Glyph Chapter 4 – Lien

Lien

I walked back to where I had left the hunters. As I went I wondered what the sisters would want with this world door and why they needed me. Did they want me to transfer Melsa to this creature they were afraid of? Were they there when my brother died? My Father never mentioned them being there. Were they watching from the shadows?

Melsa flew from tree to tree as I trudged through the woods. I couldn’t figure out how Ashlyn was able to walk without stepping on a twig or kicking a root. I made so much noise as I walked, the hunting party knew I was coming long before I arrived. Not only that she moved faster than I could.

“Ho, Mr. Hill!” Hane called.

I waved and continued my approach. Lien met me as I got closer, he had used my delay to set traps.

“Mechal,” He began “This is bad business, the sisters. I don’t even know what you talked about, but I know they’re baiting you. And this business with the bird is at the heart of it.”

“What would you have us do? If I ignore them, they’ll sabotage us any way they can. They’ve already tried killing you five off so I’d be alone.” I said.

Lien rubbed his stubbled chin. “Hm. That’s true, I hadn’t thought of it that way. It looks like we’re already in their trap. The bad part is, you usually end up gnawing off your own leg to get out of a snare.”

“Besides, they have information I need.” I said.

Lien’s eyes grew wide. “Well then, they have you in a grasp trap! Animal puts it’s paw in.” He gestured excitedly to show the action. “An’ grabs a tasty morsel, but then it’s paw is too big to pull back out. Does it put the morsel down so it can get away? No! It hangs onto that tasty bit even up to the point where the trapper comes and puts it down.”

“What?” I responded incredulously.

“Ay, that’s you. You’ve got your hand on a tasty morsel an’ won’t let go. You think you’ll get what you came for, eventually but they’ll put you down before they let you have your prize.” He said.

“That might be but if this is a trap I have something they want too. They can’t just kill me.”

“Yeah, but what about the rest of us?” Lien asked.

We arrived at the path. Thian and Morg approached.

“Well?” Morg demanded.

“The sisters will go ahead of us as we originally intended. They’ll leave messages showing the best way.” I said.

“Ok, ok, but what are they after? They want something, what is it?” Morg said.

“Have any of you heard of a world door?” I asked.

Each man shook his head.

“It’s new to me too. Ashlyn said the village founders talked about doors that would reopen. Their children lost faith in the story and didn’t speak of them. Maybe they thought it was a fantasy. Anyway, she says they found one. What they want with it she wouldn’t say. They need me to help get to it for some reason.” I said.

“What about our hunt?” Morg asked.

“Don’t worry about that. You’ll still have it. We will find out what this error is, and then I’ll go with them while you hunt. They’re moving out ahead of us, so we should get moving.” I said.

“I don’t like the idea of you going alone with those two.” Thain said.

“I appreciate the concern Thain. With all respect, I don’t know if all of you could protect me from the sisters if they decided to hurt me. There’s more to them than they show. It’s no wonder they won’t let anyone else hunt with them.” I said.

Lien came up close to me and whispered, “You should consider packing up and returning to the village.”

“We’ll continue, I know that there’s trouble ahead but the cost of turning back is too much. The village would turn against me and my family and we need something to pay off the cost of our provisions.” I said.

Slowly, each man picked up his pack and started walking.

“We’re about a day behind now. We’re going to have to pick up the pace and rely more on hunting.” Thain said.

The Masdodil screeched as Hane prodded it forward. The trail was made by hundreds of hunting parties that have made their way out into the wilds. The way was rutted by the passage of huge carts bringing food, leather and other valuables that come from the beasts. Sometimes a tree would be in fruit and a hunting party could bring food from it but without hunters, there would not be any food.

We marched as hard as we could that day. I thought I was doing well until we stopped to camp that night and found my feet were blistered. My shoes were not made for hard marching and we left in such haste there was no chance to equip myself with better gear.

I didn’t want the others to see how bad my feet were, so I kept them covered.

At breakfast Lien approached me again.

“Lad, I’ve been thinking. A lot of times, a trap is just a matter of a trick of the mind. Find yourself in a trap and the first instinct is to try to pull free. That’s usually what tightens the trap. Don’t pull away and it might be easier to get out without losing too much.” He said.

“So you’re saying go along with them?” I asked.

“Well, not exactly, but don’t fight it until you’ve slipped out of the trap. You’ll only hurt yourself.” He said.

“I think I understand what you’re getting at, but I’m not sure how to do that in our situation.” I said.

“Well, the trap is us.” He said. “I mean me and the other men. Without us, what do the sisters have to hurt you with? You said they need you, they can’t do anything to you. Well, maybe they could hurt you a bit but you’re more worried of what they’d do with us.”

“Ok, maybe. What about it?” I asked.

“Well.” He began, then looked straight into my eyes to emphasize his words. “An’ I ain’t sayin’ this out of cowardace.” He paused again to make sure I understood. “But if we left you when they ain’t look’n, you push forward and we double back, they’ll be too far ahead by the time they notice we’re gone to catch up with us.”

“It would be an unprofitable trip.” I said.

“Not necessarily.” He said with a little smile. “You see, ‘bout twenty years back, there was trip that went out an’ one fellow in the party sabotaged the rest of the hunters. He made out pretty well bringin’ in a hunt for himself but the mayor made him compensate the other hunters when they show’d they’d been sabotaged. I figure that what the sisters are doing counts as sabotage an’ they’d have to compensate us.” Lien said

I shook my head. “I’m not too sure, maybe. You should talk with the others and see if they’ll take that chance.” I said.

“That I’ll do.” He answered.

“But what do I do after that? I’ll be alone with them.” I worried.

“That I can’t work out. They got somethin’ unnatural going on but I ain’t seen what it is. This much is certain though. They’re after something more.” Lien said.

“They can have whatever it is, I don’t really care. I just want to know what they know about Jash and my family.” I said.

Lien groaned a little. “Don’t be too sure ‘bout that. Those two are mighty dangerous, an’ I don’t just mean in a fight. I’ll tell you somethin’ These guys love a fight. They want to go up against every wild beast there is. I’ve always thought a smart man’ll let his enemy tire themselves out and then clean up.” He looked me in the eye again. “An’ you never fight an enemy where they’re strong. You find what they’ve ignored an’ come at them from there.” He slapped my chest with the back of his hand. “Listen to those two things, you’ll live longer.”

I nodded to acknowledge his advice.

We packed up the camp and started marching. Every step hurt and only got worse than the last. I struggled to keep up. I tried to keep my mind off the pain by thinking about all the questions I had but the pain made concentrating impossible. All I was doing was making myself more miserable.

I thought the blisters were bad but my legs were sore from walking so much. I’d never traveled so far in my life.

We found arrows marked on the road, showing which fork in the road to take, left by the sisters. Each time we followed their path I wondered if they were guiding us safely or bringing us into a trap. The thought slowly faded as each time our way was clear. They even left kills of small animals for us to supplement our food stock. Dilan and Hane rode the cart and cleaned the animals and packed them in salt.

As the sky dimmed, we began to look for a place to camp for the night.

Morg kept looking behind us with a worried look.

“What’s the matter Morg” Thain asked.

“Do you hear that?” Morg asked.

Thain picked up his head. “No.” He waited again. “No, nothing.”

“I thought I heard the sound of a trot.” Morg said.

Thain now grew concerned. “If you did, it’s a predator and they’d be close. Any idea how big?”

“It was real quiet.” Morg answered.

“The Sisters, they lead us into a trap!” Dilan exclaimed.

“No.” Morg said, “They’re up ahead of us, this was from behind. Something’s been tracking us.”

“Look!” Lien said, pointing into the woods.

We looked where he pointed but saw nothing.

“What was it?” Thain asked.

“All I saw was a shape, a bit bigger than a man.” Lien said.

“Wait.” I said. “Melsa, are there any large predators out there?”

“Yes, there are seven tigerwolves less than thirty five meters away and closing.” Melsa said.

“They can cover that distance in a blink.” Lien said.

“Can you lock them?” I said.

“I can lock one of them.” she answered.

“Lock it and transfer to another.” I commanded.

“Done.” She said and the pidgemartin flew away.

“Eyes up!” Morg shouted.

In an instant five huge tigerwolves launched themselves into the clearing of the road.  Their claws unsheathed and teeth flashing in the fading light.

Morg caught one on his spear as it leapt at him, impaling it as it’s weight carried it forward, but the spear only caught one lung.

Thain let loose his arrow into the shoulder of another. In the blink of an eye, Thain had his sword drawn and brought it down on the creature’s head, stunning it and sending it circling away.

I started to draw back my bow, but remembered that I could not attack these creatures or I would no longer be a TOW. The locked Tigerwolf and the one that Melsa transferred to would be free to attack.

Hane swung his sword at a charging beast but failed to connect. Even though Hane was easily a head taller than me he looked tiny as the tigerwolf swatted him, ripping open his leg with it’s claw. Lien ran up and stabbed the tigerwolf with a dagger.

Dilan released the mastodil from the cart just as two of the predators lunged at it. The mastodil’s reared up to attack with it’s front claws and snapped at the tigerwolves with it’s beak.

The tigerwolf Morg had speared, flailed and snapped the shaft of the spear.

Thain’s tigerwolf circled and charged at Morg this time.

“Morg! Behind you!” I shouted.

Thain dropped his sword and before it hit the ground, he fired off an arrow. I caught the tigerwolf in the back and sunk deep but didn’t stop it. It continued to charge and swatted Morg to the ground.

Thain let another arrow fly as the tigerwolf bore it’s teeth to crush Morg’s head. The arrow struck it’s neck and it collapsed.

The mastodil managed to stomp down on one of the tigerwolves with it’s huge clawed feet with an awful crunch. The other tigerwolf, must have decided it didn’t want to end up like it’s partner and ran.

The speared tigerwolf staggered and snarled. Morg grabbed another spear from the cart and charged it. He hurled his spear and struck it in the chest. Before it fell, it gave a spiteful glare at Morg that I will never forget.

“Hane” Dilan called out.

Hane was bleeding badly from his leg and didn’t look like he should be standing. He held a bloody sword in his hand and looked like it was more than his blood on him.

“He. He saved me.” Hane said.

We looked over and saw Lien, his body ripped and broken. He gave Hane enough time to hack at the beast and kill it but it was at his own expense.

We gathered round Lien’s body. As it has always done, the ground slowly drew his remains down into it. Small tendrils of roots grew up all around to wrap up his body and then larger ones continued to enwrap him until the whole mass sunk beneath the ground.

A tigerwolf approached and Thain drew his bow.

“What is your evaluation of the tigerwolves?” it asked.

“Melsa! We thought you were one of them.” I said.

“I am one of them.” She said.

“Well, yes, but you’re not going to attack us.” I answered.

“Why would I do that?” She asked.

I didn’t answer. Lien was gone and Hane was badly wounded, I wasn’t in the mood for this banter.

“We should get to a Glyph to restore the one that died.” Melsa said.

“Restore? What do you mean restore?” I asked.

“The system has preserved him, the Glyph can repair and restore him.” Melsa said.

“But we can’t get the Glyph to answer us.” I said.

“We must correct that.” Melsa said.

“The Glyph can bring back the dead?” Morg said.

“We need to help Hane or we’ll need the Glyph to bring two back.” Thain said.

We wrapped Hane’s leg as well as we could but the bleeding was so bad we had to tourniquet it. He would lose the leg now.

Dilan was having a hard time getting the mastodil back in it’s harness he was too shaken by Hane’s condition. We helped him corral the beast and reconnect it. All of us were tired from traveling and shock was setting in. We tried to set up camp but we did a poor job. Our fire barely lasted through the night and wouldn’t have kept anything away.

Melsa lay down next to me. It was unnerving to have her in that tigerwolf. Her breathing was heavy as she lay awake. She did not seem to require any kind of sleep.

Glyph Chapter 3 – Janna and Ashlyn

Chapter 3

Janna and Ashlyn

We packed up and got moving. Melsa would fly from tree to tree as we traveled. Lien set up snares as we went.

The sisters had gotten impatient waiting for us and doubled back. By midday they approached us from behind, Thain was the first to spot them approaching.

“Ho there!” He called.

We came to a halt and allowed them to approach. They moved silently through the trees like they were part of the woods.

“Where is Jash?” Janna demanded.

“Jash is dead.” I answered.

Janna stopped in her tracks. Ashlyn turned and started to circle around us.

“How?” Janna asked.

“My father killed him.” I said.

“Tow killed him? Why?” She asked.

“I was hoping you’d know.” I said.

“Has anything else unusual happened since then?” She probed.

“Do you know why my father killed Jash?” I insisted.

“No.” She said.

“What was the understanding they had between them? Jash was going to tell me when we got out of the town.” I said.

“I really don’t know.” She answered.

“Do you know how my brother died?” I asked.

“That I do know. I’ll tell you if you answer my question.” She said.

“Yes I’m a Tow.” I said.

“But do you know what that means?” She said with a smile curling on her lips.

“Melsa, shut down until I call you.” I called.

“Shutting down.” Melsa said from her tree.

“Interesting, your animal is a woman. I like her already.” Janna said.

“I know that answering a question like that in front of Melsa is a bad idea. She doesn’t like it when I don’t act like a Tow, only I’m not exactly sure how one is supposed to act.” I said.

Janna nodded. “Go with Ashlyn. She will explain things to you. This kind of thing shouldn’t be discussed in front of these others.” she said.

“Tell me here.” I said.

“That’s not how this works.” Ashlyn said. “If you want answers, you’ll come with me.”

“Go ahead, if you don’t come back, we’ll make sure her sister doesn’t make it back to town.” Morg said.

Janna barked out a laugh. “It would take twenty of you to make me worry even a little.”

“It’s ok sister, let them feel like they’re safe, they’ll behave for us if they do.” Ashlyn said.

“Does that include me?” I asked.

“Oh, you’re fine. You’re too useful to hurt.” Ashlyn said.

I looked at Thain. He nodded. “Go and get whatever answers you can.” He said.

Ashlyn smiled. “Sensible boy.” She said to Thain. Turning to me she said “Come, I have things to teach you.” as she walked into the woods.

I looked at the men, each one with a different expression of concern. I looked up to Melsa, she was preening her feathers.

I walked into the woods following after Ashlyn. I was amazed at the speed she could move through the dense underbrush.

“There you are, I was beginning to wonder if you didn’t like me!” She said.

“I’d prefer the others to know what’s going on. They need to know how this works too.” I said.

“No they don’t. Really, this is for you to know and them to figure out. Honestly, why should they benefit from what you can do? What have they done to deserve your loyalty?” She said.

“Why should you benefit from what I can do? What have you done to deserve my loyalty?” I replied.

Ashlyn put on a pout. “Oh, that hurts! And here I’m about to let you in on what Jash didn’t even know.”

“I’m more concerned with what he did know.” I said.

She smiled. “I can help you with that too. First you have to see something.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Look through here.” She pointed through a gap in the brush.

I looked where she pointed. Only a stone’s throw away, a large bull Spineox was sleeping.

“Go walk up to it.” She said.

I looked at her incredulous. “That thing will kill me!”

She huffed. “Silly, if you were a regular person, you’d be dead already. It would have heard your clumsy footsteps and charged and then gored you on it’s thorns, ripping you to ribbons.”

She stepped through the clearing toward the Spineox.

“Wait!” I said through gritted teeth but she didn’t slow down.

I watched her walk up to the sleeping beast and kneel beside it. She looked like a rodent compared to it. She beckoned me to join her. I reluctantly followed but didn’t get as close as she did.

“It doesn’t know we’re here. To him, we don’t exist.” She said. “But if it wakes up, it could hurt us accidentally. That’s lesson one. Don’t get in their way.”

“So are you a Tow?” I asked.

She let out a throaty laugh. “No, silly we wouldn’t need you if I was.”

She got up and put her finger on my chest.

“You are a Tow. I’m just invisible.” She said. “So was my sister until she killed. That’s lesson two. This ends if you use a weapon on an animal. So I find the animals, and my sister kills them.”

“Your sister kills the animals herself? How is that possible? I’ve heard of you bringing home huge kills that made this beast look puny. No one even knows how you move the kills.” I said.

Ashlyn smiled a coy smile. “That’s a secret we won’t talk about today. Maybe if you’re a good little boy you’ll learn that secret too, but not yet.”

“Is that how my brother died? He attacked an animal and it killed him?” I asked.

“No, your father and brother used their invisibility to get up to an animal and make a killing blow. They both killed the animal they were after. It was what happened next that killed your brother.” She said. “He’s starting to move, we should step back.”

We moved back to the brush and watched the beast rise and look around.

“He hears your friends, he might charge and kill them.” She said.

“We have to warn them!” I said.

“You can’t stop it.” She replied.

The Spineox’s ears rotated forward, listening for anyone intruding in it’s territory.

“Your sister is with them!” I said.

“She can handle it.” Ashlyn said. “She knows it’s coming.”

I started running. Crashing through the brush, thorns ripping into my legs and arms.

The Spineox let out a deep snort from it’s nostrils and pawed the ground, getting ready to charge.

“Melsa! Melsa!” I shouted as I ran.

The Spineox charged through trees, some thicker than a man’s leg, snapping them like twigs.

“Melsa!” I shouted again. “Lock the Spineox!”

I had to turn and run out of it’s path to avoid being trampled as it ran by me.

“Melsa! Lock the Spinox!”

The bull planted it’s feet and slid to a stop.

Melsa flew up to me and landed on a twig.

“Acknowledged. In the future, my response time is reduced when shut down. You may want to give me some time in between starting up the interface and issuing a command.” She said.

I heard shouting from the hunters. They’d spotted the animal.

“Melsa, I forget, what happens if the hunters attack the Spineox?” I asked.

“Obviously the lock will be broken. An animal cannot be locked if it is actively being hunted.” She said.

I ran down the path the Spineox made and crashed past it, hoping it wouldn’t step on me.

“Don’t attack it! Don’t attack!” I cried.

Thain had his bow drawn. Morg stood ready with his spear.

“Don’t attack it.” I panted. “Put down your weapons.”

Thain relaxed his bow but Morg didn’t put down his spear.

“If you attack it, the lock will break and it will charge again.” I explained. “The sisters planned this so the Spinox would kill you.”

“That’s not true, we wanted to test your ability.” Janna objected.

“What would have happened if I failed?” I demanded.

“I could have stopped the beast. There was never any real danger.” She said coyly.

Melsa flew up and landed on the ground.

“Your observation technique is unusual. What is your evaluation of the Spineox?” She asked.

“Uh, it’s a fine animal, very nice.” I sputtered. “But it’s too close to these hunters.”

Melsa twitched her head back and forth, looking at them.

“These hunters are improperly equipped. They should return to the visitor’s center for safety.” She said.

She turned to Janna who was coming up behind her.

“This hunter is properly equipped, but her gear is in need of repair. She should also return to the visitor’s center.” Melsa said.

Janna stopped and glared at the bird.

“Melsa, can you move the Spineox to a safe distance from these men?” I asked.

“That is not proper procedure, disturbing the movements of the animals alters the nature of the hunting experience. However none of these hunters have proper transportation. I can transfer the interface to the Spineox and you can lead it away. Afterwards the interface can be transferred to another animal if desired.” Melsa said.

“You can do that?” I asked. “I mean, of course you can, I forget these things.”

“Tow, you seem to be forgetting a number of basic things about your position. Are you feeling unwell? Your vitals appear normal but perhaps you should also return to the visitor’s center and have a medic examine you.” Melsa said.

“You’re right, I am forgetting a lot. I’ll get a doctor treat me, but we first need to find the error the Glyph warned about.” I said.

“Lien, do you have a cage that Melsa will fit in?” I asked.

Lien nodded and produced one from a bag. I picked up Melsa and put her in the cage.

“Transfer to the Spineox.” I said to Melsa.

The bird that was Melsa fluttered and nervously flapped around the small cage. The Spineox started moving again. Thain drew his bow again Morg readied his spear. I signaled them to relax.

“I am still unable to connect to the Glyph, have you been able to contact an administrator?” Melsa said. Her voice remained unchanged even though it now came from the huge Spineox.

“No, we won’t be able to find one until the error is found. Let’s move away from the hunters.” I said as I walked away from the group.

“That is an unusual course of action, since access to the Glyph would allow us to locate this error more quickly.” Melsa said.

“Melsa, no one has been able to communicate with the Glyph for a very long time. I don’t think we can fix it.” I said.

“That is unusual, I’m detecting the Glyph’s activity in regulating this world but it will not communicate. Restoring communication should be the first priority.” Melsa said.

“Melsa, people have tried, this error could bring a plague that kills many people. It’s our priority to find the error first.” I said.

“This is an unusual situation. It makes some sense that a Tow would observe such an event depending on its nature but it would be better to follow proper procedure in handling system errors.” The Spineox said.

“Wait, what do you mean by system errors?” I asked.

“A Glyph would only indicate an error if there was a failure in the world system as that is it’s primary function. Really, you may not be a administrator, but this is basic knowledge. I am detecting some inflammation in your brain but it is not consistent with a concussion. Have you taken an injury from a pressure wave or possibly eaten something toxic?” Melsa said.

“No, I. . .” I paused for a few moments. Could she be seeing the brain fever? “I have been, er, very distressed.”

The Spineox shook its head back and forth like it was shaking off insects.

“It would require a significant event to produce this kind of reaction.” Melsa said.

“I watched my father kill a man two days ago.” I replied.

“That could possibly qualify.” She said.

“Could a person cause a system error by doing something the Glyph didn’t like?” I asked.

“The Glyph does not become offended, it only has permissions and procedure. A procedural violation would be difficult for a person to accomplish and would be unlikely to produce a system error. A violation of permissions, depending on what was done could produce an error.” She said.

“I was near the Glyph when it announced there was an error, could I have violated permissions by mistake?” I thought for a moment and added “But the Glyph said the error was two hundred spaces away. Could I have caused an error that happened way out there?” I said pointing out into the forest.

“It would be nearly impossible for that sequence of events to occur, especially as you have stated no one has been able to access the Glyph. It is more likely that an error was introduced before Glyph access was lost and it has been triggered now.” Melsa said.

“So it’s not our fault, the plagues aren’t punishment.” I said.

“The Glyph does not punish. It would violate its procedures.” Melsa said.

As we walked, I contemplated this revelation. All the killings of people that were thought to be responsible for an error meant nothing. It was no great wonder then, that none of our efforts to ‘correct’ the errors was ever successful.

“Melsa, did you ever serve as an interface for other Tows? Could you tell me what happened to other Tows?” I asked.

“I was generated by the world when you were detected. Your knowledge of system function is severely impaired, I am worried that you will be unable to perform your function as a Tow. The actions of other interfaces are recorded in the Glyph. I could access the information if my connection to the Glyph was restored. This will become a more pressing issue when I have finished my tour with you and need to upload my records. Without Glyph access, much of my function of record keeping is impaired.” She said.

“So we’re in the same situation then, both of us are going to have a hard time doing what we’re supposed to do because of problems that we didn’t cause.” I said.

“That would be a fair evaluation of the situation.” Melsa said.

“Then let’s help each other however we can to do our jobs.” I offered.

“Agreed.” Melsa answered.

“You two are cute.” Ashlyn said, appearing from the forest right next to us. She looked at the Spineox again. “Sort of.”

“Have you been listening?” I asked.

“Oh, just a little.” She made a pinching motion with her fingers and giggled.

“What do you and your sister want from me?” I asked.

“In a minute. First, have you figured out how your brother died yet?” She said gesturing to Melsa.

“Melsa wasn’t my brother’s interface.” I said.

“No, no.” Ashlyn growled. She forcefully gestured to Melsa again. “Think!”

“I don’t get your meaning.” I shook my head.

“Never mind. So have you ever heard about the legend of the last world door?” She asked.

“What? No, what’s a world door?” I said.

“It makes sense that you wouldn’t, you’re too young. Did you know that my Grandmother was one of the original villagers? It’s true. She was one of the people that first built our village.” Ashlyn said.

“Built our village? I never thought of a time before our village existed. I suppose it must have had a beginning, but how did people keep the animals out before the wall?” I said.

“They didn’t.” She said and drew closer to me and whispered. “You’re not supposed to know this part.”

“What part?” I said.

“Well, my Grandmother died, waiting for what she called the world doors to open. All the people that founded the village talked about it. Their children, never saw a world door and decided not to speak of them. They thought the doors were gone for good.” She explained.

“What does that have to do with me?” I asked.

“I’m getting to that.” She paused and looked at Melsa. “My Grandmother said that one world door was kept open but the Glyph protected it by putting a fearsome creature at it’s entrance.” She grinned.

“And?” I asked.

“I can guess what Jash and Tow agreed to. It’s pretty obvious from what Jash told us when he came to recruit us for this hunt. I’ll tell you if you help us.” Ashlyn said, looking down her nose at me.

“I have to find the error first, preventing a plague is more important than your stories.” I said.

“Hrmph! They’re not stories, they’re true.” Ashlyn said. “Aren’t they Melsa?”

Melsa ignored her.

“Go ahead, ask her if there is still a world door open.” Ashlyn said.

I thought about this for a moment. What would it hurt to ask?

“Melsa, is there a world door that is open?” I asked.

Melsa shook her head. “I am unable to locate a world door because I cannot access the Glyph.”

I glared at Ashlyn.

“If world doors were just stories, she would have said there was no such thing. She said that she didn’t know where it was, so it must exist.” Ashlyn insisted.

“Fine, I’ll help after we find the error. You better be right about knowing what Jash and my father agreed to.” I said.

“I hate waiting.” Ashlyn said.

“So do I, but we both have something the other wants and neither of us can get what we want now. If you really are part of this hunting expedition then help us get to our destination, and not distract us with ambushes.” I snarled.

Ashlyn laughed low. “If you say so hunt master but Jash knew our rules and you don’t. So let me explain them to you. We will not travel with you. We will leave you messages to warn you of danger. If you fail to heed our messages, it’s your fault.”

“Understood but remember that I can still die. If we don’t understand your message and get killed, I can’t help you with your door.” I warned.

“Of course. Also, we will not tolerate anyone trying to observe us. We kill any man that tries and that includes you.” Ashlyn said.

“Fine.” I said.

I stopped. “Melsa, is this far enough?”

“It’s highly unlikely the Spineox will attack from this distance.” Melsa answered.

“Good, transfer to the bird and we’ll head back.” I commanded.

The Spineox looked around, confused. It slowly calmed and laid down.

“Please let me out of this cage. It breaks protocol for a Tow to keep this bird contained.” Melsa objected.

I opened the cage door. “Sorry.” I said.

Melsa flew out of the cage. “Please do not allow it to happen again.”

Ashlyn was already gone, she had slipped into the woods again.

Glyph Chapter 2 – TOW

Chapter 2

TOW

I sat in the middle of the great hall, watching the glimmers in the fog. Great beasts appeared all around me, some valued for the food they would provide, some had to be caught alive so they could be trained as beasts of burden, others like the Alk were valued for the metal in their bones and their antlers.

I wondered for a moment, what would we find on our journey? There were many animals that I’d heard of, but never seen.

“Show me a Cephrog!” I called out.

The glimmers faded and then a creature seemed to emerge from a body of water. It’s many arms like coils folded over each other to pull it’s great bulbus body out onto land. At the last moment two of it’s arms shot out with amazing speed towards me. I leapt back in fear but found the glimmer had faded when I looked back. In a few moments the random glimmers returned.

I was reluctant after that to call out another animal. In time though my curiosity got the better of me and I tried again.

“Show me a Gleff!” I called.

The glimmers faded again and at first a tiny object appeared in the fog circling again and again, growing larger each time. Then the great bird came into view as it circled down and finally landed in one of the branches of the tree as if it were in the hall with me. Its talons were the length of my forearms and it stood as tall as two men. The glimmer faded before I could get a good look at its features.

I called out more beasts, until a thought emerged.

“Show me the man that caused the error!” I said.

There was no change in the glimmers.

“Show me the error!” I tried.

Still, there was no change.

“Show me the plague!” I said.

The glimmers did not react. I wondered why they could show me any beast I wished, but not these other things. Was the Guardian only able to see the beasts for hunting? That would seem to be the case.

I thought it was strange that our town was centered around the Glyph, when it did nothing for us but declare errors. It would make more sense to center the town around the Visitor’s Center where so much of the people’s activities surround.

It had been a long and trying day. Although I wanted to keep calling out to the trees, I found my eyelids drooping and my ability to think draining away. I lay down on the bench and fell asleep.

I woke to Jash shaking me.

“Boy, wake up. We’re here to begin the hunt!” He said, his eyes beaming with enthusiasm.

I shook off my slumber and arranged myself. My hunters were calling out the name of beasts, some of which I’ve never heard of, and the trees showed them in the glimmers.

“Did you secure provisions?” I asked Jash.

“As I promised. You need to declare the start of the hunt so we can move out.” He answered.

I nodded. “Gentlemen, begin the hunt!” I called out in the hall.

I started to see Jash’s wisdom in his choice of companions. I had never had a group of men eager to follow my direction before. By choosing men that were adequate hunters but often passed over, they were eager to go out. That wasn’t the half of it.

As we walked out of the Visitor’s Center, Jash showed me the provisions. “Morg Feder has an uncle that runs a storehouse. By appealing to him to invest in the hunt with his food and dry good supplies he will get paid back with Morg’s cut of the hunt.” Jash explained.

He continued, “Similarly, Thain Jessop’s father had a cart pulled by a trained Mastodil. This will be very useful for moving our supplies and any animals we harvested. Lien Mills’ cousin was a smith, and was able to supply us with arrows and blades along with leather goods.”

Of course Jash knew all this when he had me pick them. Their enthusiasm for the hunt made their relatives eager to supply us, even if we hadn’t paid yet.

There was a small crowd of well wishers standing by to see us off. I looked for my parents but didn’t see them. I was terribly disappointed that they wouldn’t be there to see me.

All our heads turned at the sound of a faint whistle and then a terrible thud.

Jash wheezed a breath. An arrow stuck from his chest. He staggered backward and fell.

I ran to his side, not knowing at all what to do. I looked up to see where the arrow had come from, but the crowd was scattering making it hard to make sense of things.

Jash writhed on the ground. I tried to hold him down but the violence of his fit was too great for me and he threw me off.

Someone approached, as I looked up to ask them for help I recognized it was my father. He was carrying a bow.

Jash calmed at his approach, he smiled. “Tow.” His final word.

“Father! What, what did you?” I stammered.

Father didn’t take his eyes off Jash. A look of sorrow mixed with anger.

“Mechal, get on with the hunt.” Father said.

“But Father!” I objected, pointing at Jash’s body.

“Son, don’t disobey me! You go and you go now!” He shouted. His eyes were full of fury. “I’ve paid my vows, even if you won’t see them fulfilled.” He muttered as he walked away.

I cannot remember what happened immediately after. The next thing I knew I was sitting next to a fire as the sky dimmed.

“Is there any food?” I asked.

“Oh, he speaks!” Morg mocked.

“Leave him alone Morg, he’s in shock after what he’s seen today.” Thain said.

“This hunt is cursed! It was spawned from a Glyph error, Jash is dead and our hunt master is a brain fevered boy.” Lien said.

Hane brought me some bread and I ate. My senses began to come back to me.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“In the wilds.” Morg sarcastically answered.

Thain huffed at him. “We’re five spaces out from the village. We weren’t sure which way to travel, but you kept pointing in one direction so that’s where we went. That’s all we could get out of you.” He said.

“We’ve made poor time then. Five out is too little for our first day. We’ll have to make it up tomorrow.” I said.

“You little drit!” Morg spat. “Did you do anything to get us here? No! Now you think we didn’t work hard enough to get here?”

“I’m just stating a fact. We had a bad start, we’ll do better tomorrow. Get some rest and be ready.” I said.

“I say we get rid of you and pick a new hunt master.” Morg said.

“That would be unwise.” I said.

“Why? You think you can take me? I’ll kill you faster than you can draw your bow.” Morg threatened.

Thain rose to react to him but I held my arm out in between them.

“You probably could, but the sisters are out here waiting for us. They joined this hunt because of me. I still have no idea why, I was going to ask Jash. What do you think they’d do if you interfered with what they wanted?” I said.

Morg sat back down. So did Thain.

“You don’t know why they joined this hunt?” Thain asked.

“I think it has something to do with a promise my Father made to Jash, but he never got a chance to tell me what it was.” I answered. “We’ll settle this when we meet up with them. Until then, get some rest.”

We settled in around the fire that Hane and Dilan kept up. The fire was primarily for cooking, but at night kept some of the smaller predators away.

A few times I caught Lien staring at me, like he was observing an animal to catch in his traps.

The sky was growing dark and I quickly fell asleep. I woke up with my head pounding. Thain was sitting next to me.

“You gave us quite a night. You kept screaming. It’s not easy to sleep through that and we were worried it would bring in a Felorex. Lucky for us, none came.” Thain said.

“Why didn’t you wake me?” I asked.

“Tried. Morg even punched you in the arm and you never woke up.” Dilan said looking visibly distraught.

“I’m sorry.” I said.

“Look, let’s just get to work. That might help.” Thain said.

“That’s a good idea. We need to set up a plan for how this hunt should go. First, we should figure out how to find the sisters. Then we need to move quickly to the error. Once I find out the cause of the error and do whatever it is I’m supposed to do with it, we can make a base camp. Lien can set up traps and we can start a proper hunt.” I said.

“We’ll be crossing a lot of ground. Be a shame to pass up on setting traps along the way.” Lien said.

I nodded. “That’s fair, you can check them on the way back.”

“Are we even sure we’re headed in the right direction? We went the way you said to but you were in a brain fever. You coulda’ been pointing any which way.” Morg said.

“I’ll have to climb a tree so I can get a view of the village. I should be able to get a bearing from there.” I said.

“I can help you up.” Hane said.

I looked about us and picked a suitable tree. Hane boosted me up to the lower branches and I started to climb. I made it three quarters of the way up when a bird flew down and landed on the branch next to me.

I was taken back by it’s boldness. It looked like a common enough bird but I worried that it was going to attack me somehow.

“Are you a technical observation worker?” the bird asked.

I stared at it for a moment. I must have gone insane. The strain of the last day must have made me crazy.

“Are you a technical observation worker? Are you a T O W?” it asked again. It’s voice was like the Glyph’s but quieter.

“Tow is what they called my father.” I said.

“Your answer is unclear. Are you a T O W? A genetic test in thirty locations on your genome match that of a technical observation worker on record.” it demanded.

Obviously I was either crazy and somehow associating myself with the guilt of my father killing Jash or this was how my father got the nickname.

“I am a Tow.” I said.

“Understood, please be more direct in the future. I will function as your interface, unless you desire a different one. Do you require information?” It said.

“Uh, I’m looking for the village right now.” I said.

“Information unavailable. Please designate a landmark near the site you require.” it said.

“The. . . the Glyph, where is the Glyph?” I tried.

A mist came down from the tree like in the great hall of the visitor’s center and an arrow pointed out the direction of the Glyph with a number five floating below it.

“Are you ok up there?” Hane called.

“I’m coming down.” I called back.

I was shaking with a mixture of excitement and fear. I had heard stories of things like this told by the old woman Melsa. She taught children to read and told stories about when a single man could kill an Alk in a day. The time when the Glyph would answer a man. I had doubted her word, even though adults would insist it was true generations ago.

My shaky hands made it hard to climb down and a few times I felt off balance. My heart raced even faster. By the time I got down to the lower branches, I was shaking uncontrollably.

Hane reached up for me. “Are you ok? You’re pale.”

“Up in that tree, something um, something happened.” I said.

“You didn’t mess yourself did you?” Hane asked in a worried tone.

I actually checked to make sure I didn’t. “No, I” I looked up into the tree. The bird flew down and landed next to me.

“Can you speak?” I asked.

Hane looked perplexed. “You’re asking the bird?”

“An unusual question considering our earlier conversation. Are you feeling unwell?” the bird said.

The rest of the hunting party took notice and started to approach.

“You can hear the bird too then?” I asked Hane.

Hane simply nodded with his eyes wide.

“Show me the position of the Glyph again.” I said.

Again a mist formed under the branches of the tree and an arrow formed.

“What is this?” Thain asked.

“It asked if I was a Tow. I answered yes.” I said.

“Isn’t that what Jash called you father?” Thain said.

I nodded. “What is your name?” I asked the bird.

“I am your interface, unless you choose another. I do not have a name but if you want to give me one, I will respond to it.” the bird said.

“Are you male or female?” I asked.

“This Pidgemartin is female, but that can be changed if you wish.” it said.

“No, that’s ok. I’ll name you Melsa.” I said.

“Very well Tow, my name is now Melsa, would you like me to speak in a more traditionally female voice?” Melsa said.

“Er, yes. That would be good.” I said.

“Done.” It’s voice now sounded like the guardian of the hunt. “Would you like a report on local constructs?” It asked.

“Constructs? Yes, give me a report.” I answered cautiously.

“There are thirty local constructs above one kilogram. There are three local constructs above one hundred kilograms and one local construct above five hundred kilograms. Which category are you interested in observing? You may answer all. You may also choose micro life.” Melsa said.

“Above five hundred kilograms.” I said.

A mist formed again and an arrow with a 1.1 under it.

“A Scytheboar is in this direction. Do you wish to lock it in this area for observation?” She said.

“Lock it, like you can keep it from running away?” Thain asked.

“Information unavailable, incorrect permissions.” Melsa answered.

I tried. “Melsa, by locking, you mean it won’t run away?”

“An unusual question, are you sure you are a Tow?” she said.

“Yes, I’m a Tow. I was. . . just asking for the benefit of my friend Thain here.” I tried.

“Understood, but it is a breach of permissions to allow access to this system directly or indirectly to someone that does not have proper permissions.” Melsa said.

“Um, yes. I forgot, sorry, won’t happen again.” I said.

“There is no need to apologize, I do not become offended. I cite permissions so you do not become locked out and need an administrator restore them.” She said.

“Can you, give us a few minutes to talk? Maybe you could fly up to the top of the tree for a while?” I said.

“I can shut down this interface until you call my name.” Melsa said.

“And you won’t hear what we’re saying?” I asked.

“Correct, I will only reactivate when you say my name. I will lock this Pidgemartin so it will not leave the area.” She said.

“That sounds good.” I said.

“Shutting down.” Melsa said. The bird began pecking at the ground and walking slowly in a circle.

“Ok, what do I do?” I asked the group.

“I think it’s evil, we should kill it.” Lien said.

“Are you stupid? This is important.” Thain said.

“Do you realize what that thing said?” Morg asked. “It can tell you where animals are. We can find any animal we want and this thing can lock them in place.”

“But it seems like you can only do certain things while it’s around otherwise it will take away permissions. We have to be careful how we use it.” Thain said.

“I can see why Jash and the Sisters were interested in me going on a hunt.” I said.

“So the Sisters want to use this thing. I say it’s ours and we cut them out of it.” Morg said.

“I’m more interested in what they know. They knew that this would happen, so it must have happened to my brother too. They must have been told what my father brother did with it for them to be interested. They’d also know how my brother died despite being a Tow. He might have done something wrong with it.” I said.

“This is trouble. If it’s tempting, it means that there’s danger.” Lien insisted.

“You’d know that better than any of us.” Morg said.

“Well then, we don’t use it until we know more.” Thain offered.

“I have one thing I want to do though. Melsa!” I said.

The bird perked up. “Interface restarted.”

“Melsa, the Glyph said there was an error. Can you find it?” I asked.

The bird cocked its head. “The permissions on the Glyph have been locked down, I’m unable to access the error you refer to. An administrator should be contacted to correct this.” it said.

“How do we contact an administrator?” I asked.

“The Glyph can direct you to an administrator.” Melsa said.

“Ok, we’ll work on that.” I turned to the others. “We need to find the sisters.” I said.

Glyph Chapter 1

Glyph

“There is an error.” The Glyph stated.

I froze in place and glanced around. The warnings had become rare in the last few years, it’s just my luck that I’d be right in front of the Glyph as it announced the error.

In my grandfather’s time, the town would have immediately assumed that I had caused the error. I would have been killed at the foot of the Glyph to atone for it. Thankfully we knew that didn’t always work. Even after killing the person suspected to be the source of the error, there would be a plague. Now I would have to go through a trial but I’d be spared the sword, for a time.

“There is an error.” The Glyph repeated.

A crowd began to form. Jash Malcrom walked up quickly, “Stay where you are boy, running will just make them hunt you.”

“Yes sir.” I responded.

The crowd began to murmur, wondering if we would face another plague.

Governor Craeg’s door swung open. He somberly put on his hat and walked into the town square. The crowd parted for him so he could carry out his duties.

“Tell us what you know of this error, Mechel Hill.” He said sternly.

“Honestly sir, if I have anything to do with it, I could only have done it by accident.” I said.

Creag walked up to the Glyph. Long ago, he destroyed the last of a plague, after that the Glyph would sometimes answer him. “Glyph, what is the error?” He requested.

“Insufficient permissions to access data. There is an error” The Glyph answered.

He tried again. “Glyph, where was the error made.”

An arrow of light appeared on the ground next to the Glyph and 200 next to it. The crowd murmured again. Two hundred would put the error a quarter of the way around the world.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

Creag put his hand on my shoulder. “I think we can safely say young Mechel has not set  foot out of the town, so the error could not be his.”

There was a pause, and then the crowd let out a happy shout. One by one the town’s people came up and shook my hand, or patted me on the back. They were of course still worried that there would be a plague.

Jash stepped up again now. “Mr. Creag, there is still something we need to think about.”

Creag’s face scrunched in frustration he wanted to be done with this. “What is is Mr. Malcrom?” He asked impatiently.

“It could be that the Glyph is telling us that young Mr. Hill, must correct the error.” Jash suggested.

Creag put his hands on his hips. “Jash, are you stupid? What would he even be able to do? We’ve never figured out what the Glyph means by the error. Sometimes we make it end by finding the person that caused it, sometimes we never find it and just have to deal with the plague.”

“Maybe someone left town and is wandering out there. Maybe young Mechel is meant to go out and find him?” Jash said.

“So maybe there’s someone out there? Maybe they caused the error? What is the boy supposed to do? Kill him? You want to send a boy out into the wild to go out and kill a man?” Creag said.

“Do you want to risk it? What if we do nothing and the Glyph sends a plague?” Jash demanded. He turned to the shaken crowd that was starting to clear away but now froze in it’s tracks. “Do you want a plague? The Glyph is telling us something about the boy! If he succeeds in ending the error, he’ll be a hero! If we do nothing, we could lose whole families to the plague! Do you want that?”

Murmuring erupted all over. It was clear that something had to be done.

“I will go!” I called out.

Creag cringed. “Son, you won’t last a day out there.”

“Maybe not sir, but if I don’t and people die, it could be my fault.” I said. I could not openly admit that I really wanted to go because I’d be able to see the things I’d only heard about from the hunters. Even if it meant that I’d die shortly after.

Creag shook his head. “You’ll need help. Sending you out into the wild is the same as killing you right here at the foot of the Glyph.” He turned to Jash. “You’ve been hunting before, you know the wilds, you go with him. If you believe that the boy has to end this, he can’t do it if he’s dead, you’ll have to keep him alive. You’ll need a hunting party, so gather men and supplies.”

Jash looked angry at first, but he calmed himself and slowly took on a look of determination. Jash was now too old to be going out on hunting expeditions but he often talked of his exploits. “Fine, I’ll get the men, we’ll leave at first light. Come on Mechel, we need to go and explain this to your father.”

I knew my parents wouldn’t receive the news well, my eldest brother had died on his first hunting trip. After that my mother made my father promise that none of us would join hunting parties. We walked through the crowd, their whispers swirled around us as we walked by. I tried desperately to think of a way to ease their objections but I really couldn’t think of anything that would smooth this out.

Jash approached my parent’s front door and knocked gently. I think he worried he’d cause a further rift between our families. Our families had a complicated history. Jash and my father went on several expeditions together and something happened between them that my father wouldn’t talk about but would say he owed Jash. My mother had something against Jash though, and tension was always high when he visited.

My father opened the door, recognizing Jash, he quickly slipped out the door, looking behind to see if anyone was watching.

“Jash, what is it?” He muttered, his voice suggesting that his presence was unwise.

“Tow.” Jash nodded. Tow was his nickname for my father, another mystery I was never able to unravel. “I have important news. The Glyph has called out an error and Mechel was in front of it.”

My father looked at me and then quickly back at Jash. His face grew pale. “No! What are you saying?”

“The boy isn’t the source of the error.” Jash said, gesturing to calm down. “We have an understanding though,” Jash paused for several moments, perhaps to emphasize what he was saying but maybe he was signaling my father of something they had agreed on long ago. “That the boy must go on an expedition to resolve the error. Creag has ordered that I arrange it and go with him.”

My father’s face went through a series of expressions from relief to confusion to increasing alarm.

“Jash, you know I can’t!” Father cut himself off.

Jash nodded, “You know that if there was a plague, Mechel and probably your whole family would be blamed. He would be killed and who knows what else would happen.”

Father looked down at the ground for a while. He tried to say something to Jash but nothing came out of his mouth. Finally he looked at me. “It’s best that you don’t come in. Wait here.” He said and slipped back into the house.

Inside I heard my mother asking who was at the door, then what was he doing. I didn’t hear an answer.

I looked up at the brightness of the sky and traced the curve of the world as it wrapped up around us. I tried to guess where we would be traveling to, a quarter of the way round the world. I could see the curve of the land as it stretched up above us, the whole world a sphere, and we, walking on it’s interior. Looking too far up, the sky’s brightness obscured the other side of the world, but through the brightness on the edge, I could make out lakes and forests of near where we would be going.

If there was a man out there, it was much too far away to see.

I heard father telling my mother to stay in the house. My heart sunk, I would not see her before leaving. Although it would avoid a great deal of trouble, I was crushed that I may not see her ever again and now I wouldn’t see her at all. I began to reconsider going.

Before I could do anything my father emerged from the door carrying a pack, his bow and spiral arrow, harvested from the horn of an Alk. It was his prized possession from his hunting days.

“Mechel, you’ll need these. Only use the spiral in an emergency, Jash will see that you have more arrows for common use. Remember what I taught you about handling a bow, you’re a good shot, but an animal moves when you fire an arrow at it. Lead your target, hold your breath on the draw. Jash can show you how.” Father said, speaking slowly and deliberately. He blinked away tears as he spoke.

I started to cry too. I hadn’t cried in front of my father since I was five years old. I felt embarrassed, but nether father or Jash scolded me as they would have normally.

“You need to go now before your mother tries to stop you. You’re a man now, too early.” He turned to Jash. “Take care of him, teach him.” He clapped his hand on Jash’s shoulder.

Jash nodded. “I will Tow, I’ll die before I let anything happen to the boy.” He looked back at the house and squinted. “I’ll take care of him.”

I hugged my father and we walked away, tears still rolling down my cheeks.

Jash now scolded me “Stop those tears, we have a lot to do before we depart and I can’t have the hunters see you crying.”

“Yes sir.” I said and did my best to stifle my tears.

As Jash lead me away, I turned back several times an watched my father slowly go from looking stunned, to leaning against the doorpost and slowly sliding down until he was sitting on the ground with his head in his hands.

“Sir, what is the understanding between you and my father.” I asked.

Jash looked at me sideways. “Mind your own business boy.” he said with a little less force than he usually addressed me with.

“Yes sir, but seeing as I’m somehow involved in that understanding, an’ I may not ever see my father or mother again on account of your stepping in and speaking up when the Mayor was done with me, it’d only be natural that it would be my business now.” I said.

Jash huffed. “That may be so.” he said and then fell silent again.

“Well sir?” I prompted.

“Things ain’t as simple as most people think. Out in the wild, there’s more than just beasts. You’ll see for yourself soon enough. Hush now, we’ll talk of it later, we’re going to see the sisters and I can’t have you asking questions with them around or they won’t come with us.” He said.

“You want the sisters to go with us? I thought they never go hunting with a man.” I said.

“That’s true, but they might agree to go out ahead of us. I’ve run into them on the trails before and we’ve helped each other.” Jash said.

We approached the great hunter’s hall. It was one of the ancient buildings, some say it was created at the same time the world was made. On the outside were markings in a language only a few in the village understood anymore. I happened to be one of those that could read the ancient text.

“Hunting Ground Visitor’s Center” was what the raised letters said that sat on the top of an overhang high on the building. The hunting center was immense and hummed with an odd aura.

“Welcome visitors, our facilities are at your disposal. Visit the provisioner and the armorer before you head out into the wild.” said a voice out of nowhere.

Jash put his hand over his heart. “Thank you Guardian of The Hunt. Bless our hunt today.”

I mimicked him in asking for a blessing, I put my hand over my heart and said the words “Thank you Guardian of The Hunt. Bless our hunt today.”

Of all men, the hunters seem to be the most superstitious, with rituals and blessings for everything they do. The Guardian of The Hunt was their patron. It is said that long ago, the provisioner and the armorer were given tools and weapons for hunting that could protect from an Alk’s charge or the venom of a Cerpant. Now she gave us nothing, permission had been denied.

The Visiter’s Center was built of a stone, harder than any other. No hammer would chip it, no paint would mark it. In the middle of the building, the main hall had four trees that lived, each one had it’s own glimmer of the animals out in the wild. From the trees, a mist would come down from the branches and in the mist, visions of animals. Because of this, the great hall was sacred, only those that were about to go out on a hunt were allowed to enter.

Jash stopped in front of the heavy double doors of the great hall. He raised his hand and touched them gently. A concerned look washed over his face.

“Sir?” I probed.

He shook his head. “Is this a hunt? It would be disrespectful to go out and kill a beast without following the traditional hunt preparations.” He sighed, “Yes, we should prepare for a traditional hunt.” He turned to me, “You will be the hunt master.”

I shook my head, “No sir! I can’t be hunt master, I’ve never been on a hunt before!”

He rubbed his beard, “Normally yes but you are the one hunting for the cause of the error the Glyph called out. You were closest to the Glyph so it falls to you to correct it. You’re the leader of this hunt, not me. I’m just here to assist.”

“But sir, I don’t even know what I’m looking for.” I objected.

He smiled, “A hunter finds what comes to him. A hunt master just makes sure the hunters are in the right place an’ they have what’s needed for the trip.”

“Honestly sir, I don’t know how to do any of that.” I said.

“That’s why I’m here to help you, I’m too old to be a hunt master and I’m far too old to be a hunter. I’ll advise you and you lead. Now mind me Mechel.” Jash said.

I breathed in hesitatingly. “Yes sir.” I answered.

“Good, I advise you that you will need the help of a small mobile hunting party. We can’t go lumbering around with thirty men or we’ll never get there in good time. I have mentioned getting the help of the sisters but we’ll need porters and at least two other hunters. Normally the first thing I’d tell you to make sure of is supplies, but tonight we need hunters more than an accurate tally of the food we’ll carry. The sisters don’t carry food with them anyhow.”

“Sir.” I started.

Jash gave an annoyed huff. “Mechel, your father said you were a man today, so stop calling me sir, like a boy. The hunters won’t respect you if you’re callin’ us ‘sir’ all the time.”

“Yes s. . . Mr. Malcrom. I mean, I understand Mr. Malcrom.” I said.

“Better.” He said and gave a faint smile.

“Do I pick the other hunters Mr. Malcrom?” I asked.

“You can try, but most times the hunters pick you. Unfortunately that means we’ll probably have a crew of young glory hounds that are looking for Alks. It would be wise to avoid them if you can. In our case, we’re headed way out into unproven land. There could be good hunting out there but we can’t guarantee it.” Jash said.

“How do I secure provisions?” I asked.

“We’re starting out with no funds for this trip so you’re right to worry about that but we need to move fast on recruiting. We’ll deal with the rest shortly.” He said.

We entered the banquet hall, where hunters and porters gathered. There hadn’t been a call for a hunt recently so there was only a dozen or so hanging on to the hope that someone would take them. Seeing Jash enter, the room began to stir.

“We’re not here for these ones.” Jash whispered to me.

We walked past the young would be hunters, some of them were just a little older than me.

Griegor Parish oversaw the banquet hall and knew the comings and goings of all the hunters. He sat cleaning out drinking cups. He was an enormous man, built like a wine barrel. His left leg was shattered when he was a young man and he now walked with a crutch. Even so, his ability to break up fights and toss out drunkards was legendary.

“Jash Malcrom you old dog, you’re not looking for a hunt are you?” Griegor asked.

“Griegor, It’s good to see you. I’m charged by Craeg with aiding Mr. Hill here in leading a hunt.” He said with quite a bit of amusement.

Griegor chuffed and shook his huge head. “What? Since when does Craeg appoint children to being hunt masters?”

“He does when the Glyph says there’s a hunt two hundred out.” Jash stated.

“Mr. Malcrom, that is not how it happened.” I objected.

Jash shot me a look that would usually be accompanied by “Quiet boy.”

“Mr. Hill is right of course, although that’s almost what happened. Griegor, the Glyph said there’s an error. It’s two hundred out and Mr. Hill was standing next to the Glyph so it’s gotta mean he’s connected somehow. We need to set up a small party to accompany us in a hunt for the cause of the error.” Jash said.

Griegor rocked on his bench visibly bothered.

“I need to know, are the sisters out?” Jash asked.

Griegor rolled his eyes and gaped his great bearded mouth. “Jash, you’re really off like bad cheese!” His face grew red and he stared at Jash disapproving. “You know they don’t want to see you!”

“They will now. Just tell me, are they in town or out?” Jash demanded.

Griegor sighed. “They came in two days ago.” He said and waved Jash away.

Jash turned to me. “Good. We’ll set you up at the table right there. When people come up to you, tell them about the hunt, but don’t go on talking them to death. If they aren’t interested we don’t want them. You don’t want anyone that doesn’t have a hunt under  their belt, we already got one inexperienced member, we can’t take any more.”

“You’re just going to leave me to this? What about provisions?” I complained.

“Provisions are taken care of.” He winced. “More or less, I know how to get what we need. I’ve got to go and convince the sisters to join the hunt or we won’t be able to move fast enough. You’ll do fine.” He said as he slipped out of the room.

For two hours, I sat at the table. I was talked about by everyone in the room, but no one sat down to talk to me about the hunt. I began to realize Jash knew this would happen.

Janna and Ashlyn Tammin the sisters, entered the room quietly but they may as well had a trumpet blast herald their entry by the way the room reacted. For a moment attention was off of me and on them. Janna was older and rounder than Ashlyn, both had greying hair but they had a ferocious energy under complete calm that made them seem half their age. They were hunting when Jash and my father were little boys. Anyone else would have had to stop hunting long ago.

Silently they moved to my table and sat down. Jash entered behind them with a wide smile on his face.

“You’re Tow’s younger son? You have his eyes.” Janna said.

“Yes mam. . . Yes Miss Tammin.” I answered.

Janna eyed me warily. “And you’ve never been out in the wild before?”

“No Miss Tammin.” I said.

She spat on the floor. “Don’t call me that, call me Janna.” She said.

“You’ve never been outside the gate?” Ashlyn demanded.

“No, this will be my first hunt. I’m actually too young.” I answered bewildered.

They seemed reassured by this. I wondered why they wanted to make sure I hadn’t been hunting before. I would have thought they’d be looking for experience.

Janna slammed her hand down on the table. “We’ll enter the great hall and leave ahead of you tonight. We’ll meet you out on the trail.”

She turned to Jash. “You know our rules.”

Jash nodded.

“Good, we look forward to this.” Ashlyn said, smiling a terrifying grin as they both slipped out the door.

Suddenly five prospective hunters sat at my table with more standing around waiting to sit. I’m unclear as to how, but somehow word was already out and more hunters were showing up. After talking to thirty or more men some with half a dozen kills to their credit, Jash disapproving of nearly all of them, we selected three men and two porters. I had no idea why Jash wanted the men he did. They didn’t have the most kills and they didn’t seem to be qualified any more than the others.

We picked Morg Feder first. He hunted with a spear. He had been on five hunts, two as a porter and had two kills.

Next was Thain Jessop who carried a bow. He had been on sixteen hunts and had five kills.

Then we picked Lien Mills who had been on three hunts with one kill. He was a trapper.

Our porters were Hane and Dilan Russ, big muscle bound brothers that I had known from my street, good natured hard workers and quiet.

It seemed the rest of the dinning hall was confused by our choice of companions. There were many that had much better success in their hunts and many with more experience traveling far out into the wilds. The complaining started to turn bitter and Jash pulled me out of the room and brought me to the great hall.

“It’s best we got out of there. Some don’t take rejection well.” He said.

“We still haven’t arranged for provisions.” I objected.

Jash nodded. “You leave that to me. Go into the great hall and get some sleep. If you call out the name of the animal you want to hunt, the trees will show you that animal. Study it and how it moves.” He said as he guided me into the hall and shut the door.

“But!” I objected too late for him to hear me. “I’m not hunting an animal.”

Game Making To Do List

I’ve got way to many pans in the fire. I need to select a target and finish it off one by one so that I can clean up my backlog of projects. The following list is more for me than for anyone else to read through. I just thought it’d be fun to share.

  1. Artwork for Protector.
  2. Artwork for Jump Temp.
  3. Edit and finish Eat the Meappets and then make artwork for it.
  4. Re-write the last sourcebook for The Artifact-Imbalance of Power and update it’s art.
  5. Write another chapter for The Imbalance (An Artifact based novel)
  6. Finish my goofy shark tank like game Apparatus Dominant
  7. Make an expansion pack for I Didn’t Do It! murder mystery card game
  8. Work on my sci-fi random story generator, a project I dropped a while ago but looking back, made some real progress on.
  9. A revamp and clarified version of Bubs the Robot.

Honestly that list is shorter than I expected it to be. A lot of it is waiting on artwork that I just haven’t felt like doing, but not all of it. There’s a bit there I can get moving on without art.

Although I do have a bunch of non-Store32 things I’m trying to do, I’m taking programming courses, I have two books I want to read, etc. The point of this is to try and tick off a few of these items so that I don’t feel like I’m so far behind in all my projects.

I’m hoping to buy a new digitizer tablet for art soon. I’ve recently discovered that there’s a lot of options that are far less expensive than I thought. I’m hoping that the art malaise I’ve been feeling is due to my underperforming Fujitsu tablet making art less than enjoyable to produce. I guess I’ll throw $400 at the problem and hope it goes away.

Superman Apologetics

My son and I just went to go see Superman vs. Batman with some friends. Both of us were a bit behind on the background story. I hadn’t seen any of the recent Superman or Batman movies but I was aware of their plots. My son never saw a Batman or Superman movie, ever.

So I’m a bad geek dad. It’s not like I haven’t been trying to catch him up on about fifty plus years of movies. It’s really hard to keep up with popular culture when you’re trying to show your kids where it all came from. I just haven’t gotten to DC superheroes yet. I’m still trying to find time to show my kids Forbidden Planet.

Anyway, I had to do a lot of explaining about the DC universe and it’s history. The funny thing is I knew a lot of the comics the new movie referenced even though I don’t think I’ve looked at a DC comic in a decade.

Superheroes are a fun subject to discuss on a scientific level, they really make zero sense on the surface, so trying to wriggle out a plausible explanation for how they might actually work is a lot of fun. Superhero apologetics.

Superman is probably the best example of an impossible superhero. His abilities are beyond any other hero and therefore stretch credibility the most. So when my son asked, “So if Superman gets his powers from the sun, how does he get that much power? He’d have to absorb huge amounts of sunlight.” I was very proud that my thirteen year old really gets the idea that energy doesn’t come from nowhere.

It would be no fun though to just agree with him and end the conversation there. So I had to try and figure out how Superman’s powers might just work.

This is what I supposed.

Superman obviously could not get enough sunlight to power his abilities. So maybe our sun doesn’t power him, maybe it gives him his powers. Suppose you took a plant that photosynthesizes light to another solar system and the different radiation there, reacted differently with the process of photosynthesis which produced different molecules of sugar than fructose. These molecules altered the plant in some way. The radiation isn’t giving the plant food to power it, but the altered molecules give the plant an ability it didn’t have before. Maybe something like that is happening to Superman?

This is backed up by his reaction to radioactive Kryptonite and that a nuclear warhead detonating near him, almost kills him, something taken from The Dark Knight Returns as is a bulk of the movie. It’s said that these other types of radiation “drive the sun’s rays from his cells” which is kind of nonsense. However, in The Dark Knight Returns, superman draws “the sun’s” power from a sunflower. This also doesn’t make a lot of sense since the solar radiation in a plant is stored as sugar. So Superman’s abilities come from sugar? Maybe his cellular biology is different enough that simple sugars alter his biology.

Ok, that doesn’t get us anywhere near explaining him though. It’s just the start. To move on, I’ll draw on some more old school comic book history.

The next ingredient comes from John Byrne who rebooted the Superman series in 1986. He offered, what is to this day, the most intriguing description of Superman’s powers. Martha Kent comments that tight fitting clothing that young Kent wore, never seemed to tear or rip. Loose fitting clothing (like a cape) were prone to damage though.

Byrne seemed to suggest that Superman’s invulnerability was a force field that extended a millimeter from his skin surface.

The other bit comes from Superman himself though. Puzzled, he comments that when he picks something up and then starts flying, he no longer feels as if he’s using his muscles to lift the object. His ability to fly gets transferred into the thing he’s lifting.

So again, Byrne seems to be suggesting that Superman’s flight is a form of telekinesis.

This points to one thing to me. Superman’s powers might not be physical, they might be mental. Not consciously accessed, but subconsciously. Maybe even his “heat vision” might be a subconscious reflection of his mental abilities. It would make more sense than having cutting lasers built into his eye sockets.

That doesn’t fix the energy in energy out problem though. Mental powers should still require energy. Or should they? Maybe, just maybe Superman’s mind is able to do things like alter quantum states. A lot of things in physics seem when reduced to their most fundamental level, to simply be there because a law says they’re there. Some physicist are looking into the possibility that our universe is a computer simulation. Maybe Superman has the subconscious ability to alter values in the universe’s code?

“If we are living in a simulation, then everything is software, including every atom in our bodies, and there may be ‘back doors’ that the programmers left ajar.” – David Brin

Maybe Superman is accessing back doors. As such, he does not exert force in the traditional sense. He’s rewriting the universe. When viewing Superman from that standpoint, he begins to make a lot more sense.

What If The Good Guys Lost?

I was watching a movie the other day, you know, the kind that has a prophecy and the hero that has to overcome the bad guys before they cement their power. There were dire warnings that if the baddies weren’t stopped, they would become immortal and rule forever.

What if that happened? What if balanced wasn’t restored? What if any hero after that was doomed to fail?

I think that would be an interesting story space to explore. But what could the players strive for? What would their goals be like?

Truly Future

I’m reading through the Traveller books. The interesting thing I notice the most is that the technology is limited. Aside from FTL, the tech is equivalent to what could be possible in fourty to sixty years from now. It’s possible that I could live to see it all happen.

Specifically, things like Nanotech is kept out of the books intentionally because they would end the need for trade. In reality, things like the internet have eliminated the need for a lot of the commerce that used to happen in physical locations. 3D printers have the potential to greatly alter physical trade too. If you think about it, more and more trade is becoming information. And there seems to be very little limit to what information is available for free.

Another thing that frequently bothers me about space opera settings is that, unless we’re missing something important, a starship would be able to destroy a planet with relative ease. Either through kinetic energy, relativistic effects or the immense amount of power it would wield.

What would humans be in 100,000 years? Assuming humanity isn’t going to be wiped out by some world altering event, would we even recognize ourselves? I think games like Sufficiently Advanced probably reach the far end of the kind of progress I’m thinking about. The average space opera wants to hit a nearer term level of advancement than that though.

Games like Eclipse Phase do a lot to touch on near term advancement. I’m dubious about being able to encode a human’s brain into computer data as it’s portrayed though. After all, the human brain is the most complex object in the currently known universe. We can’t get close to the complexity of a single cell yet. The brain is orders of magnitude harder to replicate. If we could emulate a human brain, it would be at best, a rough approximation.

So what am I thinking of as a level of technology? We can almost print human organs on demand. We can already print plastic, metal and concrete with only raw materials a printer and a design. What about printing food? What about recycling genetically altered bacterial cells into food or even organs to extend out lives. Food becomes a non-issue.

This would alter medicine greatly. Loss of limb is no longer an issue. Print a new one. Spare parts a plenty.

What of disease? Persistent disease is, to our scientific knowledge an issue of genetics, either a viruses’ genetics, the bacteria’s or ours. In theory a mastery of genetics would go a long way to eliminating most disease.

The other thing it would mean is humans would have a huge knowledge of the nanotech structures that genes code for. Already scientists are hijacking biological structures for use in nanotech. Why would that slow down or stop?

What if a nano reactor could provide for you, nearly any type of cell or virus you wanted in a matter of hours? Then the 3D printer could arrange them for you? Why not print your own living organisms? Want that perfect cat? Pull down the file, use some algae as raw material and in a few hours, there it is. Again, the problem remains for reconstructing the brain of the cat. But maybe if you could approximate it, you could get close enough. But why would you limit yourself to approximating the programming of a cat? Why not eliminate the behaviors that you don’t like, or don’t have a purpose in a human dominated environment? Maybe you could mix and match different animal behaviors into your cat.

What if you printed a wi-fi circuit into it’s skull and you gave it a parrot’s vocal cords. . . What if your cat could talk to you and tell you what that web page says?

At what point is it a replicant of an animal? At what point is it a robot?

What happens when you start printing human bodies and putting in approximations of human brains? What about human sized animals with human brain approximations? What about getting rid of all that human behavior that proves problematic?

If anything, the limitation would be the size capacity the printing speed and resolution of your printer. How important would that technology be to the average home? Would you dedicate an appliance the size of a refrigerator to it? Almost certainly. What about a room? You’re not making anything in the kitchen anymore, why not?

What about printing an Elephant with human programming and the ability to do advanced calculations, linguistics and a wi-fi chip? Give it hands while you’re at it. Could it become a kind of internet appliance? An online entity that uses it’s huge brain to protect your online presence?

On a totally different front, let’s examine the implications of a star ship. Any vessel capable of traveling at near the speed of light, must be enormously powerful. Where would we get this power? There’s the current nuclear power sources but they’re dangerous and very difficult to replicate at the moment. Maybe nanotech could be used to make uranium easier to mine and concentrate but that’s still dangerous and toxic and problematic. LENR reactors, if they’re actually possible to make, would be one source of energy that would be far safer.

Another possibility would be energy teleportation. If you were able to tap into a star, you could have Yottawatts of power available. The equipment that drew power from the star would be enormous. Maybe making a “jump” would require authorization from the teleportation plant. Maybe getting a backdoor or an inside man is the secret to an off the books star voyager? This kind of facility would be the backbone of an interstellar society.

In the end though, ships that travel between stars would realistically outstrip our current concepts about power. Gigawatts would be puny power measurement for minor ship functions. The engines would dwarf our current power use measurements even with something like vacuum engineering to create a warp drive.

With that in mind, as long as we’re not talking about dimension hopping and going into a “hyperspace”, which has no basis in any physics we currently understand, the ship is traveling as a physical object and dropping a one ton mass out of your warp bubble onto a planet is going to do a lot of damage. Firing a Yottawatt laser would have planetary implications too.

That isn’t even venturing into the realm of artificial gravity. If gravity manipulation is even possible. An artificial gravity field would be capable of ripping the atmosphere off a planet, causing seismic shockwaves or immense tsunami waves.

Even simpler is towing a decent sized rock out of an asteroid belt and dropping it on a planet.

Starships are bad news for planets. Obviously a planet would have to mount it’s own defenses and formidable ones at that. What form would they take? They’d have to be extreme to protect against a vessel traveling faster than light since you couldn’t actually see them coming. They’re outrunning the light that would tip you off. The best you could possibly do is try and stop the rocks they’re dropping on you.

Would the elite, leave the relative hazard of living on planet and live in their own starships? Would living planetside be for the poor huddled masses? If we were no longer tied to the Earth for food, what would prevent people from just heading off in some random direction in a generation ship and forgetting the rest of the human race? It would certainly be a tempting option for some.

The other possibility is that FTL is possible by worm hole or jump gate. A possibility that is made all the more fascinating considering some speculation that quantum entanglement may actually be the physical manifestation of worm holes. We just didn’t know that’s what we were looking at.

In the end, future technology is likely to move in directions we can scarcely imagine. Our current technology looks very little like what was envisioned for us sixty years ago. An “accurate” portrayal of a space faring society is likely to be far different from anything imagined in our past up until now. What would a young Wernher von Braun say if he saw fiction written that accurately described our current technology? He’d probably dismiss it as too nearsighted in some ways and too fantastic in others.

Everything Is Light

My leg shook. I had let the shadow of the tree rest on my leg too long. I felt the cold creeping up my calf. It felt like poison.

We are creatures of the light. Where the light always shines, we emerge. Where the shadow continually falls they emerge.

He probed the edge of the forest. His smokey black form danced slowly between the trees. Just my presence here enraged him. Him a creature of shadow, amidst the shadow. He wanted to reach out and destroy me but the light of the clearing made him draw back. All the time I stood in the light, I grew stronger and as the light brushed against him and he pushed into the clearing he was growing weaker. Soon though, that would change. The sun would soon dim and set over the horizon. He would grow stronger and I would wane.

If I timed it exactly right, just before the setting sun, I could defeat him. Then I would have to make it quickly through the forest to the village below.

Normally the creatures of the dark are hungry, solitary creatures, gobbling up each other to become stronger. But this cauldhin beast was somehow different. This one bellowed out a low deep call that penetrated the trees. In the darkness a second smoke beast, a cauldhin, danced to the edge of the clearing.

They stood together, not attacking each other, not gobbling up the other. They stood on the edge of the clearing and patiently waited for the sun to go down.

One cauldin at it’s weakest would be manageable. Two would extinguish my light. The only thing left to do was to start a fire. The trees are partly of the light and partly of shadow. They turn light into darkness, digging their roots into the ground where it is always dark.

I drew my sword of forge hardened light and cut through some branches. Breathing light into them they flamed up. I relished the light as the sun began to set but a small fire  is not enough to hold back two smoke beasts. They edged closer and closer, jibbering and drooling black shadow. They were two and now the fire and I were two for fighting them.

My sword cut into the smoke black as they danced, swirling around me and my ally the flame. In the distance there was the howl of creatures of the dark. More were coming. How could more be coming? Dark ones don’t even tolerate the trees. They gnaw at their trunks and bite their branches off. How could more be coming?

The cauldhin wrapped around my sword arm and bit into it. The darkness flowed into my veins like icy rivers. I breathed light onto him, giving up some of my very own life light to get him to release me.

My sword arm, weakened by the darkness could scarcely lift itself. I switched hands.

Then one of the cauldhin leapt onto my faltering fire, it must have hurt immensely telling by the shrieking howl it made but the fire was out. My ally gone and my arm useless.

The smoke beast’s jibbering went from excited to frenzied but then to fearful. Some great rainbow of light was coming up through the forest. It’s strength was not unlike the sun for even at a distance I could feel strength returning to me.

A form like a man entered the clearing. His clothing like sapphire stone, his hair writhed like a fire and his eyes like the fire of a furnace.

I ran to him and he past me. With his bare hands he crushed the smoke beasts.

Thank you my lord! I cried out.

He smiled at me touched my arm and blew into it, restoring me to health.

The creatures of the dark are gathering, come and follow me and we will push them back under the ground.

I thought of my family in the village, would I ever see them again if I followed this man? Even so, something great had been offered to me, I could not refuse it.

I am your disciple my lord. I knelt.

Come then, there is much work to do. I cannot stop until everything is light.

My Self Inflicted 24hr Game System

I’ve been in a writing doldrums for a month or so. Then yesterday I had a few thoughts suddenly start buzzing around in my head and wrote them down.

The Energy System is a generic game meant to be applied to different settings. I’m shooting for something that can be played in a half hour. Because of that, the game doesn’t focus on individual actions by the characters. It focuses on the results. So rolling the dice isn’t about throwing a punch, it’s about the whole fight.

I have a setting in mind for the system where I’ll have more character generation, skill and equipment examples.

Energy System