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RSS feed that loads the narrated audio of the chapters Steven & Brian will be discussing just before the discussion episode.



Not Everything Is A Clue – Ch 101-104

Chapters 101-104: The Men in Black take an interest in our murderhobos, and Ninjas take over the podcast

For next week — Our First Retrospective! With Griffin and Coy/Gorky from the Discord & Shaping Exercises 101

Cakoluchiam’s stellar Character Sheet

Steven’s Predictions – Everything is a Clue

Worth the Candle can be read at AO3 or RoyalRoad.

You can support this podcast at our Patreon. Alexander Wales can be supported at his Patreon. We have a Discord as well.

Not Everything Is A Clue – Ch 97-100

Chapters 97-100: Unmoored From Realtime

For next week — 101-104

101. PPROM
102. The Adventures of Valencia the Red
103. Contract
104. Consolation

Cakoluchiam’s stellar Character Sheet

Steven’s Predictions – Everything is a Clue

Worth the Candle can be read at AO3 or RoyalRoad.

You can support this podcast at our Patreon. Alexander Wales can be supported at his Patreon. We have a Discord as well.

Not Everything Is A Clue – Ch 93-96

Chapters 93-96: Murder-Ghandi Rides Again!

Shaping Exercises podcast (or direct RSS)

The Legend of Murder-Ghandi

How The West Was Won

The Bechdel Test origin comic

For next week — 97-100

97. Rapping at my Chamber Door
98. Letter 15
99. Enough Rope to Hang Yourself
100. Immanentizing the Eschaton

Cakoluchiam’s stellar Character Sheet

Steven’s Predictions – Everything is a Clue

Worth the Candle can be read at AO3 or RoyalRoad.

You can support this podcast at our Patreon. Alexander Wales can be supported at his Patreon. We have a Discord as well.

Not Everything Is A Clue – Ch 89-92

Chapters 89-92: Seriously Competative Professional Readers

For next week — 93-96

93. Bottle Episode
94. Grayscale
95. Time Enough
96. A Portrait of the King as a Young Man

Cakoluchiam’s stellar Character Sheet

Steven’s Predictions – Everything is a Clue

Worth the Candle can be read at AO3 or RoyalRoad.

You can support this podcast at our Patreon. Alexander Wales can be supported at his Patreon. We have a Discord as well.

Not Everything Is A Clue – Ch 84-88

Chapters 84-88: Descent

Thomas Eliot’s translations of The Enchiridion of Epictetus

Ron’s Not Dumb video

Sword of Good (and audio in two parts)

MythBusters kick down doors

Worldbuilding is Important blog post

For next week — 89-92

89. The Face of a Place
90. Head of House
91. An Open House
92. Shades

Cakoluchiam’s stellar Character Sheet

Steven’s Predictions – Everything is a Clue

Worth the Candle can be read at AO3 or RoyalRoad.

You can support this podcast at our Patreon. Alexander Wales can be supported at his Patreon. We have a Discord as well.

Steven’s Notes Ch 77-79

These are Steven’s Notes for chapters 77-79. Usually they are only published on the Patreon feed, but we got to 35 Patrons, and Steven liked this set in particular, so we’re releasing these to everyone.

 

Lies and Damned Lies

July 27, 2021
“Come on, let’s talk about this in my room,” I said, gesturing for her to lead the way.

Like Val isn’t going to take the wrong message from ‘let’s talk about this in my bedroom’.

July 27, 2021
There was something haunting about her in the light that filtered in through the window, like I was looking at a wisp of a person.

Haunting image there.

July 27, 2021
“Do you know what a locus is?” I asked.
“Mary said that it was one of a kind,” said Val. “A creature that was hated and hunted.”
“Like you,” I said.
Val shrugged.

This is either some awesome manipulation by Amaryllis or the natural conclusion Val reached. I’m leaning toward manipulation. Loci aren’t exactly hated and hunted now, so saying they are is disingenuous and seems to appeal to Val’s emotions specifically.

July 27, 2021
“You’re in control of the devils though?” I asked.
“They’re just a collection of parts,” said Val. “Not devils anymore, when they’re past my maw.”

Metal. As. Fuck!

July 27, 2021
“I feel so much better like this,” said Val. She stretched her arms out to the sides, then moved them in, pushing her breasts together, which I tried not to notice.

It wasn’t clear before that she could suck in a devil at will. I thought it was just bad luck for whatever devils happened upon her. I wonder if the devil’s knowledge of people gave her the insight to know that this is a gesture Joon would notice. I imagine she didn’t learn a lot about flattering boys in her prison home.
I also realized that in my head I’ve been basically picturing Belatrix Black with red eyes, but Val isn’t described as an emaciated half-corpse.

July 27, 2021
her arms were still pushing her breasts together, showing more pale cleavage than the dress would normally allow for. She grinned at me. “The confidence is faked.”
“Faked?” I asked.
“I don’t feel it, internally, but there’s a part of the devil that knows what it’s like to puppet a human and pretend at being confident, so I can use that, if I think I can get what I want by pretending,” said Val.

Huh. Well, I feel less pervy for my earlier guess since I was right.

July 27, 2021
“Val,” I said slowly. I had almost asked her what it was she wanted, but that was such an obvious trap that I was stunned I’d almost fell for it.

Eneasz was right. SOC isn’t a dump stat!

July 27, 2021
“Too easy and too hard,” I replied with a nod. My heart was slowing back down.

This whole exchange was played awesomely. Conveying a difficult to explain concept through an wonderfully executed example.

July 27, 2021
“I can tell what she’s thinking,” said Val. “Other people are so easy to pick apart. It’s myself that I have trouble with. She told me not to say anything about the things that I could see in people.” She looked me over. “You agree with her, but you want to know anyway. Should I tell you?”
“No,” I replied.

That’s awesomely respectful of Joon. It’s not like he doesn’t have his own ways to be invasive of other people’s minds, and he’s deliberately choosing to not follow those paths.

July 27, 2021
“It’s not always pretty to see people laid bare,” said Val. Her eyes were locked with mine, and now I was the one that wanted to look away.
“If there’s anything that you’re getting off me … I won’t deny that you can probably see through me, but we can’t always be the people that we want to be, even when we know who we want to be,” I said.

Joon, that was eloquent as hell and I wonder what sort of linguistic master you’d be with more SOC points. I’m going to remember that quote.

July 27, 2021
“I wasn’t talking about you,” said Val with a small laugh and a shake of her head. “Everything I see in you is beautiful, even the flaws. Perhaps not the flaws, but the way you work against them. It’s very appealing.”

That’s probably the most romantic thing in this book so far. That does indeed sound like love to me.

July 27, 2021
“Well, I’m introspective enough to realize I’ve been finding this experience a little bit terrifying, and open enough to say that,” I said.

Wisdom 8!!!

July 27, 2021
“Don’t try to convince me,” I said. “We already had our vote, we’re going to put the locus first, I want to know why you care because I want to get to know you, however confusing the concept of ‘you’ is to you right now.”
Loyalty increased: Valencia the Red lvl 19!

Well hey! Good job, Joon! Adhering to the results of a vote is part of the consequence of allowing voting. Good job being cool (apparently) about it. :)

July 27, 2021
“I’m hoping that the locus, when we meet, is the second person that truly doesn’t care.”
I kept my mouth firmly shut. It’s not a person. That didn’t seem like the kind of thing that you could say to someone who had just finished explaining that her entire life was going to be dominated by people thinking that she wasn’t a person. I hoped that she couldn’t read all that from me, and then realized that I was doing exactly what she’d complained about Amaryllis doing, which was flinching back from the all-seeing eye.

Is it just me or is Joon being particularly wise today? Self awareness is rare enough, but self awareness in the moment of needing it is another level entirely.

July 27, 2021
“Juniper, I want you to take me seriously when I say that’s very dangerous,” said Amaryllis.
“Yeah, I learned that the hard way,” I said. “I don’t know what class of demon she was chowing down on, but it was very, ah, stressful, like if I hadn’t been careful she might have talked me into … I don’t know.” Except that I do know. Blegh. Bleeeegh. Bad brain.

Lol. ‘Curse my useless hormonal teenage brain!’

July 27, 2021
“Devil, not demon,” said Amaryllis. “Devils are the thinkers and talkers, demons are the fighters.”
“Right, I know,” I replied.

Oh, so Joon just knows this but didn’t tell us yet. ;)

July 27, 2021
“And I think that we have to be a little bit watchful,” she continued, “I don’t think it’s probable, but given her demonstrated ability, it’s at least possible that she voted the way she did in order to provoke you into spending some time with her, and whatever you two talked about, the outcome might have been one that she was steering, especially if you came away feeling ‘good’.”
“I was really hoping that with Fallatehr dead we could leave that kind of thinking behind,” I muttered.

Maybe that flashback last chapter wasn’t foreshadowing forthcoming team strife. Maybe it was showing that Joon doesn’t enjoy that stuff and will work to not let it happen. He and Amaryllis are jamming nicely and respectfully here.

July 27, 2021
“The ones that everyone remembers, the successful ones, married themselves to the infernal, became a willing tool of abject evil.”
“But they were still people,” I said.
“Yes,” said Amaryllis, slowly, hesitantly. “But I’m not sure that the distinction is one that matters.”
“It seems to me like what you do and do not consider a person matters a lot,” I replied.
“Not for them,” said Amaryllis. “Whether they’re people or not, the solution would have been the same. The quality of life a non-anima can expect to live, the things that they would see, the death and destruction that they would be complicit in? It was, is, better to end them.”

Heavy stuff. Personhood is a semi-complex subject and Joon is right that considering it is important. He must not view Doris (Fucking) Finch a person.

The Sacrifice

July 28, 2021
Eventually, we decided on Bows, Unarmored, Unarmed Combat, and Shields. The first two were fairly easy choices, because Fenn had high skill in both, which meant that through Symbiosis I was at least middling. Unarmed and Shields both had the virtue of being little-used and seeming like they’d be straightforward to train.

I wonder if this will drain Fenn’s skill somehow and it won’t come back as easily as Joon’s. Also, they’ll have to go over 100 or he’ll only be a 100 level soul mage for 5 minutes. It took him 4 hours to tap Grak’s soul. They’re going to need plenty of wiggle room or he’ll drop the ball in the middle of testing things out.

July 28, 2021
Amaryllis had been the one to plan out most of the safehouses, and while they each served their own specific purpose, I’d eventually cottoned on to the fact that she’d deliberately chosen inconspicuous and uninteresting places, and given them the most boring possible names.

Smart move. Finding a bunker with 12 inch steel reinforced walls and calling it The Bunker would be bad ass, but it would be *just what they were expecting!*

July 28, 2021
Contrast a mostly anonymous cottage in the woods with spartan furnishing to an immense cathedral with a significant name that had once belonged to a dead god, and you might understand her line of thinking.

See?? Joon and Amaryllis get it.

July 28, 2021
Steady Aim: Completely eliminates the penalty for firing a bow while moving. Halves the penalty for firing a bow under pressure or duress. Triples the amount of time you can hold a bow at maximum draw.
Bulwark: Shields you hold are twice as durable. If a force acts on your shield to move you, you will move only half the usual distance, with the reduction capped at ten feet of movement negated.
Hardened Skin: Lessens the toll that physical damage in combat takes on you. Slightly increases natural healing. Increases force required to break skin.

These are solid perks! Too bad he’s going to have to trade them for a while to cheese his Essentialism skill.

July 28, 2021
Monkish Warrior: While unarmed and unarmored, you may parry attacks as though you held a weapon, dodge at twice your effective skill, and automatically re-roll injuries if they are in the lowest five percent of outcomes (you keep any lower rolls).

Wow. And explicit reference to rolling dice for attack outcomes.

July 28, 2021
I ended up putting the two extra ability points into MEN even before we went into the bottle. Fenn already augmented my social skills, just through Symbiosis, and if Amaryllis got up to 20 Loyalty (something that both of us wanted), I thought that I would pretty much be set.

Solid thinking. MEN is the path to overpowered mage. Plus being super smart is powerful on its own.

July 28, 2021
We descended into the bottle together, as a group. For me, Grak, and Val, it was the old travel-by-glove routine, while Fenn held onto Amaryllis, who was taking us all down in the immobility plate. Fenn had refused to go into the glove, citing one too many bad experiences with it, and for whatever reason, Amaryllis indulged her, even though it meant that the descent took quite a bit longer than it otherwise would have.

No reference to the fact that the bottle is the size of, well, a bottle. How the hell did they descend into it without being tiny?

July 28, 2021
The Six-Eyed Doe was pretty, I supposed, aesthetically pleasing, but I couldn’t quite help myself from appending ‘for a deer’ to that.

Lol, he has to assess it on how pretty it is because he thinks he’s gonna have to fuck it at some point. ;)

July 28, 2021
When her trembling hand was a few feet away, the Six-Eyed Doe bowed its head, took a step forward, and licked her on the face. Val let out an ‘eep!’, then began to laugh as the doe nuzzled her.

Deer are cute and this one’s a sweetie. Joon, quit being a sourpuss.

July 28, 2021
(And though I saw it happen, I still couldn’t quite say how the locus managed the feat of lifting Val up with its head and having her tumble backward along its neck to reach a perfect sitting position with no seeming effort on either of their behalf. It annoyed me, thinking about it later, because it seemed like the same kind of bullshit ‘fuck you I’m magical’ thing that I’d come to expect of the locus.)

‘Fuck you, I’m magical’ is sort of the doe’s whole thing. :)

July 28, 2021
“Fenn?” I asked. Hand going to my heart. “My most loyal companion? How could you wound me so?”
“I’m the self-appointed court jester,” said Fenn. “My role is to tell the king the things that no one else can, because he’d get pissed off if it came from someone else. Ergo, you’re being a whiner about your very nearly godlike powers.”
“Not for the first time,” muttered Grak, loud enough that I could hear it.

Ha. Also, it’s somehow true that it hurts less coming from her than Grak’s unconcerned phrasing.

July 28, 2021
“I’m coming around to it,” I said. “And even if I weren’t, you can’t maintain a democracy if you’re willing to defect from it when the votes don’t go your way.”

Good guy Joon! Not sour about the outcome of the vote. 👍

July 28, 2021
“I want to do everything possible before the Sacrifice,” I said. “That will mean trying to at least see the Six-Eyed Doe’s soul the normal way. There are a lot of ways that this can go wrong, and I want to minimize them.”

Thank goodness. I was really hoping he would try to do this.

July 28, 2021
He ran his hand over his beard. “Juniper, you treat the world as though it owes you something. You treat me as though I owe you my attention, affection, and loyalty.”
I thought for a moment before responding to that, trying to pick the right words. “Oh fuck off,” I said.

I don’t want to highlight the whole thing, but I really liked this interaction. Grak doesn’t mind being what would commonly be called ‘rude’ when having a discussion to eliminate the tedium of beating around the bush. Two standard people would take ages to communicate this for fear of hurting each other’s feelings.

July 28, 2021
“If the game layer hadn’t said anything about it, we would have used him to get up Aumann’s tower, rescued Amaryllis, and then went off without him, leaving him in the lurch.”
“Well that’s fucking harsh,” said Fenn with a frown.
“It was your plan,” I replied.
“Oh, right,” said Fenn, brightening up. “That was ages ago.”
“Water over the bridge,” nodded Grak.

Haha. Oh Fenn. Also, apparently ‘water over the bridge’ is the Aerbian idiom, or he’s just playing off of Fenn’s wrong way of saying it. I’m glad he has a sense of humor. I know he hasn’t found his Purpose, but I hope he’s healing.

July 28, 2021
I closed my eyes and scrunched up my face, trying to think of some response without the distraction of having to look at anyone. “Okay, I can see it now. I’m going to have to hope that I can explain what was going through my head at some point, but I want some time to think about things, how it looks from your perspective, and where our different cultures are getting in the way. And even if I could explain it perfectly, that probably wouldn’t be enough, because with you, I failed. I need to just … listen more, I guess, and focus less on the end goals, at least when it comes to our kharass.”
I opened my eyes.
Loyalty increased: Fenn lvl 22!
Loyalty increased: Amaryllis lvl 16!
Loyalty increased: Grak lvl 10!
Companion Passive Unlocked: Twinned Souls (Grak)!”

Humility goes a long way. Being able to own up to your mistakes and shortcomings is admirable – apparently even admirable enough to boost loyalty from a very reluctant Grak.

July 28, 2021
“The monocle will burn the retinas, if overused,” explained Grak. “I no longer need it. It takes thirty or forty years of intensive study to develop the sight. It marks a person as a true master.”

Leveling up your homies is tight! This honesty feels like a new level of trust and communication for the group – especially for Joon and Grak. Screw the concern of team conflict! :)

July 28, 2021
“I’m happy for you, Grak,” said Amaryllis. She looked over at the Six-Eyed Doe, which was approaching with Val on its back. “It looks like they’re finally finished. Fortuitous timing.”

Amaryllis is a good friend too. Fenn… I feel like I’d never be quite sure where I stood with her if I knew her IRL because of her tendency to deflect and make everything a joke. I wonder what the doe will get at loyalty 10. I suspect the effort of The Sacrifice will go a long way. I wonder if at level 20 Val will be able to eat any souls she can get her hands on. This may allow some brief semi-communication with Solace.

July 28, 2021
“She tried to fit in my maw,” said Val.
“It … what?” I asked.
“She could see that I was hollow,” said Val. “So she tried to fit inside of me, just to explore.”

Are we still doing ‘phrasing’? ‘She tried to fit inside me’ is just begging Archer to make a joke. :) And I take it more as a kind gesture from the Doe rather than some malicious attempt at possession or something.

July 28, 2021
“We don’t need to know more,” said Amaryllis, seeming to pick up on my train of thought. “We’ll try not to inspect it too deeply, or ask too many questions that don’t have answers.”

Team synergy! Amaryllis understands Joon well enough to know what he was thinking. :)

July 28, 2021
Fenn stepped forward, with a bottle in her hand. Solace’s lily-white soul was moving within it. “There’s a bit of bad news,” said Fenn. “Solace –”
The locus turned its head toward the sky and began to yell, a weird, braying sound that set my teeth on edge. This continued for some time, until Amaryllis moved forward and wrapped the locus in a hug, her head resting against the doe’s breast.

Oh no… :( My pathological empathy is taking the reigns and this hit me right in the feels.

July 28, 2021
(Had it not known, or was it like a mother seeing her son’s casket come home from a war overseas, emotion spilling forward when an immaterial death was made real?)

I’m taking it for granted that the locus can tell it’s Solace’s soul immediately. I wonder if it’s loyalty will go up when they tell it they’re planning to try to revive her/restore it’s power themselves.

July 28, 2021
I felt awkward and uncomfortable patting it, and tried my best to murmur something comforting, but I had always been bad with grieving.
Tiff wore a black dress, one that came down to her calves, and black shoes with a slight heel.

Oh geez. Arthur’s funeral. Well, I can’t be getting all emotional while I’m on the clock (I should probably be doing my job rather than reading anyway).

July 28, 2021
“Why didn’t you come?” she asked. Her voice was shaky.”

Oh no… :(
(A sad face doesn’t do justice to the feelings, but it’s the closest shorthand I have)

July 28, 2021
“‘Never count a human as dead until you see his body,’” I said. “He used to quote that. Dune, I think.” I tried to keep my tone clinical, to take refuge in dissociation. It wasn’t really working.

Similar to HJPEV’s approach to stress. This though… it’s just pure delusion man. You don’t (yet) live in a world with magic where you can hope to make reality another way.

July 28, 2021
“It should have been me. He was a keystone. If it had been me, only the D&D group would have even noticed. No one understood him like I did, but he at least left his mark.”

I don’t know if I’m tall enough to ride this emotional train right now.

July 28, 2021
Tiff hugged me. I hugged her back, but it was awkward because of the way we were sitting. It wouldn’t be the first or last time that she would go to me for comfort, or try to comfort me, only to realize that there was a gulf between us.
Eventually she did lose me too. She had to, for her own sake.

Goddamn. I’ll take the Joon/HJPEV approach and dissociate and talk about the writing instead of the feelings it’s generating. (Even as I wrote that part, I felt better). Alexander can make me laugh out loud while reading a joke he wrote, make me tense and eager enough to stay up late, and make me cry – all within just a few minutes of each other. Total pro.

July 28, 2021
Here was the plan that we’d worked out, in four brief parts:

Uh oh. Telling us the plan means it’s probably going to go wrong.

July 28, 2021
if I could, for example, take a few of my unicorn bones, use them to reach into the soul of the unicorn, then retrofit them into myself in order to give me unicorn powers … fuck yes I’d do it.

Make Joon a sparkling unicorn princess like Hermione! Plus time fuckery powers? Too OP to be allowed, I think, but maybe!

July 28, 2021
Maybe I’d understand how to give myself extra arms, which seemed like a thing that Essentialism could do,

Lol, we joked about this before. Seems like the sort of thing I’d pass on, but knowing I could do it sounds valuable.

July 28, 2021
Really pessimistically, just by trying I would permanently fuck something up.

Definitely a possibility. Without spending more than a few seconds to think about it, the first thing that comes to mind is that he utterly ruins his stats and it takes him ages to get anything above 0 again. He *might* just wreck his whole game layer, but the story would get pretty weird if that’s what happened. It wouldn’t even be clear what quest they could undertake to fix that. Maybe he’ll interface with the DM directly and be told to quit fucking about so much.

July 28, 2021
I found my True Name, which I won’t give here.

Dammit! I mean, one doesn’t just go around shouting their True Name, but I’m curious. Did I ever speculate out loud about True Names on Aerb? I don’t think I did.

July 28, 2021
I knew, as if I’d had it drilled into my head long ago, that my True Name could not be changed, and there was no way to hack my lineage so that I was Uther Penndraig’s eldest son; these things were excluded, impossible now, but hadn’t always been.

The idea of changing his lineage never occurred to me (or anyone, I suspect) but the idea that it was one possible is nuts. No wonder that got excluded. He could have made himself the direct owner of every entad on Aerb.

July 28, 2021
I’d been thinking of the exclusions of being something like patches to the game (making the exclusion zones places that had been grandfathered in), and if that was the case, then soul magic must have been the cause of a whole host of patches:

This is at least part of the story, but this doesn’t answer the question of what Aerbians think causes them.

July 28, 2021
When I looked to the lines away from my soul, I stopped and stared. There should have been four, three intact (Amaryllis, Fenn, Grak), one broken and waving in the wind (Valencia). Instead, there were eight.

Ah… I assume this points to his whole party, even the ones he hasn’t seen yet. But Uther had 7 party members, right? Is the 8th one Uther??

July 28, 2021
I noticed the other guy after I’d got my bearings. He appeared as though a mental block had been lifted that prevented me from seeing him. He was dressed in a dark grey hoodie that said “Mr. Dice Guy”

Are you shitting me? I would have given “can talk to the DM” less than 5% odds! This clearly (probably?) isn’t the real physical whatever DM, but an avatar in the game. Well, Eneasz was building to something when he limited this week to 3 chapters. Is the DM Joon??? I’m going to torture myself and eat dinner before reading on.

July 28, 2021
with blue jeans and sneakers that wouldn’t have had a place on Aerb. Mid-30s, a full beard, brown hair, blue eyes, a slightly crooked nose, and a wry smirk. It wasn’t just his clothes that spoke of Earth.
“Hullo Juniper,” he said with a smile. “I thought maybe it was time we had a chat.”

Ok, lots of thoughts.
One, it’s Wednesday evening and I don’t want to sit in torture for 5 days, so I may drag out the next chapter.
Two, I don’t think this guy is Juniper or Arthur. ‘Hullo’ is not how they speak, unless this guy is putting on an accent or making a joke or something. Joon also didn’t say he recognized him, nor has he mentioned needing to shave once in the story so far, so having a full beard even at twice his age seems unlikely.
Three, I like how the DM isn’t doing The Architect from the second matrix movie shtick. Instead, he’s hanging out on jeans and hoodie, even if the hoodie is a little on the nose.
Four, if you’d asked me to bet ‘when, if ever, do you think we’ll meet the DM?’ I’d have guessed in the last 20% of the book. Doing it at 25% is dope. Five, Joon better not get his memory wiped or some shit, and the DM better put his soul magic skill depletion/the Game on pause during this chat. I’m gonna be pissed if he’s pulled out of this conversation because his skill went too low (and annoyed they blew their chance to help the locus and stuff too).
Six, what would I ask the DM if I was Joon? This is a good one to ponder. Starting with ‘what the fuck is going on?’ seems like a good place jumping off point, but if that’s too vague, I’d have to go for
– Was/is Earth real?
– Am I dead/did I die in 5th period English or am I am em of a younger me?
– How did I get here? Full brain emulation or something else?
– Is Arthur’s consciousness here somewhere and will you tell me where he is?
– WHY AM I HERE?!!!
I think I’ll just keep thinking about this for a bit before starting the next chapter.
– Honestly, asking who the DM is is sort of low on my priority list. Oh! And it looks like the DM isn’t Tiff either. Could it be hers and Joon’s secret baby that I joked about earlier? Of course, the DM’s avatar doesn’t have to look like the real DM.
– The fact that he won’t reveal his True Name is a CLUE. If this was just an ultra HD VR game, it wouldn’t be that important. It suggests Aerb and magic is really real.

Rule Zero

July 29, 2021
“You’re the Dungeon Master,” I said, looking him over.

Dun dun dun!

July 29, 2021
“Says something about you,” he said. “That you assumed that the person behind all your perceived misfortune would be yourself.”

This could still be Joon. I’ll quit hitting this point, but one’s digital avatar need not look like one’s meat suit.

July 29, 2021
“It’s my world,” I said. “My creations. My sensibilities, my interests, my design decisions, my fingerprints are all over every aspect of Aerb.”
The Dungeon Master shrugged. “True enough.”

His blasé attitude is… hard to put a label on. Is he just super chill, or a detached asshole?

July 29, 2021
I stopped, trying to think of what to say, what question I could ask. “Why is there pain?” I asked.
“Because I wanted there to be pain,” he replied.

Huh. That didn’t hit my top ten list of questions, but it’s probably a good one. For all we know, Joon is the only conscious entity here and only his pain is real. And that answer! Dude, the fuck?

July 29, 2021
“You’re a monster,” I said, crossing my arms. “And I’m on a schedule, this isn’t a good time.”
He snapped his fingers. “There, now we have all the time in the world. Satisfied?”

(Looks like I’m highlighting every heckin word of this chapter)
Joon’s response is understandable. The guy is being a dick (in this conversation, and in, you know, making a world of suffering). That said, I’m glad my concern about them only having like 5 minutes to talk is handled. … Good guy DM? Lol, nah.

July 29, 2021
“Arthur, put through shit a hundred times over, never even able to rest, how fucking could you?” He watched me, and I could feel my heart racing, my blood boiling. “Every fucking death is on your hands, every starving child, every act of violence, every rape, every murder, all the atrocities of a world that seems to have had more than its fair share of them, all that is on you. If I were god, I’d have stopped them all.”
“Then what are you waiting for?” asked the Dungeon Master. “Become god.”

I get the sense that Eneasz’s conversation with god would go about the same way. I’d like to think I’d be able to reign in my anger for the sake of a conversation. Of course, a god could read my mind, but he’d at least see the effort I made to keep myself in check. The DM’s answer though… that’s something to think about. Is he saying it’s possible for Joon to make the world a utopia or is he just being an asshole. Arthur couldn’t make the world a utopia.

July 29, 2021
I sprinted forward and attacked him, grabbing him by his hoodie and punching him square in the face. He cried out in pain and began stumbling back, but that was why I had a hold of his shirt, and as he tried to twist under my grip, I punched him again, then threw him to the ground and leapt on top of him, punching him again, in the chest this time, trying to pin him with my weight while I kept up the assault. There was blood spraying out to coat the white void, more splattered with every punch, until eventually his movements slowed down. I grabbed his hair and slammed the back of his head into the ground, over and over, past the point that he was no longer moving, until eventually I was gasping for air because of the exertion. I was crying too, which wasn’t surprising.

Uhhh… that was tremendously stupid. I get why he’s mad, but pissing off god is a dumb idea (even assuming god anticipated this). He could snap his fingers and say “hey, looks like Amaryllis’s prayers to me weren’t answered and she’s mind fucked forever now. And your prayer about blood type matching with Fenn is now unanswered. She’s got terminal blood transfusion sickness and will die painfully 90 seconds after I send you back. Oh, and everyone’s now a P zombie, fuck you.” Obviously Joon didn’t kill him here, just vented on a digital punching bag, so I’m not worried the DM is dead or anything.

July 29, 2021
I got up and kicked his head. “Alright, let’s chat.”
The corpse didn’t move.

Ha ha. Uh oh. Congrats Joon, you’re inability to control your anger just got you trapped in Janet’s void.

July 29, 2021
Eventually, enough time had passed that I should have been thirsty, and then hungry. I should have needed sleep.

Oh man. So like hours and hours. Joon and I both (apparently) have attention problems. I’d get super bored fast.

July 29, 2021
Occasionally I would look back at the Dungeon Master’s body, sometimes flipping it the bird.

He should teabag it and then piss on it if he’s determined to annoy god as much as possible.

July 29, 2021
Brains are made of neurons awash in chemical soup, and the thing about that chemical soup is that it has a really hard time maintaining high levels of any emotion. It’s not that you run out of anger, it’s that your brain runs out of the chemicals responsible for you feeling the emotion of anger, and all you really feel is numb, because your brain can’t actually make you feel the thing that it’s supposed to be making you feel. So eventually, my brain had wrung out all the anger it possibly could, leaving nothing left but a trickle as it slowly made (and then immediately deployed) its anger chemicals.

Do you even have a brain, Joon? Not dissing you, that’s a legitimate question. You have a simulated brain here. The DM or game designers don’t have to make your brain have perfect Earth fidelity here.

July 29, 2021
“You can kill me again, if you’d like,” he said.
“I will, once I can figure out a way to do it permanently,” I said. “Once I have a system in place to take up the reins without it all crashing down. Once I’m a god.”
“Fair enough,” he said.

Again, I wouldn’t make this threat explicit. And I still don’t know how to read into the DM’s replies. For now, I’ll imagine that ‘fair enough’ in Producer Guy’s voice.

July 29, 2021
“The fuck do you want?” I asked.

This would have been my first question.

July 29, 2021
“You won’t believe me if I tell you that I didn’t set it up,” said the Dungeon Master.
“Is that what you’re telling me?” I asked. “That Amaryllis Penndraig wasn’t set up for me?”
“She was,” he replied. “They all were. But they were set up as companions first, and love interests second, and now that they’re out in the real world, so to speak, I’ve been keeping my hands off.”

Hands off once they were set up. That suggests that the DM didn’t make this world (it seems clear that Joon did) but that he’s just DMing.

July 29, 2021
“Your love life isn’t really why I wanted to have a chat.”

Same here dude. I mean, I get the emotionality of what’s going through your mind, but those aren’t my top concerns either.

July 29, 2021
“Tell me whatever you thought you needed to tell me, you horrible little monster, then I’ll fuck off to your painfully fake little world and pretend that none of this ever happened.”

Man, reign it in. Yeah, this guy sucks, but can you take stock of the fact that you’re getting to talk with him!!?

July 29, 2021
“Are you going to be sullen this entire time?” he asked.
“Sullen you can maintain,” I said. “With the brain chemicals.”
“Okay then,” said the Dungeon Master. “I didn’t want to do this, but let’s try again.”
He snapped his fingers.

See? This is the kind of shit you start when you don’t at least pretend to play nice with god. Once you can curb stomp his ass, then you can come here and be a dick.

July 29, 2021
“You have infinite powers and off-brand pop?” I asked.
He laughed. “Just a little joke.” I didn’t so much as quirk my lips. “Well I thought it was hilarious. You can have anything you’d like.”
“Immortality serum,” I said.
“Fresh out, sorry,” he replied with a grin.

They do seem to share a sense of humor…

July 29, 2021
“Felix felicis,” I replied.
He rolled his eyes. “No Harry Potter stuff.”

Eyyy! We were just talking about how OP that shit is last episode. Joon, you’ve got elf bones to harvest luck from, aim higher. Or lower and just ask for a glass of water.

July 29, 2021
“D&D is make believe. It’s pretend. This, Aerb, is …” I trailed off. Did I want the answer to that implied question? Would something inside me break if I learned that Fenn was just a facade of a person?

This here is why “are my companions sentient” wasn’t in my top ten questions. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to know the truth necessarily, but if I needed to ride out another 50 years here I might be inclined to stay in the dark on that one.

July 29, 2021
“I nudge things, here and there,” he replied. “I fudge things, sometimes, when I don’t think it will be too obvious to you. There wasn’t going to be an archery contest in Cranberry Bay when you were passing through, but I looked ahead a little bit, and saw that I could help Fenn to have a little adventure by paying a water mage to produce some inclement weather a few weeks prior, which made the contest committee move the date up, and from there it was just a matter of having her hear about it, which took another few nudges.”

So Fenn does exist off camera (or that’s just what he wants us to think!)

July 29, 2021
“You might die, and one of the things I really wanted you to know was that if that happens, I’m not going to save you. They’re called stakes. Do you remember Arthur DMing?”
“Don’t you even say his name to me,” I said. I wasn’t in a position to make threats, and I knew it, but I was angry.

This version of Joon is more the kind of temperament I had in mind when he arrived. Being pissed is more than understandable. Being so damn stupid that you’d punch the guy to death is another level.

July 29, 2021
“The spectre of death that I’ve been under … I’m pretty sure that you don’t get it, because if you did –”
“That is the most asinine argument,” he replied. “‘Clearly I’m right, and I’m so right that you must be misunderstanding me, because if you understood my superior argument, you would agree with it’.” He used a voice for that, one meant to mock me.

I don’t know if Joon’s argument here counts as special pleading, DM. You’ve been sensible (a dick, but sensible) this whole time, but I’m pretty sure you’re not justified in dismissing Joon’s argument that easily.

July 29, 2021
“I don’t want you to fail, I want to take some joy in seeing how you react, in seeing you run off the rails, in succeeding against bad odds, in dealing with your teammates — I want you to win.” He stopped and watched me. “I’m not going to bend over backwards so you can win though,” he said. “I’m barely going to bend at all. It’s one of the things I wanted to let you know.”

Am I naive for believing this guy? I guess I don’t see what incentive he’d have for lying.

July 29, 2021
“I don’t consent,” I said, leaning back and folding my arms.

The Dungeon Master smiled. “Did you think that I didn’t ask you? Here, I’ll show you.”

Say whaaaaat?? Is Aerb really just a high quality Roy from Rick and Morty and Joon volunteered????

August 1, 2021
“Five seconds ago, I had been passing notes in fifth period English.”

Still the biggest clue in the story!

August 1, 2021
“What,” I said. I looked around. It was a featureless white void. I looked down at the chairs, then back at him. “Am I … in the Matrix?”

Not a bad guess. Either this whole flashback/revealed memory is fabricated or Earth is also a simulation of some sort. Or… This could be how the Future People who revived Joon’s crionically preserved brain chose to play this out…

August 1, 2021
“you’ll get sent to a fantasy world that generally matches your aesthetic for an indefinite duration.”

He may not live out his entire life on Aerb.

August 1, 2021
“Do I know you?” I asked.
“We’re kindred spirits, you and I,” he replied.

This is a clichéd line, but I think it’s significant. This isn’t just some random dude and Joon isn’t a random choice.

August 1, 2021
“I’ll do it,” I said. “Can I … what happens to me, when I leave Earth? I’d like to leave a note or something.” If I was really here, was Earth even real? “I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“[REDACTED],” he replied.
“Oh,” I replied. “Okay, I guess that works. Unless [REDACTED]?”
“Then [REDACTED],” he replied.

Go figure! This jerk can’t even give us the full details of a flashback memory thing! Whatever was redacted there at least explains why he isn’t ruminating on his friends and family at all while on Aerb.
My current best guess is that Joon is still on earth and at some point when his quest is over these two versions of him will mesh.

August 1, 2021
“There were parts of that you left out,” I said, once I’d finished reliving the memory. “Do my parents think that I’m dead?”
“I’m worried about potential spoilers,” replied the Dungeon Master.

Lol. Spoiler alert!

August 1, 2021
“Um, let me see,” he said, looking down at the yellow legal pad, which was completely blank.

This guy is a bit of a jerk, sure. But you can’t deny he’s got a sense of humor.

August 1, 2021
He looked down at the legal pad again and tapped his pencil against it. “The last thing I wanted to say was that you don’t need to worry about the narrative.”

Is he saying this so the group will stop meta-thinking about the Narrative because it’s not fun to DM a story with characters like that, or is he being serious?

August 1, 2021
“But what’s the point of it all?” I asked.

He looked down at his legal pad again. “Nope, that’s not on the agenda for today.” He smiled at me. “You’ve been a relatively good sport though, so I’ll entertain some requests. Three wishes, maybe? You haven’t actually ruled out that I’m a genie.”

Wishes you say!?

August 1, 2021
“I wish for more wishes,” I said.

“Okay, I’ll give you one hundred more wishes, but they can only be used to wish for a standard-issue school cafeteria hot dog,” he said with a smile. “Rookie mistake there, I thought you were better than this. And anyway, I’m not giving you those kinds of wishes. Little things, not plot breakers.”

Nice try, nerd. :)

August 1, 2021
“Worst that I’ll do is say no. Think ‘small’. Think ‘things that don’t solve the plots’.”
“Okay,” I said. I took a breath. “I wish I didn’t have a harem.”

Get over yourself dude. You’ve got one chick you’re dating a couple of others who are sort of into you. Wasted wish.

August 1, 2021
The Dungeon Master frowned at me. “You don’t have a harem,” he said.

This guy gets it.

August 1, 2021
“Second, if you really wanted to do it, you’re the one with Essentialism over the hard cap, all you’d have to do is go into Amaryllis’ soul and make a few choice edits.”

Unethical, but good point. Amaryllis might even consent to this. You can solve this problem, Joon. Wish for your settings page to be unlocked!!

August 1, 2021
“Arthur was warm and dead. He was cremated. I don’t understand how he could exist in this world, except as an imperfect reconstruction from my memories.”
“That’s still not a question,” replied the Dungeon Master. His voice was softer, gentler. For all that he was an amoral monster, he seemed to care.

Genuine care? Who the hell is this guy?

August 1, 2021
“Tell me whether he’s real,” I said. “No, tell me how he’s real, how that’s even possible, because he died nine months before I came here, and we didn’t have this technology then.”
“He’s real,” said the Dungeon Master.

This is the surest confirmation we could ever ask for at this point.

August 1, 2021
“And he’s out there, somewhere on Aerb or one of the other planes. He spent most of his life on Aerb, he’s not going to be how you remembered him — you know that, that’s not news — but the Arthur that came to Aerb wasn’t just Arthur as you remembered him. He’s the real deal, Arthur as he actually existed.” The Dungeon Master had, finally, taken a solemn tone.”

How though? I suppose we’ll find out. I wonder if I’ll be able to puzzle out a hypothesis during the recording.

August 1, 2021
“You sure you don’t want, say, a backpack that can get you mundane stuff from Earth?”
“Is that on the table?” I asked, eyes going wide. Then I frowned. “Wait, how would that even work? Would I just pull a backpack out of my soul somehow?”
“I’ll think of something,” he replied. “It’s nice that you thought about what would happen to your party members, but in this case I think that creature comforts from home are probably the better option. Not that I’ll compel you one way or another, it’s your choice to make.”
“Okay, I’ll take the backpack,” I said.

Neato! Cell phone, matches, recording/surveillance equipment… I wonder what the limits will be on this thing.

August 1, 2021
I looked around the white void. “I don’t like you,” I said to the Dungeon Master. “You’re not forgiven. Nothing you’ve done is excusable. You’re responsible for every evil thing that happens on Aerb. I know you know that, and I know you don’t care, but I need to say it.”
“Sure, fine,” said the Dungeon Master. “You know the way out.”

I get he’s pissed because god is a dick, but I still think it’s a bad idea to give god the middle finger.

August 1, 2021
And as he said it, I realized he was right. I snapped my fingers and left.
There’s nothing else you wanted to talk about with the guy? You could have at least asked more questions! He’d probably have refused to answer, but now you’ll never know!