“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.”

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