March 2020

There’s very little remarkable about this object in the Hoard: it’s a standard consumer-grade pocketknife from Coltelleria Rovereto. There are hints of the traditional Trentino Alto Atesino in its design, but it is otherwise a bog-standard utility knife of the sort that might have cost a few hundred lira in a corner shop after the war.

All except for its scale, of course.

The pocketknife is about 12 inches long when folded, and 24 inches fully extended–a short sword, were it possible to get a grip on it. Every component on the knife is the same as numerous other extant examples, but at a scale of exactly 5.75x. It might be dismissed as a larger blade made for promotional or advertising purposes, but Coltelleria Rovereto has never made larger knifes for that purpose. In fact, the knife’s serial number matches one manufactured in January 1960 according to company records–an ordinary blade, one of over 10,000 made that year.

And the scale is exact: 5.75x. Every part, every marking, everything–including tool marks from the original manufacture, which seem to indicate construction on 5.75x scale tools.

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The Boo Blasters were the longest-lasting competition to come out of the 1980s “supernatural exterminator” boom, successafully competing with Ghostbusters franchises for over five years until the Paranormal Extermination Act of 1990 outlawed the practice of franchised ghost-hunting.

Since the patents related to the original mechanism–trapping and containment in magnetic fields–remained in force, the Boo Blasters were forced to scramble to find equivalent technology. They wound up purchasing the patent rights to a mechanism designed by Soviet dissident and exile Yuri Makarov while he was incarcerated at a maximum-security sanitarium. Rather than trapping spiritual entities, Makarov’s technology–the ectoplasmic disruptor–broke apart the bonds holding an apparition together, reducing it to the level of paranormal background radiation. While not as permanent as removal–the entities would eventually reform after a period of years or decades–it was far cheaper.

Better still, the equipment to do so was much easier to make and maintain, being modified from off-the-shelf laser diodes and operable without a nuclear fuel source. This led Boo Blasters to seriously undercut its competitors’ prices. In most other aspects, it resembled the other paranormal exterminators in uniforms, advertising, and the like. Until a lawsuit forced them to stop, the Boo Blasters also handed out small toys for promotional purposes, which have since become sought-after collectibles.

While the Paranormal Extermination Act of 1990 technically allowed the original location to continue operation, the entire company had been set up with franchising in mind, and its in-name-only original location was a storage unit in Delaware.

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The Brinson Hoard is named after its discoverer rather than its collector, and though several other, similar finds have since been thrown in with the same name, it originally referred to a singular collection of items uncovered in the early 21st century.

While the collector’s name has not been published due to privacy concerns, it’s believed that they must have somehow had an innate connection with unexplained, paranormal, and Fortean phenomena, as every item in the hoard turned out to have some kind of strange properties. This conglomeration, the largest found in private hands up to that point, was found in an attic after the owner disappeared mysteriously.

Subsequent experimentation, both onsite and in the lab, is still ongoing. The lead researcher has described the attic as a “King Tut’s Tomb of the Paranormal,” and removal and cataloguing of the various items is expected to continue for years.

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Lord Clement Blackbourne
The 7th Lord Blackbourne, Clement inherited his father’s bravery and his mother’s intense hatred of the natural world. This leads to an obsessive effort to find and defeat threats to the manor within the manor, such as the celebrated Routing of the Cockroach Raiders and the Capture of the Cupboard Beast. When called to war, though, Clement is usually able to put his neuroses behind him and develop a camaraderie with his men…and, occasionally, their wives.

Lady Carina Blackbourne
Born Carina von Himmelstrup, the 7th Lady Blackbourne is renowned for three things: her incredible musicianship, her love of animals, and her intense emotional bond with her fine clothing. Excellent threads and stitchwork have been known to reduce her to tears, and she is literally never without her expensive couture wardrobe–even in the bath. Her love of animals resulted in the Humane Release of the Cupboard Beast, and she frequently donates clothing that has lost its luster to the less fabulous.

Leo Blackbourne
The eldest son and 8th Lord Blackbourne presumptive (“the heir”), Leo can usually be found at the stables, where he obsessed over the family’s prize steed, Murgatroyd. He has intense ambitions to win the coveted Golden Horseshoe at the annual dressage contest, but has been unable to claim the prize due to an over-reliance on glitz and a childishly petulant attitude. His father insists that he is training for war, even though the family warhorse, Armageddoner XII, remains unridden in the stables.

Angela Blackbourne
The family hostess, Angela has taken over hosting the many balls, soirees, and other social events demanded of the Lords Blackbourne. She is fantastic with people, fastidious with details, and would in all honesty be a much better heir than her older brother Leo. Her intense preoccupation with reading up on recipes and decorum takes up much of her time, as does building up a formidable hope chest and practicing mirror-kisses, though in actuality she finds any sort of flirting distasteful.

Marcus Blackbourne
The second and youngest son (“the spare”), Marcus has not yet accomplished anything of note, thus easily equaling his older brother’s achievements. Very shy, he tends to help Angela clean up for and after parties and has been known to form intense bonds with his mother’s animal-of-the-moment. This led, notably, to the brief Return of the Cupboard Beast as a Pet and the sordid chapter that will forever go down in history as the Revenge of the Cupboard Beast.

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Axtyn II, often called “The Last Great King of Pexate,” an appellation which has stuck despite Thurlford III’s many accomplishments, had a total of nine children–a fact he was very proud of, as it put him in the same league as his ancestor Eyon I.

Of the nine, three died young, leaving three sons and three daughters. Thurlford II, the youngest son of Axtyn’s second wife, became king on his father’s death at the age of three. His two elder brothers both died of misfortune, one of plague and another on campaign in the deserts of Naix. This left Axtyn’s daughters, the Three Sisters, all of whom married powerfully and well and became known for their adroit manipulations. Axtyn’s middle and favorite daughter married Uxbridge VI of Brae, the most powerful baron in the House of Owls, and her only son–also named Uxbridge–became baron in time as well.

Lord Uxbridge was known as a handsome, genial man who made personal friends easily and was most in his element when he was speaking to someone one-on-one. He was also brave and honorable to a fault, never failing to accompany his troops into battle and rarely, if ever, breaking his word once given. When Axtyn’s line failed, Uxbridge became a key aide to the new king, Axtyn’s younger brother Thurlford III, and Thurlford relied heavily on Uxbridge to keep the increasingly rowdy House of Owls in line.

However, it did not take a sage to see that Uxbridge’s eyes were on the throne. Thurlford was childless and increasingly distracted from the business of ruling by his need for a direct heir, and Uxbridge was already shaking hands with barons on the king’s behalf. Despite the fact that, historically, the kingship was not inheritable through the female line, Uxbridge nevertheless was in a position to advance his claim strongly. By the time his game of chess was complete, Uxbridge had married his only sibling to King Thurlford, had the support of a majority of the Owls, and had already guaranteed himself the position of regent for his nephew Eyon.

The Layyian Plague turned out to be the catalyst for Lord Uxbridge VII to become King Uxbridge I. Both the king and his wife succumbed–or, at least, that was the official story–and after a regency of only nine days, so too did young Eyon–again, according to the official story. Rumors that Eyon had survived and that Thurlford had been murdered persisted, but the House of Owls unanimously backed Uxbridge for the throne.

And, true to his word, he honored the promises that he had made: more autonomy for the barons, less royal interference in the day-to-day running of the country, and so on. To do otherwise would have cost him his support, but the following decade–Uxbridge’s Anarchy–would show that he had sacrificed perhaps too much in his pursuit of the throne.

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Thurlford III, King of Pexate, became king after his nephew Thurlford II died young. As regent for the boy, he was well-positioned to take the throne, but Thurlford was also the last male-line descendant of Axtyn II. A tough, practical statesman and general, Thurlford was a capable ruler but his reign wound up becoming consumed by the question of succession.

Thurlford’s first wife, Mirh of Layyia, was the daughter of King Fraen IV and many hoped that their union would hep bring-about the long hoped-for union between the “warring brothers” of Pexate and Layyia. Mirh’s early death in childbirth dashed those hopes, and her child was sickly as well. He would have been Thurlford IV, had he lived, but the child suffered from hydrocephalus and died at the age of eight, though his surviving letters show that he was an intelligent lad and full of promise.

Lady Lyx was married to Thurlford when he became king, and was therefore Queen of Layyia. They had met on the occasion of one of Thurlford’s campaigns against the orcs in the deserts of Naix, and she was a member of the disinherited by still powerful House Diuaj. However, their union was a childless one, and rumors soon began to spread that her mother had actually been an elf, leaving Queen Lyx herself as a mule and infertile. Scholars remain divided about this, but there is no denying that she failed to produce an heir or even to become pregnant.

Thurlford appealed to the Sepulcher, asking that the marriage be dissolved, but the canon law of the time required both parties to agree to a divorce, and Lady Lyx refused to grant one. Thurlford resolved to sire an heir regardless, and began courting a variety of ladies both in Pexate’s capital of Simnel and in the baronies as well–it is said that the Annex at Castle Aiov was built to be his love-nest with the baron’s daughter.

However, the barons’ power had been growing, and they saw the opportunity to flex their muscles. The House of Owls resoundingly rejected King Thurlford’s petition to have an heir of illegitimate birth succeed him, and the House of Sparrows agreed. The sudden death of Queen Lyx broke the logjam, though the barons’ whispers that she had been poisoned by her husband gained wide currency.

Seeking to shore up his support, Thurlford’s third wife was Lady Zann of Brae. She was not a well-known beauty like Lyx, nor was she an adroit politician like Mirh, but she was the sister of Baron Uxbridge VII of Brae, a cousin of the king and one of the most powerful members of the House of Owls. Uxbridge had long been Thurlford’s “fixer,” dealing with problems arising around Pexate with his brand of personal diplomacy–he was renowned for his warm, friendly manner, personal honor, and fine speaking voice. Queen Zann therefore came with a powerful ally attached.

It seemed that Thurlford finally had what he wanted; Zann was pregnant within a year and the king’s first legitimate offspring, Prince Eyon, was born soon after. But within a year, both Zann and Thurlford would be dead, and Pexate would be spiraling into chaos.

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“What is this?” said Marcos, looking at the form. He was still sitting behind that giant and likely bulletproof desk, without a clear shot from the silenced PB pistol in my briefcase. The wire around its trigger was already starting to cut into my skin in the lush Veracruz heat.

“International Solutions, LLG?” Marcos continued. “No, no, this invoice is no good. It has to be countersigned.” He slapped the paper down on the desk. “Do you take me for a fool? I want to see the Interior Minister’s signature on this before I pay a cent.”

“My apologies,” I said as evenly and coolly as I could manage. “With your leave, I will take the document back and return it with the proper signature.”

“Don’t apologize,” Marcos said. “Just get it done. And send someone else next time, or we might just decide to make you pay for wasting our time.”

I started circling the desk, but before I had made it more than a handful of steps, Marcos lunged forward and drove a dagger into the wood–and judging by the many similar holes, not for the first time.

“Stay back,” he said. “I don’t like strangers getting too close.”

“Of course.” I gestured at the paper. “Then, would you mind…?”

With a grunt, Marcos lifted himself partly out of his seat and reached across the desk to scooch it my way. For a moment, and only a moment, he was unprotected by the desk.

It was now or never.

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A cat’s eye is my eye now
Over indoor sights it will play
Confined we both softly prowl
Too risky to let us away

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Let us sing now of adventurers
Forthright and bold in verse
As a second great journey they start!

We head now to the dwarven king’s halls
Mines deep and spoils rich in those walls
As our heroes with empty purses enter!

Gem and coin they did need
Afore the planting of seed
But the mines they were full up with monsters!

O’er a lake they would slosh
To reach mountains of dosh
But a cthulhu lurked deep down within it!

Our heroes soon realized
As they fought for their lives
That the monsters were eating the treasure!

The longer they did wait
And their fury abate
The less spoils there were for the banker!

To make bad matters worse
The dwarf mines were cursed
With severe tectonic instability!

As the monsters did feast
Leaving heroes with least
The dwarf-cave did threaten a cave-in!

As all hope was lost
And regardless of cost
The heroes’ mage stepped forward with grim purpose!

He gave up his life
In an orgy of strife
That his friends could escape from the maelstrom!

As they fled the great blast
They seized jewels at the last
And erupted from the mines with a pittance!

Their good friend had now gone
With brain over brawn
And left them just enough richer!

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I didn’t know my way around my parents’ new house, since the old one had burned down. It was on the same plot of land, and the same treasures from travels all over the world filled it, but they’d bought a house elsewhere and had it moved onto the plot. I never would stop seeing it as a labyrinth, having trouble even finding the stairs up or down.

They sent me to the corner store to get some groceries, just like they had in decades gone past. The old IGA was open again, downtown on the corner, as if it had never left, as if all its broken tile floors and worn-out conveyer belts had just been sitting in storage for twenty years.

On my way back–at a run, because time and daylight are short–I see my aunt and uncle coming into town, my father’s big sister and part of her brood. They shout to me, sing a little “Happy Birthday” out the window. It’s embarrassing, but I know their heart is in the right place. They are driving one of the cars of their generation, outdated and gigantic, a glacier with oval side windows and faux vinyl, but it’s a good fit.

When I reach home, I have visitors. Old friends, or were they rivals? We’d gone to school together and gone our separate ways. But they’d never been far from my mind, and I was flattered to see that the same was true. The old swingset was back in my parents’ backyard, or perhaps a new one of the same design, and we sat in the three seats idly talking of days gone by. Some old secrets were shared, and we each asked after people we’d lost track of. I had to tell one of them how truly little I cared for his opinion, and the other seemed to cut me to the quick with her questions, innocent as they seemed.

I am older, yes. I am older. But that does not mean all is lost.

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