August 2015


To Eyon’s surprise, they came across a small group of goblin arquebusiers amid the tall grasses, apparently reinforcements that had been thrown in willy-nilly. With a cry of “Ane, ctonb!” one of the goblins wearing the White Smile swung at Eyon with an empty and crudely-made gun. Eyon was able to bring his own sword up in time to parry the blow, and with a twist of his wrist he was able to hurl the gun out of the goblin’s hands.

Disarmed, it glared at him. “Go on then, ctonb,” it muttered. “Finish it.”

“No,” said Eyon. “I’ve no quarrel with you, good sir goblin.”

“Young master,” said Gob. “As Gob is sure the elder master already knows, you must follow through and do as this gob asks.”

“What? Why?” Eyon cried. “The rightful king must be merciful. King Eyon IV won’t be called a butcher, or a murderer.”

“Which is more a mercy, young master: to let this gob die in battle, keeping its name or even earning one if a witness survives, or being cast down and nameless in defeat?”

“It is the Code of the Gobs,” the disarmed arquebusier said. His comrades, all of them wounded, nodded, even as some whispered about Eyon’s reference to himself as king. “The gytoh would show no mercy in his sparing.”

“Just ignore them,” Gullywick said. “We need to get out of here, Eyon! We’ve no time to bother with these twigs!”

“Live on and fight another day,” said Eyon. “No one would think less of you or strip you of your name for bad luck.”

“The gobs are stained with the sin of their creation and must therefore earn the right to all which they possess,” replied the disarmed gunner. “Gobs must earn names and pronouns for themselves through their actions. Only gobs who have earned a name will be remembered to their families and to history. The Code of the Gobs.”

“The Code of the Gobs,” the other wounded repeated.

“I won’t do it,” Eyon said. “I won’t strike down an unarmed foe, goblin or not.”

“Then you force me to do what the gytoh refuses out of cowardice,” snarled the goblin gunner. He snatched up the lit match on his shattered arquebus and tucked it into the vest he was wearing. It had looked like armor, but up close it became apparent that it was a simple leather harness with metal tubes in it, each with a charge of powder and shot for the goblin to pour into his gun to make reloading easier. With the burning charge, he limped out a few paces and seized the leg of a passing Ioxan attacker.

A moment later, the charges on his chest detonated. Goblin and foe vanished forever in the explosion together.

“Mabl eyp hame tnbe lopebep, tog,” his fellows, all too wounded to do the same, cried. “Your name will be remembered!”

“What?” Eyon cried. “Why did he do that?”

“There is no time for that, young master,” Gob said. “The young master had his chance to act and he did not. We must get him to safety in the trees.”

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“Get back,” said Nigel, unholstering his gun. “I’m going to give them a taste of The Australian.”

“The Australian?” said Laura as she was hustled away. “Why does he call it that?”

As if in response to her question, the massive pistol in Nigel’s hand sputtered fire at their pursuers:

G’DAY! G’DAY-G’DAY-G’DAY!

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“I just…I haven’t seen her in so long,” bawled Vakt the Rosy into his cups.

“There, there. Tinuviel’s just not feeling well after getting scratched up by a jackalwere in the middle of a cavern infested with gibberlings,” said Iffy the elf. “She’ll be down soon enough.

“She’s just so short…so sweet…so tiny…so…so…” Vakt began bawling again.

“I think you’ve had enough,” deadpanned Chanel the elven cleric. “How much have you had to drink already?”

“It’s just root beer,” Vakt sniffed. “House blend. Iazgu’s still making my first tequila slammer.”

“Maybe you should go a bit easy on the tequila slammers,” said Adenan the halfling.

“HEY!” barked Iazgu the Flayer, demon of the Abyss and chambermaid/bartender for the Demon Arms Inn. “I’ll not hear a word said against my tequila slammers! It’s a recipe of the abyssal realms, strong enough to stun a quasit, and it’s the only thing close to a real drink that’s been served here in 10,000 years!”


Creeping up on the clearing, they saw Mercury the bulldog in the midst of a crowd of howling gibberlings, not unlike the ones they had fought in Ransack Cavern earlier. He was being ridden bareback by a gibberling while the others hooted and cheered at the spectacle. For his part, Mercury seemed rather resigned to this, accepting it as just a fact of life: the sky was blue, the trees were green, and he was ridden by tiny hyperactive monsters.

Adenan grabbed one of the scruffy horrors by his hair and yanked him backwards. “What do you think you’re doing?” she growled.

“Riding! Fun!” squeaked the thrashing gibberling. “I know you! You killed Gus! And Gus Two! I’m Gus Four!”

“Let the bulldog go,” Adenan continued, as menacingly as any halfling could, “or I’ll squash you into jelly before I throw you in the river.”

“No! Not jelly! Jellied gibbs can’t get into gibberheaven!” The gibberling seemed to steel himself a bit. “But dog is ours. Has been forever.”

“No he isn’t.”

“Is too! Used to guard cave! Hatched him ourselves!”

“No you didn’t.”

“Don’t know where dogs come from!” the gibberling wailed.


The library golem was impassive. “You must return the stolen book and pay the fine, or your life is forfeit. The fine is 50 gold. Pay or die.”

Iffy raised her hands. “But my library has an interlibrary loan program with the Elderbrary,” she said in her most convincingly scholarly tone. “We don’t have to pay any fine if we return it!”

Clicking and whirring as it processed this, the golem demurred. “Very well. Surrender the Monster Manual and we will consider your hold lifted.”

Longingly, reluctantly, Iffy gave up the tome. The library golem inserted the volume into its book drop slot, whirred some more, and departed.

A moment later, Iffy the elf turned on Mr. Funderberger IV, who throughout the conversation had been trying to back into the tick copse of woods surrounding the meeting spot. “YOU!” she roared. “THAT BOOK WAS STOLEN!”

“I gave you a good deal,” he whined.

“NO YOU DIDN’T!” Iffy shrieked. “I HAD TO DO THINGS FOR THAT BOOK!”

“What exactly did you have to do?” said Chanel the elven cleric. “You still haven’t told us how much sugar you had to give.”

“I will neither confirm nor deny a specific amount of sugar given!” Iffy roared. “But he’s gonna pay!”

Mr. Funderberger IV had quite enough; he made to bolt. Iffy, in an uncharacteristic show of physical prowess, tripped him with her staff.

Then, she proceeded to pummel him senseless.

“Let’s see how you like THIS sugar!” she screamed, drawing her dagger. Casting Phineas’s Phun Phoam on Funderberger’s head, she used her dagger to shave off his carefully coiffed locks. Then she took everything of value in his pockets, even down to his phony tin sword.

“I think you’ve gotten your revenge, Iffy,” said Adenan.

“Hardly!” Iffy continued. “Mercury! Bulldog! Get over here and piss on Mr. Funderberger IV! We’ll see how much sugar you get after that!”

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The seas had risen, but through some trick of construction, #226 resisted the wave action and the intensely corrosive salt better than anything else. The time would come, surely, when it too would topple and be borne off into the deep as its neighbors had. But even as the apartment blocks on every side of it had been swept away, #226 remained.

Officially, no one was allowed to go near it, much less live there, for fear of collapse. But nobody enforced that, either…for fear of collapse. #226 wound up being a haven for squatters, free spirits, and ne’er-do-wells who wanted to make a go at living off the land and fish.

That’s what the lay of the land looked like when Mina Umbeyashi appeared on the top floor one day, followed not long after by Carlos Ramirez on the bottom. No one saw them come, but within a week the sight of their laundry out to dry and their long fishing lines.

Within a month, they would leave their mark on #226 forever.

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Hey kids! Justin Thyme here with some fresh tidbits from my upcoming book Meeting Deadlines and Killing Them due out this summer from Kyoto Processed Ricepaper Concerns Press. Or maybe it’s due out in 2025. Could it have already been published, maybe in 1995? Ah well. It will be out soon or at least has already been out for less than 20 years at this point.

My editor Ari said that I should only share low-grade tips for free, but stuff that mess. I’m gonna lay some spun gold time management tips on all y’all, and since ALL my tips in the book are gold, you’re gonna be like a gold digger. And then I’ll get some gold, because royalties. Maybe. Like I said, I might have already got and spent the check.

But yeah, the tips:

1. Set deadlines.
You don’t have all the time in the world. While it’s theoretically possible to have all the time in the world, it’s a lot less expensive in high-energy tachyons. So set deadlines. And if you miss the deadline, set another one. Keep setting them until it’s done or until you don’t have to do the thing you wanted to do anymore.

2. Minimize distractions.
This means your telephones, your books, your papyrus scrolls, your Facebooks, your NeuralNetLinx, whatever. You may or may not have all of those things depending on when this book (or is it an ebook?) comes out, but ignore ’em. If your goal requires the use of such distractions, well, do without. And finally, to minimize distractions, don’t under any circumstances…hmm. Hey, did you ever wonder why monkeys don’t grow beards?

3. Wait for the inevitable collapse of society.
It’s a-comin’, people, and it will be the end of all deadlines forever. Unless it’s already happened. I’m a bit fuzzy on the when, but strap in otherwise! It’s going to be a wild ride.

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Since Mom had no money for sitters, of course, I wound up going in to work with her over the summer at the Chik-In/Chik-Out. Ordinarily that would have been frowned upon, but the manager was an older guy who’d been in the trenches for decades after flaming out of a law career. He had a simple rule: you could bring your kid as long as they were old enough to wash their hands and pitch in.

For most people, this would have meant sitting in the supply room and taking out the trash, but that got boring after about five seconds. So I found a uniform shirt that fit me, thrown out because of a ketchup stain that I could easily tuck out of sight.

Even then I was tall for my age–as Mom used to say, “whoever your father was, he sure would have been a tall one”–and I’d already cut off the coifs that had occupied the first hour of Mom’s day in favor of something more sensible. So while I got some funny looks cleaning up tables or taking orders, most people just assumed I was a shrimpy 14-year-old boy instead of a tall 10-year-old girl.

I did all the jobs that no one else wanted to do during Mom’s shift because it got people smiling and it got them to talk to me. Then as now, it’s all about people and getting to know them. Eventually, the manager even started paying me under the table, muttering something about his guilty conscience. Not minumum wage, naturally, but a few bucks here and there, with a few more wrinkled bills and quarters for the really horrid jobs.

Mom only took the money when we were really really short that month, so it was the first time I was able to buy things for myself. I still remember that the first thing I bought with my Chik-In/Chik-Out money was a fine pair of work pants to match my shirt uniform. A lot of the ladies there wore hip-huggers or pants with some sequins as a way of tiptoeing around the dress code, but I was delighted that I could finally skip all that and buy the straightest, plainest pair of boys’ slacks I could.

Things couldn’t last. When the manager retired–who retires from managing a Chik-In/Chik-Out, anyway?–he was replaced by some young hardass who told allt he ladies in no undertain terms that if he saw their kids anywhere but a birthday party they were fired. But being there taught me a lot about myself and the world. Hell, that uniform shirt became my first dress shirt once I pulled the logo off of it, and I wore it until my growth spurt made it impossible.

I suppose that’s where I got the idea, a few years later when I was 16, to apply to the MacConnell Burger on Main for my first job–as a 4-year-old boy.

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In time, though, all douches will eventually feel the great pull of their kind toward their distant homeland. Popped collars will lose their appeal. “Brah” will be uttered less frequently and with greater longing. Beer, bad driving, and combinations thereof will lose their luster.

Those douches that feel the pull will be inexorable drawn to the far-off island of Novaya Düshensk. They depart there from the Green Cruise Terminal, bound for a land of eternal keg stands and uncrashable Land Rovers.

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Raw meat.

Raw meat for the beasts within.

I laid it out where they gathered. Not the beasts that are, not the beasts that must be, but merely the potential, wrapped up in flimsy colorful wrappers. I must tear them off, you see, if the beasts within are to be unleashed.

And unleashed they must be, for the Woods are gathering their army. Every beast is another soldier in the war to come, the war against encroachers and builders, despoilers and plunderers.

I’ve heard the Woods calling to me, softly during the day, louder at night, clearest at dusk. So few can hear, fewer still can comprehend. I speak back when it can hear, wearing the darkness it loves and fears.

Raw meat.

Raw meat for the beasts within.

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Ros, Reverand Mother of the True Temple of Jovan (not to be confused with the False Temple of Jovan that sent gibbering minions and skeletons to attack defenseless towns), appeared at the door of the Demon Arms Inn, resplendent in her crimson robes.

“Were there not more of you before?” she said in melodious tones. “I have come to offer thanks and apologize for my earlier brusqueness.”

“Tinuviel and Chanel decided to spend the night outside, camping in the streets,” said Iffy the elven conjurer. “Gora the Seventh did kind of pick our pocket before she offered us free room and board for the winter.”

“I see,” said Ros. “Well, I wanted to offer you a nugget of information in recompense. When the followers of false Jovan invaded, as you know, you allowed them to escape with a wagon filled with prisoners.”

Adenan the halfling bruiser bristled at this suggestion that they had failed. “What about it?”

“One of the Jovan cultists was captured by the city guard. He…perished…under interrogaion, but not before revealing the heading that the prisoners may have followed.”

“Excellent!” Iffy cried. “We can go rescue them, really live up to our status as associate junior guards!”

“I must admit,” added Reverend Mother Ros, “normally I have to pay quite handsomely in bribes for this sort of information from the guards. But this time, one of the guards offered it to me quite willingly.”

Iffy and Adenan looked at each other with loaded expressions. They knew all about their halfling ne’er-do-well friend Tinuviel’s continuing flirtations with Vakt the city guard.

Ros held up a scroll. “The guard only insisted that the information be given directly and personally to a short woman,” she continued. She thrust the scroll into Adenan’s hands, oblivious to the halfling’s eyes suddenly swelling to saucers. “He also asked that I give you…something else…but I regret that my oath as a Reverand Mother of Jovan makes that impossible.”

The Reverand Mother departed, leaving Adenan holding the scroll, stunned, and her companions overtaken by hopeless laughter.


The last gibberling–a tiny whirlwind of teeth and fur that seemed a cross between a gibbon and a Pomeranian pup–took Chanel’s blow to the head and passed out cold. The others tied him up, and turned to Adenan to converse with the creature, since she had taken a minor in Gibber Languages at university.

“Who are you?” she said in Gibbertongue. “Who else is in this cave? Talk or I’ll throw you into the river!”

“You-killed-my-friends!” the gibberling motormouthed. “You-killed-Gus! You-squashed-him-into-jelly! Gus-had-gibberlettes-and-a-gibberwife!”

Adenan bonked the gibberling over the head. “Who are you?” she repeated. “Who else is in this cave?”

“I’m-Gus. Gus-Two. Lots-of-Gusses,” the gibberling…well…gibbered. “Lots-of-us-in-here. Some-big-green-ones-too. And-the-boss.”

“What’s the boss?”

“Big!”

Adenan rolled her eyes. “What about the prisoners?”

“Oh-yeah-boss-has-some-prisoners. Gonna-eat-em-soon! Taste-good. Like-the-horses-outside. Ate-them-and-then-burned-the-bits-for-fun!”


Attempting to sneak around a corner of Ransack Cavern, Tinuviel the halfling rogue instead came face to face with a young troll–one of the “green-ones” that Gus Two had gibbered on about before he had run off screaming and broken his neck in a deadfall trap.

Normally, she was decently sneaky. But this time, Tinuviel tripped over her own foot-hairs and tumbled straight to the ground. Her cooking set tumbled out of her rucksack, making such a ruckus that it could have woken the dead (had any of the skeletons they’d fought earlier been present).

“What that?” the troll cried. “Who there?”

Thinking quickly, Tinuviel got up, dusted herself off, and bowed deeply. “Why, I’m one of you! My most humble apologies, sir. I seem to have gotten lost looking for the boss.”

The troll regarded the tiny halfling with deep suspicion. “You smell like Gus,” he snarled. “Smell like Gus Two. Like Gus Two’s gooey bits. You kill him?”

“Of course not,” saif Tinuviel, bowing again. “He killed himself by running into a deadfall. But I’m still one of you, one of the Ransack Cavern gang through and through.”

“What the password?” the troll said, readying its fists.

“The password is…” Tinuviel racked her thoughts, and coughed up the first word that came to mind: “…flugelhorn.”

The troll gaped. The password was indeed “flugelhorn,” after the boss’s ill-fated stint as a brass player. “How you know that?”

“Like I said,” Tinuviel grinned. “I’m one of you.”

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In time, the waters rose. In time, much of the land was borne away on watery hands, silting off into the deep which never gives up that which it has taken. In time, only a handful of trees remained above the ripples to show that the water had ever been held at bay, that hills low and forested had ever existed.

Nourished by lenses of fresh water that ebbed with each passing year, the great gnarled trees kept their silent vigil over glassy waters. An epitaph for an island, a mausoleum for a mound.

One day, it is to be hoped, someone will look across the expanse and see them. One day, it is to be hoped, they will wonder how a tree ever came to grow under such conditions. They, whoever they are, will see and wonder. And in that way, in only that way, the island-that-was will be remembered.

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