November 2019


CARL: This is Carl Drake, substitute newscaster for NBS Broadcasting, coming at you live from the NBS Channel 62 Newsroom with a Weather alert. We go now live to Tom, substitute stormchaser for NBS 62, at the scene of today’s big storm.

TOM: That’s right, Carl. This is Tom Hicks, your substitute stormchaser, and as you can see behind me, an F2 tornado has touched down near central Cricketford, and we are urging everyone to take shelter immediately.

CARL: That F2 is having a hell of an opener, Tom. But I’m guessing you don’t think it has a shot at the big time?

TOM: That’s right, Carl. Based on its stats, I’d say that this storm has probably peaked too early, and it will probably never make the Fujitsu Scale Hall of Fame. It’s worth noting now, and for the record, that I am not nor have I ever been a meteorologist.

CARL: Well, we are all learning new things about ourselves and practicing unusual skills in this era of media consolidation and layoffs, aren’t we? Also, it looks like the tornado behind you just hit the Zhoosh Barn on 6th.

TOM: That’s right, Carl, there is an explosion of sequins visible from here. The Zhoosh Barn has lived up to its moniker and glammed up this bush-league tornado like a reality show. And now it’s hitting the Sweet Spot.

CARL: I take it you mean the Sweet Spot bakery on 7th rather than the sweet spot it needs to make F3?

TOM: That’s right, Carl, there are pastries flying everywhere now amid the sequins.

CARL: That is one tasty storm. And let me just remind you, in case you missed it earlier: this is a full-on Tornado Warning for Cricketford County, and everyone is urged to take shelter immediately unless they are covering the storm for a major news outlet against which they have no professional recourse.

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The rope jerked back and forth over the pit for a moment, and the splattering of blood landed on all angles after a moment. Allin chortled, laughing so hard his knees wobbled and he could barely keep his gun trained on Nav.

“Weeeee!” Allin cried, laughing. “It really ate him, didn’t it! Tunnel worm is real, folks, and he is performing LIVE for my amusement!”

“You son of a bitch,” Nav choked. She had hated Enac, they all had, but nobody deserved a death like that–dangled like a worm on a line for a creature of the Dark.

“You’re next,” Allin cried, waving his gun at Nav. “Let’s see if it’s hungry for seconds.”

“No,” said Nav. “I’d rather be shot.”

“Ah, of course.” Allin smiled, and peeled off two shots–one into Nav’s thigh, and another into her shoulder. She collapsed, moaning, and he trotted over. “How’s that?”

In doing so, Allin had moved between Nav and the tunnel worm pit–his very last mistake.

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Ogelthorpe gestured with his staff. “Right this way,” he said. The mousehole, now a portal fit for three men abreast if they were reduced to Ogelthorpe’s size, opened into a small waterway–the source of the dripping Cissa had heard earlier. At a clap of the magician’s hand, a pear-sized boat floated out onto the water. On closer inspection, Cissa thought, it may have actually been a pear, hollowed out and magically preserved.

“After you, Ms. Ruj,” Ogelthorpe said. He held out a hand to steady the “boat” but did not otherwise assist as Cissa clambered aboard. He floated into place himself, and the craft began moving with a snap of his fingers.

“You know what I want to ask,” Cissa said.

“Of course,” Ogelthorpe sighed. “It’s what they all ask.”

“I’m not the first?”

“Oh no, and you shan’t be the last, I assume,” the magician sighed. “To answer your unspoken question, Ms. Ruj, living at this scale is far cheaper, hiding is far easier, and it’s nothing to pick up and flee when your entire life fits in a suitcase. Now, I will grant you, that suitcase took ten years of exacting enchantment to prepare, but One does what one must.”

“And you deign to meet people that seek you out for help?” Cissa said, hopefully.

“If they are well-behaved, yes,” Ogelthorpe said. “I wouldn’t dream of being an impolite host. So long as you are pleasant and have a reasonable request, I see no reason not to send you on your way with a simple memory cantrip.”

“Given your reputation, I have to say I’m relieved,” Cissa said, sinking a bit into the pear-boat’s seat.

“My reputation for creative hexes and traps?” Ogelthorpe sighed. “My misspent youth. I am trying to improve myself, Ms. Ruj, and part of that involves less hexing and more listening, provided people do not deserve it.”

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“That’s your master plan to ruin the cotillion?” said Randall. “A belch?”

“Small minds think that big problems require big solutions,” said Brinson. “I have calculated this exhaustively. The beverage I have just imbibed–the ’46 St. Vignette–has the highest proportion of bubbles in any real or manufactured beverage. I have increased its potency tenfold by eating an entire sleeve of the Sentom mint candies, causing me considerable gastric distress for the moment, admittedly.”

“Still, hardly a cotillion ruiner.”

“When the moment comes, in just a few short seconds, you’ll disagree,” Brinson continued. “I’ve positioned myself–perfectly, I might add–to take advantage of this room’s acoustics. It was built for concerts, you know, for projection. Move a few steps to the right, and everyone will be able to hear my riposte like the tuning of an orchestra. And it will be precisely when the real band has stopped playing, and Rosalina will be asking for silence before her big announcement.”

“But-”

“Sorry, old sport, the time is now.” Brinson stepped into his sweet spot, and took a deep breath.

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A moment later, he felt a blade at his throat as a figure emerged from the shadow of a tree.

“But how-?” Izushi cried in a strangled voice. “No one could have known I was coming here!”

“What you failed to anticipate, Izushi of Clan Matsumora, is that I am also the warrior for my clan,” said Tamaribuchi. “Know now that I am Twelfth Meow, and that the Way of the Cat has rendered me cloud-ridden, such that I can appear and disappear at will, always underfoot at the worst time!”

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“Each of the clans can have only one warrior who has truly mastered the Way of the Cat,” said Izushi. “Know now that I am Fifth Leopard, and that the Way of the Cat has given me foot power such that I cannot be caught!”

He ran for the safety of the plains and forests beyond, hoping to encounter more of his Clan Matsumora kin. The pursuers were as blurs in his vision, so rapid were Izushi’s movements. In seconds, he had covered the distance to Hōmā Woods, where he rested a moment against the trunk of a tree.

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“Hello, you’ve reached Regency Rentals, Mr. Regency Sr. Speaking. What can we rent for you today?”

“Yes, hello,” said Greg. “I need to make an emergency rental, a same-day rental, please.”

“Well, Regency Rentals would be happy to accommodate you as long as we have stock available and a truck to bring it by,” Mr. Regency said. “Let me guess: a carpet cleaner for a Thanksgiving-related spill?”

“Ah, no,” said Greg.

“Oh, maybe a saw? Tree related problems after the storm last night?” said Mr. Regency. “Plenty of those left, as long as you’re willing to sign a waiver. Can’t have you suing us if you cut your arm off, heh-heh.”

“It’s a rodent problem,” Greg said. “We need a solution for that, what have you got?”

“Hmm, rodents, you say? How large?”

A scream echoed up from Greg’s basement, which was picked up by his phone. “Mice,” he said. Then, shouting at the basement door: “Everything okay, honey?”

“Just hurry!” Josh cried. There was a further crash, and then what sounded like a gunshot.

“Well, okay, sounds like you have a situation there, so I’ll try to be brief,” said Mr. Regency. “We can rent you Mousers™ in multiples of six, anywhere from six to sixty, plus the base station with discharge. We also have the iRobot™ Hunter-Killer 460 and 570–the 460 kills and the 570 kills and collects, each autonomously with a 25-mouse capacity.”

Greg jumped at the sound of further struggle from the basement. “I-I don’t think that’d going to do it,” he said. “They are legion, I think they’ve formed a hive mind, and-“

“Say no more,” Mr. Regency said. “I’m sending out our Squeakchugger™ on the next truck with a tech. Evacuate the area and secure any pets, because it’s not going to be pretty.”

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