April 2017

“These men have clearly been trampled,” said the investigator.

“No,” said Detective Foster. “Look at the splinters, the root marks. They’ve been trunkled. Our perp is a middle aged maple tree, maybe 12’2″.”

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“Is it too much to ask where we’re going?” Squan lisped, his fattened lip making him dribble as he talked.

“Harrowshire,” I said.

“Harrowshire? I ain’t been there in years. Ain’t exactly popular there neither. Makes Anairo look like a royal harem.”

“Well,” I spat, “you’re going back. And you’re gonna die there.”

“Oh,” said Squan. “I see. Well, all right then.”

I turned around, craning my neck up to look in his big dumb face. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I said.

“What’s what supposed to mean?” the orc said. “Ain’t mumbling. I said okay.”

“You don’t want to know why I’m bringing you there?” I shouted, somewhat unwisely, as Anairo is all ears for weakness.

“Can’t say as I do. You’ve got your reasons, but I ain’t got a say in ’em.”

“Even if you die?” I said.

“Well, if you really wanted me dead, I’d be dead.” Squan said with a shrug. “If I die when we get where we’re going, that means I get to live for now. Ain’t that a gift? I’ll take it.”

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The faeries have been ruled since time immemorial by a high king and a high queen. As faeries are a contentious lot, they have never been able to agree on a succession. Rather, they elect from among themselves nobles, who in turn elect from among themselves a high king and high queen (not necessarily husband and wife!). The nobles and the high king and high queen rule for a year and a day before a new moot is held. As is their nature, the lowliest peasant faerie may, in the space of two years and two days, become high king or high queen.

Naturally, this has posed problems in the past.

Perhaps the greatest trials come with the death of the high king or high queen before their term is up, which requires an emergency moot. Every faerie proposes their favorite, and etiquette requires that every candidate receive at least one vote. Every faerie then votes for their own nominee, meaning that the high lordship can be decided with as little as two votes.

And that is how, one late April morning, Ms. Ada Mae Spinnaker awoke and put on her tea only to learn that she had been elected high queen of the faeries despite never even voting for herself.

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I look suspicious, and I use that to my advantage in robbing Metromarts blind.

How’s it work? Pretty simple, really. I’m a smart guy, but there’s only so much the cops can pick you up for walking while black before you decide it would be easier just to meet their expectations. But the real money’s not in drugs, at least not when there’s a thousand people up that totem pole with their hands out from dealers all the way to Escobar.

No, retail theft is where it’s at. Stay mobile, steal things that are small but pricy, and hawk ’em quick online.

But like I said, I look suspicious. That’s where Carl comes in. He’s not the smartest guy in the world, but he gets led real well. Did him proud in the Army until they kicked him out for…reasons.

I’ve got the smarts to jack valuable stuff. iPods, laptops, smartphones, sure. But also makeup, baby formula, designer stuff, and medicine. People don’t realize how much money you can get by hawking a little half-price baby formula, since babies are expensive and boobs only refill so fast. A good pair of designer sandals that will shatter a lady’s ankles could net you $100 or more at a go.

So here’s how it works. I keep an eye on the Metromart and see what’s the most valuable thing that no one is keeping an eye on. It’s electronics more often than you think, but they never have anyone in shoes or the baby aisle. Then I grab something. Instead of stuffing it down my shirt like some idiots I just add it to my cart most of the time. Even if I open it, nobody notices because it
s in a cart.

That’s where Carl comes in.

I meet him in a deep dark corner of the store–well, figuratively, since they’re always fluorescent as hell. I give him the thing. If it’s got an anti-theft tag we take it off. Then he takes it and walks out the door carrying a receipt. It’s not a receipt for the item, just for whatever. The parking lot’s always full of them.

Then I try to slink out, looking all suspicious-like. The greeter always stops me, and they find…nothing. Because in the meantime, Carl has slipped out behind them, flashing a receipt for something else. But because Carl looks like a schoolteacher and he’s as pasty as a kindergarten art class, no one stops him.

We throw the stuff in the van, list it online, and drop it in the mail the next time we stop. Print out the label in the public library and everything.

Oh, and we pay taxes on our stuff. It’s the best way to prove to Uncle Sam everything’s on the up and up.

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There wasn’t any evidence that Sqan killed the bartender, but everyone in town assumed he did just because he was an orc. As sheriff, Dad refused to give him over to a lynch mob and let him out a back door.

So the mob lynched Dad instead. I guess they weren’t picky about which innocent person they strung up.

This meant that me and the twins all got branded as outcasts and shunned too, since we were orc lovers and “an orc killed my grandpappy” and what have you. Now we half-folk are pretty close-knit with big families. Everybody’s related to everybody. It didn’t mean much with Dad when his fifth and sixth cousins were doing their thing, but when it came to taking us in or even just taking our money, it was a big fat no.

The twins took it rough. Last I heard they were working as muckrakers in Harrowshire, for somebody who wasn’t half-folk or who paid them a low enough wage to compensate for their “treason.” Me, I took it rougher. Now I work the ruins of Anairo.

It’s close enough to Harrowshire that most of the folk there look at me askance, and most of the shopkeepers won’t buy what I’m selling. But they’ll take my money, at least, and that means that whatever ingots with dead kings I can find deep below are good for them.

No one knows how deep Anairo goes, or how the tunnels are mostly still intact after a thousand years under the water table. Not even the people who supposedly built it, squatting on the ruins. But there’s money to be made, literally made, with a mold and a hammer and gold smelted centuries ago. I’m not the biggest or the toughest or the smartest, but I’m quick on my feet and canny as hell. I’ll make it work. I’ll buy back Dad’s good name. I might even find and kill Squan, who went into the ruins two years ago and never came out.

Or I’ll die trying.

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Str 20, Dex 18, Con 21, Int 2, Wis 17, Cha 11
HP: 19 (2d8+10)
AC: 15
Saves: Fort +8, Ref +7, Will +3
Base Atk +1; CMB +7; CMD 21 (25 vs. trip)
Feats: Endurance
Skills: Perception +8; Init +4; Senses low-light vision
Speed: 50 ft.
Melee: 2 hooves +5 (1d4+5)

A pure white courser charges up to you. It taps out a Morse code greeting with one hoof: …. . .-.. .-.. —

Setchley the Wonder Horse is the former steed of the great hero Conny, who single-handedly built a one-horse farming town into a mighty farming empire. Setchly is that horse. He can still be found by those in need long after the great hero Conny rode off to another world of adventure on the wings of her demon chicken Peckabella.

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Why happens when we
bump against a mechanical dustbin
the one that contains everything we’ve
ever thrown out as useless
The instructions read like
they were assembled by an electorate
maddened against a sinister they
can’t grasp
Before this
the domestic likelihood of finding a
lasting mate
A machine
Safe brains miss the obsolete
even as they
practice an Occam’s of pragmatic
The old rockets into the trash
another prospective razor held against it
the simplest is the best
Beneath whatever abstract speculations
what we discard
lies unwelcome
its service forgotten
in earth
its only

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