“Be gentle with Uncle,” said the young lady. “He hasn’t been the same since his patrol boat sank.”

“Mr. Kyubishev,” said Sena. “What can you tell me about the Hum?”

The old man, wrapped in blankets and fur, stared blankly ahead.

“They say the sound started around the time your ship sank,” Sena continued. “Only some people can hear it, but it’s driving them mad. Do you think your ship’s sinking could somehow have caused it?”

Kyubishev muttered something through lips and throat that sounded as if they hadn’t heard human speech in decades.

“What?” Sena leaned in closer, tape recorder at the ready.

“We heard the sound decades ago, on the ocean,” croaked the old sailor. “My girl didn’t cause it when she sank…she was sunk by it.”

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CARL: This is Carl Drake, play-by-play commentator for NBS Broadcasting, and we are live at the fifth game of the Continental League baseball series between the Salem Sluggers and the Dunwich Decadents.

TOM: That’s right, Carl. This is Tom Hicks, color commentator for NBS Broadcasting, wondering why it is that you and I seem to be calling virtually all the games in these series.

CARL: It’s true that we’ve called a lot of games recently; it could be a reflection of our practiced and Pavlovian patter, useful in providing white noise to those asleep in the stands or at home.

TOM: That’s right, Carl; either that, or we are just a pair of artificial intelligences not unlike those in sports-based video games, long ago shed of any mortal shells and doomed to an eternal digital purgatory of relating inane and useless information to people too tired or drunk to care.

CARL: Hell of a way to live, Tom.

TOM: That’s right, Carl. Hell of a way to live.

CARL: Looks like the Salem Sluggers are going to try and put another man on base. That’s Proctor at bat for the Sluggers with Carter on the mound for the Decadents. There’s the pitch, an inside fastball.

TOM: That’s right, Carl. Proctor looks like…yes, he’s charging his bat with infernal fire. Looks like he’s going to go for this one with all the dark powers at his disposal! Smart move of his, waiting until the ball was live to reveal what kind of blackest magicks he’d use on this pitch.

CARL: Especially after Corey was struck out by Pickman two innings ago, when the Decadents caused a gibbering mass of writhing tentacles from a place where man dare not tread to spring forth from the outfield to swallow Corey’s ball possessed by the spirit of his familiar.

TOM: That’s right, Carl. In that circumstance, I’d have used a broomstick ball instead of a familiar foul. Much better against the Decadents’ Gibbous Grab. In the meantime, Proctor’s hellfire ball is up, up, and away! It looks like one of the Decadent outfielders has just sacrificed the living soul of a teammate to summon a night-gaunt to pursue and ensnare the ball in its faceless, rubbery maw.

CARL: The Decadents’ outfielders–well, except for left field, who is now a soulless and decayed husk–are in place to catch the ball if the night-gaunt extinguishes and fields it, but…it’s no good! It’s out of here! Home run for the Sluggers!

TOM: That’s right, Carl. It looks like a bench-clearing bewitchment from Proctor’s teammates that got the ball past…but they may have unleashed more than they bargained for. The fans are not happy about this, they are not happy, and they are showing it by throwing it.

CARL: A reminder to our viewers at home that tonight is Ten Cent Potion Night here at Arkham Stadium, and many of the fans are well over the stated limit of six potions per person, and they are throwing those excess potions onto the field. It looks like we have a sentient grass monster in the center outfield, and the Sluggers’ shortstop has just been turned into a newt. Things are about to get ugly.

TOM: That’s right, Carl. This is fantasy baseball with the Continental League, Arcane division.

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“Welcome to the lecture on civil war resources. I know you are all anxious to get started, but there are a few ground rules to go over first. First, there is a lot of debate over whether civil conflicts are caused by peoples who are opposed in ethnic, religious, or other societal affiliations, or because of economic self-interest for the individuals or groups who might start them, from either a capitalist or Marxist viewpoint? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. So long as you can gather a base of support from which to gather supporters, it doesn’t matter if said base is ethnic, religious, social, or economic.Organization is important. Using a cell-based structure, with communication by intermediaries only, is essential to keeping your nascent civil war from being crushed; it also prevents the capture of a single cell or individual from collapsing the entire war. Arming your troops is also important, as I’m assuming that most of you will not be fighting on the government side in these civil wars! Ambushing transports and raiding lightly-guarded arms depots are the best means of securing large number of military-grade weapons…”

“Um…sir?”

“Yes, what is it?”

“I thought this lecture was about finding historical resources on the, you know, actual Civil War. In America.”

“What? Why would anyone do that? That Civil War is over and done with! It’s yesterday’s news! It’s far more relevant and contemporary to start your own civil war, as I’m sure you’ll agree.”

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PROFESSOR CRAZIRIS: Which of you can tell me how many Unforgivable Grades there are?

STUDENT: Three sir.

CRAZIRIS: And they are so named?

STUDENT: Because they are unforgivable. Use of any one of them will…

CRAZIRIS: …will be on your permanent record and all transfers forever, repealed by neither extra credit nor retaking the class nor bribing the provost. Correct. Now the chancellor says you’re too young to see what these grades do. I say different! You need to know what you’re up against, you need to be prepared! So, which curse shall we see first? YOU! Give us a curse.

STUDENT: Well, my dad did tell me about one…the Malattendance Grade.

CRAZIRIS: Ah yes, your father would know all about that. Gave the university quite a bit of grief a few years ago. The Malattendance Grade is reserved for the most tardy, the most truant, the most incorrigible class-cutters. They all say they have good reasons for missing class. But here’s the rub, how do we sort out the liars? Another…another…!

STUDENT: There’s the…um…the Plagiaristic Pass-Fail.

CRAZIRIS: Correct! Correct! Particularly nasty. The plagiarism grade. Rip off another student’s paper, copy the answers for a test, or buy one of those wretched essays online…either way, your more egregious cases of taking what isn’t yours and turning it in will get you this Unforgivable Grade. And despite the word “pass” in its name, the only “passing” you’ll be going is on the carriageway. Will someone give us the last Unforgivable Curse?

STUDENT: I can’t say it…it’s too awful…

CRAZIRIS: The Canoodling Curse. This is the sort of thing that will get both you and your professor Unforgivably Graded. Have a professor try to trade canoodling for a better grade, or make the offer yourself, and you’d earned yourself a one-way ticket. Only one person’s academic career is known to have survived it. And they’re sitting in this room…

This parody is inspired by and contains material adapted from the screenplay for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by Steve Kloves. No infringement is intended or implied beyond its status as a parody.

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Shoji, the Seeker, crossed his blade with Tsuchiya, the Usurper. Their clashing steel was as the conflict between their lords and masters in a microcosm.

“It is my lord’s right!” cried Shoji. “He alone can use the power of the Ryūsei for the good of all!”

“It is no one’s right!” returned Tsuchiya. “No one can master the Ryūsei’s power! That is why it was hidden away. Your master will destroy himself and others in his madness!”

Tsuchiya’s passion was his undoing. As he spoke those words, Shoji maneuvered his way into a commanding position. The Seeker’s next attack bypassed his opponent’s defenses, striking at a vulnerable shoulder point in his armor. Shoji rammed the blade home; Tsuchiya cried out once, sank to his knees, and was silent.

“An honorable pose in death, at least,” grunted Shoji, flustered with the rush and thrill of battle. He cleaned his sword and sheathed it. He approached the altar, the tiny shrine to the Ryūsei, that his efforts had uncovered despite the deaths of his men. “How do I open it?” he demanded.

Moriko, the Guide, was the only member of either party to have survived. “There is no secret,” she said. “Anyone who has made it this far against all comers has earned the right to bear the Ryūsei and its power.”

Without acknowledging the Guide’s words, Shoji reverently took hold of the altar and lifted it. In a hollow within, wrapped in a dirty rag, was a small statue of purest crystal: a woman carved in the old Asuka period style. He whispered the command word that his lord had taught him, asking only that the Ryūsei, the granter or wishes and the remaker of the world, glow from within. In that glow, Shoji would see his master’s design fulfilled–and his own.

The statuette remained stubbornly dim before the Seeker, its blank crystalline eyes ciphers. Shoji spoke the word again, uttering the same command, to no avail. “I don’t understand,” he said, his eyes fixed on his prize. Guide, what is the meaning of-”

Shoji, the Seeker, was cut off in mid-word. Moriko, the Guide, had approached him from behind and slipped her long dagger into the same weak spot that had doomed Tsuchiya not moments ago. “Shh,” said the Guide in a comforting tone. “It will all be over in a moment.”

It was the custom of Moriko and her family to serve as guides for those foolish enough to seek the Ryūsei in their lands, and to waylay and murder them for their valuables. It had been a delicate balancing act, but anyone coming across the bodies would assume that the men had killed each other over a worthless counterfeit bauble.

As Shoji, the Seeker, rattled his final breath, the Guide turned him around and lowered him, face-up, to the ground. As his vision began to fade, the Seeker saw something that caused his hard features to soften with wonder.

The eyes of Moriko, the Guide, were aglow with an inner light unbeknownst to her. The Ryūsei had obeyed its command, and the Seeker was now expiring in the arms of his prize–a hiding place so secure that none after he would ever stumble upon it.

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“Ho there. We seek Hamasaki-San on behalf of the Daimyō Tokatsu, for it is said that his lands abut the Canyons of Kyōkoku and that none know the land like he and his family.”

“I am the Hamasaki-san you seek, in that case,” said the older man, “and these are my lands. I am happy to serve the servants of the Daimyō Tokatsu, whatever they might require, if only I might know their purpose.”

“We seek the Ryūsei,” said Nakano Shoji. “Our sages have determined that its resting place is in the Canyons of Kyōkoku, and we seek to discover it and deliver it to its proper owner.” The rider left the latter statement purposely ambiguous, though the gleam in Hamasaki-san’s eyes was one of immediate comprehension.

“That old legend? If you’ll forgive my saying so, I have always found it to be beneath serious consideration.”

“Then surely you’ll have no objection to providing us a guide, since we will pay you for nothing.” Nakano Shoji had taken an instant dislike to the old man, but his continued politeness was necessary. The haughty courtiers of the other daimyō retainers searching the Canyons of Kyōkoku would no doubt proceed on their own, and therein lay their disadvantage.

“You may take my niece, Hamasaki Moriko,” said Hamasaki-san. “She is a burden left to me by my departed elder brother, and were it not for the familial obligation I bear him, I would long since have rid myself of the extra mouth I have to feed and the extra lip I have to endure.”

“The men of the daimyō will not accept such a guide,” said Nakano Shoji. “We demand the best that your valley has to offer.”

“Surely your daimyō did not send his best men on such a trivial errand,” said Hamasaki-san cunningly, “since I know him to be a wise and sober man who puts little stock in rumor and legend. And surely it behooves me not to send my best son to guide them, as the cost would be ruinous should the endeavor fail.”

Nakano Shoji might have struck Hamasaki-san for his insolence, but he was ostensibly a guest in those lands, and any disturbance would bring the attention of the local daimyō. The daimyōs were on good terms, but not so good as to strike a landowner whose tongue had to draw blood before it was sheathed.

“What have you to say for yourself?” Nakano Shoji demanded when Hamasaki Moriko was offered up, a sensibly-dressed but plain woman of indeterminate age.

“I know the Canyons of Kyōkoku as I know the folds of my own kimono,” Hamasaki Moriko responded, “and I bear my departed father’s sharpened kaiken dagger. Should you or your men have any dishonorable ideas, I will not hesitate to assist them in reclaiming their honor through seppuku before redeeming my own through jigai.”

Nakano Shoji looked to Hamasaki-san, his gaze sharp, as the first words out of their guide’s mouth concerned ritual disembowelment. The old man responded by throwing up his hands; “see what I have to deal with?” was the essential thrust of the gesture.

“We are off to an auspicious start, to be sure,” Nakano Shoji griped. There was no time to waste, though: the Ryūsei awaited, the prize of ten thousand lifetimes. Other retainers sought it, and it was far better for him and his men to be jewels shattered in the attempt than intact clay tiles dishonored by their failure.

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The Ryūsei was more than a bauble fought over by kings and kingdoms. It was more than a symbol of wealth, more than a shooting star that had fallen amidst a superstitious people. Whether from its own unknown inner nature or the way that the world’s chi flowed through it, the Ryūsei had the power to reshape the world around it.

Those first warring and petty kings who had possessed it used it selfishly, foolishly. The Ryūsei could turn stone into gold, but greed and inflation would eat away at any gains quickly. Wiser rulers used it the Ryūsei to raise and equip armies for conquest, but even then there was no guarantee that those troops would not seek to place the artifact into hands more of their liking. By the end of the great wars between the petty states that the Ryūsei engendered, it was being used to lay waste to enemy countryside: a weapon of such destructive power that it would not be equaled for a thousand centuries.

In the end, a wise man who time has forgotten found himself in possession of the Ryūsei. Besieged on all sides and yet blessed with the clarity to see that the item was a curse to all who possessed it, he had the idea to turn the Ryūsei’s power in on itself to render it unrecognizable. He reshaped the reshaper.

Many years hence, people still bicker over the location of the Ryūsei and what form it might currently possess. But one key insight still eludes them: it is not a what, but a who.

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