they set out together

90 seconds

For ninety seconds after, there was complete silence. Veronica knew this because although she was too dazed to move, she improbably found herself staring as at the second hand of an expensive silver watch.

It was one of the many unlikely occurrences that day held.

For ninety seconds, she observed the dark black line slowly make its orbit, marking off the seconds as reality adjusted. She wondered whose watch this was, and how it had ended up in her yard.

A bird chirped. Veronica looked up and realized that it was over. Nothing more was going to happen now. All that was left was to get up and try to assess the world as it was.

3 minutes

The realization that it was only self pity that held her down made it hard to stay on the ground, but she managed to avoid any movement for another three cycles of the second hand.

2 days

How many people lived on her street? Within a quarter mile?

If she was the only one left, then that made her what?… 1 in a hundred… 300?

Nothing would work.

It was easy to check on people. In their last moments everyone had left their doors wide open.

She hadn’t gotten the memo, another mystery. The static on radio was deafening.

The electricity was still on, but there was no internet or cell service.

How should that figure into her odds? 1 in a thousand?

4 days

There was nobody left in her neighborhood. In a few homes she found hasty notes:, to do lists of names, but no explanations.

It’s not just that they were gone. it’s that everyone else had seemed to know something was about to happen except for her and her husband. They had missed the invitation somehow.

When they had looked out the window and saw everyone’s cars with their open trunks and hoods open they had stepped onto the porch. Their neighbors were all lined up outside, waiting.

Had they seemed scared? She thought so, but she had been scared so who knows.She missed her husband, Ian, most of all. He had been calm, inquisitive. Naive.

2 months

With nothing else to do, she processed her grief surprisingly quickly. The world around her was full of possibilities and the only immediate concern so far was the dogs.

The outside world was keeping it’s distance. But the animals that had been left behind had become a serious threat.

Even the cats moved in groups, looking slightly unhinged. When she saw them prowl the streets at night in ever larger packs,  she imagined how betrayed they must have felt. They had given up their wild selves to build a life based on a certain kind of companionship and civilization. Then, with no explanation it was gone.

Her grief was in the past. The loneliness existed in the eternal now.

6 months

Slowly she had adapted to the mystery of her current circumstances. What had taken everyone? Should she trust the tap water? Why didn’t the car start? How would she eat when the perishable food ran out? Would they be back by then? How long would the electricity last?

She knew she had changed, but just how much was confirmed when she spotted a house-sized creature and did not scream. It was mostly robotic, and mostly spider shaped but with a humanoid torso and face. She was surprised of course, and afraid for her life, but she was not overwhelmed.

She hid, but it found her anyways.

6 months 1 day

In the end, all it wanted was some cake. She scavenged some, and they had a small birthday celebration.

6 months 3 days

He had been literally living in a cave and had no idea what had happened. But he offered this:

“Sometimes you just have to accept that the impossible happens and all the rules you knew before are gone. That happens and my ability to accept it when it does is one reason I have lasted as long as I have.

But…  not yet.  Let’s go visit the local power station. And if that doesn’t work well see if we can’t track down some aliens or old gods or something and wring an explanation out of them.

If you live long enough sometimes you find that you can do something, and even if not, it’s usually more interesting to try.”

6 months 1 week

She set her house on fire and watched as the irreplaceable memories held in the objects from her old life burned.

She opened up as much cat and dog food as she could find.

And they left together.

Remo tells a story

Occasionally when Remo feels expansive he goes to the mountains and listens to the universe.

Occasionally when Remo feels hopeless he finds a tavern and poses as a bard.

He stands on the stage until he finds something to say, or is removed.

One night he told the following tale three times.

Nearby there exists a world like ours in almost every respect. It holds our towns, our lakes, and all of our joys and sorrows.

The only difference is that miles below the surface it has a cavern that our world does not.

The cavern has an underground stream and a stone cannon that were not crafted by any sentient being on that world.

At seemingly random intervals, the ground rumbles slightly, and the cannon ejects a creature.

These beings are like adult humans in almost every respect. The only differences are that they average three feet in height and their heads are shaped like mushrooms.

Their heads are shaded. One third of the creatures are red, one third green, and one third are purple. The mushrooms all have white circles.

Most of the time, the creatures come out with enough speed that they smash their skulls against the cavern wall, dying moments after they appear.

But seeming randomness when mixed with extreme time scales can produce strange results.

So sometimes the room fills with corpses, and one of the humanoids will have its emergence cushioned by the bodies, and instead die a prolonged death, crushed by the weight of those who have come before, unable to maneuver.

For some reason, this never happens to the red headed mushrooms.

But, the room also contains a stream. So occasionally the creatures will spawn in just such a way that their is a padding in one space, but the flowing water has cleared away the debris elsewhere.

Occasionally one survives.

Even more rarely, more than one survives at the same time.

And they will begin to make sense of their surroundings together, and tell stories about the Gods.

They will perform cleansing rituals on the carcasses of their fore-bearers before eating them, and drink the fresh water provided by the stream. They will fantasize about the day that a red topped one will come and lead them to a new home.

As she lies dyeing of malnutrition, lacking the leafy greens needed to fight off disease, one named Boh will use her finger to write the story of her people in the flowing water.

She will record their fears, their triumphs, and the games they played.

The echo’s of her movements absorbed by the water.

Without making any obvious changes, the first time Remo recounted this, the moral was: Each skull is imperceptibly expanding the room as it slams into at the cavern ceiling.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

The second time: Although it may seem hopeless, notice that despite all odds Boh’s story made its way to us.

By the third time he recounted the tale, it was closer to dawn than midnight and the crowd was no longer feeling indulgent.

The coda was: Sometimes the universe just wants to take a long time to say “fuck you”

Luke’s Cantrip

The first spell I really mastered was Luke’s cantrip. While on the road from Halrventon to Freesebon, Gera realized that Krashin was too busy being a demigod to actually teach me anything, so he took pity on me.

I was busy being a Very Competent Assassin. The kind who was able to take all of these adventures in stride, and so I didn’t realize quite how special Gera was and ignored most of his lessons.

But Luke’s cantrip caught my interest. Gera described it as : “Bringing part of the background into the foreground by focusing on it in the right way. Using your mind this way will create some tension that can function as useful first step for many of the more complex magics.”

Which is all true as far as it goes. Most use it as a sort of palette cleanser at the start of a big spell. But here’s why I love Luke’s cantrip: You touch the part of the universe that is raw and undefined and embrace that chaos. It opens the mind to the uncertainty that is always available to us.

Or, if you want to get mystical about it – the heart of existence is utterly indifferent to us. It does what it will by rules that we find unfathomable, no matter what the cost to those of us trying to scratch out an all too temporary life within it.

Mostly this strikes me as a problem. But Lukes cantrip makes it an asset in situations where you want a seemingly random number without using dice.

I most commonly use it when I need to make a decision.

This world gives us so little.

Immune to symbols 

When you are blind you do not see blackness. 

Find an object just at the outer edge of your vision, now turn your head away from it slightly.

The way in which you can no longer see it, is what Remo was contemplating.

He was at the periphery of a party wearing a jaunty purple felt hat he had chosen precisely because it did not suit him.

The music’s tempo increased. The lights seemed to pulse rhythmically. A heightened reality swirled, implying potentialities he dared not engage with.

He sat in a darkened corner with his eyes closed, trying to protect his consciousness from visions it couldn’t comprehend.

Remo had set out to slay the gods of his world, only to find that most of them were obsolete. Replaced by impersonal systems, they were highly evolved, highly adaptive. Yes they were fueled by human misery, but that was only incidental to their own survival. Now he was numb to the disappointment, with occasional pangs of fear at the degradation of his ambition.

When Jal-tok finally passed by, Remo felt the hidden dagger pulse, and prayed it would not give him away. Such aggression could not harm a god.

When Jal-tok fell to his knees, poisoned by tainted fruit and over-reaching ambition, Remo did not smile, and felt mostly sadness.

But he noted, not even gods were immune to symbols, when backed by the right dagger.