“Roberto’s a nut,” said Giovanni. “Just sits up there all day with his birds.”

“He is a nut,” agreed Angelo. “But cut him some slack. He got hit real bad during the war. Krauts cut off his whole platoon and he lost most of his guys.”

“Fine, fine,” Giovanni said. “But what’s that got to do with a bunch of smelly birds?”

“Pigeons saved his life,” replied Angelo. “The carrier pigeons got word to get them relieved. I guess Roberto’s just trying to give something back, you know?”

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Fayne Island was named after an obscure British fur trapper, and remained one of the largest unsettled islands in the Great Lakes until a community of Mennonites moved there in 1801.

The Mennonites, originally from lower Michigan, were worried about temptation and influence from the world outside their sect. So they moved their entire small community to the island to set up a self-sufficient settlement in what was then the frontier.

Harsh winters and stony soil made for a very difficult time, and the Mennonites found themselves increasingly unable to farm for a living by the 1840s. Eventually, at a contentious meeting, they decided to solicit outsiders to trade for materials they could not make themselves and for food in years when harvests were bad.

By 1860, a small trading community of non-Mennonites had formed, and it grew rapidly. The first non-Mennonite buildings outside the docks were laid out in the 1870s, and by the 1880s the Mennonites were a minority on Fayne, with many having left the faith and others moving to join less tiny religious communities elsewhere. A small number of Mennonites remain, isolated and on cool terms with the rest of the population.

Fayne had become a popular summer destination by the turn of the century, and many of the main buildings date to that time. The Golden Gardenia Hotel dates to 1897, becoming a favorite of those who couldn’t afford other island hotels like the Grand on Mackinac or who simply preferred a cozier atmosphere.

The end of the lake trade in the 1950s and 1960s badly hurt what had become Fayne Township, and the island fell on hard times with many closures and a loss of population to the mainland, a trend that continues to this day. Though the economy improved in the 1990s, and the Golden Gardenia was saved from demolition, it is a far cry from the salad days of the late 1800s.

Contemporary Fayne Island finds itself at a crossroads. The population is rapidly aging, and many of the young people are moving away. While still relatively popular, tourist attractions like the Gardenia make residents worry about an influx of outsiders that could wipe away the township’s uniqueness. Many older residents are very outspoken about making the island another tourist trap for “fudges” a la Mackinac.

To open itself up to the world and possibly lose its uniqueness, or to remain isolated and possibly dwindle into nothingness–those are the options confronting Fayne Island in the 21st century.

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The Blue Jar of Yblesh is one of the more famous supposed examples of an out-of-place artifact or OOPArt. Excavated near Yblesh by Sir Roger Stanley in 1894, the Blue Jar appears to be a simple cobalt class container, shattered and then reassembled with a lid. It was found in a strata indicating that it had been buried in approximately 2500 BCE.

However, the Jar appears to have been made using the Schürer process, which was invented in Europe around 1400, and it is in a style more akin to the late 1600s or early 1700s. The presence of an early modern glass in an early modern style continues to excite speculation. Time travel enthusiasts, young-earth creationists, and even alien abductees have all cited the Blue Jar of Yblesh as proof of their views.

Naturally there are skeptics, most of whom claim that the Jar was either planted by Sir Roger or accidentally mixed in with an improper strata during an excavation that left much to be desired by modern standards. Carbon dating does not work on glass, and detailed studies on the Jar have been limited to its current owner, the Vatican Museums, which is reluctant to potentially damage an item popular with tourists.

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Marine clowns often gather in beaches in large numbers, especially during the summer, for they are gregarious and communal creatures. However, this does expose them to predation by clown-eating gulls.

The gulls will not take clowns from large groups, as their prey will sound an alarm and huddle together for protection. Instead, clown-eating gulls prefer to pick off stragglers. They will circle before diving and then sinking their claws into their prey to carry it off. The forlorn honking of a victim’s nose is often the only sign that a gull has taken its prey.

When the gulls have eaten the clown or fed it to their young, they also ingest the quantities of greasepaint and zaniness that they need to maintain their polka-dotted plumage, much like wild flamingoes.

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Gob paused for a moment. “Gob presumes that the young master thinks Gob an expert on his people?”

“Of course,” Eyon said. “I hardly know anything about goblins in Pexate.”

“If the young master permits,” said Gob, “this one would like to ask: if Gob would like to know about the culture of the humans, would the young master know the answer?”

“I think so,” Eyon said. “What would you want to know?”

“What can the young master tell Gob about the people of Layyia to the east?”

“The Layyians?” Eyon said. “I can tell you the history of their kings, our wars with them, some of their best philosophers and poets…”

“What about the meaning behind their names? The heroes of their stories? Those of the common Layyians, not their kings.”

“We never got into that in my lessons,” said Eyon, embarrassed.

“Ah,” said Gob with a nod. “What about the lands of Naix to the south across the sea? They teem with a great array of humans among other. What can the young master tell Gob about their names, about their legends?”

“Well…I can tell you about the fall of the Crimson Empire, and how it-”

“The people, young master, not their emperors. What can you tell Gob about them?”

Eyon bit his lip. “Very little, I’m afraid.”

“Yet they are humans, are they not, just like the young master?” said Gob. “Surely, as a human, the young master knows the ways of his people.”

“Well, I know a lot about history and kings, and of course a great deal about the Pexian humans and Pexate,” said Eyon. “But the human Layyians and Naixxans…they’re different sorts altogether.”

“And yet the young master believes Gob to know about his people, as a whole, since all gobs are very similar–not nearly as diverse as the humans and their various nations,” Gob said. “This one is heartened by your confidence.”

Eyon cocked his head, confused. “Gob, are you…are you trying to tell me something?”

“Gob is quite certain that he doesn’t know what the young master is talking about,” he said. “If you will excuse Gob, the other master has finally fallen asleep, and the cut meat must be salted before it spoils.”

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I was just in it for the piracy, really. Okay, maybe the piracy and a little bit of drugs.

Back in the day, it was tough to pirate any really big filed because of how slow the internet was. It was even harder to buy illegal things because there was no PayPal. But enterprise always flourishes, and by diligently looking through troves of sites no one linked to and trying login screens with no identifying information, you were always able to get somewhere. That was the deep web primeval, back then; kids today don’t know how lucky they have it.

I eventually stumbled into a directory of encrypted files after guessing the password. I still have no idea what the files were, but I scrolled through them anyway, looking for movies to download. Eventually, I noticed that a text file had appeared just ahead of where I was, alphabetically, in the file structure.

Its title was WE_SEE_YOU.txt.

A moment later I got disconnected. It spooked me good, but not enough to really change anything. Felt kind of shook up, so I went to McDonald’s for a bite and stayed there for a bit.

When I got home, I had a new email. The ‘from’ address was a petty clear spoof, but the subject line caught my eye.

“WE SEE YOU.”

There was an attachment, which I opened. Dumb move, by the way, never open attachements if you don’t know where they came from. But I did, and what I saw made me yank the modem out of the wall hard enough to break the socket.

It was a grainy picture of me eating my Quarter Pounder in McDonald’s on a time-stamped CCTV still.

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Mouse of Farts
A mouse made of living flautus comes into being at the point the caster designates. It will roam, randomly farting, throughout the combat area for a number of rounds equal to 1d6 + caster’s level. All creatures of less than 4 hit dice must perform a fortitude save with a DC15 or lose their next action to uncontrollable retching. This includes both hostiles and party members as well as the caster. Party members and creatures with more than 4 hit dice save at a +10 and may still make free actions while retching.

Fomend’s Beating Sphere
A small sphere of solid metal comes into being at the caster’s fingertips and flies directly for the crotch of the targeted enemy. It will beat at the targeted crotch for 1d4 + caster’s level rounds. If the target is male or otherwise has vulnerable genitalia, each beating will cause 1d4 damage and has a 25% chance of immobilizing the target with pain for 1 round. If the target is female or has genital armor, the beating sphere has no effect. Targets of 4 hit dice or greater may make a reflex save at DC 18 to swat the sphere out of the air to avoid its effects.

Barking Stones
2d8 stones in the vicinity begin loudly barking and snarling as if they were highly agitated guard dogs. The sound will cause creatures of 2 hit dice or less to make a morale check or flee in terror. The stones gain +1 to their effect if they are behind a fortification such as a wall or door, as it is more difficult to trace the source of the noise. The effect lasts for 1d12 rounds and cannot be extended. Stones are required for the effect but may be carried by the caster. Smashing the stones ends the effect.

Q’s Invisibility
The caster or a being they designate becomes invisible for 1d4 + caster’s level rounds. The invisibility only affects the bring itself, not any of their clothing or gear. It also prevents the affected from interacting with any matter, including their clothing or gear. The affected may wander at the same height above (or below) sea level that they were at when the spell was cast, but will move through any higher ground and will hover above any lower ground. If the affected is in the air when the spell dissipates, they will incur the appropriate falling damage. If they are in the ground, they will violently displace any matter occupying the same space and may suffer from suffocation.

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