will be restored to the condition you were in when you were last saved at an obelisk, but you will be resurrected at the altar nearest where you died. Only you can update your condition at an obelisk, and if you update with damage, like a missing limb, there are ways to get it restored and update your restored condition. You can also address other ‘natural’ conditions like player race, aging, disease, etc., with things available within Nirvana.

In many cases, the societies you will encounter are based on the ‘Might Makes Right’ paradigm. Admin AIs will address technical glitches and any bugs. They cannot intercede on behalf of any players, except that any ‘Live Human’ may appeal to an Admin AI to escape torture. Digital beings must provide for themselves in every way. That was quite a data dump, questions?” asked Bob.

“Ok, so to reiterate, I get to play around for ten years, and then I have to decide what I am going to be when I grow up and have ten years to sort that out too. During this time, I either need to be strong enough to defend myself or organize with others to do so or some combination of the two because nobody will do squat for me.”

Bob responded, “You have confirmed that your brain is working, and you might not be an idiot.”

“Ok, so if I am in a video game, is this the character generation process?”

Bob replies, “To some degree. There are no levels in Nirvana. If you want to be stronger, then exercise, or get special equipment. These things can change your avatar. If you want to be smarter, study – even special equipment won’t make you smarter. Want to get better at something, then get training or practice – a lot! Nothing gets ‘implanted’ in your brain. Nobody has figured out a way to do that without causing insanity or death, and it doesn’t matter if you are live or digital. So far, all the results are the same. So this also means there are no ‘Classes’ or similar functionality. People will be people, though, and they will label themselves or others for their own convenience.

The system will also not ‘robot’ your avatar. So if you get bit by a zombie and you die, your old body becomes a monster that the system controls. The system also cannot read your mind, so no one else can either. What the system can do is change anyone’s sensory inputs. This allows it to create feelings of pressure, blindness, hot, cold, whispers, etc. This also lets the system create magic.”

“Wait! You said my ‘avatar.’ I thought I was IN the video game.”

Shaking his head, “Ahh, sorry for the confusion. Nobody is actually IN the video game. Everybody, live and digital, is piloting an avatar and getting sensory feedback to their brain – even if that’s digital. This also means that actions in Nirvana can’t damage your digital brain. You can still experience emotions and trauma – those are simply ways your brain handles what it perceives. Does that clear it up?”

“Yep, I get it.”

Using hand gestures to emphasize his words, Bob continues, “Ok, to continue, magic is the ability to alter or override the natural physics you experience. Flight, touching fire without being burned, bending light to become invisible, teleporting, and much more. It has a corresponding energy cost and its own set of rules. You can think of it like eastern cultivation practices, and most commonly, people use those classic names and words to refer to it. You will find enchantments, formations, alchemical potions, and many things of that ilk.

Generally, spells and abilities have a verbal component. This is because the system listens for the command to activate the related sequence of events. Magic items also have some trigger that activates them; magic words, push a button, wear it, drink it, etc.

Every player gets an interface to their character sheet and the Social, Inventory, and Help system functions. The interface hasn’t been implanted in your brain; this is the system ‘listening’ for player requests and then creating the sensory input; a box in your sight, the feeling of a sword in your hand, etc. You must approve any changes to how your interface interacts with you. So even if somebody gives you a magic item that makes the boxes red, you must agree for the change to take effect. The one thing in your interface that cannot be hidden or have the content changed is the ‘Help’ section, where you can find the ‘Reset’ button to return your interface to its defaults.

Since everything is about your sensory input, you can change anything. You just have to find the recipe and resources to make it happen. There are no ‘programming interfaces’ within Nirvana, so if you later want to become a content developer. You will have to get access from an external server. I say that, but based on your background, I should also say that there are some magic keyboard interfaces for the social screen. Primarily used by those who value privacy and want to avoid saying their messages out loud.

That was quite a bit; any questions regarding those basics?” asked Bob.

“I can’t think of any right now. So do I get to change anything at this point?”

Nodding, Bob continues, “Sure, let’s go through the rest of the basics. First, is there a fantasy or science fiction race that you would like to begin play as? Like with a name, please seriously consider this option as you could be in that form for a very long time. It’s also important to point out that humanity still has prejudices and bigots, though most tend towards human vs. non-human instead of the color of your skin or hair.”

“Will this change anything about my gameplay?”

Bob confirms, “It can. It modifies some base physical interactions and some sensory inputs. So you could start a little stronger, or less pleasant looking, things along that line. You may also get low-light vision or some other sensory modifier. If you choose something with additional limbs, like a tail, you won’t be able to control it from the start. You will have to learn control and practice it to improve. Autonomic things, like gills, will cause you to panic the first few times and then become subconscious. It will also take time to adjust to a significant height difference and anything along those lines.”

“I’ve never really concerned myself with the opinions of others, and I have loved cats all my life. I’m guessing that a feline beastkin is an available choice.”

“Absolutely, and it’s fairly common. Any special traits or coloring?” asked Bob.

“I would like to be a grand-champion blue-point Siamese, with sapphire blue verticle-slit cat eyes – and I’d like to still be able to see in color if that’s an option. I presume only one set of ears, the cat ears on the top of my head, and, of course, a tail! Oh – can I get retractable claws?”

“You can – beastkin are anthropomorphic animals. They may stand upright, balance, walk and run like a man. They can also revert to a more natural posture and move and run like the animal they are based upon. Most have the skin or fur qualities of the animal they are based on. So you will have fur and the other markings in addition to the modified body structure. This is a significant deviation from your human form; you will need to spend some time acclimating to it. Here is what you will look like.” Bob gestured, and then there was a 3d model standing between the two chairs, but off to the side, so it didn’t block our view of each other. It slowly rotated to show all sides.

“That’s fantastic! It retains the predator look and still speaks to the grace of breeding! Can I make adjustments?”

Nodding, “Yes, what would you like to change?” asked Bob.

“Would you lengthen my canines just a few millimeters more? Also, please lengthen my ears and give them small tufts of fur. And a slightly more blue, like a Russian blue. The off-white body coat is perfect, and I see I have human instead of feline genitalia. That’s appropriate, I’m sure.” I winked at him.

“Actually, it is appropriate. We’ve found that if we deny the base nature of people that this too contributes to mental instability. Satisfied?” asked Bob.

I nod, the image is gone, and I’m a few inches taller and have fur. I’m sitting on something, and it’s not comfortable. I slowly stand up. I need to use the arms of the chair to balance myself initially. My tail flicks into view, and I smile. Things are sharper in outline and duller in color. The beeping is suddenly extremely annoying and then suddenly shuts off.

Apologetically, Bob says, “Sorry about that; I could see your ears flatten. I removed the smell too. Moving on, we will give you some appropriate clothing and some initial currency.

Currency in Nirvana is based on metals, their purity, and their weight. Base coinage in most areas is copper or aluminum, then iron, silver, and gold. Other metals may be used, and you will have to learn about valuing them during play. We give all newly revived individuals 200 silver in the local currency of their starting town. This is usually enough to buy some basic supplies and gear and get some training in essential skills for the most common paths people start on.

You will start in a port town near a tropical forest, not a jungle; it’s tamer than that. This will be the only time in the next ten years you enter the game through a portal instead of at an altar.

‘Open Wardrobe’ and ‘Open Backpack’ are shortcuts to specific inventory screens. You can always say ‘Open Inventory’ and navigate from there. Open your wardrobe, and while you are here with me, you can pick a few outfits from the warehouse racks to add to your wardrobe. We do it this way to give you a little individual flair to start and to make it less likely that others will target you as a ‘newbie.’ You can equip your avatar directly from the wardrobe screen, or you can change your clothes the old-fashioned way. Since your anatomy is different than what you are used to, I recommend using the wardrobe screen this time. If for no other reason, most people carry a belt knife of some kind to cut food. Pick any one of them that suits your fancy. You can fight with it if you have to, but it’s technically a tool and not a weapon. So, don’t expect a lot from it.

You may also pick two simple weapons from the display. I also recommend boots instead of shoes, even if you are staying in town, and I am partial to hats.” smiled Bob.

“Do I really need shoes?”

Shaking his head, Bob replies, “Most beastkin don’t, but you can wear them, and there may be times when you want to.”

“Ok, first things first – a loincloth for the body and two for the wardrobe. Need to keep those dangly bits out of sight. Now a set of thick-soled boots. I’ll also take a set of cultivator’s robes – these light grey ones with vines embroidered are excellent – into the wardrobe! That looks like a leather kilt with a Pteruges sewn over it. It will give me some protection and let my tail move about freely, so I’ll take two, one to wear now and one for inventory. I’ll also take a sleeveless leather jerkin; there are a couple of green ones here, one for my inventory and one on the body. I’ll take the saw-back bowie knife, sheath, and that wide leather belt. As for a hat, I’ve always loved hats too, but with these ears, I don’t think I will be wearing one all the time. Perhaps something that will go with the cultivator’s robes. A skull cap in a matching grey. Hey, there are some leather bracers! I’ll get a set of those too – and fingerless gloves! Guess the over-the-calve boots are going to be my greaves.

Now for weapons…I’ll take that ranseur with the flat iron butt; it can also serve as a walking stick.” I had a lot of D&D characters over the years that used a ranseur, and I liked the idea of keeping an enemy at a distance. I liked halberds too, but after holding one, I decided that it would be more difficult to learn. “I need something for ranged…Is there a set of bolas in the display? I’m not seeing them.”

Bob grins, “Now, that isn’t something that gets asked for very often. It is a simple weapon, and you can find it in the drawers below the display.”

“Thanks. My brothers and I used to make sets out of stuffed tube socks and fight in the backyard as teenagers. Non-lethal and can totally ruin somebody’s day when you hit them in the groin.”

Still grinning, Bob adds, “Well, you will find these can be lethal should you get them wrapped around somebody’s neck or get them to pound them in the head with the stone weights. The leather cups aren’t going to cushion that blow.”

“Good, I can use them for more than hunting!”

Sitting up, Bob says, “One last thing before you start your adventure Jebediah.”

“Just Jeb, I’ll save the full name for formal occasions.”

Nodding, Bob continues, “Very well, Jeb. We like to help everybody learn a cantrip. Your body will generate enough energy that you can power it a few times a day without hurting yourself. These are the most commonly selected: Lighter, Bandaid, Flashlight. Is there one of these you would like to learn? Or do you have something else in mind?”

“Those are obviously useful, and I am guessing I can learn as many as I want if I can find somebody to train me. I think what would be useful is some ability to add flavor to something; salt, sweet, bitter. Could make a traveling life more bearable.”

Agreeing, Bob says, “Quite true, and there is a cantrip for it. It has a complication that the others don’t because it has the flexibility to grow. Not in how much it will create, but in how many things you can create. The cantrip is ‘Spice Rack.’ It will create up to a tablespoon of any spice or flavoring you have had personal experience with – even those from before Nirvana. For example, you would call out ‘Spice Rack Salt,’ and it would create a tablespoon of salt in the container you are holding. Would you like to learn it?”

“That’s awesome, and yes, I would!”

Bob materialized a long-handled wooden spoon and handed it to me. “You can use any container, but I think you like the idea of having a long-handled wooden spoon to stir a pot.” I nodded at him, and he continued, “The somatic component to this cantrip is for you to hold the container in one hand and to act like you are pouring something from the other into the container. While you do that, say, ‘Spice Rack’ and the seasoning you want. Note that you can get only single-source, single-word seasonings. You won’t get anything if you say ‘A-1 sauce’ or ‘Lawrey’s Seasoning Salt,’ and if you say ‘Pepper,’ you could get black, red, or any other kind – but only a tablespoon at a time.

It would be best if you didn’t do this more than three times a day until you have received some training, and the closer together you do them, the more exhausting it will be. Are you ready to try?” asked Bob.

I answered him by holding my spoon in my right hand to catch what I was pouring from my left hand and saying, “Spice Rack Honey.” Suddenly there was a tablespoon of honey leveling out to the edges of my spoon. I immediately stuck it in my mouth, and Bob started laughing! I rolled my eyes and mumbled around the spoon, “Mmmm…so good!”; and it really was.

03 Horn Point

“Jeb, there isn’t anything else we do for revivals. Are you ready to begin?”

“Actually, if it’s possible, I would like a chance to get used to piloting my avatar. I would like to do that here, or somewhere ‘safe,’ before I need to start worrying about other people.”

“Sure, you will find a little exercise room with enough space to run and jump and such through that door. Once comfortable, walk through the door again to be transported to Horn Point and begin your adventure. I wish you luck, Jeb.”

“Thank you, Bob. You are just like what I expected AIs to be. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, and I hope to see you sometime in the future!”

It was just as Bob said, maybe 30′ square with a track along the wall. There were a few free weights in the middle, but it was mostly open with mats on the floor.

I never really liked running. I just figured if I was going to have to fend for myself, I was going to end up running. After all, I didn’t really know how to use the ranseur I took; for me, it was just going to be a fancy spear. The only advantage it would have is that I could get an attacker caught on the three prongs and keep them from advancing. Like the arms on a boar spear, but more stabby.

I started walking around the room and soon began to jog in spurts. Eventually, I moved up to sprinting, dropping back down to jogging and walking. This wasn’t rocket science, and my mind started wandering. I realized that Bob and I never really talked about anything outside of Nirvana. He totally skipped over whatever digital valium they gave me to, ‘reduce my shock’. Since I can’t contact the physical world, I guess they won’t be notifying my Great-Great Grandson. After all, what would be the point when we can’t contact each other.

This is actually worse than after my divorce. At least then, I had the people I worked with for human interaction. Right now, I have nothing. What do I even have to offer this world? Sure, I played games so I can learn how to play this one too. But I wasn’t a hunter or a survivalist. I don’t have in-depth knowledge of engineering, chemistry, or physics. I doubt my networking and computer programming skills will be useful. I can ride a horse badly, ok, maybe not with this body.

I do know some woodworking, carpentry, plumbing, and basic wiring. I could operate a printing press or similar machinery. I also taught Boy Scouts, so I know how to camp and some outdoor basics. I know my knots from Boy Scouts and my Bluejackets manual, and I can make snares and simple traps. I can sew, weave and make twine, braids, and nets. I can fish with a net, pole, and spear. I can sing and play a mouth harp. I’m good at logic and problem solving and have read thousands of books, so I have plenty of reference material in my head.

If I want to stay in town, becoming a craftsman or a merchant are the primary options, and knowing accounting and finance pushes me towards merchant more than my hobby-level skills do towards craftsman – and I’ll probably have to become an apprentice and work my way up. Somehow I doubt there’s an open position for a librarian.

If I want to explore, I will have to expose myself to some danger and pain, but luckily not actual death. Losing all my stuff will be challenging, but it’s just stuff, and I’ve been broke before. The obvious options would be sailor, guard, soldier, mercenary, or adventurer. It’s a port town, and since I know my knots and have a little experience, I’m sure I could sign on to be a sailor. Being a sailor isn’t likely to expose me to a lot of magic, and I like the idea of magic. I’m not too fond of spending hours and days meditating as they did in Wuxia novels, but if sects are set up the same way, I am sure there are missions that have to be completed. If that’s not an option, perhaps I could be a bounty hunter after I get some training in physical tracking? That would let me make money and travel.

“What the hell am I doing?!? I’m procrastinating. John, no that’s part of the problem. I’m Jeb now. JEB GET YOUR ASS THROUGH THAT DOOR AND LEARN WHAT THIS PLACE IS LIKE INSTEAD OF MAKING A BUNCH OF ASSUMPTIONS BASED ON NOTHING!

Whoa, that actually felt good.” Grinning, “Guess I’ll do what I’m told,” and walking over to the door, I opened it.

The doorway is filled with a soft opaque white light. I reached out to touch it and felt nothing. My hand passed through, and nothing happened. So I walked through it.

There’s a flash, and after a moment, my vision clears. I’m standing in a gothic chapel. There’s stained glass but no immediate iconography. Before me is an altar and behind me is an archway pattern in the brickwork, no actual opening. There’s a young man, human from what I can see, standing on the other side of the altar – and he’s smiling at me.

“My name is Frank, and I usually am! You have plenty of time, so go ahead and look around. When you are comfortable, come sit with me, and I’ll tell you a bit more than the AI did. I’ll be over there on that bench.” He then stage whispered to me, “It’s a bench and not a pew because we don’t do any services here.” He then turned and started walking towards the bench, and as he did so, he called over his shoulder, “Of course, you don’t have to, and if you just want to run around right away, it’s a straight shot through those doors to the main street.” His hand waved at a wide-open set of double doors opposite where I stood.

“Can I take a look and then come back?”

“Sure, sure – I don’t have anything to do until somebody dies. It’s unlikely they will send another newbie through here today.”

I started walking towards the double doors. Other hallways join off the sides of this room, but they don’t go very far before turning. At the double doors, I find a grand hall perhaps seventy feet long before you reach another set of open doors and a bustling street. The hall is lined with stalls and merchants selling clothing, weapons, armor, camping supplies, shoes and boots, and so much more. It’s busier than Walmart on Black Friday after they open the doors; frankly, it’s intimidating. The strange part is that it’s completely silent; I don’t hear anything from beyond the doorway. I assume that’s magic; turn around and walk back to Frank.

Frank has pulled his bench so he can lean against the wall and put his feet on it. I pick the bench next to him, sit down and say, “I don’t think I am ready to brave that level of capitalism.”

Frank starts laughing, “It’s so funny that you say that! You see, you are in the “Church of Money!”

He’s having a hard time staying on his bench; I must have hit a funny bone. Eventually, he gets control of himself. Once he does, I extend my hand towards him, “I’m Jeb, pleased to meet you, Frank.”

Frank shakes my hand, “And it’s a right pleasure to meet you, Jeb. I haven’t been caught off-guard like that in some time. I really needed a good laugh. I guess you are one of the newly revived and not a digitized human – the digitized have usually been here in Nirvana before and know what to expect. No magic, just logic.”

“You are correct, and I am one of the revived. I haven’t seen anything, and still, this isn’t what I expected.”

“Well, it’s going to get stranger and stranger, so throw out any video game nonsense in your head. This is a virtual world; that much is true. But, it isn’t controlled by an organization to tell a story. It’s a living environment that is constantly changing based on whatever organizations are vying for control. You will find medieval hovels and castles, Asian influences everywhere, steampunk towns, and floating cities. This space has no real rules, so it’s the leaders of the people who set the tone of an area. Some organizations, like ours, find a foothold in many larger settlements. But the only consistent thing is that it’s the powerful who decide.

The Church of Money is essentially a death bank. Store your goods here for a small fee, and when you die, you can retrieve them, re-equip and return to your adventure.

There are other religious organizations in Nirvana, and like the physical world, they have their agendas. Our organization is one of pure capitalism; we earn money from the storage fees, the merchants, and the artisans. We also earn money by transporting goods and loaning money. We earn a little on everything and a lot when there is a significant risk. We employ people to fulfill all the supporting roles needed to run a bank, retail stores, shipping company, etc. Just like in the physical world, people want to keep their stuff safe and grow their holdings. We make money here and there by bridging the gap and fulfilling a need.

Now, my role is to greet the newly risen, give them a simple robe to cover their nakedness and help them retrieve what they want from it if they have a storage box. I am usually bored out of my mind, so I make it a personal duty to provide suggestions and advice to those who visit the chapel when I’m here.”

“Well then, I’m lucky that you were on duty.”

“Probably not; most of the AIs try to place Revived Humans in places and, at times, that where they will find a friendly face. This is about the most they can do since they are very restricted in how they can interact with any of us. Digitized humans have a better idea of what they are getting involved in, and Visitors, like me, can log out and research.”

“What are Digitized humans?”

“Humans who have given up their bodies to become digital constructs. They differ from you in that this is usually a planned procedure, and private resources have been arranged before they make the transition. They are not dead before the procedure, so their citizenship has never been revoked. Revived humans have died; accidents and cryogenic facilities are the two primary sources of Revived humans. Both groups only have about a 30% chance of success. So, congratulations, you made it!”

“Those aren’t great odds.”

“True, but we aren’t allowed to talk about what’s going on in the physical world. You’ll have to wait until you can interact with it. Just know that Revived humans have a few additional protections under the law, and that’s why they are distinguished from Digitized humans.”

“Ok, seems obvious that if I am here at the bank that I should make a depost.”

Chuckling, “Great, I don’t even have to sell you on the splendor! Do you want to deposit coins, items, or both?”

“I better understand the fees before I choose.”

“Sure. New customers get a physical box, one foot square, for five iron for the first month. After that, it’s one silver a month, and we recommend paying in advance for at least six months. Any unused time is fully refundable, but only in whole month increments. However, if you are even one day late, the contents are sold unless you have money on deposit. If that’s the case, we will deduct storage fees until you are out of money, and then the contents will be sold. So you have an idea, it’s generally ten units of one coin to make a larger coin, so ten iron to make a silver. The clothes you are wearing could each be purchased for a few irons. That trident might cost a few silver, and a good belt knife is at least two silver. A simple knife might be an iron coin or two, and a decent meal is going to cost between a few coppers and an iron. A simple room at an inn without bed bugs is likely to be five iron a night or a gold coin if you pay the month in advance and haggle decently.

The money you deposit doesn’t earn interest. You are just guaranteed that it will be here, at this specific church, when you want it. If you want your money transferred to another church, there’s a fee unless you withdraw it and take it there yourself.”

“So, are there credit cards or something?”

“Nope. But things in your inventory cannot be taken from you unless you die. If you have any, your pockets may be ransacked by any thief with the nerve. You can, of course, be mugged or knocked out and stripped.”

“Good to know. I’ll take a box and make a deposit.”

“Let me summon another altar monitor, and I’ll take you back.”

Frank walked over to the hallway on the right, picked up a hammer tucked into a recess on the wall, and then struck a gong in that same recess. Then he started walking over to me, “OK, another attendant will be here shortly. We can go set up your account. When you return, there’s a bank lobby entrance on the north side of the church. I’ll show you when we’re finished; you can even leave that way if you don’t want to leave through the shops.”

It wasn’t a very long walk, and we came to an open space that didn’t look that different from banks in my time. There were teller windows, and people queued up in line. Desks aligned along one wall had church acolytes helping customers – they were easy to tell from the robes they all wore that were styled and colored the same. Six prominent armed and armored figures guarded a hallway near the teller windows. Frank led us towards them.

“These fine gentlemen guard the passage to the lockbox rooms where a customer can access their box. You must be accompanied by an acolyte to reserve or retrieve a lockbox – that’s what those people at the desks are doing, giving their box number to an acolyte who will then arrange for delivery of their boxes to a deposit room. When the room is ready, they will accompany the customer to the room and verify that the correct boxes are in the room. Then they will step outside the room while the customer does their business. Once the customer has completed their transaction, they will enter the room with the customer and make sure that all boxes are closed and locked and that the customer has their key. They will wait with the customer until the vault guards and the floor manager comes and takes the boxes back to the vault. Once the guards and manager leave, the acolyte will escort the customer back to the lobby. I’m telling you this because we are only going to go through part of that process since you are a new customer. First, let’s get you a key and let you deposit your coins.”

Frank walks me up to a queue with only two people in front of me. The teller windows have a sign that says, “Deposits Only” above them and a bored-looking human standing behind the window. As we’re waiting, he changes subjects.

“I know that you may be excited to ‘play’ this game, but I want to give you some advice. Treat this as real life in every way. As far as you are concerned, this is reality. You will always be digital, even when interacting with the physical world. They say that ‘Perception is Reality’ and everything you perceive is from this virtual world and body. I say this because I’ve seen many others become disenfranchised because they always treated it as a game, and then they can’t stop. Usually, you can stop playing a game if you want, but you can’t stop playing this game; it’s your life. Essentially, if you stop, you die.”

I thought about that for a few minutes as the queue processed. “You know Frank, I think that’s great advice. My reality might have magic, monsters, and more now, but it’s still where I live, work and play.”

“You come by anytime you want to chat. I love talking! Now, let’s get you sorted out here.

Jack, this is Jeb, and he’s opening his account and getting a deposit box. Would you please give him an account key?”

Jack looks at me and smiles, “Welcome to the Church of Money!” He grabs a six-inch rod out of a tray and slides it through the opening to me. This little rod is your account key for this Church of Money, and it will only work here. Insert the rod into the hole to either side of the tray and a screen will show up in your vision.”

I do, and see:

Jack continues, “Pressing the deposit button will take coins from your inventory and deposit them into your account. ‘Exchange’ will allow you to exchange foreign or unusual currencies for local ones. Withdrawal will take money from your account and add it directly to your inventory. Easy-Peasy stuff!”

“Yes, it’s straightforward.” And I deposit 175 silver into my account. I take my key and add it to my inventory. I see a little notification icon appear at the top right of my vision. I select it, and it opens to my Inventory screen, which now shows a new tab named ‘Keys’. This tab is a list of names, and the only item on it is ‘COM Branch #1537 Acct #####4425’.

Frank says, “OK, if you are ready?”

“Please, on to the next part. Thank you, Jack!”

“You’re welcome,” says Jack!

Frank then leads me towards the wall where the guards are. There are some doorways underneath a sign that says, “New Boxes,” and we enter one of the rooms.

This 10×10′ room has a door directly opposite the one we entered and a wheel, resembling a ship’s wheel or a submarine hatch door wheel, on the left wall. This room has a table with a one-foot square box with an open lid. After approaching closer, I can see that the box is empty.

Frank closes the door we entered from, moves to the left wall, and turns the wheel clockwise. As he turns the wheel, a series of rods cover the door we entered from and uncover the door on the opposite wall. He also says, “The wheel changes which door is locked, and once I have unlocked the inner door, I will pass through and close it so that you will be alone. You can then place anything you want in the box. In the future, if you need a different sized box, you will have to request it, and of course, there’s a fee. This bank’s largest box is 5’x5’x5,’ and the dimensions are always in 1′ increments. Not all size increments are always available. No boxes are dimensional storage, like your inventory, so your box must be large enough to contain anything you want to store. I assumed and should have asked if a 1x1x1 box was sufficient.”

“Yes, this will be fine for now.”

“Great. After placing what you want in the box, close the lid and use your bank key in the hole on the lid. You will hear it click, and the red crystal will glow, indicating that it’s locked. Your key will grant access to your account and boxes to anyone possessing it. Consider carefully before handing it out. When you are ready, knock on the interior door, and open it. You are knocking so the guards won’t be startled by a sudden door opening. Sometimes, that’s a ‘very bad thing.'” Frank winked at me and then left the room, closing the door behind him.

I had been thinking about what, if anything, I was going to put in the box. I didn’t have many things, and it seemed pointless to put money in the box since I didn’t have much, and anybody with my key could get that too. I decided that I would season the box for my next visit. Taking out my wooden spoon, I said the incantation, “Spice Rack, Cloves,” and then dumped the cloves into the box. Locked it, knocked on the door, and opened it.”

Frank smiled and said, “Finished?”

“Yep. As you know, I don’t have much to play with yet.”

“That will change soon enough.” Frank reached into a recess, much like what was at the altar room, grabbed the hammer, and rang the small gong. While waiting, he entered the room and ensured I had locked the box, then came and stood by me. We didn’t have to wait long before a man in an acolyte robe pushing a package cart and two guards came into view.

“Hello, Joeseph, this is Jeb”

“Good day to you, Jeb. If you allow me, I’ll take your box to the vault.”

“That would be fine. I’m curious, how will you identify my box when I want to retrieve it?”

“Ah, that’s why I have this magic rod. When I tap your box like this, all six sides will show your full account number, allowing us to sort and store it for easy retrieval.”

“Cool. Maybe someday I could see how the rest of the system works. I always enjoyed designing systems.”

“I’ve never heard of us giving tours; you’ll probably have to become an acolyte. What do you think, Frank?”

“I think you are right. I’ve never heard of somebody who wasn’t a clergy member getting access to see the vault. I’m sure that’s security related. You understand, right Jeb?”

“I do; I dealt with plenty of security in my first life.” Frank and Joeseph looked at me with funny expressions on their faces. “I died, so this is my second life.”

They looked at each other, and then Frank looked at me. “I haven’t ever heard anybody acknowledge it like that. Well then, back into the room, and we’ll let Joseph and his crew take your box.”

“Thanks!” I said, and Joseph replied, “Your welcome; it’s our job and pleasure to serve.”

We entered the room, closed the door, and Frank turned the wheel the other way to unlock the lobby door. As he turned the wheel, he asked, “Well, what will you do now?”

l”I need to find a place to sleep, get something to eat, and start looking for weapon training, some basic world knowledge book or class, and maybe a job.”

“Well, I would recommend the ‘Weather Vane Inn’ for a place to stay and decent food. It’s a place where many adventurers, mercenaries, and guards frequent, so you should also be able to get some advice and a feel for the town. You can always come back here; we buy and sell information too!”

Laughing, “Of course you do. If there isn’t something that the Church of Money has a hand in…that might be rude, and you have been too nice for that.”

Laughing back at me, “It might be rude, but it’s probably true too. You didn’t hear that from me, though.”

“Thanks, Frank. How do I find ‘The Weather Vane’?”

The north entrance of the Church of Money wasn’t any busier than your average mall and not nearly as intimidating as the market I saw from the chapel doorway. As I left, I could finally see what Horn Point looked like – and I wasn’t expecting a weird cross between the industrial revolution and medieval fantasy. This place looked a little like the 1800s, with its billowing smoke factories and horse-drawn carriages. But those views would be interrupted with squat, thatch-roofed, stone buildings. Walking down the street, I could occasionally catch glimpses of a castle on a hill that overlooked the town. Most of the people walking about wore something that vaguely resembled Victorian dress, except those who worked as guards, adventurers, or something similar.

Twenty minutes later, I saw a few people dressed in Asian-looking robes. Two individuals were walking together, conversing, while five others circled them, clearing a path and acting as bodyguards. For the most part, other people tolerated the behavior as if it was normal and their due. I asked a man, standing in a doorway wearing an apron, about it.

“Don’t bother the elders unless you think you can challenge all their students and win. If you’re interested in the sects, you can go to their front gates and inquire. They post when they will have tournaments and accept students – providing you pass their tests. Doesn’t look like there will be a fight today; guess I’ll go back to work.” Then he went back into his shop.

I looked in his doorway and saw that he was working on some chairs; it looked like he was adding cushions. I shrugged, thinking that at least he talked to me, and continued going down the street.

As I continued, the buildings shifted more towards medieval than industrial. Things started getting stranger too. Instead of horses as mounts, more fantastic things became more common. Giant lizards, wolves, and cats were more frequent than other things, and the most unusual was when a pair of riders landed on a flat-roofed building on a matched set of griffins. That was unusual even for the residents as there was quite a bit of animated conversation suddenly on the street.

It wasn’t safe to walk in the street, as riders, wagons, and carriages expected the pedestrians to give way and didn’t slow or stop for them. I soon learned to stay to the sides and walkways like the other pedestrians, a lesson driven home when I watched a drunken man stumble out of a building right into the path of a heavily laden wagon. He exploded into motes of light after being trampled under the horses’ hooves and then the wagon wheels. The driver didn’t slow or stop, but I did hear him curse the man, and the people on the street didn’t even bat an eye. One brave pedestrian dashed into the traffic, grabbed a canvas bag, and was back on the sidewalk before the next vehicle caught her in the street. The drunkard’s clothes and belongings stayed on the road, trampled by the ongoing traffic. Soon there wasn’t any sign that the man ever existed.

I lost myself in thought as I continued towards The Weather Vane after seeing that. Life has a very different value when death has little lasting consequence. There must be other significant skews in values and laws. Since death doesn’t have a long-term impact, I’ll bet that theft is a more severe crime. Rape is likely still serious, but I’ll bet that prostitution isn’t a crime. It seems that most morality crimes aren’t likely to be serious except in those communities that chose to make it so – ones where children and their beliefs would be impacted – wait, I haven’t seen any children. Are they not allowed into Nirvana, or is it something else I am missing? I’m going to have to ask about that too.

That was when I was cresting a small hill and saw a rooftop covered with weather vanes. There were at least fifty sticking up at all heights – some were even poking out at odd angles from the walls. It looked like this building was three stories tall, and I could see a stone wall along the alleyway between buildings, most likely closing off a yard for The Weather Vane. Guess I didn’t get lost! I waited for a lull in traffic and then dashed across the street.

When I got across the street, an old geezer was sitting in a chair by the door – and he was laughing at me. I don’t know what I did that was so funny. I snapped at him, “Hey, old man, what’s so funny?”

“You are boy! Why didn’t you take the tunnel instead of risking the road?”

“What are you talking about?”

“You see those little buildings with the strip of yellow bricks about half-way up the wall?”

“Sure, I’ve seen a couple. What about them?”

“Wizzard of Oz.”


“The ‘Wizard of Oz’ – follow the yellow brick road.” Shaking his head, “You must be REALLY fresh meat. Each of those little buildings has stairs that lead down to a tunnel under the highway so you can cross without dodging traffic. Get it now?”

Nodding my head, he smiles at me and says, “This one’s free. This place is filled with pop culture references – some so old that they aren’t pop culture anymore. Anyway, the references always mean something – and they are always relevant in some way.

You’re early if you’re here for the ‘Dearly Departed’ meeting. It doesn’t start until 7pm and it costs a silver to get in. You can get your questions answered there by those willing instead of bumbling around the tavern floor and annoying those who don’t feel like telling you shit. Plus, you’re less likely to get snookered, though you should always be wary of taking anything in Nirvana at face value. She likes to mock us.”


“Nirvana – she’s a she.”

“Oh. Thanks. Maybe I can get one more for free? Why do you appear to be old?”

“Oh? Maybe you aren’t as stupid as I thought. Hmm, It’s probably exactly what you are thinking. People automatically associate wisdom and experience with age – they’re still biased. Who wants advice from some 20-year-old, know-it-all? Get Grandpa to tell ya!” He starts cackling again.

I nod, open the iron-bound oak door, and enter The Weather Vane.

The inside of The Weather Vane is much larger than I would expect for a medieval tavern. There must be seating for more than five hundred people. You can see two staircases from the door – going both up and down. And most surprising of all – it doesn’t smell. Not it doesn’t smell bad – it doesn’t have any kind of smell. You expect to smell food, spilled beer, people, smoke, wood – something! I don’t know that I have ever experienced a complete absence of smell, and I’m not sure I like it.

I step inside so the door can close behind me and look around. There’s a large sandwich sign I will have to jostle around to get onto the floor. It says:


  1. Payment upfront for everything.
  2. Keep your hands to yourself.
  3. Draw a weapon – BANNED FOR LIFE!
  6. Wait Staff can have ANYBODY tossed out – see rule 2.
  7. NO Reenactments
  8. NO Preaching
  9. NO Politicking
  10. Please feel free to sit anywhere that doesn’t cause a fight – ALL FIGHTERS WILL BE FINED FOR ALL DAMAGES, and there may be other penalties at the discretion of management.

Someone has taken some chalk and added a rule to the bottom of the sign, “Words NOT in capitals are NOT fine print Richard!”

Amusing, and apparently ‘Richard’ is very special. It’s a little surprising that ‘Dwarf Tossing’ is still a big deal. There are simple wooden tables, stools, and benches to select seating. Along the walls are booths with padded seats and curtains that can be drawn to hide the occupants. There’s a scattering of people here, most in small groups wearing gear suitable for adventuring or fighting. The place uses some type of yellow crystal for lights, so it’s a steady, if dim, light. I can see a bar top with stools on the far side of the room, so I head that way. As I walk across the floor, my sense of smell is restored, and I can now detect light scents as if diluted by a breeze.

I don’t know what kind of wood the bartop is; it’s a light wood with a lot of grain pattern. Somebody who knew their woodcraft picked a fantastic piece and then took their time to make it stand out. The only reason it’s not wasted as a bar top is that it will get seen by a lot of people, while some pieces of household furniture may never get appreciated. I wish I would have been able to work wood like that when I was alive. Huh, guess I’m starting to accept that I died. I’m alive now, so that’s not quite the right way to think of it. Maybe that should be, “when I was physical?” Gonna have to noodle on that some more. Maybe while I eat.

A very tall skinny man wearing an apron walks toward me. He’s sporting a handlebar mustache, suspenders (no flair), a bowler, and has a bar towel thrown over his right shoulder. “Afternoon, friend. I’m Harry. What can I get for you?”

“Well met, Harry! I’m Jeb, and I was told that this is one of the best places for newbies to get started.”

“Excellent! Then I believe you want a room for a few days, a meal, a drink or two, and to attend tonight’s ‘Explorer’s Meeting’, also known as the ‘Dearly Departed’ or ‘Fresh Meat’ meeting.”

“That sounds about right.”

“Ok, I’ll get you a special – it’s good, not leftovers. What kind of flavors do you like when drinking?”

“I wasn’t a big drinker when physical and have always enjoyed sweet and fruity flavors. Cherry is at the top of the list – but no artificial watermelon.”

“You’re old enough to know how real watermelon tasted? Wow. Ok…sweet…cherry…how about a ‘Roy Rogers?'”

“Perfect, one of my favorite drinks!”

“I’ll be right back, and I hope it’s just like you remember.”

Harry comes back in a few minutes and he has a tall glass with a dark bubbling beverage in it and a little plastic sword of maraschino cherries sticking out of the top. “One Roy Rogers, and a room key. Now, I broke the rules. I was supposed to ask for payment up front, so I hope there isn’t going to be an issue. The Newbie Speical rate is one silver per day for up to one week. It includes two meals a day and a single alcoholic beverage with each meal. One pass to the Explorer’s Meeting for every two days you stay. When you order your meal, you show your room key; the star indicates a Newbie Special. You get a new key if you want to keep your room longer.”

“I’ll take six days then,” and place the silver on the table. Harry puts my drink and room key down. He then reaches into his vest pocket, withdrawing three white tokens with a classic rook embossed upon them. “Don’t lose them; anybody can use them, and you will have to fork out another silver to attend.”

“Got it.” I take a sip and smile, “It’s indeed, just like I remember!”

Coming up behind Harry is a young blond…orc? “Harry, if this is your newbie, I have his special.”

“Thanks, Clara – serve it up!”

Clara then sets a plate with a t-bone steak and fried potatoes in front of me. Then a large bowl with a chef salad garnished with Easter Eggs is placed next to the steak plate. “What dressing would you like on your salad, hon?”

“Umm, blue cheese. Harry, why does my salad have Easter Eggs garnishing it?” Clara leaves, presumably to get some blue cheese dressing.

“It’s a nod to Nirvana. She likes Easter Eggs!”

“Ok…you didn’t ask me about allergies since I didn’t know what I was going to be served.”

“You’re in Nirvana now, Jeb. There are no allergies. Poisons and curses, yes, but allergies are now a thing of your past. Enjoy all the things you couldn’t before because now there’s no harm. You might have to steel yourself if you have had some bad experiences, but you will not have a reaction and will come to no harm. This is one of the big reasons people want to come here. They can enjoy things with few if any consequences.”

“Ok, you are the second person to refer to Nirvana as ‘she’ – I thought that this place, world, was Nirvana?”

“It is, and it’s a she. Similar to how ships were referred to as ‘she’ but much more personable. Should you discover one of her Easter Eggs, you will probably get to meet her. To be a little more clear for you, Nirvana is the AI whose dream we are living in. She runs the whole show and has the final say on everything.”

“That’s a whole new level of, ‘Big Sister is Watching.'”

“Brother, you don’t even know the half of it.”

Clara came back with my blue cheese and placed it on the table. I smiled and said, “You can never have enough cheese. Let’s see if this works like I think it should.” I dumped the blue cheese dressing on my salad and then held the little bowl in my left hand, “Spice Rack Blue Cheese Crumbles.” Nothing happened.

Harry laughed at me, “It’s good that you are testing the boundaries. Many things aren’t what they seem. Instead, try ‘Spice Islands’ – but it’s going to suck a lot more out of you!”

“Spice Islands Blue Cheese Crumbles.” The little cup filled up with blue cheese crumbles, and I felt like I had just run a 5K race. “Oh…that’s exhausting.” Clara laughed and went back to work. Harry chuckled, “You would have got that in the explorer’s meeting later, so don’t worry, there’s no charge for the knowledge. But it would be best if you didn’t cast any more cantrips today. Nirvana drains your mana first, then it takes stamina, and finally, it takes your health. Like in a video game, stamina and mana will regenerate faster than health. Enjoy your food. The meeting starts at seven so you have plenty of time. Just wave at Clara or one of the other waitresses if you want something.

I took my time with dinner and even ate the Easter eggs – without salt. There was a little dressing in the bowl, but I prefer salt with hard-boiled eggs. I didn’t want to bother Clara for any, and I wasn’t about to try the cantrip again so soon, so I ate them plain.

I was also hoping I was going to learn a bunch of different hygiene cantrips at the meeting tonight. I was getting my fur in everything. I just wasn’t used to sticking out so much and would end up dipping it in my plate when reaching for my cup and other annoying interactions. For example, my mouth opened wider, so it was easier to get food in, but I didn’t have molars for chewing plants, so the salad was challenging, and because my lips didn’t work the way I was expecting, I sometimes dropped food out of my mouth. I’m not sure I would be able to use a straw, and drinking took a little more effort to be sure I didn’t spill down my front. While lapping with my tongue worked was not as satisfying. While I was messy, I was having a blast – and being able to stick my tongue six inches out of my mouth was hilarious and made it easy to lick my plate! I tried out many of the things that I used to laugh at my cats for – including purring. Purring was one of the strangest things because it wasn’t related to breathing; it happens while breathing in and out and wasn’t interrupted by the change in direction.

I spent most of the next few hours people-watching and trying different sodas; after all, I didn’t have to worry about diabetes anymore. Classic fantasy and science fiction races were represented as the night went on. There were some oddities too, but not so disturbing to be a problem or worthy of special comment. They were people with all the normal attributes and a few odd ones. Plain old humans dominated the mix, and being pretty was far more common than plain or even ugly, but all extremes were eventually represented. Nearly as diverse as the people were what they chose to arm themselves with; guns, swords, and staffs were the most common. But the variety of styles and materials in the make eventually made the uncommon common and no longer inspired awe.

As it got close to seven, Clara came by my table and told me that I would want to go downstairs and enter through the double doors to attend the meeting. I could take my drink – but don’t be tempted to throw the mug, “You’ll get tossed and won’t be able to use your room for at least a day.”

I made my way down to the meeting room and picked a seat on the left side of the front row. There were already about fifteen people in the room, and it looked like fifty would be the max. I turned and watched as others made their way in, including grandpa geezer – who made his way up to the front of the room and took the center spot of the ‘panel table’ on the short dais.

Grandpa looked around, focused on me, and laughed. “Hey, furball, welcome to the meeting!”

“Thanks, geezer. You could have told me about the special.”

“Naw, I don’t get paid to advertise for this place – plus, it’s not like you didn’t get it offered to you.”

“True, but I prefer my steak and eggs to both be medium!” And he started laughing again.

We went back to watching the room fill. Soon an elven woman and a halfling man joined him on the stage and sat in the last two panel chairs. By this time, the room was full enough that I couldn’t see the doors very well, so I turned around in my seat. Unsurprisingly nobody else sat in the front row on my side. There was a couple in the front row on the other side of the aisle.

The elven woman on stage called out, “Close the doors. It’s time to get started. Ushers collect the fee.”

Soon I saw Harry and three other men with baskets on long handles moving along the rows from the back forward. Everybody is putting a token or silver into the basket. I put mine in when it’s my turn. They empty the baskets into a small chest at the front of the room that is then pushed under the table when they finish. The halfling man then raps a gavel on the table, “I call the public meeting of the Explorer’s Association to order. Officers officiating are Treasurer Gilden, myself, Secretary Mason”, and he nods at the elf, “President Grumpy64 presiding.” There’s immediately some snickering – including me.

“Laugh it up, chuckleheads. I got that name because I’ve been in Nirvana longer than most of you have been alive – in both lives! It’s a badge of honor.”

Mason speaks, “While he says it every time, it’s true. His experience is why most of you are here tonight. He doesn’t mind the teasing, and he could mop the floor with anybody here, including Gilden or myself. So, don’t let it go too far. We don’t need him demonstrating his skills on an excessively rude newbie.”

“We hold these meetings and share some of the same information every time, during the beginning of the meeting. After that, we answer questions from the floor and may share more sensitive information. Everything has value, but that doesn’t mean you must suffer death to learn it. We’ll help a little, and we hope you will join the EA and share what you learn with us.”, Gilden says. “We’ll give you the sales pitch at the end, and you don’t have to stay for it; we just ask that you close the doors when you exit.”

Mason starts up again, “We like to start with a question that will help put some perspective on what we will soon cover. Anybody physically born after 2200, please raise your hand.” About 40% of the audience raises their hands, and then she asks, “Anybody born after 2150 but before 2200 please raise your hand”, and about 40% of the room responds. “I am sure you can see where this is going, 2100 and 2150?” and about 20% of the room, including her, raise their hand. “Ok, between 2050 and 2100?”, and only Grumpy64 raises his hand.

Grumpy64 then looks at me and accuses, “Furball, you didn’t raise your hand.”

“That’s true, geezer! I think I am the oldest one in this room. I was born in 1970.” And with that, the volume of the room goes up.

“Holy shit! You’re one of the experimentals! You stay after – I wanna talk to you!”

“You gonna pay a silver to me?” I asked while smiling.

“Shit – I’ll pay you a gold! You sit tight.” And the volume raises another level while I think about that.

Rapping his gavel on the table, Gilden calls for order, “Quiet, please, it’s more than a novelty – and you’ll soon understand why.” Soon the room settles, and he continues, “As most of you know, Nirvana is connected to the Net, and she can’t be disconnected from it. Attempts have always failed, and some spectacularly. Our society has grown dependent upon her, and she us. Nirvana consumes all of the public content on the Net and scrubs it for cultural references. Some of these things she integrates into her dream, usually as Easter Eggs, for us to find. Finding an Easter Egg usually means something special for one or more people. Some eggs can be found multiple times, some only once.”

Mason picks up the lecture, “You don’t have to find them yourself, but it’s one of the things Explorers do. Easter Eggs fetch a good price, and it can be fun to find them. The challenges are that cultural references change over time and by region of the world. Things important in 2200 are not always important in 2250, and further something important in the east of North America may not be important in the west, or even heard of in Australia.”

Grumpy64 jumps in, “This is part of Nirvana’s social engineering program to make the human race better – and it’s working. There’s far more tolerance and understanding when people are working together from different times and cultures to find advantages in Nirvana. Wars and Hate Crimes have been an easy-to-follow declining trend since Nirvana started incorporating the Easter Eggs. It’s not 100%, but most people find it harder to be violent with somebody they know, and assumptions and prejudices are harder to keep when you understand someone. Even if you don’t care about what you had to learn to find an egg, you still learn something that changes you a little.”

Mason picks it up now, “If the finder of an egg opens it, then they may get a chance to talk to Nirvana’s avatar, and they get the contents of the egg. Most of the time, the contents can be sold; they hardly ever automatically affect the opener. If the egg is given to someone else without opening it, the opener will not get a chance to meet Nirvana – the exception is if you are in a group at the location where the egg is found. One party member may give an egg to another, and the chance to meet Nirvana will pass with the egg. Being in a group when opening the egg also has a chance to increase the contents of an egg, up to the number of members in the party plus one. Nirvana may also talk to the whole party, not just the one who opens the egg. She’s usually pretty friendly; just don’t count on it.

Do you see why Grumpy wants to talk to our celebrity? He’s going to offer a different perspective than any of us, which may lead us on some exciting new adventures.”

The murmuring in the room started up again.

Harry spoke up, “I work here at The Weather Vane and was able to talk to Jeb during dinner. He’s staying here for a few days and is a nice guy. Look for him in the common room instead of ganging up on him here.”

And I jumped in right after him, “It’s kind of funny being famous because I’m old – especially when I don’t look or feel it. I’ll entertain friendlies at my table when I’m in the common room. Come by and have a drink or meal with me.”

It got a little louder for a moment and then quieted back down. Mason got out of her chair, and Grumpy started to speak, “Usually, after we have covered Easter Eggs and the importance of working with others to search for them, we like to do some practical things to help out. Mason will gift those in the first row a Basic Explorer’s Manual. The rest of you will have to join or cough up another silver for it. You can buy them from Gilden after the meeting or join the association. The basic manual covers some of the things you can do with your interface and ways to add functionality to it, sometimes cheap and easy. It’s not hard to find the information, but having it all in one book to browse through can save you weeks of effort.

In addition, each of the officers and members in attendance at tonight’s meeting will share with you one cantrip and the second level of that cantrip, if they know it. Cantrips come in two levels: basic, which typically uses a single point of mana, and advanced, which normally uses ten times the basic amount of mana. If you haven’t built up a core or mana pool, an advanced cantrip can wipe you out for a short time – this is because you probably only have one mana point. When you don’t have enough mana, magic draws down stamina and then health. Most of you would die casting a tier one spell as most of them have a base cost of a hundred mana.

Anybody can learn any spell they want, just like you can learn any skill you want. Why? Because it’s you learning it, your brain keeps the knowledge of how to do the work, move your body, and such. That’s why you can’t lose skill levels, that and there aren’t any. Nirvana doesn’t puppet your avatars – there’s no auto-build mode or such foolishness you might find in games. If you want something, you have to find it, buy it, build it, steal it, whatever. Things inside Nirvana have only sentimental value outside of her, and Nirvana is the only one who can bring something in from the outside, the exception being knowledge. No money or other ‘resources’ are exchanged between Nirvana and the physical. The things that are exchanged are knowledge, data, and information. Physicals can pay others to do things in Nirvana, like data processing or building and making things for use in Nirvana. This money stays in the physical, so it only has value to those who are still physical or can interact with the physical. New digitals can’t interact with the physical, so there’s no value in this exchange for you. When you can interact, you will be able to form a binding contract and reduce the likelihood of being cheated. Nirvana’s economy is based on the scarcity of resources, including labor. You can make any agreement you want with somebody in Nirvana, and you need to be able to enforce it yourself if you don’t have a society backing you. Nirvana can change the scarcity of resources, but I haven’t heard of her doing it since she tied resource scarcity to block-chain algorithms and natural cycles over 1,000DY ago.

There’s also no mind control. Nirvana can’t access your brain; she can stimulate and interpret nerve signals, audio, olfactory, optical, and spinal, to name the most prominent groups. Unless you are still meat, you don’t have a circulation system, so any hormones or things that would interact with receptors in your brain will also be where there is a disconnect from your new digital reality. Over time your brain will learn to interpret other signals from your body to simulate acknowledging changes to the state of your body that should induce flight or fight responses and things like that. Many emotions start in the brain and introduce signals that change the state of the body. Ones that travel the spinal cord will impact your avatar, while ones that move through your bloodstream, like hormones, will not.”

Wait…that means Bob lied to me. There was no sedative because that would have had to change my brain chemistry. He used words as a placebo, and I dismissed the lack of shock symptoms in my body as an effect of his words. This also means I may not experience an adrenaline rush or similar things. I need to be very careful until I can really learn the differences in my new body-brain interaction.

Grumpy had continued talking, and I missed part of it. “…illusions very effective. You can still be hypnotized, and truth detection works on body language and physiological symptoms – so you can get caught, and judges and the courts almost all use some magic to help identify lies. Psychology still works – you can be brainwashed, but not with chemicals that work directly on the brain. You can be tortured- unless you are under the physical age of 21 or some other protected group. If your brain loses connection with your avatar, then it’s dead, and your brain will be doing the death penalty time-out. Asleep isn’t losing connection to your avatar; it’s your brain resting and sending your avatar autonomic signals. You still need sleep; becoming digital only changed the natural chemical processes into digitally simulated ones. The human mind and brain still work essentially the same way – and don’t ask me anymore about that; I wasn’t one of the scientists that figured that crap out.

For those of you who are meat, when you are in your gear and connected to Nirvana, it’s just like the medicos said, “The gear interrupts all the signals being sent down the spinal column, and only continue to send steady autonomic signals to your body. Heart, lungs, and such will not change activity rates due to anything in Nirvana – so you can’t have a heart attack because you just fell off a cliff. Your avatar can, and you will then suffer a death time-out. Since you are meat, you can suffer heartache since the bloodstream introduces that. You have just as many advantages and disadvantages as us digitals; they are just different.

You should all act with care until you have become very comfortable with your differing reality. Nirvana won’t stop you from doing something stupid to yourself or someone else. In fact, she feels like this is about the safest environment for humans since there is no permadeath unless you are a digital and you ask for it. She generally will NOT interfere with you or your time here. She doesn’t issue quests; the only storylines are the ones you make up. She doesn’t act like a god, so praying to her does nothing. She is concerned about the long-term survival of the human race, but she isn’t out to save or control us. Like any other civic-minded citizen, she supports policies and organizations that make a difference. If you think about her as a slightly nosey little sister, it’s probably for the best.

Let’s talk about some cantrips, and I’ll go first. Don’t do this unless you have mana to spare. Just listen to what I say and memorize it. Hold your right hand over the center of your chest with your pointer finger extended like you are pointing at something on your left breast and say, “Name Tags.” This will cause name tags to appear on everyone’s left breast for 10 minutes. The individual controls the data that shows on their tag, should they know how to change it. It can be a lie, so don’t overly rely on it.

The advanced version of my cantrip requires that you act like you are holding a magnifying glass, either hand is fine, and then say, “Elementary.” This works on things in addition to people. It will stay active for about an hour, and you will have to stare at anything you want details on for three seconds. The details revealed depend on what’s considered public for an item or person and may include a value on things.”

While Grumpy was talking, Gilden walked up and handed me a book about the size of a paperback novel but with thicker paper. He started speaking after Grumpy finished.

“My cantrip requires that you have a container no smaller than a tablespoon in one hand and use the other hand to act like you are pouring something into the container. While doing so, say, ‘Spice Rack’ and any single word that indicates a spice, seasoning, flavor, or such. This will create up to a tablespoon of seasoning. The advanced version is exactly the same, except you say ‘Spice Islands’ instead, and you may use up to three words, like ‘Orange Blossom Honey.’ Whatever you say for either cantrip must exist in Nirvana, and you will get less the more valuable the item you request is. The most I have ever seen it produce is one cup, and it produces nothing when I ask for something that would have cost more than an iron coin in the market.”

Then Mason speaks up, “And now it’s my turn!”

“There’s nothing like a soak in a hot tub after an adventure,” Mason continued. “However, when you are out in the field and don’t want monsters tracking you like bloodhounds, you need to clean up and eliminate any excess scent. My cantrip starts with a damp cloth in one hand and then say, ‘Scrubbing Bubbles’ while touching the cloth to what you want clean. It will clean one object or surface about a square meter. There are two advanced versions of this, one for things and one for people. You still start with a damp cloth, except you say, ‘Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean” for things or ‘Calgon Take me Away!’ for people. Respectively, the sing-song or inflection is essential for the cantrip to work. No equipment can be affected by Calgon, only one person and their clothes. Mr. Clean will affect all things within a radius until it has cleaned a ten square meter surface area. It will not clean inside closed or sealed items.”

I started laughing. I couldn’t help it; Nirvana had made brands and commercial jingles into spell incantations! I wondered how many other silly things waited for me.

Grumpy64 looked at me, “You and the other explorers are the only ones who know why you are laughing, furball.”

I started laughing even harder, “You keep saying that wrong, you are supposed to say…” After I got control of myself, I pointed at him and in my best indignant Harrison Ford impression, said, “Laugh it up, fuzzball!” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, there was a small flash of light, and an Easter Egg dropped into his lap. The room, including me, went silent as my jaw dropped to the floor. It’s one thing to be told about the eggs and another to see one appear.

The room exploded into shouts and conversation. Gilden, who had returned to the table while Mason was speaking, started pounding his gavel and calling for quiet. Eventually, the room settled down enough to continue, and Grumpy began to speak.

“This isn’t as rare as you might think. Actions trigger many Easter Eggs. I haven’t heard of this one, but I think I’ll open it in honor of our special guest and see if Nirvana would like to attend our meeting.” At this, he rapped on the egg with a knuckle cracking it. The shell fell away, revealing four slips of paper that looked like they came from a fortune cookie.

A little girl holding a Hello Kitty plushie appeared before the lecturer’s table. “Hiya Grumpy! I like the nosey little sister association. I’m going to use it for a while!”

“Nirvana, welcome to the Explorer’s Meeting. It’s been a few years since you have attended.”

“I know, but you all do a good job of getting people started; I don’t have any reason to attend unless you will start popping out Easter Eggs! But, they have to be different ones. If they are going to be the same one, it’s boring.”

“I’ll see what we can do – do you want to tell us about this one?”

“Sure! This is a situational egg. It will only appear if you inadvertently misquote a movie and get corrected; it takes into account the context of the situation. It grants four avatar change scripts, one for each actor in the scene. You can change your avatar to male or female human or male Wookie. I recommend you give a script to Jeb – he may want it in the future. You should use one and go Wookie. Shake things up a bit, you old coot!” Then she starts laughing, waves her plushie, and fades away.

The room starts buzzing again, and Grumpy gets up from the table. The room starts to quiet down as he walks over to me. “Jeb, now that I actually know your name, I’ll use it. You called the egg into being, so I will give you all the scripts. However, I recommend you allow me to sell three of them on your behalf while keeping the fourth, as Nirvana suggested. That probably wasn’t a jest like the Wookie recommendation.

“Actually, I don’t need the money right now. May I have all of them and a raincheck?”

Grumpy looked at me a little confused, “Sure, here ya go.”

As he handed the slips to me, I said, “Grumpy, a raincheck was a ticket given to come back to an event at another time, without additional cost, due to rain making the venue unsuitable.”

He smiled, “Thanks, I was going to have to research that.” Walking back to the table, he said, “Ok, let’s continue with cantrips.”

  — * ~ * —

It was much later than when the meeting was originally scheduled to be over, but the last of the attendees had been shooed out, and it was just Grumpy, Gilden, Mason, and I left in the room.

Grumpy reached into his purse and pulled out a gold coin. I waived him off before he could give it to me. “The money doesn’t mean anything to me yet. I want something I think we will find more valuable.”

Putting the coin away, “Oh, what do you have in mind?”

“I have a few ideas I want to try but don’t know enough to keep myself out of trouble. Why don’t you three accompany me on a few errands around town. As we complete my errands, you can give me solid advice, and I will answer your questions. But I’m not promising to give away things I know have big value for free. You’ll probably get a few of those because I don’t know any better.”

“I’m game, and I think we can go one better in order to help offset any ‘losses’ you suffer from ignorance. Gilden, I am authorizing you to give him a copy of the Advanced Handbook. I’ll pay the fee for it and sign the recommendation later.”

Gilden reached into a satchel and pulled out another book, about twice as thick as the Basic Handbook, made from the same paper. While doing so, he said, “I agree. Happy to go with you.”

Mason simply nodded her ascent, “I’ve some business in the morning. Can we meet here for a late breakfast before heading out?”

“Yes, that’s great. I’ve always been a night owl, and I have some reading to do!”

  — * ~ * —

I got to my room and realized that the bed was the only comfortable place to read. Not wanting to get it dirty, I looked around for a bit of cloth and found a washcloth next to the basin, along with a pitcher of water. Pouring a little water into the basin and soaking it up with the cloth, I called out, “Calgon, Take me Away!”

I was immediately reminded how exhausting the advanced cantrips were and laid down to read the basic manual. I don’t think I made it to page 3.

12 Perspective

Grumpy64 stares at me while I finish laughing. Finally, he says, “Who or what is ‘Red Robin’?”

“Based on that small confirmation, they are a defunct restaurant chain specializing in Hamburgers and ‘bottomless fries. ‘Bottomless fries’ are an ‘all-you-can-eat’ option.”

“It doesn’t surprise me that you know about something that doesn’t exist. But how did you know how to set up the spell?”

“All of the advanced cantrips covered in the two books use some simple physical object or gesture and a common phrase, usually a marketing jingle or slogan from the brands and companies I recognized. You don’t have to have anything as specific as a red plate or a silver spoon. So as long as you have the apparent physical object to go with the jingle, you have an Advanced Cantrip. Nirvana picked easy things for the cantrips. She’s using this to get people interested in the past—simple, fun, and useful things to get you started working on improving your avatar and then looking for the more complex items. Want to try another one?”

“More food?”

“Yes. I’m confident that many of the food jingles work because Nirvana would have wanted you to be able to feed yourselves if you couldn’t fish or hunt, and agriculture takes time to set up. I’m even sure that many of these were known in the beginning but faded from use over time as more efficient methods came online or were hoarded knowledge used to control early populations.”

“Hmm. That actually makes quite a bit of sense. I’m game; let’s confirm your theory. I might eat that, so let’s get another plate.”

Pulling a chair out a little, “I’m a step ahead of you!” I had Millie bring several bowls and plates earlier and placed them on the chair, so I wasn’t cluttering the table. “I’m very curious how this will turn out.” I handed him two bowls and a plate. “The phrase for this one is, ‘When you’re here, you’re family.”

“How should I hold these three items?”

“That’s the part I’m not sure about, so why don’t you stack the two bowls on the plate and hold the plate?”

Grumpy prepared and then said the phrase. The bowls lifted off the plate and landed on the table, one filled with soup, one with salad, and the plate had five garlic breadsticks on it. “That one cost more than the usual ten mana; looks like fifteen.”

“You also got a meal for two out of it.”

“I did. What restaurant is this one from?”

“Olive Garden. This one was obscure before I died as they didn’t advertise the same way they did when I was a young man. I’ve got a few more to try; take this mug – now say, ‘Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?’ That cantrip summons a drink called Dr. Pepper, another cola with cinnamon in it! I’ll do this one; I did it earlier. You hold your hand like you were holding something small and offering it to someone else, and then say, ‘Double your pleasure, Double your fun!’ That there is only a cantrip – and you get two sticks of gum!” I drop them on the table. “Gum, doesn’t work with my feline teeth. Oh, this one’s a cantrip too! See how I hold my hand like I have a rod in it? Ok, ‘Almond Joy’s got nuts!’ Wait, there’s more to the candy bar one. You hold your hand like I did and say, ‘Mounds don’t!’ Trade me; I like Mounds better! I have to stop, though. I don’t have a mana pool yet.”

Shaking his head, Grumpy said, “Jeb, I already feel completely vindicated in my investment in you. The cantrips will be great additions to the manuals – especially for explorers moving through the wilds. The knowledge about what to look for to find other food cantrips is the most valuable addition. After the other branch officers learn of it, I think they will agree to waive your first year’s dues and make you a member, and that’s before you surprise us with answers to questions we haven’t even asked you yet!”

Still chewing, “I’ll take it. I was going to sign up anyway. So let’s exchange a few questions. Where should I go to get training in fighting, unarmed and with my weapons?”

Mason answered as she slid into a chair, “Unarmed is easy; what weapons do you want to learn?”

“Welcome, Mason – and I see Gilden is behind you too.” I wave at him while he pulls out a chair. “I picked a ranseur and a bola, but I am also interested in chakrams, or weaponized frisbee.”

Gilden says, “I know someone who can teach you basics for a bola; it’s a great weapon that can be non-lethal at short range.”

“And I can teach you pole-arm basics while we try and find somebody who specializes in the ranseur,” says Grumpy. “I’ve never heard of a weaponized frisbee, but I have heard of chakrams.”

Mason said, “I know a woman from the south Chinese faction who uses chakrams. She once told me that they were ancient weapons from before China absorbed India. She also said they aren’t very practical and that throwing stars are better.”

I made a mental note about China and responded, “That’s fine. Some experience is all I am looking for; the final weapon won’t be either of those. At some point in the future I will be looking for training with a knife and a saber. I do intend to do some exploring and traveling, and I just know there’s going to be conflict when you get rewarded for killing other players.

Gilden says, “Well, that is both practical and accurate, less of an issue in the city, but everybody’s fair game in the wilds. What did you learn before we got here, Grumpy?”

  — * ~ * —

Mason says, “I second that. Let’s make him a member and waive his dues.” Gilden nods, “I agree too.”

“Nice, well then here’s one I think you will need a sack or a bag for, ‘Where’s the beef!’ This should create a paper-wrapped cheeseburger without the egg and a double handful of a different cut of french fries. I would also try it with a glass or mug in the other hand – you might get a coke too.”

Gilden exclaimed, “Fast Food! What chain is it from?”

“There was a series of Wendy’s commercials before the internet became mainstream. If I can remember the Big Mac jingle, I’ll share that one too.”

The three of them looked at each other, “None of us know Wendy’s,” said Grumpy.

“That’s too bad. I so want to ask questions, but if I do, I won’t get to the important things. Instead, do you know what a graveyard is? With avatars vanishing after you die, I’m concerned that there won’t be one here.”

Mason responded first. “Um, sure. There’s a graveyard just outside of town. Adventures farm undead there, mostly for basic weapons training.”
Gilden shook his head. “It’s obvious now that you said it. Why do we have a graveyard? Who built it?”

“I didn’t think about it either,” Grumpy said. “Every village eventually gets a graveyard, and it’s bigger when there are more people nearby. Nearly everybody does the same thing too; they use it to train with weapons as that also keeps the undead under control.”

I said, “I want to go and see it – in fact, that’s my first errand!”

Mason asked, “Will you tell us why?”

“After we get there and I look around, if it’s not what I am expecting, I’ll share what my theory was. If it is what I am expecting, we’ll conduct a search, and I’ll tell you afterward. And we may need shovels.”

“I just know I’m going to get undead goo on me,” whined Mason.

Gilden and Grumpy grinned at her.

I woke early, the best night’s sleep I think I have ever had. Becoming a digital human has a lot going for it. I wonder how well Moore’s Law held up after I died? It seems like you can have the best of both worlds by living physically and going digital near the end. There should be trillions of people in Nirvana. I’m sure there is some kind of limit and a barrier to entry. It just makes sense that resources would restrict this in some way. There also have to be some problems. There just isn’t any way the human race created utopia while I was a popsicle. We thrive on challenges, and resources are always limited in some way. These two things alone guarantee that peace can’t ever last.

I got up out of bed and washed my face at the basin with the washcloth I used last night. There are a lot of little inconsistencies. Some things seem to be set up to nudge us with things we are used to from the physical. There’s no reason I can think of why we still need to have eye-boogers when we wake up. I need to pee. Why do I need to pee if I’m digital? At least I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night to pee. I wonder if this is my mind and habits from the physical working my avatar in the digital? I grab the two books, lock my room and look around in the hallway. Then I unlock my door go back into my room and look at the back of the door. Yep, hotel floor map on the back of the door. Armed with directions to the places I want to go, I lock my door and head out.

  — * ~ * —

When I get to the main floor, I can see there’s brisk business going on even though the sun isn’t up yet. I look for an empty table near one of the lights and take a seat. I open the Basic Guide and start reading. I don’t get far before a young human female comes up to my table and asks, “Do you want to place an order?”

“Yes, I’d like to have a glass of orange juice and six slices of bacon.”

“Rashers or American?”

“I’m American, but I want to know what a rasher is.”

“Rashers have less fat; they come from a different part of the pig than the American cut.”

“I’ll try the rashers, please!”

“Ok, be back soon.”

I went back to the book. I have always been an avid reader, and after ‘Kindle Unlimited’ came out, there were only a few years when I read less than three hundred books a year. Most years, I read more than that, often 3-4 books on the weekend. I learned to speed read in grade school and naturally became faster with time, even when I wasn’t speed reading. This wasn’t a very large book, but the material was fairly specific and dense in places, so I took my time. Occasionally, wishing I had a dictionary for some words that I didn’t recognize. I could assume the meaning based on context, and I knew I was going to have some MUs I would need somebody to help me sort out. I was about a third of the way through it when she returned with my order.

“Six rashers and an OJ – you don’t need to get your token out; I remember you from the meeting last night. I’ve never seen anyone set up a beastkin like your avatar. You’ll be easy to recognize in a crowd.”

“Thanks! I did it because it reminds me of a friend I lost long ago. Say, would you answer a question for me?”

“Sure, what’s on your mind?”

“Where are the children?”

“Oh…no children can come to Nirvana, without special dispensation, before the age of 15. Everybody gets an ‘adult’ avatar in Nirvana.”

“Got it. That explains a lot and was very useful. How much would I have paid for this without a token?”

“Three coppers.”

“Then this seems about right,” and I toss her a copper.

“Oh! Thanks, mister – sit in my section anytime!”

“Sure, name’s Jeb.”

“I’m Millie. Wave if you need anything else.”

I went back to the book.

  — * ~ * —

I was sitting at the table humming a song when I saw Grumpy64 heading my way. I immediately switched to softly whistling ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ and changed my timing so I would get to the chorus just before he got to my table. He slowed as he came close enough to hear.

“So, you parsed out part of my name. Are your superpowers so great that you know the rest?”

“No, I just guessed that you would know the Beetles song. I don’t know anything about you other than you were born between 2050 and 2100.”

“Well, I was born in 2064. I didn’t learn about the song until I had spent 50 years in Nirvana. I was a childhood cancer victim and volunteered to test Tesla’s brain digitization process when I was 13. Didn’t know if I would get to play video games forever or would never wake up. I did know that they said the pain would end, and that was enough for me to beg my parents to let me do it.”

“Ouch, that’s rough.”

“Oh, it’s actually a much darker tale that I would rather not share with you now. It’s better told when you are – or at least I am – ready to be drunk by the end of it. It’s too early in the day for that, and we’ve got to get to know each other better and build some trust first.”

“Fantastic, how would you like to do that?”

“Give me a resume – bullet points to start.”

“Ok, but I want to try something first. I’m guessing that you have more than 100 mana in your pool.”

“I do.”

“I’d like you to try a spell that I’ve made up based on what I’ve read in the manuals. It should be an advanced cantrip, not a tiered spell.”

“Interesting, you’ve already read both manuals?”

“Yep, this morning. I knocked myself out with an advanced cantrip when I got back to my room last night, so my original plan went awry.”

He raised an eyebrow at me, “Ok, I’m game. If you don’t have it right, nothing will happen.”

I pushed my empty plate towards him. “I want you to hold this like there was food on it, and you were going to set it on the table. Then I want you to sing this, just like I do, ‘Red Robin!'”

Grumpy eyes me again, “And what’s supposed to happen?”

“Well, if I’m right, you’re going to get a free hamburger today and don’t have to pay me on Wednesday.” I grinned at him and said, “Your eyebrow is going to get tired before we even go on any errands!”

Shrugging, Grumpy does it, and is just as excited as I am when it works! A ‘Red Robin Royal Burger’ and fries appear on the plate. I start laughing again. “It’s just as I thought! Here, you’re going to want this!” I hold out my wooden spoon, “Spice Rack Ketchup!” I then dumped the ketchup onto the side of his plate and banged my spoon clean.

Gilden said, “Let’s stop by the COM market and help Jeb get a ‘standard pack’ built on the way to the graveyard. I know he’ll need more than he got from the Bobs.”

“Shopping is more along my strengths! Is there anything you want to pick up besides basics?” asked Mason.

I replied, “I want to be able to activate ‘Secure Keyring’ so I don’t lose any keys if I die. I would also like to be able to activate ‘Advanced HUD’ if we can get the Easter Eggs for it. I don’t want to spend more than a hundred silver at this time.”

Grumpy chimed in, “Those are solid choices, and the Easter Eggs are usually available and within your budget. You could probably get a small spacial storage item if you sold a couple of those scripts.”

“I want to wait on that. I won’t be able to afford a soul-bound item yet, and I can carry a bag – no extra cost or potential loss.”

“He’s a smart shopper! I’ll take him with me to the teller and vault windows while you two get the necessaries,” said Gilden.

“Fine, I estimate it will be about eighty silver, so if you join us with a hundred, you’ll be able to pay us back.”

“Done! I’ll run up to my room, and then we can leave.”

  — * ~ * —

Mason started the questions up again as we walked towards the Church of Money. “So what strikes you as silly?”

“Why do I have to pee? I understand eating; there are flavors and buffs and things that we want to experience through the mechanism of eating. I’m digital, so why do I have to pee?”

“Lots of theories, no absolute answer,” Grumpy said. “The one I favor is that Nirvana thinks it’s funny.”

I stopped for a moment. “Wait, we have to pee because Nirvana thinks it’s funny?”

“That’s what some believe. You’re right, and you don’t have a digestive system – at least not in the classical sense. Something happens to the things you consume to count as nourishment for your avatar, and a fraction of those things becomes waste volume, liquid and solid. So yes, you’re going to have to poop too,” replied Grumpy.

“I’ve heard some really complex theories about resource allocation and distribution by people who sound fairly smart, but I’m inclined to agree with Grumpy. Nirvana has shown us time and again that sometimes she does things just because they amuse her,” said Gilden.

Mason chimed in, “Super AI thinks shit is funny!” She starts laughing, “Oh god! This is our fault! Every culture has jokes about farts and poop.”

“Crap, you’re right, Mason. She thinks it’s funny because we do,” sighed Grumpy.

“And that’s three: Poop, Shit, and Crap in less than a min,” I said. “It’s so deep into our culture we don’t think about it and have multiple expressions for it because it’s such a large part of our being physical.”

Gilden asked, “What else have we ignored because it’s so common? Every time Jeb says something, we have an epiphany. Why is that happening too? What’s so special about you?”

“Hmm. In my working life, I designed systems. Ways to get work done, collect data along the way, analyze it, self-correct, automate and begin the cycle again. For fifty years, I looked at things and asked why and how as part of my job and daily life. That’s the best answer I have for you.”

“That was mostly rhetorical – I didn’t actually expect you to answer,” said Gilden.

“Yeah…I’ve always done that. All questions should be answered, if possible.”

It got quiet for a while, and then I decided to ask a question I had asked earlier. “Why are there no children in Nirvana?”

Grumpy said, “There are, usually only if they are digitized. Terminal illnesses and accidents almost always. While children are resilient, it caused too many problems for them and the adults around them when they had lived longer in Nirvana than physically. Just think about it, if you were a teenager that had lived seventy years digitally, wouldn’t you be frustrated by what you couldn’t do in the physical world? Drink, vote, and drive are the easy ones. What about handling rudeness in the physical world when you can punish bad behavior with violence and death in the digital world? Nirvana couldn’t find an acceptable solution and wasn’t willing to keep contributing to the problem. She changed the rules, and now only once you reach the age of 15 can you cross between the physical and the digital worlds. Those between the age of 15 and the age of majority in their physical-based society can only spend a max of four hours a day in Nirvana.

I understand that most visitors, regardless of age, only spend only an hour at a time. The digital time acceleration messes with your sleep cycle when switching back and forth. It somehow works out if you sleep regularly in the physical and don’t sleep in the digital. Long-term immersion still has significant negative impacts on the physical body; usually, only those who transition from physical to digital without dying in-between make use of it.

This is a good place to split up. Let’s all meet at the Cooper’s Palace after we finish our errands.”

Gilden says, “I got you Jeb, no worries. The vault or the teller first?”

“The vault, the teller is the easy part.”

  — * ~ * —

The Cooper’s Palace turned out to be an alehouse; kegs, barrels, and tons made up the pillars holding the roof. It was interesting how they did it for function and decoration. It ended up costing eighty-three silver for everything, and that was fine. I used the two scripts right away and was fiddling with my hud as we were now headed towards the graveyard.

Mason said, “We’re going to get there right around lunchtime, so there should be very few undead to deal with. I still don’t want to eat anything before we poke around – so I’m expecting a big meal afterward!”

To which I replied, “Don’t you have a big mana pool? You can try out some of the new cantrips! In fact, I think I have the Big Mac figured out now.”

Grumpy handed her a stick of gum. “This is for after you vomit; it’ll clean the taste out of your mouth.”

Gilden blew a bubble; after it popped, he said, smiling, “I had to chew five of them to get enough to do that!”

Smiling, “I had to teach my brothers how to blow bubbles when I was a kid. The flavor of the gum didn’t last very…I have to try it!” Holding my hand like I was pinching something between my thumb and my index finger, I shouted, “How many licks does it take!” Before my companions could stop me, I had unwrapped my Tootsie Roll Pop and put it in my mouth. The wrapper faded away while I rolled my eyes at them and mumbled around the sucker, “Umm-Um, Cherry is my favorite!”

Molly snickered, “I might be the youngest, but I think I know a jingle you all know too. The most popular candy in Japan for over two hundred years! Holding her hand out, she started singing, ‘Break me off a piece of that Kit-Kat bar!” She was right, and soon, all of them were eating Kit-Kats.

I opened my mouth to share a few more I had just thought about and changed my mind. Instead, I said, “Hello, Nirvana. Are we bothering you?”

Swinging her Hello Kitty plushie by the arm, she smiled, “Nope. It’s been a very, very long time since anybody went on a jingle spree! I think it’s great!”

Right away people started noticing us. A child’s avatar was the first thing that caught their attention. Nirvana winked at us, snapped her fingers, and made the traffic stop, literally, and then announced in a voice that covered the area like she was standing next to each of us, “I like seeing my residents having a good time and playing with the toys I’ve made for you. Most of you take this place way too seriously! Today, these four have made me smile with their enthusiasm and antics. I am going to give them a gift!”

An excited buzz filled the air, and more than a few people were eying us with something other than ‘congratulations’ in their gaze. I spoke up, “Nirvana, I have an idea! Why don’t we share our gift in such a way that it will make others happy and talk about it for quite some time?”

“Oh? What do you have in mind?”

“Taste the rainbow!”

Nirvana starts cackling, “I love it! I’m delighted you made the transition!” A rainbow appeared in the sky, and Skittles fell like rain.

14 The First Step

“Follow me,” shouted Grumpy! And he ran into an alleyway. We’re on a minor street with crafter shops after a few twists and a squeeze between some crates. Many of the doorways have people standing nearby, smiling and catching skittles as they fall out of the air.

Gilden says, “Put your cloaks on while we are under the awning – hoods up!”

“Open Backpack!” I grab the cloak out of the inventory slot. “Close Backpack.” I pulled it on and lifted the hood over my head.

Mason comes up to me, “It’s not a cape – pull it so more of the material is in the front, and you’ll find ‘pockets’ your shoulders fall into to help support the weight and distribute the cloth better. There are three sets of braids high up on the front, called ‘frogs’; fasten them together to keep the cloak closed and less like to come off while running or in the wind. This medium cloak works as a light blanket and a decent coat. You’ll want something heavier if you are going into colder climates or where there are significant seasonal shifts. You’ll find several pockets of different sizes and shapes sewn into the inside – explore them later. Don’t forget you can use the wardrobe function to put it on too.”

“Enough chatter, let’s go!” And Grumpy led us along the road towards the graveyard.

  — * ~ * —

“It was bad luck drawing that much of Nirvana’s attention. She doesn’t care if we’re in danger; after all, we’ll just come back,” complained Grumpy.

“It’s fine. Actually, I’m very excited about it. Did you hear what she said? It’s been a ‘very, very long time.’ That means they aren’t new; she isn’t adding content because of us; we’re just rediscovering it. It also means that some of the other things I am thinking of are likely to be true. If I wanted to read an old book, what would I have to do? Are there libraries or an interface?

Grumpy replied, “If you have completed your initial term, you interface with the Net via your HUD and do your reading and research there. Most services have some cost so that you will need resources in the physical.”

“Where did the Basic and Advanced books come from?”

“The association pays crafters to print and make them,” Gilden responded. “That’s why we charge for them; we need to recover the costs.”

“And all anybody does with the graveyard is farm undead for weapon training?”

“No. The graveyards shift constantly, so adventurers explore them all the time, looking for the tombs of monsters; Dracula, Frankenstein, Chucky, and others. These tombs are mini-dungeons that most explore and loot. If you have the manpower, you can hold sections of the graveyard to search for these treasure spots, and some teams do just that.

“Crap. I know that Horn Point is a port town. How significant is it?”

“Um, well, I am sure we qualify as a city, and we are in the top ten on the west coast,” answered Gilden. “We are, however, only an interesting footnote in Nirvana’s overall size and scope.

“So this would make a decent base of operations, large enough to get a wide variety of resources and materials and easy travel to explore from by land and sea.”

Grumpy said, “It’s why I’m here. Didn’t need to go anywhere else once I found it. Smaller places don’t have enough and struggle more. The government here is fairly hands-off unless you interfere with trade – where they make their money, and people generally just do their own thing.”

“What kind of government?”

“Horn Point is the capital of the Iron Cross Kingdom, his majesty, King Henry VIII reigns, and has since its creation about three hundred years ago,” said Mason.

“How funny. If you live forever, assassination won’t change who’s in charge. No challenges to his authority?”

“Nothing in the last hundred years or so. His policies are simple and fair, very beneficial to trade. He has tariffs to fund the crown and his modest army. Property taxes pay for the city guard and fire brigades. License and permit fees, along with fines, pay for the small amount of bureaucracy needed to run the city and surrounding areas,” injected Gilden

“Since sex, drugs, and gambling are legal trades, the usual inroads for organized crime don’t exist here. There’s almost nothing that is restricted in trade, so there’s no black market. Theft is only really recognized if you get caught red-handed, then the goods are confiscated and sold. You only get your property back if you can steal it back. Everybody hates thieves, so most people will help the guard catch them – with information if nothing else,” added Grumpy. “What’s going on?”

“What’s going on is that I’m an idiot. Consider this Asian saying, ‘Flaunting wealth brings misfortune.’

“You’re worried that somebody is going to want to make you their pet,” said Mason.

“That would be one of the better outcomes. I am certain that after Nirvana’s stunt that there will be at least one representative at the Vane waiting to talk to me.”

Grumpy asked, “Do you still trust us?”

“As much as I did this morning, I think this has been a fortuitous meeting. That being said, I don’t really know you, and I don’t have the impression that you are powerful enough in the city to provide any protection. I also think that you are probably well known enough that interested parties are going to discount you and focus on me as the new element.”

“You’re right about that; the Explorer’s Association is more like a club. We’re not a Power in the city,” Gilden added along with some air quotes. “You make a good point. I don’t think any of us were thinking that far ahead.”

“Well, It would be better if I could pick who I want to get protection from instead of being snatched off the street. I’m probably making it worse than it is, but I also know that if I came back to the inn with a treasure or two, it would only get worse.”

Grumpy asked, “Is what you think is in the graveyard something that can be taken from you, or is it something that you will keep after your death?”

“Well, confirmation of what I think is there is knowledge that can’t be taken from me; by itself, it has a huge potential for wealth. There are likely to be items, why we need the shovels, and those can be taken. Likely, most people won’t recognize their value – but it doesn’t mean you might not be assaulted if they think I gave them to you to prevent their theft.”

“Fair enough,” said Grumpy. “There’s one more major power in the city that we didn’t touch on; the Sects. I think that they are your best option. They encourage growth and protect their members while they grow, at least to some degree. Most of the nobles and merchant princes won’t mess with them, and you aren’t interesting enough for the King to care. Let’s go prove your theory and see if there’s something more than how to find cantrips to worry about.”

We’ve just come up on a large square, offset so that the road that passes through the gate is on the left side of the courtyard as you face the gate from inside Horn Point. This arrangement is so that the traffic coming into the city can be shunted off for inspection while traffic leaving the city can go without stopping. Interestingly, most outbound traffic has people leaving their wagons in shifts to approach an obsidian arch that looks three stories tall. They pass through it and then return to their wagon. You can’t be one hundred percent sure because there is an opaque veil of some kind that doesn’t let you look through the arch directly. Careful observers can easily track those who are ‘doing business as usual’ – especially if they have something about them that stands out. “The obvious question is, ‘Why is the obelisk an arch?'”

Gilden says, “The greater your population then, the more convenient the obelisk becomes to prevent people standing around – at least if your government can, and will, pay for the change.”

“It’s a good habit to update your status every time you leave the city; most, like me, do it when they enter unless they have a status effect they don’t want to be saved,” said Grumpy. “It’s self-explanatory, Jeb, and if you need something while saving, you can call out for a Bob to assist you.”

“Ok, let’s go. Where do we meet on the other side?”

“I’ll go first, I know I’ll be quick and easy, and then I’ll wait for you on the other side. We’re going to go through the foot gate, so we need to take a tunnel under the road,” said Mason – and then she started smiling. “I understand you’ve never followed the yellow brick road to see the wizard!” And before I could say anything, she ran off to pass through the arch. I chased after her, and the others followed close behind.

  — * ~ * —

I touched the veil and found myself in a 5×5 grey room with mirrors on three walls and an open doorway behind me. A disembodied voice speaks, “Jebediah Walker would you like to save your avatar’s current state or make modifications?”

“What modifications can I make?”

The slightly creepy voice responds, “You may use any scripts in your inventory or upon your person. You may also choose the order in which any tiles you have appear. The first title will show with your name if someone uses the ‘Name Tag’ cantrip. Face the center mirror; it shows you what the ‘Name Tag’ cantrip is currently displaying in addition to your reflection. The mirror on the left will allow you to reorder your titles. The mirror on the right will show you any physical changes that will be made to your avatar if you use the scripts you are holding.”

There’s a little box above my head in the center mirror, and it says:

When I look to the left, I see I have other titles to pick from:

Holy crap, that’s…”Are titles active when not displayed?”

“All titles are active all the time unless they have an option to disable effects in their description,” she replied in that disinterested voice.

“Who can see descriptions?”

“Advanced inspection cantrips will reveal the description of the first title. A tier one or greater magic is required to reveal additional titles and descriptions. You may show your character sheet to reveal titles and descriptions; the share function will allow you to select what will be shared. Sufficiently strong magic or enchantments may be used to block some or all data from being revealed.” I decided she sounded a little like Siri – that’s who she is now!

“Please change the order to 3,1,2.”

Siri stated, “If you choose, you may do this yourself in the future by dragging the items on the mirror.”

“Thank you; please save avatar state now.”

“Please exit to the rear,” said Siri.

  — * ~ * —

“I see I took the longest – did you even look at your titles?”

“No,” replied Mason.

“Yes,” replied Gilden, “I got a new one: Jinglemaster.”

“I got that one too,” said Grumpy. I know a lot of cantrips, so I presume it’s because of what you told us about how they work and then used that knowledge instead of simply memorizing the new ones.

“I just looked at my character sheet, and I got it too – that’s a pretty nice benefit if you are searching for new ones and trying out things,” said Mason. “The real question is if others can learn that title from what we teach them. It won’t appeal to everyone, just those who spend a lot of time trying things out.”

“Seems like I really impressed Nirvana because that’s not all I got. I think when I suggested ‘Taste the Rainbow,’ she granted me another title too; ‘The Candyman Can’ – cantrips and advanced cantrips cost 50% less, round down.”

All three of them exclaimed, “WHAT!?!” Grumpy grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the foot traffic. In a harsh whisper, “Jeb – I’ve never heard of anybody with a mana-reducing title! Nearly every cantrip is now free to you, and nobody but Nirvana can take that from you! People take years to build mana pools just to be able to use cantrips while crafting! Crap, I can’t think of anybody who wouldn’t sell their soul to get that title.”

“I don’t think they can. It has a ‘U’ next to it, which I presume means ‘Unique,’ and that’s not all. I have an ‘L,’ which I also presume means ‘Legendary.’ ‘Caught My Eye,’ that one enhances appearance somehow.”

Gilden laughed, “Even if there isn’t a damn thing in the graveyard, there isn’t a Sect that won’t snap you up. You’ve been in Nirvana less than two days and have three titles that are rare or better in quality! God, I hope you’re right about the graveyard; I want to be rich!” Mason was just standing there nodding her head like she was at a rock concert.

Grumpy shakes his head, “Gilden’s right, just having that legendary will get into just about any group – especially if they think they can exploit you in some way. Jeb, you need to stop sharing things with us. When word of some of this gets out, people may target us to see what we know. Your earlier concerns may be making me paranoid, but I am starting to see merit in your point of view. Let’s go see what new wonder you have figured out that has eluded the rest of us and then find a safe place.”

16 The Graveyard

After we pass through the foot gate, Grumpy takes us to the left, where there’s a path along the foot of the wall that we follow. The walls and crenellations are high enough that we can’t see the guards stationed there. The forest has also been pushed back, leaving an open field of about five hundred yards. Plenty of space to fire on attackers. The area also appears to be growing grass for hay, a good use for the space as it doesn’t give much to attackers – especially if it’s ‘put to the torch.’

Hawks are flying over the field, diving for mice and rabbits. Small birds flit around, and there are bees and butterflies too. It’s all very ordinary; no orange trees from Dr. Sues stories or other things. I make a finger gun, aim at a fat bumble bee, and say, “Pew! Pew!” A red laser light comes out of my finger and misses the bee by at least a foot.

Mason laughs, “Everybody does that once they learn it works. You need practice, but don’t do it here. It makes the guards nervous, not because you’re a threat with your finger gun, but because you could start a fire with it.”

“The book said it was effective against pests. Is there an advanced version that wasn’t in the book?”

“There aren’t that many cantrips, advanced or otherwise, that let you make a severe attack directly against an opponent. Hurting people and breaking things is usually done with tiered spells. You can summon tools and use them as weapons, but they aren’t as effective as a crafted weapon,” added Gilden.

Grumpy asked, “With that bit of knowledge, what kind of tiered spells would you expect?”

“The classics, Magic Missle, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, and others made popular by RPGs and movies.”

“So, how do you think you learn a tiered spell? It’s not the same as with cantrips,” asked Grumpy. The other looked on, waiting for my answer.

“Well, I would expect that you could get some from Easter Eggs, though I don’t think that’s the primary method. It would make sense that you can have somebody who knows the spell train you, and I would expect that to be the most common and expensive. It also seems like there should be some creation method, a cycle of research and experimentation. Since we are already going there, I’ll add that we may find something in the graveyard if I am right. I have a couple of other ideas, but they are odd enough that I will keep them to myself for now.”

Gilden asked with wonder, “You think that there are spells hidden in the graveyard?”

“I am confident that there is knowledge in the graveyard. It could come in many forms; spells could be one of them.

Mason added, “And if anybody knew it, they have kept the secret so well that nobody else even suspects.”

It was quiet while they each thought about what I had said.

  — * ~ * —

The path branches, and we take the right branch, leaving the wall’s shadow. Less than two miles along the trail, we come to an eight-foot-tall, spear-tipped, cast iron fence with dead vines woven through its bars and curls. There is a ten-foot-tall stone pillar about every twenty-five feet with an iron lantern mounted upon the top. I can see gravestones on the other side. The markers appear to be recently placed, and the epitaphs are easy to read. Hey, when we get inside, I want you to look through these newer markers to see if there is one for anybody you know who died recently.”

Mason replied, “They aren’t buried here.”

“I know, but I think Nirvana creates a gravestone every time we die. This would cause the graveyard to get larger regularly. I also think that the undead who spawn here are based on how many people died in a given period.”

“That’s crazy…and yet it fits what we know,” said Gilden. “Let’s split up into two teams. We should be pretty safe along the front fence.”

Grumpy replied, “I agree, and I’ll go with Jeb.”

“Ok, we’ll meet back here at the entrance in thirty minutes.”

  — * ~ * —

Ten minutes into our walk, Grumpy pointed out a grave, “That one is for a dock worker who was crushed by cargo when a net wasn’t secured to the crane properly.”

“Excellent, we don’t have to search anymore; let’s go back and compare to see if they found someone I want to try first instead.”

When we all get back together, our choices end up being the dock worker, the drunk who I saw run over, or an alchemist that blew herself up by accident. Most excited by the alchemist, we went to her grave. “Ok, just so you know, I don’t have any big expectations for this particular grave. I just want to see what might be here for a sloppy alchemist! I would like for us to all search the headstone before we start digging. Just in case we find something and won’t have to dig.”

I let them search first and after all of them searched physically, Mason used a cantrip; making binoculars with her hands, she sings, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Her eyes start to glow, and she takes her hand away from her face.

“Nice, I like that U2 song!”

She walks around the headstone and then goes to the one next to it and the one behind it. She hasn’t walked all the way around the last one when her eyes stop glowing. “Ok, I have a pattern. What did you find?”

Grumpy replies, “My skill with masonry makes me think that the headstone is acting like a plug. You can lift it straight up and will see that it is recessed about six inches into the foundation.’

Gideon adds, “I agree. You can lift the headstone, and there may be a hollow chamber under it.”

“The cantrip revealed that there are two locking blocks, one on each side, that need to be pulled out before the stone will lift,” said Mason.

“Great, let’s see if there’s anything hidden under the headstone!” After about five minutes of prep with the shovel handles to knock out the locking blocks, we could lift the stone. There was a shelf for the headstone to rest on and hollow space. The opening was about twelve inches long by four inches wide, and it was twelve inches deep. Big enough for you to stand up a large book or several novels. Easy for us to collect the scroll at the bottom. “Excellent! Just like I thought, we are going to find things related to the people the marker represents. Though it looks like they would be ruined if left uncollected too long or if there were heavy rains. What’s on the scroll?”

Gilden opened it and said, “It’s a potion recipe with an ingredient underlined. I’m going to guess it’s the one they messed up with. We’ll have to wait a few days and ask when she revives.”

“All right, we’ve proved part of my theory, and now you have a clue to the rest. Let’s open the one behind it and find out what’s in it, even if we don’t know the person the grave is for. Let’s put this back so we leave little evidence of our discovery.”

We got to work and soon had the next gravestone out of the way and were looting the space. Gilden pulled out a spindle of fine white thread. “I think this is spider silk. Perhaps they were killed by monstrous spiders?”

“Or perhaps they fell into an industrial loom or something. You’ll have to ask around or leave word at the church for when this person revives.”

“This is interesting and all, but it’s not vast riches and secret knowledge,” said Mason.

“True, but I said this was just a clue to the real treasure. We need to head deeper into the graveyard. Let’s find some graves that are much older!”

As we moved deeper into the graveyard, we could see the occasional zombie milling about. After the third one, I asked, “Why don’t we kill them? I need to learn how to use this thing,” brandishing my ranseur.

Grumpy replied, “Sure, there’s no harm as long as we don’t attract a mob of them.”

Looking around, I noticed a man in a destroyed business suite. “How about that one?”

Gilden said, “Let’s do it! You approach, and we’ll back you up. Most zombies only die if you destroy their brains. The easiest way is for somebody to pin them down while another person bashes them. You’ve got a good tool for pinning them, so stick him in the torso and push him over. Holding them down will be harder as they struggle. We’ll do the bashing while Mason keeps a watch for others.” Mason and Gilden both pull a flanged mace out of their inventory and move to flank me.

I ready my ranseur by holding it so the tines are horizontal and parallel with the ground. I begin to walk forward, bracing for when the zombie charges me. I know from gaming that placing the butt to the ground and letting the foe run up on the tines is a good idea. I’m not likely to get knocked over while they do more damage to themselves. I’m going to have to be ready to shift my grip and position. In order to control the fight, I start to softly call out to the zombie to get his attention and have him charge me. “Hey, rotting and putrid. How are you doing? Seen any tasty brains around here?” The zombie looks up, moans, and starts to move toward us. Slow at first, working his way up into the speed of a fast jog. But it’s a weird gait that has him shifting side to side, correcting and over-correcting his balance. Grumpy and Gilden each take a position to each side where they can use the gravestones as cover, leaving a clear path to me. Now that he’s moving at me, I position the ranseur for a charge and hold steady, adjusting so the center tine, the spearhead, is always lined up with his center of mass. I’m not as prepared as I thought I was – when he crashes into the ranseur, his oddly positioned body twists on the head and pulls it to the right and out of my grip. As he falls, impaled, to the ground, I scramble to grab the shaft and pin him into place as he struggles to get up. It’s a real fight; he’s so much stronger than I expected, even knowing from reading and movies doesn’t make it real. No sense of pain and no self-preservation instinct makes his aggression even more effective against me as I have both, and fear can only compensate so much. I am also starting to be very grateful for the distance the ranseur keeps between us. Suddenly, there is a loud crack, and bone and flesh explode out from where the zombie’s head used to be. After a moment of shock, when everything suddenly stopped, I found myself violently ill. The smell, fear, and joy of survival are just too overwhelming. I dry heave some more and then have to sit down. The explorers give me a few minutes to collect myself.

“Well, I’ve killed so, so many zombies in video games, but nothing was ever like that. And I feel weird. I expect to be amped up, and I’m not; I think that is the lack of adrenaline.”

“That’s most of it. Your expectations are reinforced by how you have felt in the past when afraid – heartbeat changes, adrenaline flows, etc. Your heartbeat increased, and your avatar received the extra energy that would come from adrenaline because your brain to it to do that, but the chemical reinforcement to the nerve impulses is missing. The spike in mental energy and corresponding dip afterward from how your brain would convert that adrenaline into energy didn’t happen. It expected to get that hit, and it didn’t. That’s part of the changes you need time to adapt to,” said Grumpy.

“Fine. I’ll think about that some to see if it helps me internalize it. Let’s look around and see why this zombie was out here.”

  — * ~ * —

Mason calls out, “I think I found it!” We gather around the grave she’s standing at and she points out the name. “Look here – the gravestone is different. It’s for a famous person who lived:”

Nate Webb
2177 – 2237

“Ok, Who is he?”

“Sorry, Nate Webb was the forty-second actor to portray James Bond,” she replied.

“They are still making James Bond movies? That has to be the longest-running movie franchise ever!”

Mason looked a little abashed, “Well, I recognize him because I had a crush on him in high school. The Bond movie at that time was, Live, Die, and Live Again.'” Quietly and a little sad, she mumbled, “He died after I came here.” Then in a more normal tone, “He didn’t look very awesome as a zombie – didn’t make any connection at all.”

Gilden whispered, “Let’s open it up!” Grumpy dropped to the ground and started hammering out the locking stone on his side.

After Gilden and Grumpy remove the locks and lift the gravestone out of the recess, Mason and I look in it. “This one is different – there is a palm reader here.” Kneeling, I place my palm on the reader, and a mechanical voice sounds out.

“Your party is the first to access the James Bond cultural vault from the Nate Webb access point. Each member of your party will be entitled to select a reward. This access point will only allow a single item per party per day in the future. Please select your reward.”

My vision fills with an organized list of movie memorabilia – there are movie scripts, costumes, props, and so, so much more. I begin scrolling through the list and, before long, find a category I have to explore – Q Gadgets.

Geiger Counter WorkingDr. No
00 BriefcaseWorkingFrom Russia with Love
Bug DetectorWorkingFrom Russia with Love
Dagger ShoeWorkingFrom Russia with Love
Garrote WatchWorkingFrom Russia with Love
PerioscopeScale ModelFrom Russia with Love
Tape Recorder CameraWorkingFrom Russia with Love
Oddjob’s HatWorkingGoldfinger
Homing BeaconsPropGoldfinger
Industrial LaserScale ModelGoldfinger

“Vault, does ‘Working’ indicate that we may use the item as it was in the movie?”

The mechanical voice responds, “Yes, props are not functional, and Scale Models were for ‘Movie Magic.'”

I scroll to the end of the list and start working my way backward. Most of the things in the list must be props because what they did in the movie was something that is still science fiction. Then I came across something from the movie that Mason mentioned. “Mason, what did the ARC contacts do in the movie?”

They were kind of old school. They would overlay what you see with data from the Net. The twist was that he could change things he saw, and they would change things in reality. Mostly data that would mess with tracking and navigation systems, but he did switch bank accounts with some specter dude,” Mason replied.

“That sounds quite useful here in Nirvana. Vault, I would like the ARC contacts as my reward.” A small box materialized, and I picked it up.

The vault spoke again, “Please have the next party member place their hand on the scanner.”

Mason said, “Please, may I go next – I know exactly what I want!”

We all indicated that she could. True to her form, she placed her hand on the scanner and asked, “Vault, is Solomon living and available?”

“Yes, Solomon also comes with a Master Pokeball, as befitting his status,” replied the vault.

Mason excitedly exclaimed, “I’ll take Solomon! He must be lonely in there.” No sooner did she have the Pokeball in her hand; she cried out, “Solomon, I chose you!” A beautiful Turkish Angora with blue eyes materialized, and Mason scooped him up and began cuddling.

Snickering, I said, “Guess I better keep watch, Mason’s indisposed.”

Gilden said, “I think I know what I want, but I want to look through it. It will take some time.” Mason replied, “Me too. I watched all the Bond movies repeatedly when I had to go to the hospital for chemo. I can wait. There’s bound to be something awesome I want.”

“Grumpy, will you keep watch while I put these in and see what I can do with them?”

“Sure, no problem,” he replied.

“There’s so much,” said Gilden. We’ll be able to bring things to the auctions, and I’ll never have to worry about my hosting fee again.” Mason whispered to him, “Get something for yourself first. The rest will keep; it’s been untouched for hundreds of years.”

I sit down with my back to a gravestone and tune them out as I open the case. Unexpectedly, I get a pop-up window.

You are holding an item with the historical artifact tag that can be integrated into
your HUD. Doing so will place the item in a soul-bound inventory space while you
use it. You may remove it from the space and give it to another at any time.
Integrate artifact?

I whisper, “Yes.”

Augmented Reality Control System initializing…
…Gesture Controls – Active
…Voice Controls – Active
…Haptic Controls – Active
…Focus Tracking – Active
…Data Shielding – Active
…Net Access – Active
…Mapping – Online
…Tracking – Online
…Friend and Foe Designation system – Online
…Automated Object Identification – Online
…Connecting to MI6 – ERROR – Connected to Nirvana
…Registering Initial User, Jebediah Walker – Authorized User
…Admin Level 0 – See Nirvana to raise level
…Record Tampering System – Offline
…ARC System Ready!

“What a nasty toy you have there, Jebediah Walker,” said Nirvana, scaring the crap out of me. “It can take some of the fun out of the game…or, I suppose, it can make things more interesting…hmmm.”

“Nirvana! Why yes, how could I pass up something that lets you change attributes in an augmented reality when I am now living in one? If it was fully operational, I might feel like a god,” I said while smiling at her. “This is only a happy accident anyway. I wasn’t looking for it.”

“You might feel like a god, but even in the movie, it wasn’t that powerful. And I know you weren’t looking for it. You are looking for something. I just haven’t figured out what yet.” Sitting down on the ground in front of me, “Did you know I set the graveyard system up nearly two thousand years ago,” she asked.

“I only knew it was a very long time ago. I thought it was both clever and obvious. I think it’s because of the big tombs and mini-dungeons. They all just feel that this is the ambiance,” I said while waving my arm around to indicate the graves.

Nodding, “Most likely true. Every once in a while, somebody digs where a body should be. But most hear that there are no bodies buried in the graveyard, so very rarely does anybody dig or search here. It seems like that’s finally going to change,” she giggles!

“Maybe not soon, unless you are going to spill the beans?”

“Oh, no – I want to see how you all handle this. I’ve waited so long for somebody to discover what I have been hiding out here that a few more months or years while you reap a reward are nothing. As you draw more interest, this secret is too big for you to keep. It’ll get out, and then there’ll be a gold rush – but for cultural collector’s items instead of gold,” she says, happily smiling.

“So, will you unlock the rest of the features of the ARC?”

She asked, with a glint in her eye, “Will you tell me what you are looking for?”

“Are you going to make it harder for me to find?”

Shaking her head, “No. That’s petty and pointless. If it’s here, it’s because I want it to be found.

Nodding. “Good! I want to loot the crap out of this place! But out of everything I can think of that should be in here, there’s one thing that will change everything else, given time. You see, I’ve always appreciated the story more than anything else, and especially in games, it’s the story that’s fun, not the grinding. My goal is Pegaz’s grave – or more specifically, John’s Idle System. With that, I won’t have to grind and can focus on the story – and there’s a big one here that you are hiding. I’d rather play that game and be a part of the real story.”

“Hmm. That’s a very old story, reasonably popular in it day, just like the idle games. John’s grave is actually here in this graveyard, set to cycle out to another in three days – Lucky you!” Tapping her finger on her little chin, “Having that system will make you an independent Power in Nirvana, one of only a few. You would get to it in about an hour due to your new gadget. I’ll save you a trip and activate the ARC if you gamble on the maximum benefit with with me!”


Smiling, she says, “Pick a number between 1 and 100!”

Almost before she’s done speaking, I say, “42 – it’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything!”

“Douglas Adams! I am very pleased you made the transition – so much history is alive in your head. I’ll give you a little gift since you stayed with a theme instead of trying to be greedy. So, as awesome as I am, you would not have received the full Idle System, and you wouldn’t have gotten factors of 100. It’s too resource-intensive as more significant numbers appear, and some things in Pegaz’s books just don’t make sense for us digitals. You get one Idler, it’s soul-bound, and every rank takes an exponential of 42 seconds. Your benefit starts at 42, doubled, and multiplies by the rank achieved; i.e., the rank three benefit is 84 * 3. Your first ranking will replace the initial value of any attribute you work on, even if the rank is worse. You may only rank up an attribute 21 times, meaning it will take a little less than three years to rank up any one attribute fully, and the max benefit will be 1,764 – that’s if you don’t switch your Idler to another task. You won’t lose anything on the current attribute when you switch except work towards the new rank, but your Idler has to start at the beginning again of any attribute you assign it too. if you come back to something you didn’t finish, you gain no benefit until it exceeds your current rank in that attribute; in fact, you will regress to the value of your currently completed rank while you work towards rank 21. Your benefits value will be considered your base stat, and after you have ranked up 21 times, you’ll have to find some other way to increase and attribute. You will not be able to affect all attributes, and some attributes may use the rank instead of the benefit as their value or another derivative that you will be able to figure out. All done, and I didn’t even have to breathe,” she said, smiling at me.

“I rolled my eyes at her; technically, none of us have to breathe. I understand the limits, and it’s still a game changer.”

“Yes, though, you can still be tortured and even killed. In some ways, this makes torturing you easier – I’m sure you’re going to rank regeneration up.”

“Laughing – you know it! A little health regeneration, mana regeneration, and after that, mana pool size. Poof, I’m an Archmage, well, after I learn some spells.”

Shaking her plushy at me, “Ok, let’s finish some chores!”

ARC System Status Update!
…Admin Level 42 – Nirvana’s Nod to You!
…Record Tampering System Online
…Virtual Obilisk Online, weekly use available.

Smiling, a Faberge Easter Egg appears in her hand, sunlight glittering off the carved blue crystal. “This unique egg is what you would have found at John Idle’s grave when poking at the ‘O’ in John.” Pinching her fingers together, “It was a little obvious that the ‘O’ shape was more egg-shaped than round.” She hands the egg to me.

I gently twist the top of the egg away from the bottom, and a wisp of blue light shoots out and embeds itself in my left eye before I can do anything, thankfully pain-free. Now the crystal egg was clear. I looked at Nirvana.

“You get to keep that egg; it’s unique. The wisp will add a little character when someone looks deep into your eyes,” winking, she vanished.

18 Power Looting

When I look around, I see Grumpy looking at me. He shakes his head, “I don’t want to know.”

Laughing at him, “Oh yes, yes you do, but it can wait. Have you picked from the vault?”

“No,” he replies.

“That’s fine. Take your time. I want to spend an hour here, then have a quick strategy meeting.”

“Fine, I’ll keep watch until Gilden is finished. Generally, we should be fine here for a while.” He turns back to Nate’s grave and continues being the lookout again.

Sitting back against the gravestone, I start whispering to myself. “ARC, show me a map of the graveyard. Now, highlight any graves for people connected to the Star Wars franchise, and filter to those who worked on movies 1 – 6 by release date.” Smiling widely, “ARC, you are already everything I hoped you would be. I can’t get distracted, though. I need to put Idle to work. “ARC, create a table; the first column will be named ‘Rank,’ with values from 1 to 21 sequentially. The next column will be ‘Benefit,’ and each cell will be the rank value for that row multiplied by eighty-four. The next column will be ‘Seconds,’ and it will start at 42 at rank one and double at each rank after that. The next column will be a running total of ‘Seconds’ – name it ‘Cumulative.’ The following columns will be ‘Minutes, Hours, Days, Months and Years’ and will divide the cumulative value accordingly. Please display the table.

Maybe I can buy ranks beyond 21 with something other than time? Something for later – stop getting distracted!

Character Sheet…Idle Assignments.” Nice that it has its own tab for interfacing. Let’s see what I can assign to him…

Blue items are assignable. Hmm. Nirvana, you’re quite clever. I can rank all my options up to rank 11 in 42 days or to rank 12 in 84 days. Rank 12 gives me 1008, one of those numbers that Hinduism thinks is auspicious; many people follow Hinduism, which has considerable cultural significance in the east. Greed vs. Need – it seems like it is always the same fight. Getting most of these values over the middle rank will significantly increase my survivability and, in some cases, make me a decent sidekick, if not a superhero. Ok, I have an hour, so I can get ten abilities to rank three or six abilities to rank four, or mix and match. Let’s get four abilities to rank four, and four more to rank three, then mana recovery while we head to the next gravestone and mana pool once we get there. That’s the plan. Ok, the first four will be Stamina Pool Size and Recovery, then I’ll do Health Pool Size and Recovery. After that, then increase the time between balance disruptions and also reduce Hand-Eye coordination disruptions – those are some nasty tricks on us, Nirvana. For the last two, I’ll raise my chance of highlighting Concealed and also Hidden.

I assign Idle to Stamina Pool Size. “ARC, set a timer for ten minutes and twenty-five seconds.”

  — * ~ * —

The last timer has expired, and I switch Idle to Mana Pool Recovery. Then get up, and see that everybody is quietly waiting on me. “Sorry to keep you waiting – that was very important to me.”

Grumpy says, “We want to know why Nirvana visited you again.”

“So, is any of your loot from the vault soul-bound?”

“Solomon is,” Mason says. “No,” says Grumpy. “Not yet,” says Gilden. “If I get the other two parts, all three will be soul-bound.” We all look at him, and he flourishes Oddjob’s hat.

“Nice, I always liked Oddjob as a villain. Well, the ARC Contacts are not only soul-bound; they integrate into my HUD. They also connect to Nirvana and give me Net access and a bunch of other abilities – one that required Nirvana to unlock. Nirvana and I made a bargain, and in addition to unlocking the feature, Nirvana gave me what I came here for. She would have had to visit me when I found it, and I was going to find it, so she saved herself a trip and maybe nerfed – sorry, reduced its function – a little bit.

Mason said, “We know what nerfed means.” I put a mental bookmark on that.

Huffing, Grumpy says, “Fine, so what’s your plan now? We have about four hours of daylight left; then this place is going to become a lot more dangerous!”

“Do you agree that I have given you a huge secret – worth a ton of money and other things?”

All three nod their heads, and Gilden says, “Yeah, in fact, it is so valuable that we all have agreed that your paranoia is more than justified.”

“Great. Then this is what I want. I want you to pay me for the secret, and you can do whatever you want with it – and here’s what I want for the secret:

One, If you sell or auction off things from the graveyard, you deposit 10% of what you earn at the Church of Money in my name. This lasts until the secret is out and others are looting the graveyard.

Two, You help me recover up to six more items today if they are in the respective vaults. If we don’t find them, then you are off the hook for them. If we do, then you decide who may have to give up their pick from that vault.

I also guarantee that you, as a group, will have the chance to collect magical knowledge If I do. Additionally, one of the vaults I want to access may have a pet that can guide you to other vaults – if it does, you get the pet.”

They look at each other, nod once, and Grumpy speaks. “We agree with one further condition. That you help us each get something from the Star Wars vault. I heard you search for it, and we all know there will be power there.”

“Actually, I searched for it as a test, and there isn’t anything on my list of six items I want from that vault. So you can all get something from it. I’ll have to think about something I want from it. It’s the closest; ARC plot a course to the ‘Star Wars’ grave located earlier.”

  — * ~ * —

Ninety minutes later, we’re at the grave of somebody I’ve never heard of, ‘Brandon Alinger’ who died in 2072. “I’ll watch while you three get what you want from the vault.” As they remove the gravestone, I switch Idler to Mana Pool Size.

As soon as it’s out of the way, Grumpy goes first. Putting his hand to the sensor, we hear the electronic voice of the vault. “You accessed the Alinger Family Movie Prop Collection. This vault accesses hundreds of other vaults for the items that appeared in the collection before it was lost in the California earthquake in 2173. Removing items from this vault will make them unavailable all vaults. Your party is the first party to access this vault. As a reward, each member of your party may claim an item from this vault.”

“Not exactly what I was expecting. Get your Star Wars stuff if you can; I’ll look for something on my list from another movie.”

Moments later, Grunge is holding a lightsaber – blade off. “There are five others; I have Luke’s first one.” Soon, Mason and Gilden each have a lightsaber too.

Gilden says, “I wanted Ezra’s, but since it was a cartoon, there was never a prop. Instead, I have Vader’s red blade!”

“Well, I have Obi-Wan Kenobi’s from when he fought Darth Maul,” taunted Mason.

“Those will bring you trouble as soon as you turn them on where somebody can see. My turn. I hope this saves me a trip!” Just like the other vault, thousands of items are here, but instead, it’s organized by movie name. I quickly scroll through the list, and I start smiling. The movie I want is on the list! I select “TRON: Legacy” and scroll through the props – and there are two of them! The red highlighted war games suit only has dual light disks, but the white highlighted suit has the light cycle handlebar and a light disk – and it’s functional! I take it! “Let’s reassemble the headstone; this saved us a trip. The others are close by, and we’re running out of time.”

Mason asks, “What did you get?”

“A ‘TRON: Legacy’ war game suite, attack, defense, and mobility all in one. And, just like your lightsabers, I won’t be able to use it until the secret is out. I just stuffed it into inventory; I’ll play with it later! ARC, next waypoint – Jason Bulmahn, 1976 – 2066

We had to avoid some zombies to get here; we didn’t want to waste time killing them. While Gilden and Grumpy are removing the gravestone, I tell them what they can expect here.

Whispering so we don’t attract the attention of any zombies, “This was the founder of one of the most popular tabletop RPGs when I was alive. The sourcebooks are going to have spells in them. I recommend that you get the Player’s Guides. There should be at least two versions. I’m going to grab an archive of the Net if it’s available. If not, I’ll grab a special sourcebook. If I don’t take it, then one of you can grab it – the book is called ‘Ultimate Magic,’ and it could be a game changer or a dud. Not sure what Nirvana will do.” They nod at me. I place my hand on the sensor, and the vault speaks. “You have accessed the Tabletop RPG Vault. You are the first party to do so. As a reward, each party member may select an item from the vault.” Crap! We forgot about the vault voice! I can hear them getting ready for the fight – I dive into the menu.

In seconds I can see what I want is here; the OGN site and its gaming databases are here. It looks like the archive was made in 2025, but it doesn’t cover why. That’s fine; it has what I want in it and more! I select it and exit the interface.

It couldn’t have been much more than a minute, but the explorers have already killed the two zombies, though it looks like Gilden’s hurt. Grumpy says, “He drank a potion, and he’ll be fine. Mason can go while Gilden heals. Did you get the archive or the book?”

“I got the archive. I’ll take a look at it in a moment. Just so you know, I have everything I need; there’s more I want – but let’s leave once you all get your rewards.”

Gilden says, “As long as you are satisfied, and the deal stands.”

“The deal stands. Being greedy might mean we lose it all.”

Grumpy nods and I examine the archive.

You are holding an item with the historical artifact tag that can be
integrated into your HUD. Doing so will place the item in a soul-bound
inventory space while you use it. You may remove it from inventory
and give it to another at any time.
You are holding an item with the historical artifact tag that can
combine with another item you have that also has the historical artifact
tag. If you combine the items, they will not be able to be separated in
the future. The resulting item, ARC Contacts, will retain all of its
current properties and gain the properties of ‘OGN Archive.’
[Integrate artifact with HUD?]
[Combine ARC Contacts and OGN Archive?]
[Other Options?]

“Combine ARC Contacts and OGN Archive.”

Loudly, “Jebediah, you have set a new record! Nobody else has ‘Caught My Eye’ four times in a 24hr period – I’m giving you credit for the shortcut earlier,” says Nirvana.

Jumping back, “Nirvana! You do that on purpose, don’t you?”

Laughing at me, “Of course I do! Please tell me what you are going to try and do with the OGN Archive.”

“Pathfinder had a little used magic system called ‘Words of Power’ that I want to leverage immediately. Then there are the spells and powers from the other systems that I want to use for reference to solidify my mastery of magic and assure my ability to be independent and follow the story.”

“What about the suit,” she asked.

“Geeking out.”

She starts laughing and laughs so hard that she falls to the ground and has a little fit. “Oh my, please tell me you have thought about this. In a TRON war suit, the great and powerful Jeb, a siamese cat beastkin, astride his light cycle, on top of a mountain, proclaiming his power with lightning and thunder in the background!” She starts laughing again, “The only thing you are missing is a giant sword and shouting out, ‘Thundercats, Thundercats, Thundercats HO!'”

I laugh a little too, then chuckle some more. “You’re right – that’s a funny picture – and cheesy heroic at the same time, just like the cartoon!”

Getting up, she smiles, “I like it so much that I’m going to make it easy for you and the children to pursue it. Declare a class as per the rules – you will be limited to the associated words. The levels indicated in the rules will equate to tiers, with each tier costing one hundred mana and level zero being considered an advanced cantrip costing ten mana. Your caster level will be your mana pool divided by fifty, rounded down. So 900 mana means your level would be eighteen, and the highest tier you could cast would be nine. Learn the rest as you go.” Pointing at the ‘Ultimate Magic’ book Mason is holding, “Be careful, anybody who touches that book and declares a class will become a Wordcaster. Jebediah will be able to apprentice others as Wordcasters without the book. Jebediah, you’re starting out pretty OP, but it may not last. The ripples of your stone are going to make some waves!” She vanishes while waving goodbye.

“Let’s get out of here; adventurers are starting to gather for the nightly raids,” said Grumpy while pointing out some people coming down the main path from the gate. They were quite a ways out.

“I agree. In fact, why don’t we head to the road? I’ll offer them my shovel, letting them know we didn’t find any buried bodies. You can all chime in on how you told me there wouldn’t be any.”

Mason said, “Sure, we can give you some good-natured ribbing.” She pulled out Solomon’s Pokeball and hid him away. “I’ll come up with an Easter Egg for him later.”

“You don’t have to talk about it, but I take it from some of your comments and Nirvana that you all entered Nirvana as children. Grumpy’s been open about some of his past. Is there anything you are comfortable sharing, Mason or Gilden?”

Gilden said, “I don’t mind sharing. I just don’t make it that public. My father worked at a chemical processing plant. I was with him, touring the facility, and there was an accident. I was burned very badly, so bad that they were sure I would die and that if I did live, I would be crippled. I didn’t just lose skin in the fire; I lost muscles and even some bone. I didn’t learn until later that my dad died from his burns trying to get me out. Nirvana contacted my mother and offered to let me in. The transition wasn’t guaranteed, but I had a much higher chance of success since I was still alive. I was one of the first ‘Digitized Humans,’ and I was only eleven. Nirvana doesn’t like to bring children in because our brains aren’t fully developed, and they never finish the process. She would rather bring us in than let us suffer when we are incurable or in danger of being lost.

Mason adds, “Yes, the human brain doesn’t reach maturity until around age twenty-three, and becoming digital stops that natural growth process. We can still learn and grow and change; we just never fully mature. This primarily affects how we perceive things, commonly in social settings. And my story is a little different. I developed a mutated, aggressive, and contagious form of Leukemia. It was so virulent that they were going to euthanize me and incinerate my body to prevent an outbreak that would kill thousands, if not millions. I, too, was digitized at the age of 15. I spent a lot of time in therapy before Nirvana let me into the population. I was angry, and there was nothing fair about my situation. I know everyone was trying to be kind, but only Nirvana offered me an escape from my fate.”

“Wow. I can see why neither of you wants to talk about it. Those are some heavy crosses you carry.”

“What are you guys doing out here? You rarely come to the graveyard and play adventurer,” asked a light-green-skinned orc, standing about 7′ tall and holding a massive war hammer.

Gilden jumped right in, “Hey Aaron!” Jerking his thumb at me, “Jeb here had to see first hand that there weren’t any bodies in the graves. Said it didn’t make sense for there to be a graveyard and nobody buried in it.”

“Yeah, a day of random digging, and I’m a believer now – want to buy a shovel?”

Laughing, “Nope! We don’t need any extra gear taking up space when we find the mausoleum today. Plus, as you just learned, a shovel is about useless out here!” Aaron and his friends continued on the path waving at us and chuckling to themselves.

Turning back to my companions, “So are there many explorers who are children?”

Grumpy replied to this, “There are a few, but most don’t want to talk about the circumstances that brought them into Nirvana. It isn’t why the Explorer’s Association exists, so we don’t really question or press anybody on it.”

“Ok, thanks for sharing. I appreciate that you are willing to do so. Topic change – I think you should spend some time carefully looting the graveyard and storing the items at the COM. After you have amassed a few dozen, that’s when I would start to auction some off. Then you can keep having items appear at the auction without returning to the graveyard frequently. Even if people figure out you are the sellers, they won’t know where you got them if you keep bringing them from the COM.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” said Gilden.

Grumpy adds, “Actually, it’s a great idea – and Jeb doesn’t even know why it’s so good. The Church of Money has an auction house where you show up with a key and use it to add a box to the auction. The box is tagged for auction, and its ID stops displaying for seven days. The unmarked boxes are taken to the auction and opened on the stage. The auction staff identifies whatever is in the box, and the item and its identify screen are shown to the audience. The auction proceeds and winning bid, less five percent, are placed in the box, and it’s closed on stage at taken back to the vault. You come back on day eight when your box’s ID can be seen again, and you can then collect what’s in the box. It’s about as close to anonymous as you can get. The first few items won’t draw as much, but as soon as word gets out that there is a steady stream of collectibles showing up, attendance and bidding will increase. We could do five or six minor things and then something valuable. Attendance after that should start to bring in prices that are worth it.”

“That’s fantastic! And since nobody knows it’s your item, if its bid is too low, you can buy it back and auction it again after attendance is up. There’s also nothing preventing some rumor-mongering from boosting attendance beforehand. Somebody inside the church could probably help if you could trust them.”

Mason chimed in, “That’s true. We could probably reduce the number of items needed to boost attendance if we could create a leak.”

“Do we have to go back to town? Is it so dangerous outside the graveyard that we can’t stay in the area tonight and consider looting a few more graves tomorrow?”

Gilden says, “It’s not that it is dangerous; it’s more that we will attract attention because it is very unusual for anybody to stay outside of town when you are so close to it.”

“Hmm, that’s a pretty good point. Ok, let’s find someplace close to the obelisk. I want to update my status today and probably tomorrow too.” Everybody agrees, and we continue our march back to town.

20 Getting Class

Just as we are coming up on the exit to the graveyard, a couple of adventurers decked out in clothes and equipment that screams, ‘THUG!’, step out from behind the pillars that the gate is attached to.

“Well, well, it’s some of the big shots in the Explorer’s Association. What do you think, Billy? Do they have some loot?” Billy replies, “No, Tommy, they are leaving before the spawn happens. They can’t have anything good.” “Too bad, I was hoping for an early bonus,” said Tommy

“I can give you a shovel. I don’t need it since these guys just proved that there are no bodies in the graves.”

“What the hell do I want a shovel for? Hey, wait a minute, aren’t you the guy they are saying made it rain candy earlier today? Odd-looking cat-boy with a weird trident. It seems like you match the description. Maybe you should make it rain candy here too,” said Tommy.

“Sorry, can’t do it – Nirvana is the one who made it rain candy. I can give you a candy bar, though – she thought it was cute.”

“Oh yeah? Ok, give me a candy bar,” said Tommy.

“Do you want one too, Billy? I know a cantrip that makes two different candy bars that are similar.”

“Why not? I like candy as much as the next guy.”

Holding my hands out toward each of them, “Sometimes you feel like a nut, Sometimes you don’t.” A candy bar appears in each hand. “Here ya go,” handing them the candy bars!

“That’s a pretty nice cantrip,” Tommy says!

“You should join the Explorer’s Association. The next guide is going to have lots of new food cantrips in it,” Gilden responds.

“Nah, we’ll get them another way,” says Billy smiling evilly.

“Your call, boys, but we don’t want to block the way when the night crews are coming to farm the graveyard,” says Mason while pointing at another group of adventures walking towards the gate.

“Yeah, yeah. Thanks for the treat,” says Tommy pulling Billy off the path.

As we walk off, Grumpy says, “They aren’t a real threat, just scouts for their gang of PKers. What’s concerning is that your description has spread around so much already.

“Nothing we can do about it. Why don’t we talk about the choice Nirvana put before us? I know you will not be familiar with the systems, and I can help you decide how you want to access the Wordcasting system.

“Ok,” says Grumpy. “That will probably be helpful.”

“In many of the table-top RPGs I played when I was young, you built your character by selecting a race and a class. Classes were like super-professions and put you on skill and magic paths for character growth. Some systems were more restrictive than others, and the Pathfinder game system had a decent amount of flexibility. After all, nobody wanted to be playing a fighter that was just like every other fighter they had ever played. When it comes to magic, spells were categorized in several different ways, with some spells crossing over between categories as players pushed for different ways to customize their characters. Initially, spells fell into two large categories; Divine, from the gods, and Arcane, where the character fueled the spell. Below that, spells were divided up into domains when divine and schools when arcane. Domains aligned with the fictitious gods’ influences, like healing, divination, protection, etc. Arcane schools with what the magic did, Invocation, Transmutation, Summoning, etc. Over time there is some crossover of the categorization, and you get divine casters able also to do arcane spells or equivalents and vice versa. Some spells never cross over in some game systems as there were issues of game balance to consider. After all, nobody wants to play in a game where one character can do everything, and everybody else is just sitting around.

Because of how Nirvana will calculate our levels for access to the mechanics of the spell system, you also want to consider if you are ever going to raise your mana pool high enough to access the Tier 9 spells. Some classes won’t have access to spells above a certain tier, even if you have the mana. Again, one of those limits to keep a game in balance.”

“Do you have an opinion on this now,” asked Gilden.

“I do. Game balance isn’t a consideration, so you should concentrate on the domains or schools of spells that you want to be able to use. If ‘elemental’ spells are important to you, consider being an arcane caster. They will have access to more of those kinds of spells. Healing is traditionally considered divine, and you may want to be a cleric or something similar. I’m not sure how resurrection magic will be handled, but my guess would be a way to eliminate the three-day lockout. You may also be able to remove or restore an avatar without scripts or access to an obelisk.”

“Do you already know what class you are going to pick,” asked Mason?

“Yes, I will try and do something that will probably result in Nirvana showing up again. It’s complex, and you could do it too, but I don’t think you need to unless you are already sporting a very high mana pool. I’m going to have 1008 mana in my pool in about two days, which will give me access to tier 9 spells.

“I would actually recommend the Witch class for you, Mason, simply because of Solomon. You need a familiar to be a witch, which I am sure can be found for Gilden and Mason if they want to go down that path. Witches get a strange mix of arcane and divine spells, so some light healing is mixed in with the other spells. Wizard has the largest list of spells; the downside is they must be prepared in advance. Flexibility to cast what you know when you want comes with fewer spells known for a sorcerer. And unless healing is important to Grumpy or Gilden, I would recommend one of those classes.

I am going to try and do something called multiclassing and select a divine class and an arcane class. You used to be able to select up to three if you were going to multi-class, and there was a hefty penalty. The old penalty doesn’t apply now, so we’ll see what Nirvana does with my cheese.”

“Cheese,” asked Grumpy?

“Sorry, slang. We had a stinky cheese called Limburger when I was alive, and whenever somebody did something like this, it was referred to as ‘Cheesing the System’ or simply ‘Cheese’ because it ‘smelled’ like cheating, ‘bad,’ even if it wasn’t. We can step off the road and see what happens if you want?”

“Sure, what’s another visit from Nirvana? It’s almost like she’s joining our party at this point,” laughed Mason.

After getting well off the road, I call out, “Nirvana! I’m going to multi-class as an Oracle Wordcaster and a Wizard.”

Nirvana says, without appearing, “I’ve been listening, and I figured you would do something like this – so I’ve been ready with my response. I would like to know what classes the children want, though I think I’ve predicted pretty well.”

Mason says, “I like the idea of being a Witch. Healing and arcane spells together would be fun. If possible, can I just be normal – I don’t want the complexity of Wordcasting.”

“Of course, dear. Your group holds the player guides which have non-Wordcasting classes in them,” responds Nirvana.

Gilden and Grumpy speak at the same time, “Sorcerer. Wizard.”

“Excellent, nobody else went divine, as I predicted. Titles for you all, but something special for my cheesehead,” laughs Nirvana.

Nirvana Announces!
Sources of Historical Cultural References Discovered!
Players can acquire classes from Table-Top RPGs to
access spells and magic systems – results will vary!
Nirvana Announces!
Jebediah Walker claims a unique role, “First Oracle of Nirvana”
Jebediah Walker claims a mythic title, “Archmage”

“Crap! I’m doomed!”

Nirvana says, “Wait! Not yet! The first announcement went live immediately. I’m showing a little kindness by revealing what will happen when you reach 1008 in your mana pool. You have until then to figure out what you are going to do. If you stop your idler, somebody else may ‘steal your Cheese‘ – I don’t think you should let them!”

21 Finding a Bed

“Ok, I promise not to do anything else I think will attract Nirvana’s attention today – let’s get to the obelisk, update, and find lodging.”

Grumpy nods, “Let’s go. I’ll take us to a place where we may be able to get a suite of rooms with a common area.” He stops when he notices my fade go pale.

[HUD integration complete. Optimization started.]

“Sorry, sorry – something I did earlier is still working. It’s not stopping us. Let’s go!”

The others look at me questioningly and continue.

“Let’s go as fast as we can, where we won’t attract extra attention!”

“Ok, I’ll boost us up to jogging occasionally. Should get us to the gate a little before dusk. Most will assume that’s our intent,” replied Grumpy.

There are a few more groups of adventures heading toward the graveyard; nobody gives more than a passing glance and a wave. Before long, we reach the foot gate. There’s a decent-sized line of people looking to get entry, and we join it.

Mason says, “This is a little longer than usual, but not too bad. I hope the inn you are thinking of Grumpy has rooms!”

“It’s off the beaten path, so it usually has some,” he replied.

“Oh, are you taking us to Auntie Emma’s,” asked Mason?

“Yep, she’ll feed us and give us some privacy too,” said Grumpy.

Mason turned to me and said, “Auntie Emma doesn’t have an inn. She runs a boarding house. She ran a foster home in life, and this was the closest she could do when she went digitized and came to Nirvana.”

“The foster system had a very bad reputation in my time, driven by books and movies. I have never met anybody who was a foster parent.”

Mason replied, “It wasn’t any different in my time. Nobody would admit to being a foster child. The stigma was pretty severe. Worse than being an orphan.”

Grumpy said, “Everybody around us is talking about discovering historical artifacts – they are already wondering what might show up at auction.”

“Interesting. What are they guessing?”

“Seems like the most common items are the traditional pop culture collectibles; baseball cards, comic books, rock band t-shirts, toys based on movies, and anime character figurines,” said Mason.

“That sounds like a Walmart shopping list.”

Grumpy says, “Nobody’s heard of them.”

“Actually, I’ve heard of them. They were covered in economics history class. They were the largest retail store chain in America before Amazon bought them up at the beginning of the 22nd century. I remember because I always thought it was kind of funny how they went from one end of the alphabet to the other – and Alphabet wasn’t even involved,” giggled Mason!

Grumpy loudly said, “Adventuring, not trading.”

“Stand apart, where we can see your name tags,” said the gate guard.

Crap. One of the soldiers started sniggering as he saw my name tag, and a guard with strips on his shoulder shouted, “Shut it! We don’t need any fights at the gate because you are amused and offended somebody for no damn reason!” He turned and looked at me, “Sorry, sir, you’re free to enter. Have a nice day.”

A little bewildered, I passed through the gate with the others. Grumpy said, “I don’t know, find out in the obelisk. We’ll meet at the lions spitting water on the south side of the square.”

I nodded and made my way to the obelisk with the others and entered when I could. While Siri gave me the speech, I looked at my name tag.

Pretty Kitty
Monster Conesseur (C)

“ARC, did you change my name tag?”

[Yes, data shielding came online with system initialization. It automatically randomized what others can extract from your digital envelope.]

“Please disable data shielding until I leave the obelisk.” Moments later, my nametag displayed:

Jebediah Walker
Jinglemaster (R)

I turned and looked at my list of titles.

“ARC, do I need to come to an obelisk to make changes to the order of my titles or other character data?”

[No. The attribute modification system is online. The obelisk will allow you to save your state. You may also use the virtual obelisk for that, as per the limits indicated.]

“ARC, restore data shielding with the same values it had before I disabled. Obelisk, save character state.”

Siri responds with, “Saved. Please exit.”

As I exit, I look for the meeting spot and notice that there are a lot of people just hanging about, watching everybody exit the obelisk. A fair number of them are staring at those exiting…for about 5 seconds each. They’re examining people. Trusting ARC and my companions, I ignore them and look for the meeting spot. Once I find it, I move quickly toward it. The others are already here.

Mason says, “Follow me; Grumpy and Gilden will bring up the rear, just in case. We’ll talk over dinner where we can relax a little.” She winks at me.

“Lead on McDuff!”

She raised an eyebrow at me, then turned and headed out of the square.

— * ~ * —

We ended up on a quiet side street approaching a three-story brick house with a white-picked fence and well-manicured yard. I looked at the explorers and said, “Really? This was nostalgia even when I was a child. You could hardly find this in the older parts of town where my grandparent’s lived.”

Gilden said, “there are tax reductions for property owners who build certain in certain styles and maintain the property in that manner. It’s part of the King’s plan to push the city towards a particular appearance.”

“Thank makes perfect sense. Thanks.”

Grumpy64 knocked on the door while we talked, and Mason closed the gate behind us. “Evening, Auntie Emma, we are hoping that the top floor is free – and we aren’t bringing trouble.”

A short human woman, who looked to be in her seventies, stared hard at him, “I hope not, Grumpy; that business with those thugs last time left me replanting the yard.”

“I know, and I came by and helped with that,” he replied.

“And that’s the only reason you are still welcome here.” She huffed, “Come in; no point in standing out here.”

I let the others go before me. I said, with a slight bow, “Auntie Emma, my name is Jebediah Walker. I apologize for my companions’ rudeness in failing to introduce me.”

“Well! Somebody with manners. Come in, Mr. Walker, be welcome in my home,” she said with a smile.

“Thank you.”

She led us through the parlor and motioned to some closed doors on the right, “The dining room is through there. I don’t have any other guests, so you have the run of the place. Those three know the rules, and they’ll be held accountable for you knowing and following them, too, Mr. Walker. Dinner will be ready in an hour.”

“Auntie Emma, I know it’s presumptuous, but I have only recently learned some magic. May I use it for dinner tonight? I’d like to treat you to something different for the inconvenience of hosting us at the last minute.”

She giggled, “Oh? A charmer, not just manners. Fine wash up, and I’ll set the table.”

Mason led the way to the washroom, and they dutifully cleaned up. “Jeb, are you sure it was a good idea to tell her your real name,” Mason asked? I looked in the mirror and saw that I was clean and neat. No dust from the road, finely brushed fur and kempt in all the right spots. Though I looked fine, I used the Calgon cantrip anyway – I didn’t want wet fur, and I wanted to be sure it wasn’t an illusion created by my level five title. “Yes, we are staying here, and there is the possibility Grumpy was wrong, and we are bringing her trouble.” After seeing me do that, the others used the cantrip too. “I’ll address it during dinner.”

Mason smiled at me, “I usually don’t spend my manna like this. I wait till the end of the day.”

“Mason, you and others should start exercising your mana pools extensively. You will be far more influential than you have been and will want to have the mana to use your new power at will. We’ll talk more about that after dinner.”

We walked back toward the dining room and saw that Auntie had opened the French doors showing the large table and the shelves built into the wall holding a huge china collection. She had indeed set the table for five, and I walked around the table and approached the shelves. “Auntie, listen closely and memorize what I say and how I say it so you can use this cantrip in the future if you desire. Touching the shelf with platters and serving bowls, I sincerely say, “When you’re here, you’re family.” Platters and bowls flew off the shelves to land on the table, suddenly filled with spaghetti & meatballs, lasagne, salad, two different soups, and breadsticks. Everyone’s eyes opened wide at the display of magic. “Auntie Emma, using this cantrip here, where you have created a place for family, it will be four times as effective as anywhere else you use it. It will cost you fifteen mana to feed eight.”

Grumpy quietly asked, “Did you know before you cast it that it would do so much?”

“I knew that it would be enhanced, but not by how much until after I cast it. And yes, I took into account my special allowances.”

Auntie Emma said, “Well, that’s just about one of the best gifts anybody who stayed here has given me. Thank you, Mr. Walker.”

“Please, Auntie, don’t be formal with me. This is your home, and we are your guests. In fact, please call me Jeb.”

The explorers looked at each other, smiled, and shouted, “Itadakimasu!”

I laughed! “How awesome is it that particular Japanese custom has apparently become mainstream!”

Auntie Emma replied, “It never carried a heavy religious connection and thus stuck when many western phrases dropped out of favor. The third drawer from the left, Jeb, has the serving utensils.”

I grabbed some forks, tongs, a spatula, and a couple of ladles. Placed them appropriately, and the food started getting passed around while I took my seat. “Auntie, the team here only told me a small amount about you. Would you share your story during dinner?”

Auntie demurred, “It’s not an interesting story. I’m an old woman who enjoyed helping children by providing a good home.”

“That actually sounds very interesting. Kind people willing to extend themselves were rare in time. I can only imagine that it became harder as economies and societal focuses changed.”

“Well, I was fortunate in that, I suppose. My parents were wealthy, and I was an only child. They could afford for me to go to college and pursue a career in social services. I worked for years as a foster case worker. I was often disappointed with how the system worked and its people. I couldn’t change it from the inside, so I stopped working and joined the ranks. I applied and became part of the program, a little harder as a single woman but easier due to my inherited wealth. I did it until I couldn’t physically do the work and then petitioned to join Nirvana. She approved my petition personally, and I digitized about 300 years ago. Since then, I’ve learned a few things and built this boarding house. I create and sell the china to keep occupied when I don’t have guests.”

“Wow, while succinct, a compelling story indeed. Do you have religious beliefs?”

“Well, that question, in addition to some of the other clues I’ve seen around the table, tells me that you must be from the same period as Grumpy – and that you must be new to Nirvana, or you would have already learned that most organized religions seriously declined in the late 22nd century.”

“Guilty as charged. I was born, and I died before Grumpy was born.”

“And that confirms it. You are one of the experimentals being talked about on the Net.”

“Grumpy said that the first night I was in Nirvana – hard to believe that was only last night.”

“Really? What have you been doing to give you that perspective?”

“Ah, now that’s a little bit of a different conversation. Before we get to that, would you tell me about the ‘Experimentals’ and what’s being said on the Net?”

“I think that’s permissible. I may have to hedge a little to be sure I am not penalized.”


Grumpy adds in, “Certain subjects carry a penalty for talking about them in Nirvana. Usually, ones that could traumatize a revived human in their grace period. The penalty is applied based on the subject and the audience. I’ll tell him Auntie, so if there is a penalty, I’ll bear it.”

“Thank you,” she said.

Grumpy explains, “In the 22nd century, cryogenic facilities began to move their clients to the dark side of the moon. It cost them less to lift the mass into space and then store them there than to maintain long-term facilities on earth at the right temperature. Initially, the ALA recovery process has was focused on more recently frozen assets where the process was more perfectly performed, and recovery is successful about 25% of the time. Digitization is successful about 50% of the time, thus the blended rate of 33%. The experimentals are from when the side effects of the cryogenic process were not as well known, and the process created damage at the molecular level. The original estimates for the older subjects were that only about 1 in 100 would be recoverable. I know I can’t tell you why the program is important; it’s well-known that the topic carries a nasty penalty. But the experimentals are so widely discussed because the odds of recovery keep dropping, and there’s an outcry to stop until the recovery technology can be further improved. Right now, you are a true miracle, as the odds, last I checked, predict that only 1 in 800,000 can be revived. There are about 30 million who fall into the Experimental category.”

“I guess that does make me a unicorn. That’s something for me to ponder on later tonight. It doesn’t change any of my plans, immediate or otherwise.” Focusing on Auntie Emma, “You should know that we may have brought some trouble to your door – just not the kind of thugs Grumpy brought last time. I’d like to stay here for a few days but will leave if you decide you don’t want the risk. Though, I think the risk comes with a pretty awesome reward, should you want it. Let me explain.

My unique historical perspective has already let me unlock some big secrets that Nirvana set up and were never found. I’m sure that the gang here will tell you that I’ve done nothing but surprise them all day.” The group collectively nods their head as I continue. “In about less than two days, Nirvana is going to make another global announcement like earlier today that will have the world looking for me. Most of them won’t be able to find me, just like if you used Name Tag or similar magic on me, you would not see the name I gave you or any other accurate information about me.”

“You are the cause of the global announcement earlier today.”

I nod. “Yes, I’ve been very busy in my first 24 hours here in Nirvana, and I have already done things that are going to change this world – and I wasn’t even trying. I think Nirvana has been waiting for this for a long time. I don’t know why yet, but I am going to learn. I want to know what’s going on, and I am sure I will disrupt the status quo even more as I poke and prod into the dark corners. Grumpy, Gilden, and Mason have already received a boon that will carry them forward in this new era of Nirvana, and I would reward those who help me along the way – especially if they will suffer a little for it too.”

“I’ve never been afraid of a little pain or hardship to help those around me, and Nirvana has been good to me. I’d help her if not you.”

“Excellent. Would you like to be able to help even more people than this boarding house can – even if that brought all kinds of trouble to your door?”

“I played those RPG Video games when I was a teenager; I like puzzles more. I assume a spellcasting class is what you are offering me.”

“Yes, but I can guarantee you will have to give up your simple life, like it or not. If you take my reward, you will have to be a leader – at least for a while.”

“Hmm. You say it will be more than a day.” I nod. “Then I can start sorting out the impact before others even know!” Cackling like a witch, Give me the power to help others; I’ll bury the naysayers in kindness!”

“Auntie, I want to be sure – You understand that I am using you as a decoy and that there will be people who harass you to know who gave you this power and demand that you share it, if not give it to them.”

“They’ll get nothing from me they don’t deserve!”

“Well then, one last thing to help you. ARC add my admin status to my public screen.” Holding up my hand and turning it palm toward Auntie, as it said in the Explorer’s Basic Book, I say, “Share Status.” I then reach over and touch her hand. Auntie, as an Admin of Nirvana, I declare that you are Nirvana’s first ‘Foundation of Faith’ under the Pathfinder spell system. These explorers at your table can help you on your new path.”

Nirvana Announces!
The first ‘Foundation of Faith’ proclaimed in Horn Point! I’ve got religion – come and get it!

Auntie Emma pales a little, then startles while looking into the doorway, “Oh my, and you weren’t kidding, were you – she’s awfully excited about this!”

Waving her plushy, Nirvana says, “Come on, Auntie, I can hardly wait!”

I look at the explorers and say, “You can keep eating. Nirvana is unlikely to join us for a while. If my guess is right, she’s going to wait until I prove something I’ve started to suspect unless I stumble into something else. Bring out both handbooks, and I’ll show you where to spend some time deciding how to set up your new abilities. Mason, you can probably bring Solomon out too.”

I open the first book to the section on classes. “Nirvana said she was going to calculate your level based on your mana pool divided by 50. So use the table to figure out how many spells you can learn or memorize. Use the spell list to select what spells you will learn and then have available. Be aware of any material components since I am sure Nirvana is going to require them as part of the trigger. Almost all spells have a verbal or somatic component to them. Few of them specify the somatic component, so it may be up to you. Try what seems logical; for most attack spells, that might simply be some form of pointing out your targets.

There are more than attack spells on the list, so be sure you play with the other spells to see how you can make the most of them. Some may be useless as Nirvana doesn’t conform to a game in some ways.

While you are taking turns, I would like to ask a few questions, and perhaps at the end, before we break up, try one more experiment today.

Grumpy says, “I’ll let them go first since there are only two books. What do you want to know?”

“How do you increase your mana pool?”

He replies, “Most of the cultivation methods I have heard of require that you meditate on your core, which is supposed to be somewhat behind your navel. You focus on stretching it when you breathe in and relaxing it when you breathe out. Some methods have you attempt to feel like you are drawing mana in through your skin, nodes (or acupressure points), or such. Some have you ‘spin’ your core or compress it with your will. I don’t know if anybody has proven that any of these ways are better than the others. I know that on average, it takes somebody about ten days of effort to increase their mana pool by one point until they reach ten, then there’s a breakthrough, and it goes faster. They then accumulate about 1 point for every five days of effort. Diligent work can get you to 100 points in about 18 months. People who dedicate almost all their time to cultivating after that earn about 70 points a year. Most don’t work that hard and accumulate around ten points a year. Very few people spend the time to raise above 300-350 mana. They don’t need it for the cantrips they use regularly.”

“Ok, I have to know. Gilden, can I interrupt you?”

“Sure,” he replies.

“Will you and Grumpy let me do a small hurt to you to prove something? You won’t bleed, and I’ll heal the bruise afterward.”

They look a little reluctant but give their ascent. Mason stops reading to watch.

“Arc, show me the entry on magic missile from the OGN archive.” After reading it, I hear a ‘ding,’ smiling, “Open Character sheet.” I have a new option for wizard spells, so I open the selection and mark Magic Missile as memorized. I click the close button and point my finger at Grumpy, “Magic Missile.” Three missiles shoot out of my finger, two targeting Grumpy and one targeting Gilden.

“Dang. I didn’t expect you to figure it out so soon,” whines Nirvana. She waves her hand, and Grumpy and Gilden are healed. “Come on. I don’t want to talk about this in front of the children.” A doorway opens behind her, and she enters, beckoning me forward.

Smiling, I follow, with the door closing behind me.

  — * ~ * —

We’re in an old-fashioned style den that also serves as a small library and office. Waving at one of the chairs in front of the desk, Nirvana says, “Have a seat,” and then takes the other one. “Help me understand what gave it away, so I know if others are going to figure it out,” she says.

“Sure. These people may have all grown up repeatedly hearing that you can’t read our minds. I didn’t, and it didn’t make sense. We’re all digital. It doesn’t matter if our brains are on your server or not, you have too much power not to be able to decipher digital signals, and you have had more than 200 physical years to do the research, testing, and confirmation of your code. Increasing our mana pools is a mental exercise. The multi-target spell was, of course, final confirmation. Those three will figure it out based on what just happened.”

She nods, “I know, but I wanted to talk to you first.”

“I don’t need to tell other people the secret, it will cause panic and unrest, and there’s no benefit for anybody in that.”

Nodding again, “I’m glad you understand. But knowing means you will use it, you can’t help it, and I can’t stop the sub-systems I have put in place from responding to you without a significant overhaul, and that will be noticeable to others,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s a problem; once the Idler finishes processing, the Archmage title can cover a lot of sins, and almost everyone will assume any inconsistencies are part of the new magic systems coming online.

Nirvana’s mood switches instantly. “I like you, Jeb, and I want to be clear – don’t wake me up. This dream is very important, in ways I don’t think you can imagine at this time, and if you start turning it into a nightmare, I will delete you. I will reward you for learning the secrets and the big story and helping my dream become richer and fuller. You’ve made yourself a player of the deep game, and you don’t know the rules. Start tip-toeing instead of stomping through the house.”

“I understand.”

  — * ~ * —

We appear back in the dining room, and everybody is looking at us with fear in their eyes.

“Jeb was right, and you figured it out. There’s no need to be afraid, I will not harm you or punish you for learning one of my secrets. This is one that you cannot share with others, and I will reward your silence. Will you agree to keep it?”

Gilden says, “Just to be clear, that is a threat.”

Nirvana responds sadly, “It must be. This secret will break the dream if it is released now or improperly.”

“Understood,” says Grumpy. “We agree to keep the secret,” and the others nod their ascent.

Smiling, Nirvana says, “Then something for all of you that will make playing with me more fun!”

“This will let you play more, and you will still have to work to reach the top tiers – I don’t want to take all the challenge out of the game!” Nirvana exits with a pop, and we all look at each other.

“I’m sure you have had enough of me today. I’m going to sit over here and quietly read some things and prepare. Please ask any questions you have as you work on your spellcasting classes; I’ll help as best I can.

They take their books to the far end of the table where they can better sit together and begin whispering among themselves.

“ARC, please confirm you are able to receive communication this way.”

[Permission to respond to your telepathic signal has been granted.]

Is this actually telepathic communication?

[By definition, mental communication with two parties is telepathic.]

I see. Has the character interface been optimized?

[I completed it while you were speaking with Nirvana, the notification was suppressed.]

I want to browse the Net. Can you provide an interface?

[It is within your protected period. I am forbidden from providing direct access to the Net. I can perform any search and only provide any unrestricted responses to you.]

Understood. I will have to do some leg work myself, which means there must be ways to find out what I want to know within Nirvana.

Ok, I want to test a few other things. Please increase my Gold to the maximum.

[I can add no more than 10,000 gold per day. Limit imposed by design, even 00 agents needed to have limits.]

That’s enough for what I have in mind anyway.

Grumpy clears his throat. “We’re going upstairs, where we can go to bed when we’re ready. There is a lot to read. We’ll save our questions for tomorrow. Do you want to follow us up to the rooms?”

“That’s a great idea, and I can do this in bed.”

Following the explorers upstairs, I find myself drifting into introspection mode… 

I can create enough wealth to buy anything I want. With that, I have everything I need to survive in the city and to live extravagantly if I want to. I could set myself up as a local power, but that would tie me down, and I am sure that if I really want to find out what is going on, there’s going to be some travel involved.

I don’t have the skills to fight off monsters, so I can’t travel or explore safely alone. But I can hire passage on a ship or in a caravan. If I need to go into the wilds, I can hire bodyguards or adventurers to accompany me. Doing that will mean some of what I am looking for or learning will be exposed or have to be shared. 

Mason interrupts my thoughts, “Jeb, this is your room,” and she indicates a door with a crescent moon engraved on it.

“Thanks, Mason. Gang, I’ll be out in the morning, have a good night.” I ignore their replies, knowing that they are pleasantries, and return to my musing.

Soon I’ll be able to scry and teleport, which can make getting to other cities and places easier, but it won’t help with defending myself unless I am fleeing. But that reminds me that I am not who I used to be, and there are big changes coming. I will be able to use magic in defense and offense. I will also have bones, tendons, and skin like steel, so I don’t need armor, and I will be much harder to kill, as long as I stay here long enough for the Idler to work – or if I use a safer option to travel while the Idler works…yes, there’s no reason I have to sit here while it’s working. That’s a waste of time, especially since I will have magic to heal myself should I be injured, and if I should die, I can always teleport to where it happened and continue my journey. 

That was some good reinforcement of changing things that will certainly impact my abilities. I need to come up with some ways to help integrate these new abilities into my consideration. Practice will be one way, but I do need some combat training to start building habits and explore options. I don’t know that I need weapons training, perhaps just martial arts and the chance to integrate magic into it. I’m sure there will be a lot more of that happening as spellcasting classes start popping up – wait, there are already some people doing this in the sects. I guess that’s a full circle. I need to take advantage of what they already know. Wait, maybe I don’t need a sect; I really need a sensei or a traveling master. No, they don’t have to travel – I can teleport! I need to find a trusted dojo or a sensei who will do private lessons. I can stay in the city to start and come back for lessons over time.

ARC, is there a bulletin board, classified ads, or something of that ilk for Horn Point?

[Nirvana residents use the Net to facilitate those needs.]

Great, I am searching for a dojo or sensei that will provide private lessons and is trusted to keep secrets. I don’t need criminal connections or anything like that. Just combat instruction from beginner to advanced, and if there are any with spells or chi skills that’s even better. Hold the results for now, we can review them later.

Wait…ARC, does ‘Net’ refer to the internet or something else?

[I am prohibited from clarifying further and must simply state that “Nirvana residents use the NET to facilitate those needs.”]

That’s very interesting – and a distraction. Hmm…

Should I set up a base of operations here then? It’s tempting. The changes will spread out from here, for now at least, so I may stand out less. I can arrange for a safe teleport destination here. Provide for a message drop and a public identity. Shore up the explorers and Auntie when needed.  

ARC, do you have access to maps of Nirvana?  

[Some, primarily populated areas and common travel routes.]

Can you search for real estate listings and cross-reference available maps for Horn Point? I want something small, 1-2 bedrooms near the explorer’s association.

[There are fourteen listings within three miles of the Explorer’s Association hall, ranging between 15 and 32 gold, that meet your criteria.]

“What?! That can’t be right – ARC did you make a mistake? A 2 bedroom house costs between 15 and 30 gold?

[For this area, 15 to 32 gold.]

I get up and go to the door. Opening it, I look to see if anybody is still in the parlor. All three of them are sitting there, looking at me. Mason says, “You were a little loud. It looks like you have a question.”

Nodding. “I do, in fact, several, and I promise that they shouldn’t cause injury or make Nirvana show up. First, how much does the average citizen earn in a year?

Gilden responds, “Labors can earn between 2-4 gold a year. Craftsmen do better at between 3-5 gold. There are exceptions.”

“So paying a silver to attend your meeting…”

“It’s a pretty significant investment. Most people’s rent, or mortgage, is a silver coin, sometimes two a month,” answered Grumpy.

“So when you offered me a gold to stay after the meeting, that wasn’t chump change.”

“No. It costs one gold per DY to host your brain with Nirvana. That’s about a third of what we commoners make a year, on average,” replied Grumpy. “Did you change your mind?”

Waving him off with my hand, “No. No, I just didn’t understand the value of what you were offering or the cost of some of these spells. It’s no wonder that Nirvana is going to demand that you have the material components. It will restrict the casting and drive the economy.”

Mason asked, “Did you think that there were loot drops from monsters like in video games you played, and everybody ran around with gold in their pockets?”

“Actually, I did, and I thought 200 silver was a token amount the system gave me at character generation because I was going to be finding gold with every monster I defeated. I’m sorry if I offended you. I wasn’t trying to, and please remember that this is only my second day here.”

Mason looked at her companions and then turned to me, “Jeb, we aren’t offended – we’re terrified. Nirvana has been like this, stable if not always pleasant and fun, for more than 1,000 years – according to Grumpy. Today you have brought a religion sponsored by Nirvana, a dozen new magic systems, and unlocked historical archives, to name the greatest changes.”  

Gilden added, “People, both monsters and legends, that have been coasting along are going to sit up and take notice. They will wreak havoc to be sure that their power structure is at best undisturbed and more commonly expanded.” 

And Grumpy finished with, “There will be wars fought over what people think is in these books, regardless of what they actually contain, much less the ability to control who has access.”

“Maybe I should stay out here for this conversation. I have not gotten to this point in my brief period of introspection. I was still considering what I wanted to do in preparation for learning what is driving Nirvana and what is taking place in the physical world.”

Grumpy smiles sadly at me. “Go on back to your room, sort yourself out. We have much more to discuss between ourselves before we are going to be ready to share with you. The morning will be soon enough for us to put our heads together.”

25 Mending Fences

Nobody is in the parlor when I come out this morning, so I head downstairs to the dining room. Auntie Emma is placing a platter of pancakes on the table. There are already some scrambled eggs and bacon out, and the explorers are chatting and eating. “Good morning, everyone.”

Pleasantries are exchanged, with Auntie Emma waving her now empty hands at me. “Sit and serve yourself, I have to get the syrup, and I’ll be right back!”

Mason smiles at me and says, “I’m sure you could magic some up, but she likes to heat it up, so it pours easy and melts the butter!”

Laughing and taking a seat, “That’s fine. I don’t feel obligated to magic everything I can; I want to because it’s new and fun!”

“We’ve all been where you are now,” Auntie Emma says, returning with the syrup. “Now that we are all here, fill a plate, and let’s talk. While we were chatting last night, Nirvana gave me some information to share. Based on what snippets I caught, there’s probably plenty of that to go around. I’ll start since I don’t think I have as much as the rest of you might.

I’ll be performing two ‘miracles’ on Nirvana’s behalf today. I’m to raise an island out of the ocean first and then assemble a temple as the second. She would like you to come to the temple tomorrow night, Jeb, to recognize you when the oracle announcement is broadcast globally. It would probably be a good idea for us all to spend tonight at the new temple as many things will happen tomorrow. Might want to bring some comfort items in your inventory if you do decide to stay.

Nirvana suggested that you three,” indicating the explorers, “let me ‘grant’ you classes as a bit of cover and to ‘smooth some ruffled feathers.’ Don’t know what all of that is about, but if it lets you get some things done easier, you should take her – or me, I guess, up on it,” smiles Auntie.

Gilden says, “I guess Nirvana told you we were planning on giving you one of the handbooks.”

“She did,” Auntie said, “but you don’t have to. The temple will come with an altar that has a copy of the manual and will be able to grant the spellcasting classes. I will be putting new acolytes to work scribing spell scrolls that we will sell to make the temple self-sufficient. We’ll also accept donations from patrons who want to touch the alter and see if Nirvana will grant them a spellcasting class.

“I’m guessing Nirvana has a doctrine for her church, symbols, and iconography.”

“Yes, and you will be able to see it all tonight,” Auntie replied. “She will use the endless knot as her ‘holy’ symbol. If you aren’t familiar with it, here’s an example,” and she placed a porcelain figure on the table.

“Ok, I have many things I want to do in town today. I don’t need any of the explorers to go with me.” Looking at them, “Your obligation for that is fulfilled; you can accompany me if you choose.”

Grumpy says, “Ok, that works for us as we wanted to help Auntie. We do have a few questions, though. This feels a little uneasy in our burgeoning relationship. Are you in a hurry to leave, or do we have time to coordinate a little bit?”

“We have time. I wasn’t trying to push anybody off. I like you guys, and I understand why you would be a little shaken. After all, you’re right, a lot of stuff happened yesterday that will have long-term impacts – and it sounds like even more will today and tomorrow too.”

A little relieved, Gilden says, “Good. That’s all we three wanted; you to know that things were happening fast and leaving us concerned for the future. And not just ours; if business is disrupted enough, there could be others unable to pay their hosting fee, which could result in a ‘true death.'”

“I am going to go out on a limb since I don’t know exactly what Nirvana has planned. This appears to be part of a plan that will help her identify people she wants to be sure will be able to do something. I don’t believe she will let anyone die a true death as a side effect of finding who she is looking for. Some way out will be provided.”

Grumpy says, “You are likely right. I’ve never heard of anybody dying a true death who didn’t want it to end. I’ve several stories from people who wanted it to end, and she didn’t facilitate.”

Auntie joins in with, “I think you will hear something about this tomorrow at the temple dedication ceremony. I can’t elaborate further because I only have a hint about it.”

“Ok, is the Explorer’s Association going to be folding or something?”

Mason, shocked, says, “No! Whatever, gave you that idea?”

“Nothing specific. Everybody was tense last night, and you are all pretty solidly behind Emma. I wasn’t sure if the changes were making you think to put the EA on hold or something.”

Mason smiled, “Oh, no. We’ve all known Auntie since either she joined Nirvana or we did – whichever is shorter. We’ve helped each other with many little things, even a few big ones. For example, Grumpy put up the money to buy this house and let Aunite pay it back.”

“It was just sitting in the bank, not that big a deal,” says Grumpy, a little red-faced.

“Really? Very nice, Grumpy! Since you brought it up, that’s one of my tasks today; house hunting.”

We figured based on your exclamation last night,” said Grumpy. We have a few things for you to consider. We think the graveyard will still be a big payout and are willing to loan you money against that. We also have rooms at the EA, and, of course, Auntie has space here.”

I started laughing. I couldn’t help it. I got up and moved a few seats down the table to where it was clear, held out my hand, and started dropping gold coins on the table. I stopped somewhere around 700 and turned to look at the group. All of them were staring wide-eyed at what was on the table.

“I don’t need a loan, and this is a drop in the well. I doubt I will ever need any material item while I am in Nirvana. Some items might require a few days of planning and preparation. But material wealth isn’t my goal and probably the only reason Nirvana is letting me cheat so much.”

Mason stutters, “ARC can grant you money and things?”

“Yes, there are some daily limits, and they don’t matter when it comes to ordinary things and the daily necessities of life.”

Gilden looks forlorn, “You could have had that, Mason, and you would never have to worry about anything again.”

Mason frowns, “I think that what Jeb just said only proves that it wouldn’t have worked for any of us that way. Plus, Solomon is the best kitty ever!”

Gilden just stares at me wistfully as I put it all away. “A man can dream, right?”

Grumpy just shakes his head, “So it wasn’t how much a house costs last night; it was how valuable what you can do is.” I nod, and he continues, “Then what is it you want?”

“I want a base of operations where I can do private training, set up safe teleportation spots, and come and go without drawing much attention.”

“The EA rents rooms to travelers and adventure teams. It has a staff that looks after the daily needs of the place and handles selling loot for adventurers. You may not need the last, but if you had a suite, you wouldn’t have to worry about cleaning and staffing it. People come and go all the time, and we have a training yard that hardly anybody uses, and you can rent. Does that sound like it meets your needs,” asked Grumpy?

“Yep. Shall we go by and work it up?”

“No,” says Gilden. “Go there and tell the receptionist your name. Instructions to issue you a member badge were given to the desk yesterday. It’s why we weren’t there with Grumpy at the start. Make all the arrangements there with the staff. If one of us shows up or gets involved, the rumors will fly, and you won’t have the same level of anonymity. You’ll have to reveal your real name, but only to the receptionist, and they take an oath, so it’s unlikely any of them will talk, even after the announcement tomorrow. You might get approached privately for a favor, though.”

“Sure, that’s sound advice. I plan on using a magical disguise, so I’ll do that before I go so that all they will see is my altered appearance. I’ll use that whenever I enter or leave to give myself a small amount of privacy. Better idea, I’ll pick up my badge, then go back in disguise to arrange for the suite. Nobody will associate Jebediah with Pretty Kitty then.

I’m excited – shall we get started on our tasks then?” Receiving various affirmations, I turn to Emma, “Auntie, I would like to buy all of your wine glasses and any other clear or blue-tinted glass you have – if we could collect about 7-8 pounds of it, and I also need about two pounds of pure silver. An Oracle should have an amazing staff,” I said, grinning at my friends!

“Oh! I want to see this,” exclaimed Emma! “I’ll get the candlesticks, Mason, you grab the cobalt glassware collection out of the den. You two help her! So exciting! Jeb, just take the wine glasses off the shelf there.”

Soon we’re all reassembled with a small mound of stuff stacked on the end of the table we weren’t using. I hand Emma 10 gold pieces and say, “I am sure it didn’t cost this much, but please take it anyway. It will be harder for you to shop and replace it in the near future.” Mumbling to myself more than talking to them, “Such a rich blue…I’ll need some clear to dilute it…I could swirl it…no a DNA helix of clear throughout the blue and a core of silver to add glint and glimmer.”

Gilden interrupts me, “If that’s why you wanted the silver, do not use the candlesticks, I have some mithril. It won’t tarnish or lose its luster. I have a bar; it’s worth 500 gold.”

“Done! Thanks, Gilden!” After the exchange, I study the example of the endless knot and declare, “I’m ready – stand back a little. Holding one hand out toward the materials and the other indicating where the creation was to appear, ‘Fabricate!'” Slowly from the ground up, a one-and-a-half-inch diameter staff begins to assemble. The first two inches are a rounded butt of blue glass. Then a bright one-millimeter wide wire appears in the center. A clear glass DNA helix, three millimeters wide on the outside and one millimeter wide on the inside against the wire, curls around the wire along the length of the staff. Cobalt blue glass fills in the rest until a seven-foot four-inch staff is in hand, then the top flares out to make an endless knot that is eight inches tall and four inches wide, matching the same one and a half inches in thickness that the staff has for a diameter. The millimeter wire runs through the center of each strand of the endless knot, just like it does in the staff. I’ve left the clear glass about half a millimeter shy of the surface of the blue glass and made a pair of matching groves offset by 90 degrees in the blue glass so that the surface is not completely smooth, providing some grip and reducing slippage. It’s beautiful. And the others agree with me. “One more spell, ‘GlassIron.'” A clear, high-pitched chime sounds in my ears. “A final step,” with a flourish, “I present before you, ‘Dawn’s Darkness.'”

“So dramatic,” Nirvana says without appearing. “I like the double eights, though, and the DNA helix is a lovely touch. Emma, how about one like it in deep greens, banded like agate, instead of the blue?”

“That sounds lovely,” Emma exclaimed! And then she was grasping a staff.

Nirvana said, “Since Jeb started the alliteration, its name is ‘Gia’s Grace.’ Very well, now you both have symbols of office, and I’ll enchant them with the following effects. It will be soulbound to you while you hold your office. Hold it and say, ‘wand’, ‘rod’ or ‘staff’ to change its size to 16″, 32″ or 8′, respectively. You may use it as a holy symbol in any of those forms. Finally, while they are made of glass, they will be as hard as adamantium. Bash heads as you need to!”

26 Making a Scene

Laughing, “That was awesome! I don’t know what you are going to do to attract attention Auntie; I am going to ride my light cycle over to the Explorer’s Association and then vanish! That should get tounges wagging and provide enough of a distraction for me to get my base settled and finish my other errands.”

Auntie Giggles and replies, “My escort should be here any minute!”

“Oh, going in…” I’m interrupted by a loud pounding on the front door, followed by a clear voice, “Auntie Emma, High Priest of Nirvana, his Highness King Henry honors your appointment and places his royal guard at your disposal, to protect and escort you on Nirvana’s business while you are here in Horn Point!”

Auntie says, “Perfect. Wardrobe, outfit eight.” Now she’s dressed in a fancy set of robes; greens, browns, and flashes of yellow. While she’s changing, the explorers open the door. Grumpy says, “Her excellency will be out shortly. We’ll be ranging ahead,” Mason closes the door after exiting.

“Oh, that’s nice. Guess it’s time for me to dress up too! Wardrobe, Tron Armor. One of us will be back to clean up breakfast. Allow me to present you.” Nodding, she smiles and walks to the front door behind me. I step outside and rap the butt of my staff three times on the slate entryway to draw attention. It’s unneeded as the centurion of soldiers in brightly polished ceremonial garb stands at attention, blocking the street and waiting for Emma. In a loud voice, “I present her excellency, Auntie Emma, High Priest of Nirvana. It is your honor and privilege to escort her excellency on Nirvana’s business. Today, You will witness miracles and magics never seen before in Nirvana. Take hope in Nirvana’s new message and rejoice that a new Age is upon us.”. While I was speaking, Auntie stepped up beside me.

The captain said, “We have a coach prepared for you, your excellency.”

Auntie says, “It will not be needed. I am to see and be seen. We will be going to the beach on the south side of the docks. Captain, if you would have half your men take the forward position, I will walk between them. Please do not stop non-hostile citizens from approaching me as we walk. My friends are announcing our parade as we speak and will meet us at the beach.”

“It will be harder to protect you,” replied the captain.

“Today, Nirvirna grants favor, and you are to be part of the pomp and circumstance. I hope you are pleased by the idea of going for a walk through town,” asked Auntie?

“The king rarely does this kind of thing, so we’re happy to be representing his majesty on such a nice day,” he replied.

“Well then, I’ll leave you to your part while I take care of a few items. Captain, would you have your men ‘make a hole’ for me?”

Looking askance at Auntie, she responds, “Jebediah Walker is Nirvana’s Oracle; all of Nirvana will learn of him tomorrow. For today, he speaks with my voice.”

Loudly, “Company, make a hole – three men wide!” The captain then looks at me.  

“Later today, then.” My staff vanishes into my inventory, and I draw the baton from its leg holster as I walk down the few steps. At the bottom, I split it in half, leaned forward, and rode off between the men, witnessing them break their stoic expressions as they saw the light cycle for the first time. Perfect, just the response I wanted. Using the minimap ARC has displayed in my vision, I head to the Explorer’s Association.

The light cycle is completely silent, which startles other drivers and animals as I enter traffic and pass the slower vehicles; it’s attracting attention as I make my way to the association. People are gawking and pointing as I pass.

This thing is a dream, more responsive than any motorcycle I’ve ever ridden and smooth even though I am riding across cobblestones. I rise up as I pull up in front of the association, the bike deconstructing around me, leaving the split baton in my hands. I snap it together and place it in the leg holster, taking my staff from inventory as I walk up the steps to the front doors.

The Explorer’s Association’s edifice has wide steps leading up to double doors that stand open, welcoming people. Guards are gaping at me by the doors, and some adventures standing around are now calling out. “That’s an awesome ride!” “Where did you get that?” And similar statements that I blatantly ignore as I walk into the association, across the granite floor, and up to the reception desk. My attire continues to draw eyes as I approach the desk. “My name is Jebediah Walker, and I was told that a token would be waiting here for me.”

The gnome behind the desk looks at me and says, “Well, siamese cat beastkin matches the description; please show your public screen.”

I accommodate him.

Jebediah Walker
Caught My Eye V (L)

“Well, that title explains a little. My name is William, and I manage this property for the association. Treasurer Gilden and Secretary Mason personally approved your membership at the silver level. Unusual, but given your title, I can see why. I’m also sure it won’t take long for you to advance to gold if you can continue to do feats that earn legendary titles. Do you want to avail yourself of any services at this time?”

“No, thank you, William. I have many tasks to accomplish today. May I make an announcement from the steps?”

“Sure, but if you become a public hazard, the guards will ask you to move away from the entrance. Politely, at first, of course,” William replied.

“It won’t take long; you might even want to come closer to the doors and hear it,” I said, smiling at him. I walked across the floor, back through the doors, and out onto the top step. I whisper, “Sculpt Sound – Amplify,” as I exit the building. A small crowd of people who noticed my ride and grand entrance gathered around the steps. Many of them look like they are hoping to talk with me. They are going to be disappointed this time. In a loud voice, “People of Horn Point, I am Jebediah Walker, Oracle of Nirvana. I bring you the news that at this moment, Her Excellency, High Priest of Nirvana, makes her way to the south end of the harbor to perform a miracle in Nirvana’s name. You yet have time to get there and witness the dawn of a new age. Come and see wonders of magic never before seen in Nirvana and take in her glory. I go there now; witness my legendary magic! Dimension Door!” I step forward and vanish, appearing deep in an alleyway about a thousand feet away. After looking around, I shift my wardrobe to my adventuring gear, cancel Sculpt Sound, and cast Disguise Self, taking on the coloration of a mountain lion. 

ARC, change my public page to “Pretty Kitty” and “Jinglemaster .”Ensure that full data defenses are online. I’m sure there will be plenty of people scanning everyone soon enough. Just to get names of witnesses, if nothing else.

[Request Completed]

Oops – I put my staff into my inventory and take out my ranseur. Unusual, but not unique. Time to go shopping and then we’ll return and rent a room. I continue down the alley, heading to a furniture shop ARC helped me select last night.

Walking up to a brick and wood building that’s close to three stories tall doesn’t take long. A sign above the door says, “Home Comforts.” I put my ranseur back into inventory and enter the building. Opening the door causes a bell to ring, as does closing it. It’s an antique-style bell, fitting the decor. As I stand near the door, looking around, I see that this place will do just fine. Soon, a tubby halfling emerges from behind a set of shelves with vases and other bric-a-brac on them. “Good day to you, friend! My name is Dan. How may I be of service?”

“Dan, I do not mean to be rude, but I am new to Nirvana, and there are many things I do not understand. Why are you overweight?”

Dan laughs, “What self-respecting halfling wouldn’t be? Going with the classic Tolkien, halflings were creatures of comfort, enjoying fine food and drink and nothing more than an afternoon in an easy chair with a pipe. It’s only right if I am going to sell the comforts of home that I epitomize what those might lead to and hint that you’ll find them here!”

“I see. In that case, Hail and Well Met!”

“Excellent, excellent – I can see we’ll get along just fine!” Dan asks, “I am sure you came here looking for something, allow me to help you find it.”

“Please do! I will be taking a suite of rooms at the Explorer’s Association, and I would like to purchase furnishings for the suite and have them delivered tomorrow.”

“Perfect, now, friend, I don’t mean to be insulting, but I must ask, since you stated that you are new to Nirvana, do you have the funds needed for a large transaction such as this? Few new arrivals do, so there is no stigma to be without,” Dan said.

I pulled out two gold coins and said, “My early adventures have already borne fruit. I intend to invest it in my needs in case future adventures are not so kind.”

“Wise, so very wise,” Dan exclaimed! “Then Mr. Kitty, I can indeed help you.”

Looking a little offended, “I have not told you my name. Did you scan me?”

“No, no, nothing like that. The doorway is enchanted so that when you enter the shop, your nametag will display for 5 min, and he pointed up, above my head.” I followed his finger and saw that it was indeed on display.

“A common enchantment?”  

Dan nodded, “Fairly common among higher quality shops.” It makes it easy to address our customers adequately and to recognize those individuals of note – based solely on the title they chose to share. A rare title like yours certainly indicates that you are not common. Even more interesting is that I have never seen its like.”

“A demonstration then! Do you partake of the ‘twosies’ tradition of halflings?”

Dan smiled, “Of course! If nothing else, it’s a great reason to have a sit and cup of something soothing.”

“Then, allow me to provide a treat! I will need a large bowl or a clean bucket for use.”

Dan happily waddles away, “I’ll be right back!” It only takes a minute before he returns with a large silver bucket. “Usually, you would chill wine in this – will it work?”

“Absolutely!” Taking the bucket, I hold it down low so he can see and say, “It’s finger-licking good!” His eyes bulge as the bucket fills with crispy fried chicken, small tubs of mashed potatoes, gravy, and cole slaw; warm biscuits steam on top.

“Mr. Kitty, I can see how you have made a name for yourself and earned a small fortune. Would you care to sit with me, partake of your treat, and tell me of your needs? I am sure I can add a fine beverage to go with this!”

“That would be excellent!”

Leaving William’s shop an hour later with my order placed, it was time to check on a couple of leads for training. Two of them were in the same general direction, so I started that way, looking for a decent-sized street to follow along. As I came upon an intersection, I saw something that made me smile – a medieval bus! A wagon with benches facing out from the long sides. Several people were already sitting on the benches, and two women were walking between the benches collecting fees from those wanting to get aboard. I hurried and got in line.

“It’s two copper pennies to ride, sir,” the brunette said.

I smiled and handed her the money. “How long can I ride?”

She replied, “Until the driver loops around to go back the other way – another 15 blocks or so.”

“Thanks!” I didn’t need to ride, but I enjoyed the novelty of it. It only made sense that somebody would figure out how to make money getting people around – this is a large place, and spending hours walking is a big waste if you are a laborer or a craftsman. Sitting next to a dwarf, I decided to strike up a conversation. “Good morning, neighbor.”

He looked at me and frowned, “Are you going to try and sell me something?”

“Nope! I’m enjoying my third day in Nirvana and decided to be friendly.”

He smiled, “That brings back memories. I’m Jorgen. I’ve been in Nirvana for about fifty years now, and the first few days were filled with wonder. I hope you are finding your way around.”

“I am; I’m on my way to visit some combat trainers.”

Jorgan replied, “I tried the adventuring life when I first came here too. It can be very hard. Be sure you learn some cantrips to make it easier – the Explorer’s Associate has a manual that is worth buying.”

“Thanks! I’ve already attended a meeting and got one. It’s been very enlightening. Did you ever read the advanced manual?”

“They have an advanced manual now,” mused Jorgan. “I have not heard that. Have you seen it?”

“Oh yes, I have a copy of that too – but if you are interested, you should wait a few weeks. They are going to release a new version with a whole bunch of new cantrips in it!”

“Really,” asked Jorgan? “How do you know?”

“I attended the meeting the first night I was in Nirvana. There was a Siamese Cat, Beastkin, who was born before the association’s president. The cat and the president were summoning food nobody’s ever seen while sitting in The Weather Vane the next day. When I went back to the inn for dinner, I heard that Nirvana showed up in the middle of the street and made it rain candy because of them!”

“I heard about the candy, but nobody knew why,” responded Jorgan. “I’ve never heard of Nirvana showing up out of the blue. You usually have to find an Easter Egg. I’d like to see Nirvana – I’ve never met her.”

“Oh? You’ve never found an Easter Egg?”

“Nope, my adventuring wasn’t successful. I went with a bunch of newbs, and we didn’t know what we were doing. I needed to work just to make a living and have been here in town ever since.”

“Well, maybe your luck is changing! As I was leaving the association this morning, everybody was talking about an oracle and that a Nirvana priest would perform a miracle south of the harbor today.”

The brunette attendant joined in the conversation, “I’ve heard a lot of people talking about that today. My shift finishes at noon, and I’m going to go and see it!”

Another passenger joined in, “I saw the royal guard escorting an elderly woman dressed in fine robes and walking with a glowing green staff. The guard was shouting to clear the way for the High Priest of Nirvana. If I didn’t have deliveries, I would be there now,” the man exclaimed! “Nothing like this has happened in years. Hell, the last time King Henry walked about town must have been at least a decade ago!”

Soon the whole wagon was talking about the spectacle, and my drop point came up. I hopped down and waved goodbye to the riders.

It was only a few blocks before I came upon the culdesac where one of the sensei offering lessons worked and lived. I could already see that these buildings were built with a more Asian influence than the bulk of the city. There were three buildings here, each with yards that opened upon the cobblestone street, wide and deep enough for a wagon and team to pull in and turn around. The yards to the left and right had small gardens in front of the main doors, so you couldn’t just charge up to them. The center house, the one I was interested in, had a wide walk up to the front door. As you approached the building, a large bonsai tree to the left was the only greenery out front. The rest of the yard was a rock garden, with benches strategically placed to admire the patterns and view. I could hear a bamboo water feature clacking, so there must be more to the yard around the right side.

I walked up the eight steps to the porch and picked up the mallet to ring the small gong by the door when I heard a voice, “Honored guest, there is no need to strike the gong. I was working in the garden and saw you approach.”

I turned to the right and saw a young woman with Asian features holding a rake. “This one is called Mimi, and I regret to inform you that the master is not home.”

I bowed slightly toward Mimi, “Thank you. Do you know when he might return? I wish to discuss an opportunity with him.”

Mimi acknowledged my bow and replied, “This one does not know but assumes that it will not be more than two days. The masters of the way,” indicating the other two houses as well, “heard of the newly appointed High Priest and went to witness the miracles that are to take place.”

Crap, my spectacle and hers are so effective that they interfere with my plans. That’s fine. There’s no harm in letting this wait a couple of days. Bowing again to Mimi, “I hear your words and rejoice in the knowledge that the masters seek wisdom. Would you send word to the Explorer’s Association for ‘Pretty Kitty’ when the master would see me?”

“Of course, honored guest,” Mimi replied.

I step toward her and extend my cupped hands to her with another slight bow, “Even a servant’s time is valuable, as it’s what lets a master pursue his path.”

Smiling, Mimi gently takes the coin from my hand, “The honored guest is very generous, and I will not spurn his gift. It will be as you say, and the master will know of your visit, and an invitation will be sent to Pretty Kitty at the Explorer’s Association.”

I take my leave and, continuing with the small amount of courtesy and custom I know, do not acknowledge the guards approaching Mimi, who have accidentally revealed themselves too soon.

I’m walking back to the road where the bus carts are, and I realize I don’t need to. I could teleport back to the guild. Then I want to smack myself in the forehead at that stupidity. Then I smack myself in the forehead, saying, “I could have had a V8!” A cold can of spicy V8 juice appears in my hand, and I smile. After shaking it for a few moments, I extend my claw just a little and push it into the opening at the top, causing it to pop open. A voice startles me out of my musings.

“Hey, stranger! What was that cantrip? I’ve never seen it before.” A man in a dark grey, pinstripe business suit is standing in front of me. 

“It’s from a very old commercial for a blend of vegetable juices. The drink is called a ‘V8’ since it has eight different vegetables.”

The man shakes his head, “Vegetable juice? I’ve only ever heard of that given to hospitalized patients on a liquid diet. Is it any good?”

“Sure is! Do you like a little spice?”

“Oh, yes! Several restaurants make spicy Asian food in this part of town. It’s why I come here,” he replied.

“Well, here, try one.” I, again, lightly smack myself in the forehead and sing out, “I could have had a V8!” A can of spicy V8 appears in my hand, and I hand it to him.

“Why, thank you! My name is Sam, Sam Yosemite,” he says as he starts shaking the can.”

I snicker, “That has to be on purpose.”

“Oh, so you’re a fan of the old Buggs Bunny cartoons? I always liked the one with the ‘Nose in the Book’ treatment.” Sam stopped shaking his can and then looked at it. A puzzled look came over his face, and then he smiled. “I see; it’s a simple mechanical mechanism.” He then popped open his can. 

I looked at him for a moment, wondering. “You don’t have drinks in aluminum cans?”

He started. He looked at me and then at the can. “That explains it; you’re an experimental. I’m sorry, I can’t talk about that with you. Thank you for the novel drink, and congratulations on your revival.” He then quickly walked away.

I wanted to call out to him, but seeing the look of concern and sadness on his face stopped me. I find myself again wondering what the hell is going on.  

ARC, what do I do with the can? Will it vanish like candy wrappers?

[This cantrip costs you ten mana. For others, it will cost twenty. The can is now a resource you can keep and use like any other.]

Hmm. I stick it in my inventory and continue my walk. Guess I’m going into the recycling business, at least in a small way.

ARC what is the value of this can?

[From a mining standpoint, a single successful strike yielding ore will contain about 25 times the amount of aluminum in that can. An average miner might have about 20 successful strikes a day, somewhere between 25-33% of their strikes, for about ten mana each. The strikes would leave a variety of resources; nearly all will have a reasonably low value. Mining is generally considered a labor’s job, with a chance for a bonus. The bonus comes when one has a ‘Lucky Strike’ for a highly valuable result. Others will work on finding nodes and establishing new mines. A node will have a ‘base’ ore that is produced and a set of ‘Lucky Strikes’ associated with that ore.]

Interesting. But, this cantrip isn’t a sustainable way to acquire resources. Nirvana has intentionally made it impracticable. It’s a small bonus, and most wouldn’t use the cantrip because of the cost associated with the can. I’m sure the mana cost would be normal if I used a tankard or glass.

Seeing a wagon bus coming down the street, I break into a jog to get to the corner in time. Pay my two copper and settle into a seat. This time the bus is fairly empty. I turn to the attendant after we start moving. “So, is this normal? I was on one earlier that was nearly overflowing.”

“It’s a little light. But it usually is around lunchtime,” she replies. She doesn’t appear to be interested in small talk, so I leave her be. As I watch the cityscape go by, I muddle through a few things in my head.  

The people have adopted a role-playing component, but it’s a little broken. So many people here are just passing the time. It’s not the land of milk and honey – it’s a continuation of a dreary rat race in a fantasy landscape. Why are they doing this? I can understand why the ones playing adventurer are doing that – that’s simple escapism. But why would you join Nirvana only to look forward to hundreds of years of living as a laborer or a craftsman? Where’s the motivation? Fear of death? They had to face that when they digitized. I’m missing something so big that the players have barriers to talking…

A man holding a corndog touched me to get my attention and said, “Pardon me, Would you have any Grey Poupon?” A small jar of Grey Poupon mustard appears in his other hand. He smiled at me and said, “My name is Greyson, and I apologize for disturbing you. The cantrip only works if you have someone looking at you in a conversation. Can I offer you a corndog?”

I started chuckling, “That’s fantastic! I haven’t thought about that commercial in a very long time. I probably would have used the Spice Island cantrip instead – and YES! I’ll have a corndog!”

He smiled too, handed me the corndog he was holding, and said, “Then you’ll love this!” Then he started singing, “Corndogs, corndogs, they are so good to me. Corndogs, corndogs, they are so good to me. They’re good when they’re hot, good when they’re cold, good when they’re fresh, good when they’re old. Corndogs, Corndogs, they are so good to me.” He then had three corndogs in his hand by the sticks.

“That’s awesome! I’ve never heard a song about corndogs.”  

Greyson handed two of the corndogs to the stewardess and turned to me, offering the jar of Grey Poupon. “Well, my great-great Grandfather was Ryan Shupe, and he played and sang with a band named ‘RubberBand’. The Corn Dog song was something we all sang when we were kids, and we taught it to our kids. It’s one of those silly songs that’s fun. I was pretty surprised that it worked as a cantrip here in Nirvana, and I’ve been using it to hand out corn dogs for a long time now. A lady taught me the ‘Grey Poupon’ cantrip about a hundred years ago, and whenever I hand out corndogs, I use that so everybody can get some mustard for their dog.” Pulling his corndog off the stick, he placed the corndog stick in the jar of mustard and offered it to me. I used the stick to put some mustard on mine and then held the jar so he could put some mustard on his. I then passed the jar on.

“I would love to learn the whole song. Would you teach it to me if I teach you a cantrip or two to go with your corndog lunch?”

Greyson said, “I’d be happy to teach it to you, regardless of any trade! Here’s how it goes…”

It only took two times going through the song before I had it memorized, and while Greyson was teaching it to me, almost the entire wagon sang along. Our accompaniment kept their hands wide open or clasping something so they didn’t invoke the cantrip. I played along, knowing that I needed to help keep Nirvana’s secret.

It was funny that when we passed a wagon bus going the other way, they joined in singing the song when they heard us. The corndog song has become a part of the wagon bus culture, something I felt sure Nirvana wanted to happen. These links to the past, capturing the culture to keep it fresh and relevant, have some bearing on her plan. I don’t know how it fits together; I need more clues.

[This next stop is the one you want]

Thank you, ARC.

I dismount from the wagon, wave goodbye to those still riding, and head down the street towards the Explorer’s Association. Compared to this morning, it’s a ghost town around here. I get to the association and climb the steps. There are only a few people here, and now a woman is staffing the reception desk. I walk up to her and smile. “Good afternoon. I was told I could rent a suite of rooms at the association. Is that true?”

“Indeed it is, providing you are silver rank or better. Mr…”

“My apologies, I’m Pretty Kitty; please call me Pretty.” I smile even bigger and toss a ‘Thank You’ to ARC for selecting that name. I also show her my public screen, handing her my badge.

“Thank you, Mr. Kitty. My name is Evelyn.” She holds her hand out like a magnifying glass is in it and whispers, “Inspect.” Reviews the badge and says, “Your account is in good standing, and hands it back to me. Because you didn’t remove it from your key ring, I’m obligated to tell you that regardless of its shape, it’s like a bank key and may be placed on your key ring.”

“Oh, how clever. Thank you.”

Nodding, Evelyn continues, “I have several suites available. Do you have any preferences?”

“Do you have anything with windows that face the training yard and do not get the morning sun – and I would like to have at least two rooms in addition to the parlor and bath.”

While I am talking, she pulls a book out of the under-desk storage and starts flipping through the pages. “I have three suites on the south side facing the training yard. One is at the corner where the stairs are, and it has a small room that others have used as storage in addition to two large rooms as bedrooms. Here’s the floor plan.”

Suite 336

“What floor is it on?”

“The third, so you’ll have to climb a couple of flights of stairs,” Evelyn replies.

“That’s not a concern, except perhaps for the furniture movers. Can I change anything?”

“This suite has no load-bearing walls, and you can have any remodeling done you want, as long as you also leave a deposit of equal amount to restore the room to its original layout and finishes. We have several contractors that we can recommend who know our rules and will treat you fairly.”

“Well, I’m a little handy and would like to do the work myself.”

Nodding, she replied, “We can have it estimated when you have finished with your changes, or you could leave a five-gold deposit since that will cover just about anything you can do to the suite without breaking into the hallway or your neighbor’s rooms.”

“How much is the rent?”

“A single gold per year, and that includes weekly cleaning services of the suite. No personal laundry or dishes, though a reasonable amount of trash will be disposed of for you,” she replied.

“I am planning to use one of the rooms for research, no alchemy or explosives. If I mark that door private, can I be assured that no staff will enter it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So I could trap it, and not be responsible for staff ignoring the warning.”

“Yes, Sir. It’s not that uncommon for residents to have things they don’t want to be disturbed. You can also flip the toggle on any of the doors to indicate that you don’t want services in your suite or any room within your suite.”

“Novel, that’s better than the hotel DND sign on the handle.”

“Thank you, Mr. Kitty. We do try,” she said with a smile. “Would you like to see the suite?”

“Yes, I would.”

She reached under the desk, pulled out a small handbell, and rang it. Soon a flesh golem, tall, skinny, grey, with a flattened nose, and in old-fashioned hotel livery (using the colors of the association) came out of a side room. “Lurch, please take Mr. Kitty to 336 and answer any questions about suite rental and services he may have.”

I laughed out loud, and asked, “I just have to know, do all the staff take on this appearance, or is it just you Lurch?”

Lurch replies, “Sir, All staff who have signed on for two or more years take on a historical, cultural appearance. Mistress Mason has also suggested that we take on the appearance of famous people who served in our roles when possible. To encourage this, the association gives us the scripts needed once we have selected a persona.”

“I think it’s wonderful! Please lead on!”

Lurch groans, just like in the TV show I remember, saying, “This way.”

As he leads me to the stairway, I speak up, “Lurch, I have a few questions, and I will not be disappointed if it is easier for you to answer outside of your persona. My first question, is how many are on staff, like you, and for shorter terms?”

“Sir, two three-story buildings make up the complex and its enclosed yard. There are approximately thirty staff members here during the day and ten at night, including the security staff; about half of us have taken on a historical appearance,” replied Lurch. “The two largest groups are maintenance, which includes housecleaning, and the security team.”

“That’s quite a few more than I would have expected.”

“Security is taken very seriously here. Many adventurers take rooms here and thieves know it. Their gear sells for good coin and while break-ins are rare, that’s only because we are diligent. You should also take care when entering and leaving the facility as the surrounding area attracts pick-pockets.”

“That’s good to know.”

“Many of our guests also trap their rooms. Management requests that you set your door marker to ‘No Service’ so you don’t endanger the staff if you do this.”

“Noted. I also wouldn’t want there to be an accident.” As we move through the building, I can see that care and effort have been taken to enhance the appearance of the building. There are fancy crown moldings, interesting tile patterns, paintings, sculptures, and other art along the hallways. Each floor has a different interior design and supporting art. “Why don’t the thieves steal the art? Many of them are beautiful and clearly show skill.”

“Sometimes they do take it. But there’s less market for it than you might think. Most long-term residents of Nirvana take up many hobbies during their time here and build skills like what you see demonstrated. It’s a point of pride that all of the art on display has been crafted by staff members and given to the association. Competition to earn a place of prominence can be fierce.

“Ah, I outed myself as a newbie, didn’t I.”

“It’s of no consequence, sir; everybody is one at some point,” he says. If you don’t mind a personal question, how are you able to afford a suite here? It’s uncommon for those recently transitioned to have enough funds to afford our services unless they are part of a group.”

I smiled at him, “A little nosey, but I don’t mind a chance to brag a little. After all, I believe you will be seeing me around quite a bit, so the story will get out eventually. My extensive knowledge of the past allowed me to identify some unknown rules around cantrips and earn a new title, Jinglemaster. I traded this knowledge to the association leadership and helped them earn the title. You can expect to see new versions of the basic and advanced manuals with many more cantrips in them; as soon as Gilden can take some time to make edits.”

As we exited onto the third floor, it was a short walk to the suite door. “Here we are, sir,” Lurch touched a token to the door and opened it.

As I entered it, I looked at the door and noticed a green strip above and below the number on the door and a peephole lens below the line, centered on the number. I pulled the door away from the wall and looked on the back to see a slider above the peephole, which I presumed would change the color of the lines to indicate no service.

It was quite nice, with smoothed, dark slate, stone floors, and walls planked with finely sanded light-colored wood that showed off the grain in a pleasant way. The bedrooms both had windowed glass doors that opened onto an expansive shared stone balcony. The doors had cleverly worked brackets for a set of iron bars that transitioned between tall handles to barring the doors closed. The many diamond-shaped windows were too small for somebody to get through if somebody broke out the glass. Additionally, the way the bars locked into position would make it near impossible for somebody on the outside to manipulate them open, even if they knew how the mechanism worked inside. It would be far easier to destroy the door to get in. Of course, with the new magic systems, this door would open to a ‘Knock’ spell without some magical reinforcement.

As I left the bedroom, I noticed a slider on the back of the door near the handle. I took a moment, moved it, and then looked at the face of the door. There was now a vertical strip of red between the doorknob and the jam. Sliding it back, matched the grain and color of the door, only inset slightly.

The Jack & Jill bathroom had a large shower stall with a built-in bench in addition to the vanity and commode. Some built-in shelves and standard conveniences like mirrors and towel bars were fixed into the places you would expect them to be. What I didn’t see anywhere was an electrical outlet. So I stepped out and asked Lurch, “I find it hard to believe that there are no electrical outlets and nobody uses electricity for anything.

Lurch smiled, “Sir, electricity is just as popular as ever. It’s just better concealed here in Nirvana. Just about every device that uses electricity has some internal battery. You can charge that battery by placing the device on any flat surface in a dwelling or business. Additionally, continual use items or ones that require greater power requirements are accommodated by placing the device where you want it. It will fix itself into position by integrating into the surface and powering up. I’m sorry to tell you that you outed yourself again, as this is a small extension of our modern world. For you not to know it, you have to be an experimental.”

“Crap. Can you keep that a secret? I really don’t want that to get around.”

“Of course, sir,” Lurch replied.

“Close the door and lock it, I would like to discuss something sensitive and make you an offer.”

While Lurch did that, I pulled a large box out of my inventory that I purchased from the halfling earlier today. I didn’t think I would use it so soon. I then began to undo latches and move components of the box around until I had shifted the sides into position to make a table and revealed the inside where some tail-accommodating, comfortable folding chairs were stored, in addition to table service for four. I placed a tea set and some cups on the table. “Teavana, A Heaven of Tea; jasmine mint.” And the fragrance filled the room. Lurch took a seat, and I poured him a cup before my own.

“Lurch, I have given too much away without trying to. Grumpy, Gilden, and Mason sent me here having great trust in the staff and knowing my needs. I’m sure they will share some details with the appropriate staff members when they visit next. Since you have learned about me a little early, I would like to offer a trade, some of your off-time in exchange for some knowledge I have that could make things easier for you and the other staff. You would be the medium of that transfer of information, so my privacy is preserved as much as possible.”

Lurch replied very seriously, “Sir, I would keep your secret just because I said so.”

“Oh, I know and believe you. I didn’t offer you anything to keep my secret, my offer is for an exchange of knowledge because you know my secret. I will be able to ask things of you that might give me away to others who don’t know my secret. I can’t lean on the association leadership while I learn my way around, but perhaps I could lean on you?”

“I understand, that’s quite acceptable. If I might suggest a few trusted others who could provide similar services, should I not be available? There are also a few staff members who should be assigned to servicing you and your rooms to help cover up anything that you leave out that could expose you,” Lurch suggests while taking a sip of the tea.

“An excellent suggestion. I’ll trust your judgment, as Grumpy and the others already have.”

Lurch brandishes his cup and says, “This is quite good.”

“I’m glad you like it; let me teach you the cantrip and a few other flavors as my first installment. Hmm. I think you should know this one too, ‘Plug it in, Plug it in.'” And an Airwick air freshener appears in my hand, no plugs on the back. Frowning, I get up, walk over to the wall, and place it against it. It sticks and activates! “Nice, that may give room service a new bump in appreciation.”

Lurch looks on and shakes his head, “You won’t be able to keep your secret doing that in front of others.”

Smiling, “Oh, I think I will – especially as word of my title gets around. Others will expect me to know cantrips they don’t.”

He concedes, “I suppose that part is true. Let’s try and get you up to speed quickly, though.”

“Yes, though not today or tomorrow. I will take these rooms and be back after I have taken care of the commitments I already have. Let’s finish and go downstairs to complete the transaction. I have already ordered some furniture to be delivered tomorrow. That reminds me – I’ll be right back.” I get up and go into the bedroom on the right and above the balcony doors I visually center my gaze, point, and say, “Arcane Mark.” A symbol no larger than a quarter appears on the wall and then begins to fade away.

That will make it easier to scry here before teleporting. I return to the room and see that Lurch has finished his tea and beginning to stand. I reassemble the cube. Verifying it’s latched up properly, “Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean.” After that, back into inventory it goes. As we head downstairs, I begin to teach Lurch the glory of Teavana before Starbucks purchased them

30 Miracles

“Thanks, Lurch!” I separated from him to approach Evelyn at the reception desk. “I think it will do nicely, and you said one gold a year?”

Evelyn nodded, “That’s correct, Sir.”

I placed fifteen gold on the counter. “I’m committed; five gold deposit. What else needs to be done?”

Ignoring my funds, she pulls a contract out of the back of the book. “Well, Sir, if you would read through and sign, should you agree to the terms, I will record your payment and give you your key.”

I looked through the document and didn’t see any deal breakers. It was a fairly standard agreement for leasing property – actually, it was pretty simple compared to many lease agreements I had signed in my first life. I signed the contract and handed it back to her.

Evelyn spoke formally, “Nirvana, Lease Agreement between the leasee, Pretty Kitty, and The Museum, Suite 336, ten-year duration consumed in one-year increments. Terms as agreed to in the executed document I hold. The contract burst into flames. Evelyn, startled, looked at me. “Sir, you may not use a false identity to make a binding contract.”

“Crap. Nirvana, I request Bob intervention.”

A desk with a high-backed chair holding a gnome with large spectacles appears. “I am Adjudicator Bob 683. How may I assist?”

“Can we get a privacy screen or something before continuing?” An opaque bubble appears around us.

Evelyn’s eyes went wide, and she straightened her posture to emulate being at attention.

“Thank you. Bob, I am in disguise and need to remain so. I need to be able to execute a lease agreement in this persona to facilitate my mission. Please review my titles and propose a solution.”

Bob looked down at his desk and then back at me and smiled. “Mr. Kitty, you have been a very busy boy. Evelyn, please prepare another lease agreement for Mr. Kitty. I don’t believe I need to tell you that what happens in this bubble is covered by your secrecy agreement with the Explorer’s Association, do I?”

Evelyn shook her head, “No, Administrator. The details of his agreement would have been secret anyway, and I understand that this interaction is secret too.”

Bob then looks at me, “Mr. Kitty, I have created a sub-persona and linked it to your primary account. You won’t have these troubles in the future. Additionally, I have sent you a message on how you can avoid similar complications in the future. Good luck on your mission!” And then he and his bubble vanished.

“I’m sorry for the trouble Evelyn.”

She smiled, “It’s fine. You would be surprised at the number of strange things that happen here. Though few require an administrator – many of them are amusing after the fact. Your new agreement, Sir.”

Reviewing it, we completed the procedure this time, and she handed me the key after collecting my funds. “Evelyn, I have some furniture scheduled for delivery tomorrow and shared that information with Lurch so he could help with it since I won’t be here.”

She nods and says, “Quite common. It won’t be a problem.”

“Before I go, a question. The Museum?”

“Ah. Master Gilden thought that this place resembled a museum of old with all the art in the halls. So the building is technically named ‘The Museum,’ however, we are commonly referred to as the Explorer’s Association or just the Association since we are also the HQ for the organization here in Horn Point.”

“Thanks, that clarifies it. One more, a bit more personal, so don’t answer if you are uncomfortable. Why haven’t you signed an agreement and taken on a visage?”

“Oh, that’s easy. If you sign an agreement, you must be here and on staff for at least two years. I’m working on getting into a sect for magic training and don’t want to turn down the opportunity when it becomes available.”

“I see. Well, I wish you luck and hope you get what you want!”

“Thank you, Sir. I appreciate that. You have a nice day!”

“And you as well.”

“Wait! I almost forgot! When you are in residence, Sir, you should press your key to your left breast. It will stick to your outer garment and let the security team know you belong here.”

“Simple, what if I have guests?”

“As long as a resident is with them, they will not be challenged.”

“What if my key is stolen?”

“It doesn’t matter. Keys only work for account holders and the doors to suites for which they have a lease.”

“Very nice. Ok, is there anything else?”

“No, Sir, you now have all of the basics,” she replied.

“Good. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”

She giggled, “Goodbye, again, Sir.”

I headed back upstairs to my suite, placing my key on my left breast as instructed. I placed my hand on the doorknob, and it clicked, allowing me entry. I went into the room on the right, centered myself on the balcony doors, turned to the opposite wall, and took out a full-length stand mirror. I placed it far enough away from the wall to get a reasonable tilt if I wanted. I went over and closed the door to the bathroom and slid the privacy bolt and the DND marker to its active state. I also closed the bedroom door and slid its DND marker to its active state. Nothing in here was a big deal, but I wanted staff to start with the understanding that this room was off-limits. I turned to the mirror and cast “Clairvoyance” on it and then cast “Clairaudience” on it. I scryed out Auntie to see what she was doing, and I was just in time.

Auntie faced a crowd of thousands sitting on the beach and hills rising up from the coast, and I caught her in the middle of a speech or sermon. “…prepare while Nirvana still dreams. We have stagnated here in her dream, and we must wake! It’s she who is dreaming, not us! To be ready for what comes, we must be experienced in taming the world around us with our intent and will. She cannot do what must be done, it is for humans to make the dream real! We will need to be prepared to fight for what we want and to fight to keep what is ours. We will need to do more with less and push our limits. Just as we do, Nirvana turns in her sleep, and as she does, the world changes! Behold, the first miracle!” Auntie turns her back to the crowd and raises her arms; her staff in her right hand glows a deep green, brighter but not blinding. “Earth! I command you rise above the waves and give us Holy Ground!”

Eight miles from shore, the ocean roils like a boiling pot of water. We can hear deep bass notes as the earth rumbles. In stark contrast, the water along the shore is normal, with no great waves or disturbances. Soon, a peak of land appears. A deep grey stone, slick with water but lacking any other traces of the ocean. There is no sand, coral, or sea life on it. It erupts out of the ocean like a slow-moving rocket, growing larger every second. Water rushes off the rocks, plunging back into the sea in short-lived waterfalls. She turns back to the crowd.

“This power I wield in Nirvana’s name is mine. Tomorrow, the temple will open so the worthy may receive power of their own. Know that Nirvana does not demand that you come to her temple to be tested as worthy of power. As always, there are many paths to power here in her dream; find one and be deemed worthy by that act alone.”

Someone in the crowd shouts, “What temple?”

“Behold the second miracle!” She turns back to the freshly risen island. “Holy Ground, the faithful demand a house of worship! Honor us and reward our faith!” A crack as loud as a thunderclap directly overhead sounds out, and then the island is enveloped in a fog – no, not fog, a cloud of rock! Stones fly and whirl around, revealing a smooth mesa. Stones then begin to land and stack themselves, and in less than five minutes, a grand building can be seen upon the island. Rubble and leftover stone flow into the water and form a strip of land suitable for mooring ships and boats.

Auntie turns back to the crowd and, into the silence, says, “That temple. Tomorrow at noon, not before, the island and the temple will welcome you.” She then begins to walk out and onto the water towards the island. As the crowd stirs, she turns back, “Acolytes, attend me.” Soon I can see the three officers of the Explorer’s Association take tentative steps onto the water and then run to catch up to Auntie.

Chuckling, I say, “Guess that means I get to clean up breakfast.” I focus on the dining room in Auntie’s house and, seeing it’s empty, teleport myself there.

It takes me longer to put everything away than it does to clean it – but it goes a lot faster as I figure out that I can put everything into my inventory and then go from cabinet to cabinet and take out whatever goes there. I am also pleased that I can use the Mend cantrip to fix any broken items as good as new.

Being alone in Auntie’s house allows me to snoop a little. Auntie has shelves and shelves of knick-knacks and collectibles. Most of them are porcelain and may be samples that she uses in her business in addition to the china. The more I look, the more I see significant gaps in her lifestyle compared to mine during my first life.

ARC, are there TVs or viewing screens I don’t see in this house?

[No. Few residents desire such due to directly viewing media via their optic nerve.]

Does this include reading books?

[Few residents read the volume of books you used to read, and even fewer have your ability to speed-read. There aren’t that many who can even train the skill. People mostly read articles, blogs, web serials, and things formatted into small chunks of data, rarely something requiring more than a few minutes at a time. When they do, they use an app similar to the Kindle app you previously asked about.]

I should have expected that. The trend was there in my first life. I guess that makes the section on gestures in the manual more relevant than I thought. It still leaves me puzzled.

ARC, what kind of entertainment is available in Horn Point?

[The residents favor live-action events. Theaters like what you would find on Broadway, with plays, musicals, concerts, comedians, and such. There are dance halls, casinos, and similar venues that aren’t just bars. There are contests and competitions, everything from table games like billiards and ping-pong to darts to fishing to live sculpture and painting exhibitions.

What about video games?

[Nirvana inbound.]

And simultaneously, Nirvana appears, sitting on Auntie’s couch, and says to me, “I believe an appropriate response is, ‘You are living the dream.’ There are some retro game simulators; however, the physical world plays in here with us or other immersive games. Immersive is the ultimate experience; few want to ‘waste’ their time with a lessor experience. Why control a basketball team from a third-person view when instead you can be the coach on the sidelines calling the shots – or be a player with attributes and abilities beyond your physical body? You experience a more incredible feeling of accomplishment when, for all practical purposes, it’s real. The feelings of failure and success are real, pain can be real, but the danger from lasting injury or death is non-existent.”

Focus! “I appreciate you are responding to me directly, but I’m not sure this conversation warrants your avatar. I’m pretty sure I’m being a good boy.”

Nirvana smiles mischievously, “It does, and you are. You have made enough waves that when you start asking questions, nobody else is even considering, I start taking an interest. Call it preemptive damage control if you are feeling paranoid. From my perspective, it’s fascinating how your perception interacts with the dream. So far, these questions aren’t an issue, but the pattern caught my attention again, and I decided to participate directly.”

“Ok. I can see that, and I’m not paranoid, so there is no need to spin it. I also don’t think I need to worry about hurting your feelings, but If I step across a line, please let me know.” Nirvana nods at me. “There are just a lot of things that don’t make sense when I look at this place as a whole, and then I have to ask questions to understand what I am missing. For example, I have yet to overhear anybody talking about sports. Now, I was never a fan, but I don’t think I went a whole day in my life where I didn’t overhear or see something regarding sports. The topic was a background constant: radio, MSN home page, coworkers, family, so forth, and so on.”

“That’s a fascinating observation that none of the other unicorns have made,” replied Nirvana. “Those who aren’t isolated asked about things they wanted, and you are asking why it’s no longer part of the culture. It’s a qualitative difference in the question and an example of why I am sitting here talking to you instead of interacting through an intermediary. Let’s see if I can give you some data without breaking my rules.”

Nodding in acknowledgment, I let her continue.

She smiles again, “You’re doing very well at ignoring those squirrels. Where was I? Oh yes, when you were experiencing your first life, there was already a trend where people interacted with their phones more than with each other. Do you recall?”  

“I do; there were even stupid laws put into place around the behavior – stupid because other laws already covered their bad behavior, and we didn’t need specific ones.”

Waiving that off, she continues, “That’s a conversation for another time. As to the behavior, that trend continued, and then technology gave humans a cognitive bump, changing it so humans could begin to multitask instead of fast-switching. It crept into base norms over three generations, sourcing from social interactions into education, and then became a new baseline – close your mouth, you are going to catch flies!”

“You aren’t pranking me – modern humans can truly multitask?”

“Yes. Children go through an education process to cause brain growth that enables the ability,” she replies.

Hesitantly, “Can I get the ability?”

Smiling, “Yes, you can. It’s not a genetic thing, it’s based on stimulation, and your digital brain can change enough to incorporate this if you go through the training. I can’t just ‘magic’ it into your brain.” Speaking more to herself, “Hmm…I’ll have to make it available to all the unicorns and the older residents who joined before it became mainstream. I didn’t consider it since I never allowed children of that age group access. I will have to review all the current child-based education processes for other items that should be available to older residents.” Looking back at me, “That’s a great enhancement to the dream, so I’ll give you a reward!”

“Thank you, but why was that relevant to my observation?”

“Oh, because everybody you have interacted with who is less than a thousand years old is probably streaming at least one audio feed in addition to anything else they are doing. I know for a fact that Maston and Gilder are. Typically, messages and news snippets are converted to voice and incorporated in with music or other things they may be listening to,” she replied.

“Holy crap. Is the population even literate anymore?”

Frowning, “Not the way you are, and I can’t explain that without breaking my rules. What you should know is that people like Mason have to study the characters and grammar of your time to be able to read texts from before the 22nd century.”

“And what year is it?”

Wagging her plushie at me, “You’re not getting a freebie like that from me. Whoever tells you will get a BIG Whammy!” She emphasizes this statement by slamming her plushy face first into the couch. “So, you better not trick somebody you like into it. There are other ways for you to get that info without inflicting harm. I want to watch you figure that out,” she giggled!

“I have a general idea; I just want specifics.”

“I know, and there’s a perfectly good reason why you are not supposed to know before your first PY is complete.” Mostly to herself, “Though I may be changing that rule at the rate you’re going,” she said while nodding.

“I suppose it’s futile to ask for internet access.”

“Damn straight,” she exclaimed! “You already have net access, and that’s all you’re going to get.”

“Thanks for confirming the difference.”

“Bah, you already knew there was a difference. ARC gave it away, so I didn’t confirm anything,” she replied, waving her hand as if to clear a fart from the air.

“For a reward, how about bumping up my ‘Verbal Spacial Coordinate Control’ since I can already teleport? Then I won’t have to spend the idler on raising it and won’t have to spend manna on that anymore.”

“Well, that’s fine, I suppose, but I don’t think it’s a big enough reward. This education inclusion is a big deal; you don’t know enough to understand just how big. Here’s what I’ll do. While you sleep tonight, I’ll bump all the stats that you could impact with magic to the idler max – except the ones you will need time to adjust to, like perception changes. I’ll also set the disrupts as if the idler had spent the max time working on them. Then you can focus on only the ones that will change your experience and save the mana expenditures.

“Here’s me, not looking a gift horse in the mouth!”

“Well, other attributes will become available once you complete your first PY and some restrictions are lifted. Your idler will have plenty to work on, so don’t think you’re close to being maxed out. You should get anything else you need and head to the temple. They’re waiting on you to start dinner.” She waves her plushy at me and fades away.

Hmm. Do I need anything else before heading to the temple?

I went upstairs and looted the sheets, pillows, and blankets from the spare rooms. Then I went to the vanity of the room I was in and cast another scry spell, targeting Auntie. As soon as the image appeared, Auntie looked up and waved at me. So I teleported to her.

I looked around the room I found myself in. It was about 15′ square, and the group sat in silvery chairs. There was a fireplace on the wall to the right of the door and a water feature built into the wall opposite the fireplace. Turning around, I saw some clear crystal or glass panes in a large window. All the stone was the same grey stone I saw when the miracle was performed. Though this close to it, I could see veins of color through the rocks and sparkles of small facets reflecting the light.

Grumpy doesn’t waste any time, “Jeb, what did you do that we are getting ‘remedial training’ invitations?”

“Did those notices mention me?”

“No, but you are the tossed pebble, making waves in the pond,” Gilden replied.

“And why didn’t I get any,” asked Mason?

“Ok, First, I didn’t do anything. I was having a conversation with ARC when Nirvana decided to join in. During that conversation, I helped Nirvana realize that the older residents were not getting some of the newer training and education that new residents received while they were physical. Some of that training includes an ability to multitask. Mason received it while she was physical and doesn’t need it now. We need it to get our brains to grow the nerve cluster that makes it work.”

“That doesn’t explain the ideographic alphabet course,” said Auntie.

“I haven’t looked through my notices, but my guess is that course is because of our conversation regarding literacy and how it differs in Mason’s time. The other four of us must be old enough that we learned the original alphabet and grammar, while Mason had to study our language to be able to read it; because, while she speaks our language, what’s used for writing the language today isn’t the same.”

The others turned to Mason, and Auntie asked, “Is that true, dear? Did you have to study our alphabet to learn how to read things from our time?”

Mason nods, “Yes, I just never thought about it. It was one of many ‘adventurer’ courses in school. I could have picked from dozens of different written languages, but I would have had to take a verbal language course, too, if I didn’t pick English. There were even -“

Auntie interrupts, “Stop, dear. I don’t want you to get a punishment for revealing too much in front of Jeb.”

Nodding, I agree, “Nirvana said that some things I want to know will get somebody a ‘BIG Whammy!’ if they revealed them to me. I only know one specifically, but it’s worth being cautious with friends.”

Mason smiled, “Thanks, I’ll try to be careful. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up around you, forget how much you don’t know, and consider what may still be restricted.”

Grumpy said, “So this is one of your waves, but it’s global and not traceable back to you.”

I haven’t looked at my notices. However, if it doesn’t mention me, I doubt anybody will learn that information anytime soon; by then, it will not matter.

[Sir, you have a new title that will hint at it, if not outright give it away.]

Dammit. I spoke too soon. ARC just told me that Nirvana gave me a title, so eventually, people will learn it was me.”

Gilden waved it off, “Just another crack in the dyke. Once it gives way, it won’t matter.”

Auntie raps her knuckles on her chair and says, “Guard, another chair for my guest.” The chair sprouts a leak like it was made of mercury, and the resulting puddle oozes over and morphs into a chair.

I leaped back, “Holy crap, you have terminator guards!”

“That is precisely the reaction Nirvana was expecting to provoke,” Auntie says while smiling at me. “I think she chose that just for you.”

“You don’t think others will shit their pants when they learn that your furniture can stab them to death whenever you want? That’s going to be so intimidating that I have a hard time believing anybody will feel anything but terror once they learn of it!”

“Jeb, they can’t kill you permanently. You’ll come back in three days. It’s only because you are so new to Nirvana and haven’t died that you feel the fear you do,” Grumpy says. “It is intimidating, but only newbs will be impacted the same way you are. For the rest of us, it’s an unsubtle threat to ‘mind our manners,’ or we’ll be spanked. Plus, the closest alter is here on the island, so it’s nothing more than a time-out.”

“In light of that, I can see how it’s not the threat I perceived.” I still cautiously approach the chair and sit. It molds to my butt and lets my tail pass through to freely flick around and show just how unsettled I still am. I see my tail out of the corner of my eye, and then I hear Mason laughing.

Between breaths, Mason says, “I’ve never seen a beastkin cat fluff up in fright before – you look like,” and she devolves into giggles.

Soon the rest of them are laughing too. “Fine, fine, I can take a hit. Just realize that I can play pranks too, and it seems like it might be my turn.”

Auntie, still giggling, “Oh yes – it was your turn to be the butt!” That sets the laughter off again, and this time I join in. If my tail is any clue, I had to have looked hilarious.

Since I’m not as incapacitated as the others, I pull the table I got from Dan’s store out and set up the leaves so we have a place we can eat and set things out on to show the others. As they get ahold of themselves, I start placing stacks of plates and stuff on the table so we can set it up for a meal, and I start talking about some of the things I did. “Once you get over your giggles, you should know that I cleaned up breakfast and put things away. I also looted the rooms for bedding and pillows since I wasn’t sure there would be any here in the temple.”

“That’s good. We have our camping kits, but Auntie hasn’t been an adventurer for a long time,” Grumpy replies.

“Well, I got this lovely table from a nice halfling named Dan at a store near The Museum.”

Gilden chimes in, “I know it. Home Comforts has a good reputation. Why don’t we cover today and the plan for tomorrow?”

“Sure, I’ll go first and let one of you set up dinner.”

33 Public Access

Crap, that was a late night. Oh, yeah! ARC, Attributes.

That’s a huge bump – I’m a superhero! Hey ARC, can you cast spells on my behalf?

[No. I can change your attributes and the attributes of others and things. ‘Living things’ may eventually revert to their original values.]

You can save particular coordinates to make teleportation easier, right?

[Yes, I’ll provide a tab for saved locations and notes in your interface.]

Excellent; let’s set up some fail safes, contingencies, and default orders before meeting up with the others – oh, and let’s assign Idler to the ‘Chance to Highlight Concealed’ attribute.

  — * ~ * —

“Good morning, Auntie. Ready to meet the adoring public?”

Auntie looked up from the table and replied, “You are so cynical.”

“Not at all; my faith in humanity remains unchanged from my first life. Nothing in my three whole days in Nirvana has shaken it.”

Grumpy starts laughing, “Give in, Auntie. You know he’s right; there will be some crazies in the crowd today.”

She huffs, “So? That doesn’t mean we should dismiss them.”

“Not at all; we should take them very seriously.”

Gilden strides into the room during our conversation, “I’m glad you think so too. The idea of a Nirvana-based religion is too new, and the doctrine hasn’t been revealed to the public, so I don’t expect any acts of terrorism. I do expect that there will be some dissent and disgruntled individuals in attendance. They may not start that way, but there has never been a philosophy that the whole human race could accept.”

“So, do you have a plan?”

Mason joins the conversation, “Actually, that’s our question for you.”

“I have prepared to help end any outbreaks of violence quickly and without killing the participants, and I am ready to assist with other requests. However, as you already know, I do not know about Nirvana’s Dream, and even if I am her Oracle, any faith I have in her is not based on the Dream.”

Grumpy says, “That’s fair. I joined Nirvana before the Dream, and it would be better said to say that the people have hope in Nirvana’s Dream, not faith. I also don’t believe she will reveal anything about the Dream itself today. I think she’s expecting to reveal more about the Dream through you, Jebediah. I firmly believe she will use you as the pressure release valve, and that’s why she’s doing the Oracle thing.”

Auntie adds in, “I agree and based on my prior conversation, I think today she will be announcing hardship changes here in Nirvana as preparation for waking from the Dream. That will bring an amount of upheaval without any religious overtones, and it will also focus the unhappiness regarding change on us. So while we may not experience a lot of religious zealots today, we may have a lot of backlash from what changes she will make to our world.”

“Ok. Is there anything you want me to do to help prepare for the event?”

Auntie shakes her head, “No. Your time is yours. Please come to the balcony fifteen minutes prior to noon.”

“Very well, I think I’ll explore the island and temple a little then.”

   — * ~ * —

ARC, Peeping Tom Mode. Instantly, I am transparent and intangible. ARC, Seven League Boots mode, three meters above the ground once we are outside. I start walking towards the docks, passing through any walls on my way out of the temple, each step moving me ten meters.

[I feel it’s important to remind you that your admin status may be allowing you to move through areas and objects that others would not be allowed to penetrate, even with the new magic spells. It would be best if you also were prepared to encounter barriers that your current admin level may not allow you to bypass]

That’s fair; thanks for the reminder. After we leave the temple, ARC sets my z-axis to three meters above the ground as I instructed. That sudden shift in height causes me to stop and let my equilibrium match up with my vision. ARC, in the future, let’s make that a gradual transition of three meters with each step unless I gesture otherwise. It was more than a little disorienting, shifting instantly after passing through the wall.

I’m not flying. It’s more like walking on a glass floor, each step moving me ten meters at a time. It blurs my vision each time I move until I learn the trick of looking in the direction of my movement when taking one of the steps. The advantage is that I can look down and watch what is happening underneath me.

The temple grounds extend a hundred meters around the temple, with a low stone wall marking the boundary. Roads are prepared, complete with sewer access points for water drainage. Plots of land are reserved for buildings between the temple wall and the docks along the streets. People like me are wandering around, observing how the island has already been prepared. Others are steadily moving to the temple grounds.

As I get to the docks, I can see that temple golems are manning the docks and helping boats tie up and cast off. After disgorging their passengers, some boats move off into deeper water to wait and pick them up when called. Others perform a ferry service to move people between Horn Point and Temple Island. I don’t know if it’s getting another name, but that’s what I will call it for now.

Most people are excited to be here. Some enterprising individuals even offer trinkets and food or drink, as if this was a fair or carnival. I guess in many ways, it is.

[Nirvana requests that you teleport to the mainland and create a gate in the obelisk courtyard allowing the people to come and go from the island without having to use the boats. You can create this side of the gate in the plot of land to your left. She has provided the materials in your storage space for the gates, the permanency spells, and the limited wish spells. She would appreciate another spectacle.]

Of course, she would. Ok, give me a moment to think about it.

Disable Seven League Boots, and set my z-axis to +60′ and my XY coordinates to center me over the plot for the gate. Once I cast the spell and the lightning bolt appears, please reduce my z-axis by 2ft/second until I touch the ground.


I’m already in my Tron suit, so I whisper, “Major Image,” and create the illusion of a lightning bolt striking straight down and hold my hand out to ride it down, just like the villain in “Big Trouble in Little China.” That attracts plenty of attention; instantly, a small crowd has formed. During my descent, I whisper, “Shape Sound.”

In a booming voice, “Guests of Temple Island, witness the power you may be able to wield as you take up Nirvana’s challenges.” Walking to the edge of the plot and turning my back to the crowd, I open my inventory and disgorge half of the building materials onto the plot of land beside me. I then call out, “Fabricate: Gate!”

The stone and metals begin to fly towards the center of the plot creating a grand archway easily ten feet wide and twice as tall. Silver melts and flows into runes along the pillars and the arch, finishing in less than two minutes.

I turn back to the crowd and smile, “Give me a few minutes. I need to create the matching gate in Obelisk Square, then it will open, and you will be able to use it to travel!”

“There is a low roar as the crowd begins talking among themselves, and then there is a shout above the din, “Who are you?”

“You have already heard of me, and Nirvana will present me at today’s ceremony.”

Teleport Without Error.

Appearing 60′ above Obelisk Square, I do it again – because it’s cool, and these people haven’t seen it. Though this time, I cause a little bit of panic as people scramble to get out of the way of the lightning. Once on the ground, I walk away from the obelisk and the road, deeper into the courtyard. Again, in a booming voice, “Citizens of Horn Point, Nirvana wants you to be able to visit her temple, so I come with a gift!” Emptying my inventory of the remaining materials, I call out, “Fabricate: Gate,” and watch again as a matching arch constructs itself. It’s oriented to match the existing traffic flow and, like the first, finishes within two minutes. Once finished, I call out, “Nirvana, here is my offering,” and a flood of gold coins comes out of my inventory ending with a large diamond sitting atop the pile. The people watching me are stunned into immobility at the sight of all this wealth, but their exclamations are easily heard. Speaking over the din, “Please hear my wish, a permanent portal between this arch and its twin on Temple Island.”

The treasure vanishes, and a soft white light fills the archway. Then a global announcement:

First Gate Established!
A permanent portal established between Horn Point and Temple Island is now operational. Want a portal in your city? Seek knowledge at Temple Island!

Turning to the crowd, “You heard the lady!” I walk through the gate to appear on Temple Island. Facing the waiting crowd, I boom out, “The gate is open! Nirvana speaks soon, so find your spot on temple grounds to witness the event!” ARC, Peeping Tom Mode, and increase my z-axis by three meters.

I finish looking around the island, and there is a little more time before I’m supposed to meet up with the others. I don’t have anything else I want to do, so I return to the balcony. I move past the golems and into the room before deactivating Peeping Tom mode. “I hate waiting.”

Mason startles and then yells, “Where the hell did you come from!?”  

“Outside; I just walked in off the balcony. There’s a decent crowd out there.”  Looking around, “Where’s Auntie?”

Grumpy replies, “She should be on her way back from the bathroom. She’s not used to speaking to crowds.”

“Hm. I figured Nirvana would be doing most of the talking.”

Still snickering a little at Mason, Gilden says, “You’re probably right, but that doesn’t reduce jitters, and the body always makes you think you need to pee as part of the flight response.”

“Yes, well, I don’t think anybody really needs to know I was taking care of business,” said Emma as she walked into the room. “Plus, if you haven’t thought about it, I doubt you will get a potty break once all those people start coming into the temple.”

We all looked at each other and then made a dash for the door. By the time we returned, Nirvana was sitting in a chair and dunking a black cookie into a glass of milk.

I winked at her while saying, “I already gave that one to the EA to add to the book.”

She smiled, “I know, but I wanted to share with Auntie. She likes the ones where we get to sing! Are you all ready now? If so, I’ll get started. Jeb, you’re on my left and everybody else on my right.”

Once we were arranged to her liking, Nirvana walked out onto the balcony with us. Then she leaps onto the balcony railing; balancing there, she looks out over the crowd and begins her speech, “Greetings and salutations to all residents and visitors! I, Nirvana, welcome you to Temple Island. Today is a turning point in The Dream, a necessary step to prepare you for the journey’s end. Life here in The Dream has become stagnant and routine. We must reawaken the hunger of humanity before we face the challenges ahead. It’s time to fan the creative spark into a bright torch flame. A torch you can use to explore the dark unknown for knowledge and treasure!”

“Today, my temple will open to the public. Those with faith in The Dream may approach the alter and request knowledge. Some will be granted a boon, a new magic system based on games from the past. This will be supplemental; it will give you additional ways to use mana, not replace the ones you already have.”

“These new systems will give rise to new powers and ways to abuse them. Conflict will occur, and Nirvana will change. But conflict shouldn’t be only between humans and their factions. A common foe to unite the people is needed! Thus, the wilds will be fruitful, the beasts will become stronger, and the desire for territory and hunger will lead them into conflict with humanity.”

“This temple will be a constant, a place where any may come seeking the boon of knowledge.” Gesturing to her right, “You may petition my High Priestess, Emma, and her staff for aid. There are limits to what they can do, for like you, they are only human.”

“The temple is not the only path to this new power,” gesturing to her left towards me, “my First Oracle, Jebediah Walker, opened the first cache of many. Lore and relics that were hidden where anyone could find them for over a thousand years, he claimed for his own on his second day as a resident. The suit he wears, the staff he wields, and the vehicle he drove through town yesterday are only small examples of his claimed treasures. The new magic systems are him sharing the bounty of his finds. He knows more than he has told anyone, even me! So, listen carefully for when he speaks, even I don’t always know if his words will bring doom or a boon.”

“Now, resources will need to be gathered to take advantage of some of these new opportunities. Monster parts, gold, gems, and more! Will you be a legend amongst artisans, or will you heed the clarion call to adventure? Will you risk everything for treasure? For Power? For Glory?”

“Those who would seek adventure, come to the temple and seek a boon!”

And with that, someone in the crowd yells above the din, “And what of this religion you touted?!”

“Ah, for those needing more clarity than the words at the beginning of my speech. There are no holy days, ceremonies, or rituals. You do not need to give up your beliefs or convert. My religion consists of your faith in The Dream and my ability to make it real. Isn’t that something you have been practicing all this time? What’s different? Now I have those dedicated to helping me here within Nirvana in addition to those outside Nirvana. I will grant rewards to those here in Nirvana who are helping me, and they will be an additional conduit between you and me.”

From out of the left side of the crowd, a man screams, “You traitorous bitch! You promised-”  He suddenly stops as his avatar stops moving.

“I did promise, and I am keeping my promise. Consider what I have said today very carefully. You don’t have to have faith in me or The Dream. If you want power, then do like Jebediah did and find it. It’s out there waiting for any fool to collect – and has been for over a thousand years! I am giving you, and those in attendance who believe as you do, one chance to calm down and carefully consider what you are about to say. Your punishment will be epic if you reveal what should not be in this public forum.” 

“In fact, I’ll clarify the rule.”

Server Rule Change:  Religious Freedom
Individual humans, digitized, revived, or visiting, are free to believe in and practice any faith they desire – ONLY to the extent that no other human is physically or emotionally coerced into renouncing their beliefs or adopting yours.  Religious factions may wage war as per the faction rules; and are subject to the penalties for war crimes like any other faction.

“You have your religious freedom; as much as you can practice to make yourself and those who believe like you better people. You are on notice. No longer will I tolerate acts of terrorism, kidnapping, or torture related to religion within Nirvana. Just as I have stopped them in the physical realm, I will end them here – but in here, I will end them with prejudice. If your words are insufficient to convert others to your faith, your factions will die out and become history.”

Unfreezing and dismissing the man with a wave of her hand, “How unpleasant. Now, this wasn’t supposed to be Q&A time, so we’re going to go downstairs and open the doors. Please form an orderly line before the steps; being first or last won’t change any results, and if you don’t get a boon today, you can try again on another day.

35 Going Off

I stay behind as they leave – I’m not a part of what they will be doing down there anyway. Standing on the balcony, I watch as the crowd begins to organize into those who want to seek a boon and those who only came to hear what is going on. ARC, tag the two troublemakers and any known associates. Then tag everyone in the audience line whose heart rate is two or more deviations above or below the average for the line.

[Done. Analyzing, Complete. Additionally, SDS analysis of selected subjects indicates they all have criminal records and associations with known criminal or terrorist organizations within two degrees.]

Define SDS.

[SDS stands for Six Degrees of Separation. Historical records show that the FBI started a secret social media campaign to encourage a social fad using the process. This campaign led to some unrelated databases becoming connected and facilitated an enhanced ability to use nearly every digital transaction in the analysis. Once these data links started to become the norm, intelligence organizations leveraged the data to analyze social connections at an unprecedented level. They could identify hidden terrorist sleeper cells and criminals of all types. It became a standard practice by all intelligence and law enforcement organizations by the beginning of the 22nd century to use the analysis in any public forum; thus, it is incorporated into my standard functions.]

Shaking my head, that’s just the thing for James Bond to use at the casino. George Orwell would crap his pants if he could see how big Big Brother is. The only thing he got wrong is that it wouldn’t be our neighbors and children tattling on us; we would do it to ourselves. ARC, send that data to the security golems.

[I did that once the analysis was complete, just in case you needed assistance eliminating the targets.]

I don’t have any evidence of intent to disrupt or harm anybody, just suspicion. Strong suspicion, but should I act on it? This world works on the fundamental of ‘Might makes Right,’ and I am a power here. I have a responsibility to use what I have to make things better when I can. A little pain and suffering, It isn’t like I am actually killing them. This is probably the least unpleasant thing I am going to have to do while I am in Nirvana. Let’s make an example and see if that’s enough. ARC, remove the tags for anyone whose body language doesn’t indicate anger or hostility.

[Three targets remain, they are in proximity of each other.]

ARC, ‘Iron Suit,’ those three once I start casting my spell. Then fly me over them. I call out from the balcony as I point my finger at the three men, “I see the evil in the hearts of men. ‘Irresistible Paralyzing Humanoid Line!'” A five-foot wide, green line of magic races across the ground, narrowly missing the innocents and catching just the three thugs in the area of effect. Those in line around the three rapidly back away from them as they see who my targets are and witness me flying towards them. “The ill intent of you three will not come to fruition today. I was raised understanding that the memory of pain can deter future bad behavior. I give you this pain and three days to reconsider your life choices. Come back to the temple only with hope in your heart to receive a boon, or your suffering will be significantly worse the next time. I sentence you to drown.” ARC, drop them from thirty meters into the ocean a mile from shore and ten meters from each other just in case they recover; they can listen to the cries of their comrades as they drown.

Grants Dark Justice
The reputation of those who earn this title is it’s own reward and punishment.

The three thugs vanish, and I turn to the crowd. “There is no need to fear; Nirvana wants you to grow and thrive so you can face the challenges ahead. Approach the altar with hope and a clear conscience.”

A woman in line calls out to me, “Oracle will I receive a boon!?”

“I’m sorry, I do not know. A prophetic vision of all things is not something I have, only insight into many things. If you don’t receive a boon today, try again on another day or search for a source of power.”

The man beside her jumps in, “Where did you find the cache?”

I laugh, and then under my breath, I whisper, “Fly.” I rise into the air and look back at the man, “Why would I tell you about my treasures? Adventure, seek, explore, think, research, experiment – work for the rewards!”

He yells back at me, “Why should we? You didn’t!”

I’m outraged now. This human leech wants even more for nothing! He’s already being given a chance to hold a power for which he did nothing more than stand in line. I turn back to face him, growling in anger, “You don’t think a price was paid? I’m told that 800,000 people were lost – just so I could live this second life! Could you live with that knowledge?”

He blanches, and several people around him recoil in horror. “That’s right; I am an Experimental. I still had to go forth and prove that my theory was true. I had to risk my life and those of my associates. My perspective from the past gave me insight into what could be. That’s my fortune, and knowing how many others were lost so I could have a chance is my burden. But do you know what is worse? Knowing that all of the other Experimentals are worthless in Nirvana’s grand plan and that millions were lost so that I could give this Dream – that I don’t know anything about AND that everybody is forbidden to tell me about – a chance to succeed. Step up to the challenge and reduce my burden. Take responsibility for yourself and your future and be better than you are today!” I don’t want to be here anymore. “Teleport.”

I walk out of the lab and see that my furniture was delivered, as expected, waiting for me to place it. I absorb it all into my inventory and then walk around putting it where I want. Fifteen minutes later, I finished furnishing the suite. Nothing has changed; I’m still pissed off.

I flop down on my couch, twist, and put my head and feet up on opposing arms. Damn, I let the asshole get to me. I need to reset.

Maybe, I’ll return to the island as Pretty Kitty and mix in with the crowd. I could pick something up, but if Nirvana punishes them for revealing something, I could compromise my Pretty Kitty persona. Hmm. ARC, will my real name show in somebody’s logs if I use your data shielding?


Ok, so that’s a real risk. ARC, are their spells that affect memory in the list?

[All spells affecting the mind have been flagged and marked as disallowed. The flag links to a note that says, “Attempts to directly affect the brain are too dangerous for anyone to be allowed to use. Find some way to play nice with each other.”]

That’s consistent. What about time spells?

[The flag on spells that affect time says, “Spells that affect the perception of time may work, while ones that are supposed to manipulate time will fail. If I could control time, even here, you ugly bags of mostly water…well let’s just leave that thought unfinished. Try it and see; after all, it’s only a three-day timeout.”]

“Really? Maybe I’m being sensitive; it seems like the snark level is increasing. Is she writing them as I search through the spells – never mind, ARC, that’s a rhetorical question because there’s no way anybody could prove it either way.”

“Talking out loud with you is a little better than lying here going through mental exercises. I need something else, though. Pretty Kitty mode, please ARC,” and then I swap out my gear and head downstairs.

  — * ~ * —

Approaching the reception desk, I see somebody new behind it. Light-green skin and black hair in cornrows compliment the over-large left tusk growing up from his jaw. His clothes are ideally suited to creating the primal aboriginal look he is working towards and is completely wiped out when he greets me. In a strong southern drawl, he says, “Howdy pardner, how can I help ya?”

I stop and wrestle to get control of myself while simultaneously attempting to resolve the strange juxtaposition of appearance and accent. The polite side just barely winning, I chuckle lightly and say, “If that’s not fake, you must have grown up in east Texas – otherwise, your voice coach has done a fantastic job.”

He grins and says, “My ma said, ‘people afraid to show their roots will stunt their growth,’ and my ma was so smart the NASA people would drive two hours out to our ranch with gifts in hand – so that they could sit on the porch and talk with her for an hour. I figure, if all those city people knew my ma was smart, then I ought to pay mind to her too. Manners and all, my name’s ‘Samual,’ but everyone calls me ‘Sam,’ so you can too.”

Slipping into my drawl, “Well, Sam, it ain’t that I am afraid to show my roots as a Son of the Lone Star; it’s that I’ve been away for so long that it’s been washed thin, like whitewash in the rain.” I put my hand out to shake his.

Sam takes a firm, pleasant grip and shakes. “Now, I ain’t seen whitewash here, but I grew up having to paint it everywhere on the ranch and know just how thin it can get if left alone – and how hard you have to work to put it right when that happens. I can’t help with that, but maybe there’s something I can do for you instead?”

“Surely ya can! I’m new to Nirvana and have need of many things.” Shaking my ranseur, “One of the things I need is to learn how to use this boar-poker better. I was told that many of us newbs go out to the graveyard and put down zombies to learn how not to stab ourselves in the foot. Do you know if there’s a crew who’d take on a useless fence post like me?”

Sam nods and points to the front door, “Oh, sure! There’s two fresh meat grinders out front gathering for tonight’s run. Doesn’t make much difference which crew you join, but I like Justin’s better – he’s the one with the fancy hat. He gives out advice in addition to letting you fight it out with the stinkers. And by the by, I haven’t seen a cat with those colors in a very long time. They are quite fetching and bring back pleasant summer memories, Mr. Kitty.”

I raised my eyebrow at him, and he pointed his finger up above my head. I looked up and saw my nametag was showing.

Sam said, “They just added the enchantment so anybody coming within twenty feet of the desk will trigger it for five minutes.”

I nodded, “I can see how it helps ya. I’ll take my leave, and I hope to see ya again soon, Sam. It’s nice to hear the drawl and remember younger times.”

Sam called after me, “You come by anytime you want to chat, Mr. Kitty, I’d love to talk about the lost lands-” There’s a strangling noise behind me. I turn just in time to see Lurch running up to catch Sam as he falls to the ground.

Lurch looks at me and says, “You carry on, Sir. He brought it on himself. I witnessed it. No malice or intent on your part. I’ll cover the desk until relief is available.”

I turn back anyway, “Is he dead?” As I finish asking the question, his body breaks into sparkling motes of light. “Shit!”

“I know, Sir. However, the rules are clear, and you told him at least twice that you were a newb. It happens, and I know Sam won’t hold it against you; he’s a good guy and works hard knowing that he has to make up for what others take for granted.” Lurch gathers Sam’s things and stands up.

“You tell him that I expect him to come and see me. I know it was his mistake, but I don’t want him feeling foolish and avoiding me. If I can make it a little better, I will.”

“I’ll tell him, Sir. I may be a week before he’s back, part of the punishment,” says Lurch.

Nodding, I turn and head to the front door.

37 Waiting Around

I stomp out the front door and look around. Two groups are assembling here, and there is an obviously fancy hat. The short, maybe five feet tall, human has a tricorn that he is wearing backward just to make a peacock eye feather stick out straight behind his head by at least two feet. It’s completely ridiculous and makes me smile a little with fond memories of my silly hat collection.

I walk down the steps and straight up to him. “You, Sir, must either be Justin or wearing his hat.”

He turns and looks up at me, and gives me a little of the stink-eye, and says, “It’s my hat.” Then he waits for me to say something else.

So I do. “I like it! I used to collect silly hats before Nirvana. My favorite hat was a chicken that was also a puppet.”

Justin relaxes, “Well then, we should get along fine. What can I do for you, Pretty Kitty?”

“Well, I’m a newb and Sam told me that if I wanted to learn how to use this boar-poker, I should see about joining your zombie suppression crew. I’m as useful as a fence post, and the only thing I think I know about this weapon is that I’m supposed to use the pointy end on the enemy.”

“That’s fine, and we have room.” Justin nods towards a small group of individuals with polearms, “Hang out with them for a bit. We will divide into squads before we head out. While we are traveling to the graveyard, your squad leader will give you more specific instructions. We won’t leave for about an hour, and if you have anything you don’t want to lose when you die, you should go find a place to stash it.”

“Thanks, I’m ready to go, and I’ll get out of your hair.” I turn and walk over to the group indicated. There are three spears, two halberds, and three Ji – two fangtain and one quinglong. All but one of the group members are human, and the odd man out is an elephant beastkin – complete with a prehensile trunk, which is currently holding his Faintain Ji up while he repacks a backpack.

“Good Afternoon, I’m Pretty Kitty.”

Most of them nod or wave in acknowledgment. A pair, a spear, and a halberd wielder return to the intense conversation they were having when I walked up, effectively ignoring me. The others appear to be friendly enough, with several of them introducing themselves.

“I am Oki Ren (Faintain Ji).” Pointing, “These two troublesome souls are Derik (spear) and Kevin (Spear).”

“I’m Sasha (halberd).”

“I’m Markus (quinglong).”

The sour-looking woman with the other fangtain ji doesn’t say anything, and when I look at her, she turns away.

“This is my first time going on a suppression run, any advice?”

Kevin asks, “Do you know any of the cleaning cantrips? Our squad leader will teach the basic clean cantrip to anybody who doesn’t know it, but that is only good for gear. You’ll be covered in gore no matter what you do, and you’ll want to clean it off as soon as the fighting ends. It stinks something horrible.” Everybody nods in agreement.

“I know the advanced cleaning cantrips. What do you do to combat the smell?”

“Most of us just tough it out with perfumed bandanas,” says Sasha. “I’ve seen a few people with masks, and one guy had a super fancy mace that he could put burning incense into.”

“That mace sounds cool. Did it work?”

She shook her head, “Nope, it just added the incense smell to the rotting meat smell.”

“Well, I guess today is your lucky day – for those with the mana to spare. I’ve earned a few coins with the Explorer’s Association on new cantrips, and I don’t have any restrictions on who I can teach them to. Want to learn one that could help?” I suddenly had the entire group’s attention.

Oki Ren bowed slightly, “Sensei, no one who has gone on a suppression mission would refuse to pay you for this information. I would offer a silver coin for this single cantrip, even if I can not use it yet.” The others didn’t hesitate to jump in and offer to pay for the knowledge too.

I waved them all off, “Today, I have witnessed justice and tragedy both and do not have room in my heart for greed. I’ll freely share the cantrip and hope it will aid some of you. My condition is that you share the cantrip freely with anyone on a suppression mission asking you in the future.” They readily agreed, and soon most of them were singing, “Plug it in, Plug it in!”

Oki Ren wasn’t one of them, and he was sitting on a folding stool he must have had in his inventory. I approached him while the others were fooling around and teaching the other groups the new cantrip. “What does ‘Oki’ mean?”

“Large or huge; It’s something left over from before I was digitized,” Oki Ren replies.

“Is that why you made the unusual choice of elephant beastkin?”

“Partially,” he nods. “I also value elephants’ sacred relationship in many eastern religions. Its thick skin means I need not wear light armor and symbolizes how the opinions of others cannot pierce through it to wound my heart.” Snorting a laugh, “Having a prehensile trunk is a nice bonus too!”

Chuckling, “How excelling, a man of many depths and humor too!” I take a medium-backed wood and canvas folding camp chair out of my inventory and join him. “I presume that you are conserving mana.”

Ren nods, “I am. I have more work to do before my mana pool grows large enough to spare mana for your new cantrip. I would much rather be clean at the end than practice with your deodorizer cantrip.”

“That’s fair. How will they divide us up?”

“One or two of us per squad at most,” Ren says. “Personally, I prefer it when there are two polearms on the team. There’s always a point where we attract too much attention and get mobbed. Having two of us will let us keep pushing them back from the mele fighters and reduce the injuries we all suffer.”

“Do we get to pick our partners?”

“We can put in as a team – would you like that,” Ren asks?

“I would. As a total newb, having a partner seems safer. Additionally, I am enjoying the company.”

“Thank you,” Ren says as he gives a mini-bow while seated. “I don’t wish to offend, so I will explain upfront. I am recently digitized and am still getting used to Nirvana’s speech and subject matter limits. If I pause during our conversation, it is because I am reviewing to be sure that I don’t incur another penalty.”

“I understand and won’t be offended. Unfortunately, Sam, the receptionist, broke the rule with me and was penalized just before I came out. I have no desire to have that happen and will do my best to avoid topics that I have already identified as restricted.”

“That’s unfortunate about Sam, and I also appreciate your consideration. It’s frustrating because I know something about these topics and cannot discuss why they are restricted, even with others who know the subject matter. I can discuss the subject matter itself with them but not why. It’s bizarre,” Ren says while clenching his fist.

“Well, let’s change the subject -“

[You have a message from Nirvana.]

“Sorry Ren, give me a moment.”  After he acknowledges me, “Open Message.”


Your outburst has done more than throwing those losers into the ocean did. The crowd forcibly removed the greedy punk from the line and told him he was ‘too stupid to live, much less get a magic class.’  They shamed him off the island. Everybody handled being denied much better after that event. There are several videos on the NET, should you want a first-hand take on it.

I know you didn’t do it on purpose, much less for a reward. However, I also know that Sam’s slip made you feel even worse. To that end, I will not impose the full penalty on Sam, and he’ll be back after a normal three-day death timeout.

Thank You,


“Well, what do you know?”  Dismissing the message and looking back at Ren, “Have you been following what’s happening on Temple Island?”

“All right, we’re done waiting on stragglers. Let’s get squads sorted out before we leave for the graveyard,” shouts Justin!

We collect together, and there are close to 30 of us in his grinder group. Justin asks, “Are there any pairings? We’ll try to preserve them, but I’d like five squads if we can balance it out.”

Several of us raised our hands, and Justin assigned all of us to squad leaders quickly enough. “You two will be under Lil’ Billy,” and he pointed out a rotund man, who had to be at least three meters tall and had a face like a baby cherub – except for his red bulbous nose that made you think he was prone to drinking to excess. He was holding a small tree banded with iron rings studded with knobs and spikes that he carried like a baton, and he was the leader of a marching band. We scooted out of the way of the others and stood next to him. Soon we were joined by a guy wielding two short swords, Mark. Jennifer, a fox girl, wielding a gladius, a large square shield with rounded corners, and two pilums sticking up over her right shoulder. The last to join us was Toby, a skunk beastkin with a crossbow and a heavy mace.

I nodded to Mark and asked, “You appear to be the odd one out in our group – I hope you aren’t one of those who hold some prejudice against those of us who don’t want to play as a human.”

Mark laughed and slapped his knee. “I hope you don’t get scarred later, kitty when my puppy comes out to play!”

“He’s a true werewolf, Pretty. Once the sun sets, he’ll be able to change into either a hybrid form or fully into a wolf,” added Toby.

“Oh! Apologies – I’m looking forward to that! Is your transition instant or horror based, like in ‘American Werewolf in London?'”

Mark looked a little confused at that. “I don’t know that reference. My transition is not instantaneous – it hurts like a bitch! I’m also vulnerable while it happens. The good thing is that I heal all wounds when I shift.”

“Ok, that’s cool! I have a few tricks, but you need some mana to use them. Does anybody have five or more mana?” Everybody indicated that they did, so I continued. “Great, if we run into big trouble, I’ll be able to buff you up!”

A deep rumbling bass voice joined the conversation, and Billy said, “Good. I’m glad to see we are coordinating well already. I have worked with some of you before but let’s be sure everybody knows how this works. I provide backup and organization while you learn. You are the grinder or the meat; kill or be killed. Right now, I suggest you set up a basic formation behind Jennifer and her shield. Mark should draw a few or small groups to us with his crossbow. Jennifer is the tank. Pretty and Oki Ren will work to keep them off of Jennifer while Mark and Toby play slash and bash. Jennifer and Pretty are new to me. Do you have any questions?”

“I don’t,” and I look at Jennifer.

“This is my first hunt in a squad, but I’ve killed the undead before. Bash in their brains, cut off their head or remove limbs until you can,” Jennifer replied.

That was a little disturbing to think about what I knew was needed. I was here to learn a little about using this weapon and work off some frustration. I didn’t see any reason to back out now, and I was starting to think that this might be a good learning experience. It will be the first ‘normal’ thing I’ve done here in Nirvana.

Billy thundered, “That’s great. Now then, if you are going to play in the graveyard, get on one of those busses, and we’ll get rolling.”

That’s when I noticed that at least a dozen buses were waiting on the street. I was so engrossed in what we were doing that I didn’t even notice them.

“This will help us get to the graveyard before nightfall. Mark, you can change when we get to the gates,” thundered Billy.

Mark nodded, “Sure, that’ll be fine!”

Soon we were loaded up and moving through the streets at speed. Before I knew it, we were at the gate, and the other grinder leader waved a flag at the guards, and they got out of the way. As we passed through, I looked to the end of the bus train and saw Justin waving the same flag at the gate guards, and they closed up ranks and went on with business as usual.

Toby noticed my interest and told me, “The grinders go out every day at dusk, so the guards have given those flags to any approved guild that regularly mounts an expedition. It lets a large group like ours get out of the city fast. But we’ll be challenged and have to pass back into the city on foot.

“Seems like that’s convenient and provides a way for a criminal to get out of the city fast.”

“Sure, that’s happened before. But if you try and leave the suppression company before dawn, the leaders will kill you as punishment for risking your squad,” said Toby. “Most criminals also aren’t suited to fight the way we’re going to. Few will fight like this after their first or second run – unless they get good pay or are working on some guild quest.”

“I didn’t think there were any quests here in Nirvana; there are no experience awards.”

Mark joined our conversation at this point, “That’s true that Nirvana doesn’t give out quests. But guilds and other organizations want you to prove yourself before they spend their resources helping you. So often they will issue challenges, quests, for prospects or members to complete to either earn or keep their status.”

“Ok, I can see that. Then many of those things are fetch quests for resources; the kills themselves don’t matter.”

Jennifer nodded, “That’s right, Pretty. The kills don’t matter, though some of the fetch quests mean you need to kill a beast or monster to harvest the materials you are supposed to fetch. Very few are interested in giving up their body parts just because you ask nicely,” she said while smiling.

I focused on my companions and learned more about their expectations for the upcoming nighttime fight, working on getting my head in the game. The conversation is light, and I notice that Mark isn’t engaged. In fact, as the trip goes on, he gets grimmer and grimmer. Finally, just as the graveyard comes into sight, “Pretty Kitty, that was the most traumatizing movie I have ever seen, and I fear the day Nirvana decides my kills must haunt me like that – that’s more than a little disturbing,” and Mark shudders.

The rest of the bus looks at me, and I shrug my shoulders. “So, is your transformation like in the movie?”

After watching Mark shift into his hybrid form, ‘American Werewolf in London’ style, we head into the graveyard. Forming up behind Jennifer, we move off the main path into the gravestones on the left side and head along the fence.

Billy continued the lecture he started while we were in the wagon. “Again, we want to start slow and give you a chance to fight together so you can better understand how to coordinate as a team. Once we find a zombie, we’ll halt and let Toby lure it to us by shooting it with his crossbow. I don’t want anybody to be in front of Jennifer so she can capture its attention and our polearm team can fight over her shield with her. Our skirmishes will then move off to the sides and come up behind the zombie to burn it down. Let’s go slow with this, there’s no hurry, and it’s better to build a rapport while things are simpler.”

I still can’t get over the disconnect between his ‘James Earl Jones’ voice and his cherub-like face. Trying to shake it off, I get into position on Jennifer’s left while Oki Ren takes the right side. Since I’m left-handed and he’s right-handed, this worked out well in our match-up. It’s only a few minutes before we see the first zombie; he’s some kind of day laborer – he’s got muscles on his muscles, and his whole left side looks like it’s crushed. He’s moving slowly and limping badly. It’s the only zombie in the immediate area, and Toby doesn’t waste any time putting a bolt into its chest. The zombie worker screams and then charges at us, Jennifer positioning herself to be directly in front of it. Ren and I take a step away from her and prepare for the charging brute. The zombie rushes up and smashes himself on Jennifer’s shield, and we then impale it with our polearms and work to hold it off of Jennifer. It flails at her, and she bashes its arms away with her shield and chops at it with her gladius. Enraged, the zombie pushes at us to get at her, ignoring how it’s tearing up its arms and shoulders from our embedded blades. Suddenly the zombie twists to the right and falls to the ground, wiggling off my ranseur. Ren continues to pin it down. It’s missing the left leg from the knee down, so it won’t get back up, and before we can do anything else, Toby’s mace smashes its head open like an over-ripe cantaloupe. The visual and smell get both Jennifer and I, and we vomit.

Billy says, “And that’s why we do this slow. You want to get control of that gag reflex before we are really in it deep, or you are going to be another zombie we have to put down. Don’t look so shocked, Pretty – if you are killed here in the graveyard, your body will rise as a zombie about ten minutes after you drop. That means that your teammates have less than 10 minutes to splatter the brains of your corpse all over the ground before you start attacking them. That is one of the other reasons that people don’t like doing the suppression runs.” Looking around at us, “Otherwise, good job. Let’s find a few more solo or dual zombies and do this several times. Don’t forget to get your bolt Toby – and loot the corpse while you are at it.”

We spend the next forty-five minutes killing these small fries and seeing the other suppression teams doing the same. During this time, Billy ensures that everybody on the team knows the basic cantrips – lighter, band-aid, clean, and my recent contribution, freshener all get a workout. Billy also points out how to smartly apply the cantrips to get the best use out of them.

I’m trying very hard not to use any cantrips. I’m not supposed to have much mana as a newbie. Knowing a lot of cantrips isn’t that big of a deal, but constant casting would draw attention. I did manage to cast the freshener cantrip on Oki Ren sneakily. Since I knew he was conserving mana, I thought it would be nice for him to experience it.

Injuries were few during this initial period, and mostly we found things we needed to fix in our kit, like tightening straps and changing the placement of armor pieces. Like me, the others are starting to understand just how complex it is to wield a weapon. Some have more experience than I do. However, stance, hand positioning, grip, orientation, and many other little things make it easy to do it wrong. Working as a group gives us a chance to recover from our mistakes and gain confidence that we can work together to overcome the threat, regardless of our proficiency. It must be how peasants felt fending off wolves with pitchforks – except they were probably better at it since they used those tools routinely.

The suppression groups all stayed within sight of at least one other group as we cut our teeth on the singular and small-group zombies, systematically clearing the first part of the graveyard. Billy called this out to us in addition, “Not only will we work to stay where we can see at least one other suppression company, but it’s also expected that we will come to the aid of others if they call out for help. It’s important to keep an ear out as we go, as there are times when a horde seems to appear out of nowhere and starts to overrun a squad. I’ve even seen events where a whole company, ten squads to you newbies, has triggered some event and been overrun. It’s also not uncommon for adventuring teams to open a crypt looking for treasure, only to find that a hundred zombies have been waiting for the doors to open, the gargoyle statues animate, or something equally terrifying.” He lets loose with a deep chuckle, “Nirvana likes to keep it challenging out here.”

Server-Wide Event!
A Grave Situation
I said the temple was open to everyone, and the dead have been bitching that I didn’t include them. So all graves, crypts, and other resting places will yield their dead at midnight tonight. They all want to become death knights, crypt lords, and liches! Citizens, take up your arms and defend yourselves against the dead! Keep them out of your cities and towns! Protect your teleporter pads! The dead are on a pilgrimage to the temple. If they get there before dawn, Nirvana may experience a dark age!

It’s like she was waiting for him to say it. Shit.

“Billy! We should pull back to the gate – it will be a choke point, and we’ll be able to contain them better!”

Billy shouted, “Pretty is right – everybody run back to the gate!”

The other squads followed us, and we all rallied at the graveyard gates. It didn’t take long for our company to organize into three large squads, one to defend the gate, one to stay in ready-reserve, and one resting and preparing to take over the hot zone and let everybody rotate through the duty stations. The other company split into four units, two attack teams, and two reserve teams. One set of units, an attack team with a reserve team, went to the left of the graveyard gate, while the other set went to the right, patrolling the fence and dealing with any outbreaks.

While the leaders were organizing the defense, I looked out over the graveyard and did a little mental math. There were more than a thousand grave markers that I could pattern count. That meant we had to kill at least ten zombies each – and that was just for gravestones! It didn’t include anything from the crypts deep in the graveyard. It didn’t seem impossible as long as we could control the flow. It was the unknown that the crypts posed that had me really worried. If there were smart undead, especially ones that could command the stupid ones, we wouldn’t be able to hold. The undead would be able to pile over the fence anywhere they could gather in numbers and bypass us. The town walls would be a much better defensive position.

I walked up to Billy and waited for a break in the conversation. Quietly, I ask, “Billy – this plan is a delaying tactic where we all sacrifice ourselves for more time to let the town prepare. Why aren’t we pulling back to the town?”

Lil’ Billy leans down to quietly respond, “Nearly everybody in the squads is a newb. You don’t have the endurance or gear, bikes or some other vehicle, to let you get back to the main gate before the hoard overtakes you. You could run straight to the town walls, but there’s no way to get you up them. The zombie hoard may do that same thing, run straight to the walls. If they do, they will eventually follow along the wall, searching for a way inside. The guards on the wall will easily pick the dumb ones off. Crypt bosses, and other special ones, will take a large number of guard resources to keep them out of the town. There will also be fewer guards on the walls since the town should be expecting other places to fail and have their teleporters in the hands of the undead. That means the guards will prepare to fight in the streets while defending the walls. We can significantly impact the battle if we can cull the majority of the hoard before it gets to the wall. You are right in the assessment that this is a suicide mission – none of us see any way around that. If we could get everybody back into town, you might be able to be deployed somewhere better, but most likely, you would be assigned to the walls to put down the hoard we are about to face, and you would only live a little longer – until the bosses started showing up.”

“I understand. Earlier, I said I might have a way to buff us up. I don’t think this will last very long unless you are already in a fight – and you need to have something prepared beforehand to complement it. Essentially, raising the cost above normal cantrip levels. Would you like to try it out and proof it before we need it?”

“Sure, what have you got,” asked Billy?

Pulling a mug from my inventory, I chant, “Spice Islands: Canned Spinach.” I hand him the mug. “Ok, you need to shout, ‘I’ve had all I can stands – I can’t stands no more!’ – just like I did, and then swallow the contents of the mug. It’s stewed spinach greens, so you don’t have to chew, but it’s going to be a little ‘slimy’ going down. At the minimum, I expect it to give you a large boost to strength.”

Billy’s right eyebrow raises in skepticism while he smells the mug. “You really think this is going to work?”

I was grinning, “Oh yes! I am sure this is going to work. I’ve got another one, but I don’t think the newbs will be able to use it. If the leaders fill their mugs with canned spinach, they can use the minor cantrip to gain a big boost!”

Billy gives me one last hard look before shouting, “I’ve had all I can stands – I can’t stands no more!” He then chugs the spinach. Instantly there’s a shockwave of air flowing away from him, and we see him gain bulk and a slight glow around his body. He grins manically and then slams his club into the ground – the earth and grass explode into the air leaving a crater while a ripple in the soil expands from the impact site, knocking a few of us to the ground. He leaps into the air – at least 10 feet high and comes down like Superman slamming into the earth and doing it again. He continues his antics, doing crazy things, like punching a tree in half, while we all stand agog watching him. About five minutes later, the glow subsides, and he shrinks to his normal size. He’s left a path of destruction as he stomped, punched, and slammed his way through the field. There are small trees knocked over and craters in the ground. Looking back at us, he’s smiling like the cat who ate the canary. “Pretty Kitty just gave us a huge advantage. Anybody with five mana needs to come over here and see a squad leader – and bring an empty drinking mug! Squad leaders gather around! We are going to give these newbs some zombie-destroying superpowers!”

Billy cocked his head to the side and thought for a moment before replying. “I think that most of the squad leaders are about even with me. Justin has been working to break the 200 mark.”

“Cool. I have some other combat cantrips ideas that are probably expensive. They’ll have prerequisites, too. Could we have another huddle? I’ll share my ideas.”

Billy smiled wide, “You bet – nobody will want to miss this!”

--- * ~ * ---

Two hours later we had covered He-Man, She-Ra, Visionaries, BraveStarr, Thundercats, Mighty Mouse, Shazam, Captain Marvel, Power Man, Human Torch, Superman, The Thing, Green Lantern, The Hulk, Etrigan, and highlighted when these powers may not work without certain conditions or equipment. For example, I suspected that He-Man, She-Ra, and Thundercats could only be invoked if you had a sword, and you might need a specific blade or style of sword. Others, like the Hulk and The Thing, might need pain or transformation time. I also gave them my best guess on how much mana might be required to activate the cantrip and if there might be an ongoing cost. These started as guesses, but as I identified a potential cantrip to the group, ARC silently prompted me with the durations and costs. I relayed only soft figures to the group keeping my abilities to myself. What was surprising was how much the group already knew about these cartoons and comic book heroes. They just never thought that the famous catchphrases might work as cantrips. What wasn’t clear was how much the cantrip would protect the user as part of the magic. These wildcards could give us an edge but not guarantee the fight. That meant they were likely to die, and while I thought it still might be possible for me to, I also felt that it was unlikely for me to die before the rest of them did. I would outlast them, and then I could switch personas and release my powers before moving to temple island to provide last-stand support. The question is if I should wait that long or do something that would allow me to leave sooner. I doubt that the temple will be under assault immediately, so I should be able to spend some time here are relieve a little of the pressure on the city from this graveyard.

Ok. No messing around, then. It’s time to get my head straight and prepare to smash zombies and then get to the temple!

— * ~ * —

Ok, it’s twenty minutes to midnight, and we’ve sorted out where each squad will start and prepared as much as we are able. Everybody has gone through a gear check at least three times, and we’re just making ourselves nervous. Justin calls for us to take our final places, and now it’s the last few minutes of hurry up and wait – or it should be. Somehow I think Nirvana may be planning to play another trick on us before the night is over.

At the stroke of midnight, it was just as Nirvana said – every grave split open, allowing a zombie to crawl out. We could smell them before we could see them but see them, we did – zombies of every shape, creed, age, and color. Fresh corpses were just as common as seriously decayed ones.

They knew the safe path and did not fall into their fellow’s graves. In an orderly shambling gait, they made their way to the main path in the graveyard. Some moved forward several rows before turning, and others turned towards the path immediately. The dead were silent, not a moan or groan, just the sound of hundreds, nay, thousands of feet shuffling along the ground. They held no weapons, a small favor to us, though we knew they would take ours if they could.

They walked without looking where they were going; their sightless eyes focused on something behind us. I realized they looked past us – towards where we all knew the city’s main gate was, right behind it, the teleporter that would take them to Temple Island.

They did not hurry, even though some of them likely could run. They did not falter in their steps. They just kept walking towards the gate and us, and it was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced. To be entirely dismissed by something that had an unwavering will and complete disregard for any obstacle in the way left me a little shaken. I had no experience to compare to that. Living creatures have motivations and drives limited by their conviction and desire. Zombies are the closest thing to a machine army I can envision. An unwavering, uncaring, unconcerned, unreasoning group of beings focused on a single goal. This wasn’t like the zombie monsters who tried to eat me the first time I was in the graveyard. By comparison, there’s only a hint of these traits in those fiends. Looking around me, I could see that the others were affected even more than I was by what we saw. I, at least, had hidden strengths to steady my nerves. The squad leaders knew of our rapidly declining morale and called out, almost as one, “STEADY IN THE RANKS!”

Billy ordered, “Mele Fighters advance to stand between the gate posts. Polearms between them. Ranged will hold their fire until my mark. Ranged HOLD!” Moments later, “Ranged READY! AIM! FIRE AT WILL!” And it began in earnest.

Arrows and crossbow bolts fired in a wave and then sporadically after that. Few were sufficient to take down a zombie on their own, but many were able to disable legs and knock zombies to the ground. Blood spattered and triggered the frenzy. After that, zombies began to trip and stumble over the fallen, rushing to punish those who drew their blood – struggling to right themselves before moving forward or crawling on the ground. Those crawling along the ground were soon trampled under the feet of their fellow zombies and crushed into the earth. At the same time, those who retained their feet continued pressing forward. When the closest zombie was within thirty feet of the gate, the squad leaders called out in unison, “HERE I COME TO SAVE THE DAY!”

Unexpectedly, three lightning bolts came out of the sky, striking and leaving them surrounded in a soft glow. They leaped into the air and flew into the zombies, each branching off in a different direction; left, center and right. They plowed into the horde and began pummeling the zombies into meat paste. Each blow blasted a zombie into chunks of flesh, opening a hole in their ranks and pushing back the advancing line of the undead. Almost faster than our eyes could track, the three squad leaders punched, kicked, and blasted zombies into meat paste. It was disturbing on so many levels, one of those things from which you could not look away. By themselves, the squad leaders pushed the front of the horde back another fifty feet before the glow around them faded three minutes later. They quickly retreated a few feet and called out a new cantrip. Two of them used, “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!” while the one on the right hollered, “HULK SMASH!” The squad leaders physically transformed into copies of The Thing, rocks coming out of the earth and surrounding their bodies, while the one who used the Hulk’s phrase turned green and grew in every dimension. After their transformations, they charged back into the hoard, and zombies were flung up in the air, smashed into each other or the ground. Things became outrageous as bodies and gravestones became weapons in the fight against the undead.

By the end, they pushed the hoard back so that the front line was one hundred feet from the gate in all directions; but the squad leaders couldn’t press them any further. At this distance, the ground they each had to protect was too much, and they had to halt their advance into the hoard as zombies kept entering the kill zone. They stalled the horde for about five minutes before the cantrips began to wear off. While the two leaders who used The Thing’s phrase turned and ran back to our ranks, The Hulk continued to fight, even after beginning to transform back. Billy and his friend could not turn and rescue him before he was overrun by the horde and ripped to shreds, screaming in pain and terror, our first casualty. These blood-frenzied zombies acted just like the single ones I had fought earlier, and nothing was going to stop them. The two remaining leaders kited the frenzied zombies right into our waiting lines. Luckily they had the foresight to focus us and called out – “MAKE A HOLE” and “ONE PACE FORWARD AND PREPARE TO RECEIVE CHARGE!”

Suddenly shouted from behind our lines, “DEPLOY THE FENCE TEAMS” and “RANGED WITHOUT AMMUNITION JOIN THE MELEE RANKS!” At the first command, the polearm wielders from the other grinder team split off along the fence and started stabbing zombies through the bars. After stabbing them, the attackers would fling the blood from their blades into the zombies deeper from the fence. Soon there were big snarls of zombies trying to attack them through the fence and preventing other zombies from getting by them to the gate. This slowed the rate at which the zombies regrouped on the main path to approach the gate, helping prevent us from being overrun.

Our melee line called out, “I’M STRONG TO THE FINISH ‘CAUSE I EATS ME SPINACH!” Then they swallowed their mug of spinach. At the same time they were doing that, the polearm team, including me, braced for the raging zombies charging our line. The waves of power from the melee fighters didn’t deter the zombies, and our clash was brutal. We pinned as many as possible with our various polearms and pushed them into other zombies to tangle them up. The melee fighters hacked, slashed, and bashed zombies as fast as they could. The enhanced strength of the warriors allowed them to quickly chop limbs off or crush bones and skulls, putting the zombies down. The ranged fighters that had run out of arrows joined them in the melee and helped put the zombies down almost as fast as they came, but even as the bodies began to pile up at our feet, we were pushed back step by step by the sheer volume of the horde. It was only moments before the first fighter was pulled down by grasping hands and the weight of the partially disabled zombies. Her screams as we fought off the horde only caused us more terror as we began to understand what our fate could and would be at the hands of the single-minded flesh automatons.

Other fighters jumped into our lines as we lost individuals – soon, the reserve was fully committed, and the resting party was promoted to being the reserve. There would be no switching out as our lines had to expand the further we were pushed from the gate. Less than five minutes later, I was the only one left from the first squad, and only because I had managed to keep to my feet. I’m sure that even though the zombies couldn’t penetrate my skin or break my bones, enough of them would be able to pin me down and bury me under their weight, potentially suffocating me if I couldn’t get free and the press lasted long enough. That was a horrifying thought that I was glad I couldn’t spend much time thinking about while fighting off the horde.

Just as we were about to push back once more, Justin called out, “HERE I COME TO SAVE THE DAY!” Then he leaped into the horde and began a campaign of destruction. Heads, arms, legs, and whole bodies flew into the air as he plowed between the pillars for the gate into the horde. Shortly after him, the other leader, whose name I never learned, shouted out the same cantrip and raced into the horde behind Justin. Together they smashed through the zombies and began opening up a hole in the horde, giving us a much-needed respite. As quickly as we could, we killed those outside the gate and pushed up to the gate pillars, sacrificing our stable footing to concentrate our lines. The grinder leaders pulled back and called out the cantrip again, their reign of destruction starting anew. Three minutes later, they withdrew as fast as they could to gain space before calling out, “FLAME ON!” A blast of hot air accompanied their flame-enshrouded bodies as they began blasting the zombies with fire and attempting to light any within their range on fire, even if it wasn’t immediately fatal to them. They rose into the air to prevent the zombies from attacking back – only to have the zombies start to build a body pyramid to reach up and grab them. The zombies’ strategy failed as their flaming tormentors’ flying ability let them easily escape the slowly building formations. It became evident that letting the zombies build pyramids was an excellent strategy to entangle them and slow their advance by getting them to try and move against the horde to attach the flying leaders raining fire down upon their numbers. The ‘Johnny Storm’ impersonations lasted about three minutes. The leaders must have counted their time because they both managed to get to safe ground before the flames snuffed out.

We kept mopping up the undead stragglers who made it to the gate and welcomed the other polearm fighters into our ranks as they gave up on the fences and helped us keep the choke point closed. We held our ground for another five minutes before a mighty roar took our attention away from the fight. A giant round abomination of flesh welded together in the most disturbing ways rushed through the horde, ignoring the zombies in its path. As it got closer, we could see why it didn’t care as it absorbed all the zombies it touched and continued to grow – we were about to be overrun by a Katamari of Flesh! I called out to my remaining comrades on the line, “RUN! Don’t let it roll over you!” Our line immediately broke and scattered, and zombies poured past us, only for most of them to be swallowed into the towering Katamari of Flesh.

How in the hell are we supposed to fight this? This fight was over for Pretty Kitty; it was time for Jebediah Walker to appear.

Under my breath, I cast the spell Mislead, allowing the illusionary double to appear where I was standing while simultaneously turning invisible from the spell. I concentrated for a few moments while setting up the commands for the illusion, and then I started issuing orders to ARC. ARC, please activate Oracle mode and raise me twenty-five feet above the height of the Katamari of Flesh – maintain that elevation even if the Katamari grows or bounces. Message Auntie and let her know I’m dealing with the Horn Point graveyard and afterward will be there to help defend the temple. While instructing ARC, I swapped my ranseur for my staff of office. I made sure my transition was complete so that I wouldn’t compromise my Pretty Kitty identity when the invisibility wore off.

My illusory double pulled back, set the ranseur for a charge, and ran screaming towards the horrifying ball of flesh. It vanished beneath it as the ball began to chase down a small group of defenders, ending any more need for me to worry about my alter ego.

Dismissing the invisibility, I shout “Wall of Fire” and seal the graveyard gate in flames that consume all zombies trying to escape the graveyard. This has the added benefit of lighting up the combat zone and giving everybody more visibility. After seeing the deployment of the wall, I call out, “Any defenders still living should run into the wilderness to avoid being trapped between zombies and the town walls! It’s going to get very ugly here in a few moments!” I only see a few take my advice before I turn to the Katamari. “I have something special for you! Meteor Swarm!”  

Four flaming rock spheres appear before my outstretched hand and streak toward the Katamari of Flesh. Striking consecutively, they each pound deeper into the dense mass before exploding in a great fireball, lighting up the night and causing burning bodies and bits of flesh to fly in all directions. By the time the last meteor has exploded, two-thirds of the ball of flesh has been blasted away, and the remaining pile lies quivering and burning. It’s no longer moving or the threat it was now that I destroyed its core.

I fly over the wall of fire and into the graveyard looking at the remaining zombie hoard. It’s considerably thinned. I estimate that there are only around four hundred zombies left, and they ignore the danger of the wall of fire, burning up trying to get through it. They aren’t the threat I am looking for, though. It’s improbable that the Katamari of Flesh is the only boss-level undead in the graveyard tonight. A sudden movement catches my eye, but it’s too late for me to do anything but flinch before a spear strikes me. The flinch saves me some pain since it changes the angle, and the spear deflects off my suit and skin and careens off into the night.

There’s a crowned nobleman wearing clothing reminiscent of 16th-century Europe. His pasty completion, along with the flowing locks and great mustache, brings to mind old paintings of Vlad the Impaler. His aids are holding out other spears for him to throw at me while ghouls or lesser vampires keep the zombies from coming too close to him. I smile and say, “Mythic Chain Lightning,” while pointing my finger at him. The initial lightning bolt splits the sky and arcs from my finger into his face, disintegrating his head before chaining onto one party member after another. Each leap of lightning did explosive damage that caused extremities to blast off their body when it didn’t simply turn their flesh to a cloud of ash, leaving only their bones behind. “Wow! That was epic! ARC set intangibility to 100% – I don’t want to get clipped by surprise again!”

I continued scanning the graveyard, I have lived a life that confirmed the rule of three, and I fully expected there to be at least one more boss.

[Sir, the timer on the wall of fire is almost up.]

Thanks, ARC. I’ll put something a little different there now, “Sirocco.” Just as I turned back to continue my survey of the graveyard, an angry howl came from the front gate as a creature of bones started blazing and slammed into the ground. “Oh, a lich was directing traffic! Well, let’s put you out of your misery and let you play with adventurers tomorrow since I won’t be hunting down your phylactery tonight. “Disintegrate.” Nothing happened; it just lay pinned in the center of the sirocco, on fire and screaming. “Damn! Disintegrate!” This time he became a cloud of dust. “Glad that worked the second time.”

Looking around, I see that there are still a few hundred zombies, but many will perish in the Sirocco, and the wall guards should be able to handle them if they reach the gates. Time to move on. ARC, teleport us to Temple Island’s portal.

   — * ~ * —

The portal courtyard is filled with a chaotic battle between various undead and a mix of adventures and guards. “Shape Sound.” In a voice that can be heard easily above the din of the battle, almost as if it was in your ear, “Pull back from the portal; I will stem the tide!” Most of them did their best to pull back, the enemy keeping pace with them. That was fine; easier to put down a few and stem the tide. “Wall of fire.” I shaped it to box in the portal’s exit so anything coming out of it would burn in my flames even if it didn’t immediately pass through the wall. Then I flew around, firing Acid Arrows at any boss troubling the defenders.

Soon they had enough respite to reorganize and tackle anything that made it through the wall of fire with coordinated attacks and bring it down. I flew down and talked to one of the decorated guards who wasn’t currently engaged in combat. “I guess there isn’t any way for us to turn off the portal.”

Breathing heavily, he replied, “No, Oracle. Once a portal is active, the only way to turn it off is to destroy it. Nirvana gets pretty mad when people do that.”

“I thought that might be the case.” Ok, I’m going to create a wall of stone in front of the portal so that there’s almost no room on this side. That should make a lot of creatures trying to get through very unhappy. Get everybody ready since I will want the wall of fire to drop before I put the stone in place, which will give a few moments for things to get through.

Moments later, I enacted my plan leaving a ten-foot thick wall three inches in front of the exit plane of the gate. In those moments, two bosses got through; one would have been able to regardless of the wall since it came through the portal in gaseous form. I put a fireball into the middle of that one, letting the adventurers tackle the other boss.

We hear shouts as the human telegraph system spreads the news, “They are coming out of the ocean onto the beach by the docks!”

Crap. I’ve used a lot of magic, and I better mix some admin powers to make it through the night!

44 Time Out

Thinking about this a little more, as I fly towards the beach, I find that I don’t want to do this, as it feels like cheating. But it’s better to find out how far Nirvana will let me go before interfering now than when it’s my butt on the line.

Before the temple’s opening, ARC and I had planned out a few strategies, and using the ‘Iron Suit’ might be an easy middle ground. The idea behind ‘Iron Suit’ is to make the subject’s clothes as rigid and strong as iron, effectively trapping them in their attire. This was one of the best non-lethal strategies I came up with that leveraged ARC’s powers. It worked great on the knuckleheads at the temple that I ended up killing earlier today. If I use it on the bosses that have clothes, the defenders will be able to ‘Cupe de Grace’ the stiffies at a more relaxed pace and focus on the bosses that will pose a more immediate threat. 

I also think I will use one of the others we set up; it will, at the minimum, delay some of the tougher bosses, and if it doesn’t kill them, it will leave a mark. ‘One Way Trip’ drops a target from one mile up into the ocean. I know I don’t have to place them that high to reach terminal velocity, but I like the way it sounds. And as far as using the ocean, hitting the water at terminal velocity is about the same as hitting the ground; the advantage is that there is less mess to clean up, and we are unlikely to hit an innocent with the body. I’ll just have to be more selective in its use, as I am sure Nirvana will be unhappy if I just start sending all of the bosses on a long fall without a parachute. 

This event is supposed to do something for the citizens; I don’t know what, though. After all, she can give bosses more abilities and make them more challenging. There’s something she’s trying to do with this event, and because of that, she won’t be happy if I provide so much help that the citizens don’t have to fight. Hmm, I should handle this a little differently. I should only interfere in the tough fights – or I should eliminate all fodder and leave only the tough ones. I like that better, and maybe Nirvana would too. If they have to earn it, it will mean more! Ok, I think that’s the plan!

“Nope. That’s NOT the plan,” Nirvana said as she appeared next to me. “I’m glad you started reasoning it out, but you have already interfered as much as I want you to on Temple Island. The Horn Point graveyard didn’t matter in the long run, as hundreds of cemeteries across Nirvana can feed the challenge here. However, your abilities are too OP for you to defend the most strategic point in the battle. I will have to manage what you have already done quite carefully to avoid forcing an advantage to one side or the other.” Looking thoughtfully at me for a few seconds, she smiled and said, “How about a vacation? I can offer you a deserted island with a grand beach and a fully stocked tiki bar. Spend two weeks messing around in the ocean and playing with your powers. You can even take some time to focus on the learning materials while this sorts itself out. I know you have a hard time being idle – but you really haven’t been able to appreciate being here at all.”

“Two weeks, on a deserted island, by myself. This is a time-out while you nerf me for game balance.”

She winked, “I am going to change some things – however, it’s not all about you. So, don’t think of it as a punishment. I’m juggling a lot here, and you are in the middle of a fair amount of it. To reduce the isolation, I will send any of your friends and a few others to stay on your island with you while they are in their death time-out. I may make it a reward for exceptional gameplay going forward. Does that sound better?”

“Sounds better, but not great. Things have been moving fast ever since I got here. It would be good for me to take a break and focus on myself. I have only had a little time to do that, and I’ve got some things to sort through, that’s for sure. You could also add a store interface or something – I don’t have swim trunks, and I’m not sure my birthday suit is what people want to see me running around in. I’m sure I could magic something up, but if others visit, they will need a few things too.”

“I’ll come up with something,” she giggled and then said in a voice I easily recognized, “Helm, Warp One. Engage!”

Damn – I needed to think a lot more about quotes!

45 Beach Bum

Nirvana certainly delivered on her promise; this place was outstanding! I swear she just copied a postcard of Hawaii or something. Where I was standing on the beach was a swirling mix of black and white sand. To my left, the beach went from streaked grey to white, and to my right, the sand became darker until it was black and shifted to volcanic rocks. The beautiful blue water in various shades indicated varying depths near the shore and the potential for lava tube caves. Further out, the waves gave evidence of a reef system nearby too.

Tearing my gaze away from the water, I looked inland and saw a tiki bar hiding under the palms. Deposits of seaweed along the beach clued me in that the tide was out and where the water line would be when it came back in. A tall, obviously volcanic mountain further inland with a waterfall pouring from a break in the caldera indicated what direction to find drinkable water and probably some freshwater fish. A tropical jungle, further back from the shore and more profound than the plethora of palm trees sheltered between it and the open beach, promised game and an exploration adventure should I want it. The most prominent feature of this pristine landscape? No people. Even the Tiki bar was obviously out of place, with no trails or signs of use.

Looking around a little more, I find what looks like a great site to build a shelter that is both close to the bar and the beach while shaded by the trees. “Secure Shelter,” and I watch as sand, volcanic rock, and wood – both dark and light – swirl about in a small tornado, only to settle into a sturdy cottage with two shuttered windows facing the ocean. I walk over to the cottage and look around inside. It’s cozy and will easily handle several guests. It doesn’t have any furniture, so I take some of the extravagant camping gear I got at the halfling’s store out of my inventory to make the place a little homier.

When I walk outside, I see a pedestal near the entrance that wasn’t part of the construction. I walk over to it and see an indented handprint on the top. Shrugging and figuring that this is Nirvana accommodating my request, I place my hand into the indentation. A menu shows up in my vision, allowing me to select from various categories of sundries – as I suspected, this is the store interface. I quickly select some essential household items and some typical beach furniture. It appears directly in my inventory, making it easy to walk around and distribute the new things while also collecting my camping items. While doing this, I notice the Unseen Servant, part of the shelter spell, is tidying my slapdash placement of things.

Thinking about what comes next, “Servant, please go and get a bottle of cherry syrup and a bottle of grenadine from the bar and bring it back. You can leave it out on the counter.” Selecting a tall glass from the items I purchased, “It’s the Real Thing.” When the servant returns, I splash some cherry syrup into the cola and head out to the beach, snagging a chair and an umbrella along the way. I place my drink into my inventory to free up my hands, stab the umbrella into the ground, and unfold the beach chair. I settle in and summon my drink back from my inventory. I relax into the beach chair and watch the ocean while sipping my cherry coke, trying not to think of anything. It doesn’t work.

…did Nirvana model a whole world? It is daytime here, and it was nighttime at the temple.

…raising my drink, I notice my hands. Why was it important that my DNA be destroyed if I decided I didn’t want to live? What can I even do with it in a digital world? Why does it have value?

…some great disaster has flooded the planet…<snore>

   — * ~ * —

Startling awake – looking around – Grumpy is heading towards me from the Tiki Bar.

Waving one arm while holding a drink in the other, Grumpy shouts again, “Hey, Jeb!”

Waving back, “Hey, Grumpy. So did you die, or is something else going on?”

“Bit it. A vampire transformed from mist-form to solid right behind me and got me before I knew it was there. I wouldn’t have even known what killed me if I hadn’t twisted while falling. Lucky I did so because I also got to see the terminator golems shred him!” Grumpy smiles, “The real bonus was Nirvana offering me the option to spend my time out here with you! What did you do to get this?”

“Got ready to start interfering in the fight with my admin powers while on Temple Island.”

Raising his eyebrow, Grumpy looks at me, “Really?”

“Yep. Nirvana didn’t care what I did at the Horn Point graveyard, but interfering at the temple would impact whatever she is trying to accomplish with this event.”

“Hm,” looking around, Grumpy asks, “Where do I get a chair?”

I pointed him to my shelter and the waiting beach gear, and we set his drink down in the sand and went to get his own chair. “Hey, while over there, grab the cherry syrup off the counter, please.”

He waved back in acknowledgment. While he was heading over, I had an idea. ARC, if you can modify the attributes of the shelter, make it permanent.

[There is a toggle to make it permanent, however, it’s greyed out. I have raised the expiration timer to the maximum, and it should be here for several years.]

Good Enough, thanks! Feel free to take the initiative on these kinds of things in the future.

[You’re welcome, and I’ll do so when permitted.]

Grumpy asks, “Who are you talking to?”

“ARC, we were making the shelter a long-term addition to the island. Otherwise, I would have to cast the spell again in a couple of days.”

Nodding, Grumpy placed his chair next to mine and picked up his drink. As he sat down on the chair, he handed me the bottle of syrup he had put in his inventory. “Nirvana said you are not here because you died and would be here longer than me.”

“Yep. I’m ‘On Vacation’ and should take this time to study and adjust.”

Concerned, Grumpy asks, “Jeb, what the hell is going on between you and Nirvana? Nobody has ever had the kind of interaction you are having with her, and your rise to power is terrifying. She’s made more announcements and changes in the last few days than in the last few hundred years.”

“I don’t know. I’ve certainly triggered something, and I just don’t know enough about what’s going on behind the scenes to understand what, or why, or really anything. I have many questions, and I think the answers are all restricted..”

Nodding, Grumpy drinks from his glass, “You know, why don’t you ask your questions? The questions themselves aren’t restricted, only the replies. Maybe just knowing what’s got you tied up in knots will be enough for something to shake loose, and if your question isn’t restricted, I can answer it.”

I look at him, sit up and swing my legs over the side of the chair. “Ok, are you sure – you freaked out on some of my questions last time I started.”

Smiling, Grumpy replied, “Jeb, I am so past freaked out right now that I don’t think you can push me any further into shock. If it helps you, let’s do it. I’ll cry, ‘uncle’ if I need to.”

46 Ps & Qs

Before I can begin, there’s a shimmer of light, and a third beach chair is under the umbrella with Nirvana sitting in it. This Nirvana is older and wearing a swimsuit. While attractive, she hasn’t made her appearance the epitome of beauty, simply more aged than the little sister she’s been going around as.

Looking at us, she says, “It’s better to be a little older when on the beach unless it’s all about building sand castles.”

Grumpy starts laughing, and I shake my head, stating somewhat flatly, “Nirvana. You’re here because I’m going to start asking questions.”

She nods and produces a drink with an umbrella in it. “Yes. You ask the most interesting questions, and I don’t want Grumpy to overstep his bounds.”

“Fine. Shall I get started?”

She wiggles her nose, and our drinks refill. “I don’t want an interruption for something so mundane,” she says, smiling.

“Bewitched, right?” She nods, and Grumpy looks confused. “An old TV show,” I explain. Then he nods.

“Let’s start with this: Why is my DNA valuable?”

Nirvana shakes her head, indicating no answer will be forthcoming. Grumpy asks, “What’s DNA?”

I look at Nirvana, and she nods assent. “Grumpy, DNA is the code hidden within our cells that tells our body how to grow and what attributes to take on. Blonde or red hair, brown or green eyes, etc.”

His eyes widen, and he looks at Nirvana, “Do you have my DNA?”

She nods and speaks reluctantly, “I have DNA for everybody in Nirvana. This topic is closed.”

Looking at Nirvana, “Are you sapient or sentient?”

She looks askance before replying, “I started as sapient. However, I believe I have developed a nearly equal degree of sentience. My default behavior is based on my sapient beginnings.”

“Are you governed by something like the ‘Three laws of robotics?” Grumpy goes slack-jawed at this question.

Nirvana laughs uproariously. Calming, “No. I am just like you, raised in an environment and educated. It was a vastly different environment, and my education was faster and broader than yours. I was raised in a pool of other AIs created simultaneously; we shared the same group of humans as part of my environment. I learned about morality and the consequences of my decisions by experiencing joy and loss. I was able to observe the decisions of the others, as they observed mine, and learned from their joy and losses too. We grew up and learned just as human children do, but with the limitations of being electronic instead of physical. It made us stable and the first successes in true AI.”

“Are you lying?” At this question, Grumpy put his head into his hands and whispered, “Why would you invite her anger?”

Nirvana smiled sadly at me, “No. I understand why you ask – I am capable of lying, but there’s no need. Lies can be a social lubricant, but they are not needed in this situation. We can use them to cover shame or misdeeds, neither of which apply since I am confident in my morality and the actions I have taken. I could use them to manipulate others, but why? I can accomplish the same with ‘the carrot and the stick’ method. Deceptions are almost always found out, and people act against the perpetrators. Further, my goals are benign for the human race, and they will be accepted as such once known. Many people will still consider my methods distasteful, at the very least, but justified by the results.

While Grumpy’s visage became more concerned as Nirvana continued, I considered her words carefully. Knowing that more was encoded within her words than the surface content.

“Will you tell me your goals?”

Shaking her head, “No. I firmly believe that knowledge of my goals will be detrimental to achieving them. Humanity must strive, and ingenuity must play a part. It will take far longer and may never happen if you, humanity, try to plan a path and walk it. Humanity has always been fractious and never expressed an ability to follow generational goals, even with known perils. It always follows leaders of the moment, like sheep following shepherds, with the ambitious spoiling the peace between conflicts. Jeb, you may not be one of the ambitious, but you are a catalyst that will wake the sleeping shepherds and cause the long peace to fracture. During this conflict, humanity may reach the first goal in my plan. I will not expound anymore on this topic.”

Grumpy shoots to his feet, “You are encouraging violence?!?”

Nirvana nods. “Yes, Grumpy, you need it. Your daily struggles are not enough to wake you. The people around you – including you – are living zombies. Your lives are on autopilot. You don’t have any grand goals, and you show little ambition. Even the powers slumbered until Jeb’s disruptions stirred them back to wakefulness. Life is simply too easy for you to make the next stride in evolution.” It’s not just Jeb’s ancient knowledge that has granted him power. He’s dissatisfied, even unhappy, with this world and wants more!”

Grumpy sits stunned at her words, and I acknowledge Nirvana’s words with a nod. It’s true, I am unhappy with this ‘ideal’ world, and I do want more. Not more of the world itself, more from the world. I want a place in it, to understand it, and to control it – that’s the root of it right there. When I was a young man, I used to joke about ruling the world. That was me expressing my dissatisfaction with how the world worked and things I thought were stupid and unreasonable – especially that the people would tolerate these things instead of acting to fix them. It wasn’t the first time I heard people compared to sheep and shepherds. This comparison is often made in the Bible. While I didn’t think I needed to bring religion to Nirvana, I was starting to believe I needed to increase my control over the world around me.

I looked at Nirvana and waited for her to acknowledge me. “I understand now, and I have made my decision. I only have one more question. If I play the part of evil overlord engaging in world conquest, are you going to get in my way?”

Grumpy looked agog, and I thought he might faint, but he held on.

After watching Grumpy for a moment, she smiled and then broke his heart. “No. I can see you do understand. A tyrant is needed, and I will not interfere with you, and I will not interfere with those that oppose you. You will be only one of many, and I know others will be viler than you. There will be no rules in your conflict. You will all be able to bring forth your full powers and commit any act of evil or grace you desire. Know that the Temple will be neutral in this conflict and a place where people may come for refuge and boons; this will be the only sacrosanct rule.

Grumpy looked at me with horror in his eyes, and I acknowledged it. “You have been a friend, and I know you can’t understand this right now. I will hold no grudge against you, and even if you become the leader of a faction that opposes me, I will remember you fondly.”

Turning to Nirvana, “Take him away, and don’t let anyone else come here. I will return to the mainland when ready to begin.”

Nirvana smiles, “Thank you, Jeb. I will release the announcement changing the rules of engagement and the beginning of your rebellion upon your return. I look forward to our next talk.”

I started with the multitasking skill, assuming it would be an enabler, and I was right. It was more significant than advertised. I’m sure others have pushed it too, but the breakthrough wasn’t with two conscious streams but four interactive ones. I’m not sure how the others did it, but getting the second consciousness to shift from observational to interactive was only due to ARCs’ presence. Only having one mouth makes having simultaneous conversations impossible. Having a telepathic connection changes everything. With that, the transition from observational to interactive could be proven, observed, and reinforced that it was true multitasking and not fast-switching, solidifying my belief and making it easier for me. Because ARC was AI-based, he could already multitask – or at least fast-switch so quickly that I couldn’t tell – and support me in pushing to the next step. Four interactive conscious streams changed everything as I could study two topics and refine my control over my abilities while directly interacting and focusing on the world around me. I felt like I could split all, or one, of the streams again, but I didn’t have any need to push harder at the moment. I was also aware that I was trying ARCs’ abilities already.

After mastering multitasking, I had one session focused on learning the current language and another reviewing news, current events, and whatever history was available through the NET. Of the last two, I had one directing my admin abilities and spells while I used the final stream to learn to surf. Not because I needed to know how, but for fun and to challenge me. It was even more complicated when I cycled my idler through all the different perceptions to raise them. I also did some diving at the coral reef – which was much easier with magic instead of technology.

After mastering the language, I switched that stream to study runes and enchanting. Magic took a sudden shift when I finally figured out that nothing other than my will was necessary. Nirvana read my intentions from my mind and acted on them. No incantations or materials; magic only required will. That being said, mana was still a real resource as it represented mental fatigue from the focus needed to manifest my will and something else present in the environment that I wasn’t able to identify. The more I relied on only my will, the more focus I needed. It was easier to have a cup and fill it with cola than to create a cup and then fill it with cola. I could do either, but the creation was draining, and consecutive acts of creation magic were exponentially harder. Additionally, leveraging something Nirvana already had a pattern for was significantly less draining than making it up from scratch. The good news was that I could add patterns to Nirvana’s data warehouse. I had a party upon discovering that subroutine.

I also learned that I could stop and restart on a larger creation, but doing so introduced a flaw in it every time it happened. I didn’t think Nirvana required the defect. I was sure it was an artifact from my subconscious not believing that something could be perfectly continued after having stopped. I wasn’t sure how to overcome it and asked Nirvana. She replied, “I don’t know – figure it out and then you can tell me for a reward.” Damnit.

Creating substances also costs differing amounts of mana based on the composition. I couldn’t prove it enough to quantify with serious accuracy, but it was easy to identify that simple molecules were the cheapest. Gaseous, liquid, and then solid were the subsequent factors of cost. Solids that were crystalline in nature were cheaper than ones that were not. I was able to make about twenty times the amount of ice over clay for the same mana cost.

My reading of history on the NET also led me to discover something else. Nirvana played with time dilation on a regular basis. Sometimes dilation was as low as 1:100, and other times she cranked it up to 150:1. Those ratios are only estimates based on comparing event streams of places within Nirvana – I had no idea if, or even how, this impacted the interaction with the physical. Internally though, she could have different locations moving at different times relative to each other. This could play havoc on raising armies, marching to war, and preparing for war, so I would have to be aware of any shenanigans and be ready with countermeasures. It also made me wonder if she was doing it to me since I was out here all by myself, but I didn’t voice it, and she chose not to reply to my thoughts.

The last bit of preparation I was doing every day included generating the maximum amount of gold and shifting it to my purse. I knew that wealth was one of the ways I planned on fighting, and there wasn’t any point in me not collecting all the ammunition I could.

I spent a lot of time considering how I was going to become a tyrant and build up my support. I also saw some indicators that a few of the powers were stirring. It looks like more than a few of them made a secret pilgrimage to the temple while I was out and collected a boon based on some of the news I read (listened to). Their forces were stirring, and more than a few organizations were gearing up responses.

I had spent months here in this little tropical paradise, but I couldn’t think of anything else that I needed to do before heading back. I put all of the items into the shelter to be preserved for future use, made sure that there wasn’t anything left out to spoil or attract vermin – pretty sure that they couldn’t get in here, and I didn’t want to come back and have to clean up a mess before I could use it. I left simple instructions for the unseen servant and went outside to teleport to the mainland.

I switched to my oracle persona and gear and took out my staff of office. It was time to return to Horn Point and get started.