Fiction: The Legendary Of Xarn - Latest Update March 7, 2023 at 4PM (International Women's Day Update)

Latest Chapters... March 7, 2023

FYI. There are no guitar players that are part of Shhhh! Digital Media. I'm the CEO and author of every book and story on this site, and I can tell you that I'm not a guitar player and I've never owned a guitar. However, I do believe that the guitar is a great instrument and I've certainly enjoyed playing over the years in bands with some good guitar players, as a former keyboardist myself.

So essentially, a person nicknamed guitarva or guitarma has nothing to do with any of Shhhh! Digital Media's content or its creation. Chances are that's a content thief assisted by organized crime of some form. Nothing more. I work hard every day to improve my brand and create new content. I won't see it stolen by people who have nothing to do with it at all.

I am supported by Government assistance, yet I work more than just about anyone I know building  my company and my brand, and producing all the content here on Shhhh! Digital Media. Not only that, but I've even worked other jobs on the side to keep this going more than a few times over the years and always played honestly and by the rules. To have someone rip my content off and walk around as if my hard work was theirs is just not acceptable. 

None of this content is produced anywhere else other than 200 Sherbourne Street in Suite 701 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by me: Brian Joseph Johns, and unless otherwise noted, I always give credit where its due.

So the latest chapters for Legendary Of Xarn are:
  • The Hall Of Tomes
  • No Nelson, Half Nelson, Full Nelson
Both of these chapters have a Women's Day plot arc, and are very important in terms of describing where this book is going. Believe me, it might seem obvious but...

Hate certainly isn't love and love certainly isn't hate.

Why Legendary?

Legendary is about being a teenager and growing up. It has elements of fantasy and that adventure will pick up pace soon, but ultimately its a character story about people. The main characters are between the ages of 16 and 19 years of age. I have to write it as if these characters are at that level of life experience, rather than my own life experience, so they're going to have very different flaws to my own, and very different strengths to my own as well. 

In school, I was never on the football team, and throughout life, my interest in sports was governed socially, by the circle of friends I shared. I enjoy football (both North American version aka NFL, CFL and College, and the European version aka FIFA) as much so as hockey, baseball and sometimes basketball too, but I've never been an avid or rabid fan of sports. I certainly enjoy watching those sports, but in this day and age its difficult to find time to enjoy such exhibitions when there's so much to do. 

So the fact that this story is quite tightly following sports, something that I've neglected over the years, is my way of giving thanks to the players and industry of those sports for they contribute a lot of value to society and foster good teamworking skills amongst people. I'm really hoping that it will kindle an interest in athletics as much so as Alicia Westin, Zheng Ni Wong and Bryce Maxwell fostered an interest in academics and the sciences. As much so as the Butterfly Dragon fostered an interest in Martial Arts, both the physical and philosophical aspect. As is the case with adding sports to the Shhhh! Digital portfolio, being whole is about the mind AND the body, not the mind OR the body. You have to look after both if you want to lead a healthy life and what better place to start than while you're in school. Develop good habits that you can take with you for the rest of your life, that kindle a good healthy mind and body.

Some ideas reflect reality. 

Some words reflect sincerity. 

Some people speak truth.

Some are looking for mind.

Some seek predictability.

Something out beyond borders.

But what we seek.

Is what we find.

But with our hearts in it.

We can be extraordinary.

And that's because...

It's About To Get Legendary...

Happy Valentine's Day to those who celebrate it. Not officially being a member of any religion myself, I see it more as a celebration of companionship and appreciation thereof. I'm in for anything that involves love and candy in healthy doses. That's the gravity of love and its a great thing too.

Happy Valentines Day everyone, but mostly from my beating heart to Helen Chen!

My advice to all of you is to stay away from the kind of people who say: truth out or truth cut, and stick with the ones on the side of sincerity.

Stick with those people who aren't identity thieves and genuinely like to wear their own lives rather than those of others as the bling they've socially stolen from those without a circle to protect it, but admire the theatrical artists whose vocation it is to pretend to be someone else.

Stick with those who thrive in imagination, ideas and the realization thereof. Those who don't look for ways to take from you as much as they like to share with you and others. If you reciprocate this, even in the worst of your isolation, you'll never truly be alone, while you'll always be wealthy even in the absence of money.

Stick with those people who don't look for the faults that you'd only deny, so they can justify taking from you your own goodness on the grounds that in order for you to justify keeping your own good, you also have to accept your own faults. They're just looking for any way they can take from you what's yours to begin with and you owe no justification to them or anyone else for your faults.

Stick with the people who don't abuse you in attempt to draw verbal harshness from you in order to turn the tables, putting the responsibility for their abuse of others onto you, while they take from you your victimization by them.

Stay away from the people who abuse you so that when you decide that its time to dissociate from them, it paints you as being the the bad person for being so insensitive as to abandon them, when in fact, you were distancing yourself from social abusers who are effectively trying to cover their tracks in their attempts to push you away. Besides, its their loss, not yours.

Stay away from the people who see and read your content online, and do everything they can to steal it from you and give it to the credit of people that have nothing to do with it, while painting your reputation with the bad of the very people who stole it in the first place.

Most of all, when it comes to expression and communication, stick with the people who live by sincerity rather than polarity. Unless we're referring to the power grid and alternating current, there's no good justification for altering the context of expression in the first place that isn't derived from malice or an attempt to sway the impression of bias in a direction that it simply doesn't exist.

Stand by the people who remind you of why you should feel good about yourself, and challenge you to become better than you already are. Do the same for the others who sincerely do this for you.

Abandon those whose life entails trying to torment you for the conduct of others, making that weight as heavy as possible. Those people have never carried any weight in their life, nor have they ever been tormented about the weight of others. They're simply social predators that get off on distributing the weight of their pyramid scheme onto everyone else but themselves and falsely altering the bias of others to their favour.

Stay away from the kind of people who would steal your recognition and appreciation of others, and give it to the credit of their own friends or people of their choosing. The kind of people who would take your heart-felt thank yous and your appreciation of others and paint it as originating from someone else (usually their friends or others they idolize), if only to paint you as being heartless and thank-less and to elevate someone else with the credit for your empathy.

Stay away from the kind of people who when you conduct yourself as a writer one day, and then a graphic artist the next day, you're treated as if you're no longer a writer and that identity has gone to someone else, who then receives the credit for what you did yesterday. Finally, when you protest this sort of treatment by them, they once again claim that you are no longer the graphic artist, but now are the complainer, critic or conspiracy theorist, and take the credit from you for anything you did as a graphic artist as well. We're all capable of many things, and none of those things are mutually exclusive to anyone at any time. If you do something different today than you did yesterday, you're still the same person and are enjoying your diverse abilities without the need to take credit for what other people do. A truck driver might also be a skilled mechanic and an able technical writer. A Legal Assistant might also be a talented magazine columnist, a video blogger and skilled yoga instructor. Protecting your own efforts against the malice of others isn't complaining, but in fact protest and defense against a social phenomenon that's wrong.

There are all kinds of people who will erase your footprint from the social fabric of society, taking it from you to elevate the other people of their choice with your own sincerity and words. Unfortunately society seems to be speeding headlong in this direction and it will ultimately crash at some point. Its happened before and it will happen again. Don't allow yourself to end up on the side of those who caused the crash.

Stay away from the people who'd switch your identity and reputation with that of someone else. Its a toxic practice that ruins lives and creates circumstances where those who benefit from such effort never face the consequences for their own actions, while the victims of this crime never benefit from their own positive effort.

Stay away from those whose most common expression towards you is vitriolic, no matter how they intend it. Extremes of emotional expression are not the same thing, no matter the perspective or ideology of those giving or receiving it.

Stay away from those who look at your body and being as if it were a car for their taking, and your mind as the driver whose car they're trying to car jack. Regardless of how strange it might sound, there are truly malicious people who operate in groups whose sole purpose in life is made up of constant attempts towards such ends. Don't become their victim and if you do, don't be fearful or afraid to resist them, but never let it take over your life. Simply recognizing the fact that you are yourself is enough to defeat them every single time and when it comes down to who is really in control, they can never resist making such attempts on their victims, while you can. Consciousness favours you for this reason, while they are almost completely absent of it, instead running on thoughtless automatic. They're mosquitoes trapped in an endless cycle of being attracted to the fire of your being and are incapable of breaking free from it, despite the fact that you are not trying to do this to them. They're doing it to themselves. If they were capable of ceasing such malicious behaviour, who that was in possession of their own consciousness would spend every waking hour attempting to car jack someone else's body, rather than to go out and experience the wonders of life for themselves? The fact that they can't stop making such attempts is simply proof of their lack of control. Don't pity them however. They have the power to free themselves, but the fact that they don't isn't as much so about freedom of choice as it is narcissism and ego. They're slaves to their own socially abusive addiction. The more they try to victimize someone else in this manner, the more they're slaves to it. 

I love the thought of being in control, but I don't exercise that thought into reality against anyone else. There's a big difference between what you think and what you do. You should never have to answer for what you think, while you should be responsible for what you do. Stay away from the kind of people who'd swap the two.

Stand by the those to whom your heart is devoted and appreciate your real allies sincerely, while being fair so as to allow for new friendships and allegiances.

Grow with time to become expansive in wisdom and understanding. Bend with the harshest of wind, but don't break. Remember who you are, but resist the effort of those who are an obstacle to your growth, for change is a part of life. If you're a little bit different today than you were yesterday, then you've learned a great deal.

I'm not a security guard and have never worked as a security guard in my life, but it is an honest way to make a living for an honest person.

This article/editorial on the topic of honesty is right to the point, however remember that there are people who if you openly express the idea that you live according to a governing ethic or eidos, they'll do everything socially in their power to trip you up in such a way so that you violate your own professed ethics. Such groups that do this sort of thing are seeking any way to break any concept that ties you to your own sense of identity and conduct. Like those whom I spoke about that operate in large groups that attempt to car jack the bodies and minds of other people. They're socially addicted to this sort of effort every single day and hence, slaves to it.

When it comes to honesty and sincerity, ie your sense of virtue, its important to take this fact into consideration because if you don't, being one person alone, you'll quickly become overwhelmed by the people that are addicted to socially destructive behaviours, like attempting to car jack the bodies and minds of others, or those who are seeking to break down a person's proclaimed governing ethics, or those seeking to repurpose your expression to coincide with their association despite your opposition to what they represent.

Like a bunch of people fighting to be the one overseer at the top of the pyramid scheme whose mind space is forcibly shared by many, so they can lay claim to everything that came from others on the lower tiers, rather than those who seek the independence of their mind and thought from such a scam, so that what they have to offer isn't simply taken from them by others who are looking to climb the social and earnings ladder quickly on the efforts of others.

In a metaphorical sense, if you work as an independent consultant, your computer isn't part of an internal corporate network, and your activities aren't monitored by admins or management, which means that all of your research and ideas can develop independently without being prematurely leaked and diluted by others trying to take your work from you and develop it into their own thing. When you bring this effort forward to your proverbial client, it usually has a completely original perspective, because it hasn't been assimilated into a hierarchy of people just looking for ways they can use it to climb the ladder on their way to the top of the pyramid.

On the other end of the scale, an internal consultant has their computer on the corporate network, and might be under constant surveillance by their superiors, who are free to peruse and take their ideas from them, even to elevate their own status, career and finances. In the first case, the consultant is independent and free to have their work develop on its own without interference by outside parties and entirely based upon their own perspective and professional skills. In the second case, the consultant on the internal network is under constant surveillance, some of it being misused by the admins or upper management to fuel their own careers.

Consider that society is currently in these two states to varying degrees. There are people who still have their independence from the "mind space" of everyone else, who are free to think and analyze the challenges and produce work that is part of their vocation and ultimately is how they justify an income and progress in terms of finances and career. What they produce, whatever it might be has its value protected because others aren't privy to it prematurely before they're finished the project.

On the other hand, we have a large segment of society that is forcibly pulling people into what can only be described as a biomagnetic collective of the mind, where it is akin to the consultant working directly for the company and whose computer is on the corporate network. Everything that they think is available to everyone else, and some of those people take freely from others to benefit their career climb, at the cost of the consultant whose computer just happens to be on that same corporate network rampant with employee surveillance. 

So the consultant in the first case, the one whose work is independent of the corporate network (or as I'm metaphorically referring to, a biomagnetic collective of the mind not unlike the Borg of Star Trek), their work has the chance to reach completion without being prematurely leaked to others on the corporate network, some of whom will undoubtedly use it to further their own finances and careers, while the person who came up with it, would receive no credit or reward for their effort and any attempt by that person to rectify that situation would likely lead to eventual dismissal or an effort that seeks to accuse the victim of the same crime that was perpetrated against them. Others essentially stealing their work and the fruits thereof by having access to it through a surveillance network, one that is most often protected by a corrupt infrastructure that has developed as a result of elevating careers within by the theft of the creative and intellectual property of employees. However this is a metaphor and not an attack on corporate society or the hierarchy that is common in most work places. Its just a way of saying that the efforts of some individuals are secretly being cannibalized and that is leading to a loss of inspired effort, where entire segments of the population simply give up, and move on to other less toxic opportunities.

Society is on the brink of ruin as the result of such ideologies spreading like wildfire. If you see me as being selfish when it comes to this topic, then you haven't considered the fact that everything I'm writing is being directly posted to my website and freely available to read. This is simply part of the preface to one of my books. Specifically, The Legendary Of Xarn on Shhhh! Digital Media at and I share this freely every day.

As I typed this, my own work in real-time was subject to surveillance by people who'd take it, though I'll be honest. If I had a choice about which side of the fence I was on, the independent contractor side of the fence, or the one hired internally to work directly for the metaphorical corporate division, I'd choose to be the independent contractor without any surveillance having access to my work.

Of course, I'm referring to the metaphor of a biomagnetic collective of the mind in humanity that is developing into a playground for content and identity thieves.

Brian Joseph Johns

Alright, enough of reality. Let's get back to the introduction of this book...


This story originally started out as far back as late 2012 (possibly as early as late 2011 though I can't remember for certain), just after I'd published both A Lady's Prerogative I: The Yearning And The Learning and The Butterfly Dragon I: Heroes Of Our Own. I originally hosted all my work on my now disappeared blog site nicknamed Poetry And Fiction, though I still host a time-locked backup here.

It was inspired by my early experiences with paper and pen role playing games, thanks to my closest friends: Scott Maple, Robert Tozer, Steve and Melkon, James Ross, Brian Kwok, Pete Borov, Darrel Haines, Stephen Sampson and Eric Weisengruber (amongst one of the most awesome DMs I've ever known). In different groups and at various times, we all played paper and pen role-playing games together and from that experience, I really learned the ropes of character development from some of the most creative people I've ever known personally. There was another dungeon master named Darryl Olsen who with Eric, serves as the inspiration for the legendary games master Nelson in this book I am finishing now. Amongst the players I played with, Darryl Olsen was the most cherished games master of all.

At the same time we were into this and fairly regularly I might add, other influences in the film world had also become engulfed in this wonder of pre videogame boom phenomenon of imaginative exploration. Certainly George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg are amongst the two people I'd most want as a dungeon master, especially after hearing that in order to bond with the cast of ET: The Extraterrestrial, Stephen Spielberg hosted a game of Dungeons and Dragons as the dungeon master, with most of the cast as player characters. 

Other people I'd like to see as a dungeon master would be fellow Canadians Farley Mowat and David Cronenberg (for a horror/thriller RPG). Zhang Yimou hosting the Forgotten Realms land of Kara-Tur. James Cameron I'm guessing would be pretty awesome as would Akira Kurosawa and Wong Kar-Wai. David Fincher perhaps for some dystopian cyberpunk based rpg drama? David Lynch for... well... David Lynch? As you can see a pattern arising, this is something often that you find many great directors having been involved with at some point in their young life. Either as players or games masters, or both.

So you could say that this part of my early life was very influential in terms of what would eventually see me return to writing, because as it turns out, I started writing when I was very, very young. Though I was never a self-promotion kind of person, so I seldom mentioned it to anyone. I just wrote because I loved it, and the complexity of people too. But ultimately what allowed that to blossom was my experience playing role playing games with my friends. 

I would highly recommend to any aspiring writers and directors to be involved in paper and pen role playing games, whether they be of the online table-top variety, or the old fashioned at your dining room table with a glass of your favourite wine or a pint of your favourite lager in front of you. The best thing you can do is find a story teller aka dungeon master who truly loves the art of the experience.

Inspiring women and men aside, its what led me to The Butterfly Dragon and A Lady's Prerogative and I'm forever grateful for Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson when it comes to role playing games. And I'm most grateful to the friends who introduced me to the phenomenon of role playing. Don't get me wrong when you see only men listed amongst my inspirations here, because it simply took a bit longer for women to become comfortable with the idea, as players or games masters themselves and the truth is that there are as many women as inspiring and inspired who led the cavalry charge of the role playing session.

Perhaps it will lead and liberate you to find your own path.

[FYI, this particular paragraph of the introduction was written in October of 2018, before Disney had begun writing or production on their new Willow series] Dedicated to the many days and nights of play as both a Dungeon Master and a Player Character in the pen and paper and digital versions of the game by TSR and Wizards Of The Coast: Advanced Dungeons And Dragons. By the way, where's our Willow reboot or sequel? 😉

Dungeons and Dragons is like a school for learning the art of spontaneous creation and creative thinking. Both on a personal level and on a social level for both Dungeon Masters and Players alike who both must navigate the real world and the wonderful complexities of reality. Role playing is an impossible experience to describe. It has to be experienced to be understood and still one would fail to understand it completely. Of course, upon failing as such, its merely an opportunity to learn therefrom, to and by without the risk afforded situations in real life. For Women, Men alike.

This content is produced artists indicated on the site, and by me, Brian Joseph Johns. 

I, under no circumstance will trade, barter or otherwise swap my own identity for that of another person and I protect the same right for those who've contributed their artwork to the various projects under my management at Shhhh! Digital Media, my own company. These rights are protected by law under the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms under section 7.

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I write. I play. I contemplate. I gripe. I rationalize. I ponder. I bash. I admire. I lust. I feel. I laugh. I live in the memory of an intensity I had when I was younger. Don't we all? 

An idealization of the energy and fearlessness of being alive. When you arrive at a certain point in life via time, no matter how vital you feel, you'll know exactly what I mean. That's when you need to pay the most attention, and yet ply the most wisdom. We're not perfect however, so go easy on yourself.

In the midst of this experience: I try to hit each of these organizations myself, with something when I can afford it with a very modest donation.

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Please support education and information access where you can in addition to these charities:

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The World Veterans Federation is a humanitarian organisation, a charity and a peace activist movement. The WVF maintains its consultative status with the United Nations since 1951 and was conferred the title of “Peace Messenger” in 1987.

I'd like to point out that it was the incredible Gary Sinese Foundation that brought the issue of Veteran's rights to my attention. I've always had little respect for those who'd forget the great contribution made by those who've risked life and limb to defend those values that so many of us espouse. Perhaps the true measure of one's principles are by that for which they'd risk their life.

"None can speak more eloquently for peace than those who have fought in war."

Ralph Bunche, Nobel Peace Prize 1950

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The Edgar Allan Poe Museum
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In all truth, there's a good chance that thanks to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Jonathan Swift, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Herbert George Wells, Jules Verne, Dr. Seuss, Stephen King, Clive Barker and Pierre Burton (for The Secret World Of Og and his ground breaking interview of Bruce Lee) that all of us are literate. Actually that goes back much farther to the Phoenecians and their first 22 character system of symbols representing core sounds we could make with our mouth that led directly to the Aleph-Be(h)t or as we know it much better, the Alphabet. Literacy is important. Really it is. Literally. It allows us to approach our employer at the end of the week (with a big club) and ask: where my money?! Math important too. It help us count our thirteen fingers and toes.

The model for what may become the Encyclopedia Galactica, a complete reference and record of history, events and knowledge of humanity and its journey beyond. It is the encyclopedia of all that we know, what we surmise that we've known and will learn in the future. Yes, Wikipedia is a charitable organization of great importance. If you enjoy what I am doing here then please take the time to donate to Wikipedia. Surprisingly only 1% of Wikipedia's users donate yet the site serves pages to millions every day.

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Some Miscellaneous Info About Setting


Where and when does this book take place?


The book takes place in a major city in North America and it refers to names of places taken from actual existing places, but I haven't formalized as to whether its exactly those places or not. Its a mish-mash of different places taken from a few places in North America, but it does most closely resemble Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Its never really clear as to exactly when it takes place, and it has elements of the 1980s and 1990s, so I'd say that I've taken the two decades and mashed them together. They aren't running android tablets yet, and their tablets are closer to the Palm Pilot, and earlier laptops by IBM, NEC and Toshiba, available towards the late 1980s early 1990s. Some of which I used to service as a junior technician around that time.

The music is a mixture of 1980s pop and new-wave music with 1990s alternative and grunge. I'll also include a playlist of music I've selected that goes with the book, though keeping in mind that its just a playlist and I haven't officially licensed music as part of a multi-media book or anything of that nature. Some of the music included in that playlist has modern alt.rock and alt.dub music included, because I want the book to have a modern feel, but to take place in that time period. I was a teenager back then, so I can remember quite a bit about it.

The Realms Of Xarn (Created with Inkarnate)

The Lay Of The Land

It was a dark evening as the sun dipped behind the horizon throughout the mysterious lands. The moon rose above the forest canopy of the old trade road while the stars above peeked out from behind the dimming twilight one by one. The road at that length of its one great span had been abandoned for some time and one had fallen into disrepair and overgrowth. The wind gathered the dust into vortices, dispersing grains of sun dried dirt about the fields surrounding the road. The tiny pebbles of sand struck out at those foolish enough to be travelling on that night and if they could speak, perhaps they'd have urged such fools to return to the safety of their hovel. 

On this particular occasion there happened to be five such souls. The trails and roads of the lands were rarely traveled by the inexperienced. Only the most courageous or foolish would be the few who dared, though one could often be mistaken for the other. The only distinguishing feature between bravery and foolishness being whether their end came from in front of them as they faced their fears, or behind them as they fled from them. Yet heroism and foolishness remained an equal possibility for either.


The walled cities were densely populated centers and well... civilized, often surrounded by farmland and townships for a league or three. These civilized bubbles within the midst of the surrounding chaos of the wilds were maintained by the city's own tax fund and the Merchant Guild's investment capital. The two sources of finance paying for the training and arming of guards to protect the civilized from the lack thereof. Some might have claimed that they were optimistic and that the Castles, Keeps and the guilds would preserve and protect them, but even the reach of the guard was not as far beyond the gates as most would prefer to believe. Beyond those gates and into the wilds, there only existed mystery, wonder and immense danger. The first two were the lure, having led many to their death by the last. 

This was not merely a case of the civilized versus the uncivilized as some might have over simplified, for even in the wilds, the fiercest of predators had their own, within this cruel hierarchy built on the backs of the peaceful and docile. Perpetuated against them by the hungry or purposefully malicious. One could chalk it up to survival, but in all truth there was much more going on behind the curtains than there appeared out on stage. This was the way of life all throughout the lands of Xarn and the only walls that kept it at bay were those of civilization. Just slightly beyond the gates, a few leagues in any direction of the walled cities and you were on your own. Either predator or prey, but most often both. The wild paid no favourites to either, and life's harsh cruelty was most abundantly due those who tread into its depths.


The Plains of Harthgog fell beyond the gated farming communities on the outskirts of the main city of the Canetes Lordship and its capital, administered from within the castle itself. Beyond the plains were the Forests of Rigathsha, named for the ancient protector of the wilds who'd passed on centuries earlier during the War Of The Bones and through which the old trade roads meandered. 

There were the Tagrishan Peaks, the mountainous region beyond both the plains and the forest whose tips rose to pierce even the highest of clouds. This region was home to some of the larger and more dangerous of creatures in Xarn though they seldom left the range, and only then in order to pursue smaller prey for a quick meal or tasty snack. The old trade road continued from the forests through Tarok's Pass, named after the one who'd discovered it.

On the other side of the mountains was the Vast of the Dry, an aptly named desert which stretched for leagues and that remained untouched by the water cycle of Quelch. The only sign of civilization  being the same continuing trade road. Then on past that were the Droons, a volcanic quagmire of molten rock that only a handful of travelers had seen with their own eyes. In contrast to its immense heat, the Lake Of Tears, the largest fresh water lake in all of Xarn lay in the middle, stretching from Tarok's Pass to beyond the Droons. Again, the only sign of civilization being theat same trade road,  which passed over a land bridge that spanned the lake.

Far beyond the Droons was the coast and the Aspen Sea between which lay the tropical jungle of Kanar. Host to a variety of species, the jungle was home to some of the most dangerous pack predators imaginable. Some who lived amongst the jungle canopy and others who roamed the jungle floor. The balance of each kept in check only by the other.


The Aspen coast settlements were scattered along that same trade route that had existed for the ages. Since humankind had come to peaceful terms with the Isilydyr and the Dalthrish. A peace made possible when the Isilydyr and Dalthrish had become barely tolerant of each other. In the Human lands, the equally tall Isilydyr became known as Aelves, while the much shorter Dalthrishians became familiar as the Duarvish. 

The Humans as did the Aelves and the Duarves, kept order and the peace between their mutual lands. Trade had become the favoured steed of diplomacy and the carriage that spread order throughout the land. Soon their respective settlements benefited from the skilled trades that each had to offer. The Aelves for their abilities with agricultural development and wood craft. The Duarvish for their skill with stone work and metal craft and their perseverance in pursuit of the absolute perfection thereof.


Their triumvirate became the foundation of civilization across the lands, and everywhere they settled, prosperity soon flourished for them and the other established cultures. Those of the land who sought peaceful correspondence and cooperation. The chaos of the wilds however, maintained a constant onslaught against civilization at all times. A balance kept at great cost to the civilized, safety being their most highly valued commodity of all.

Most travelers along the coast would only venture forth with hired guard and never at night. Those who did brave the darkness almost always were never seen or heard from again. Ending their journey in the bowels of predators or consumed by horrors beyond the realm of the natural and the living. They would often fall victim to the kinds of things studied by the Keepers of Sagecraft and the Aether Weavers Of The Tower. Adventurer's mishaps were mostly told as bedtime stories keep children cautious and fearful of everything beyond the safety of the walls.

The regions beyond the known world had nay been traveled or mapped for that matter. Those valiant few who had tried had never returned, leaving the civilized Kingdom with only myths, legends and most oft - nightmares of what could possibly lie beyond. Civilization was the torch and order its light. 

Chaos was the unknown, and all that lay beyond the reach of the light of civilization.

The "Civilized" Of Xarn

The warm nights of the season of Meru were upon them, and would be as so for another three moons. Many of the farmers had in the prior moon tilled and filled their land with the crop bearing seeds they would harvest a moon and a half on. The Meru market merchants had cleaned their stalls and were preparing for another positively profitable season. The Merchant Guard Barracks had once again begun their training drills under the setting sun, boosting the confidence of many to stride beyond the Keep's walled gates. The archers were perched atop the stone walls in their garrisons giving them nearly a league's view of the land around them. The best of archers could see for a league, even with the unaided eye. It was under their ever watchful view that children were returning from their venture out into the fields surrounding the Lordship's Keep where they had chased butterflies and wallowed in the flowers of the field during the day. Their delightful ignorance of danger expressed in their games, such as touch and run or hide and seek. Such games were fitting testaments to the safety of civilization, and a mockery of the chaos beyond. Such games were also a practiced drill for developing a strong sense of self-preservation amongst the youngest.

As the night approached, the two taverns slowly filled with off duty guards, farmers, merchants, mercenaries and travelers, all seeking to enjoy the fruits of their day's labour with a tankard of ale. Each tavern's residents would gossip about the other's in a friendly competition that would occasionally get out of hand. From time to time, a regular customer from one of the taverns would make the mistake of going to the other. Harsh words were exchanged on such occasions and fights would often ensue, sending ripples of political tension throughout the city and the social fabric within. The taverns were an important middle ground between those abiding the law and those who scoffed at its rules. These two sides were well aware of each other, their powers being roughly equal was in constant check.

The order between them was kept from the top by the Lords Of The Inner Circle, the Merchant's Guild and the Crown Defenders, each of whom represented the rule of law and commerce to varying degrees. On the flip side of the coin it was the mysterious Veiled Rogues and their counterpart, the Bladed Vags. 

In the presence of the Rogues and while in their turf, it was always wisest to keep a firm hand on one's own purse. They were the lawless amidst the city, taking their due when and where opportunity arose, most often when one's excesses far outweighed their need. To the law they were nearly as bad as the chaos surrounding the cities, while to the peasants and serfs they were the folk heroes of the people.

Little was known of the Lords Of The Inner Circle, just the fact that these power brokers of civilization often met to discuss matters of order, politics and commerce. Amongst their numbers were the Royals and the Elected Representatives, the leaders of other guilds and anyone who was held in high esteem by a sizeable enough segment of the civilized and law abiding population. To most of the people, it was all for propaganda and nothing more than a puppet show, though it was seldom distinguished as to whether they were the audience, the puppets or the puppeteers.

The Crown Defenders were the preservers of the old ways, and of the royal line and chivalry. Their feudal system having been overtaken by the people fifty years prior and merged into a rule of representation. Royalty since that time had become key to oversight and approving this process, and the Crown Defenders their protectors. The power they wielded seldom found expression in due process, though they wielded the power of the veto. Rather, they remained the watchers of the emerging representation and were important diplomats themselves in dealing with other cultures of the land.

The Merchant's Guild represented all forms of business and commerce throughout the civilized lands, their coffers nearly limitless. Some even argued that they were the true power of civilization and that the Queen, the King and the elected representatives were merely puppets of their guild. The truth was much more complicated than such a simple supposition, but that fact did little to stop the conspiracies often entertained by the serfs.

The Bladed Vags were the most feared of all the guilds. They were a secretive organization of skilled assassins whose reach kept even the highest of office in check, though they were far from being a gang of murder-for-hire thugs. Their code of silence was strictly protected and their membership unknown to all, even to many of those within their ranks. Despite their secrecy, each member of this guild was skilled in the art of taking a life, quickly and silently, if such a vocation could in fact be called art at all. Nonetheless, the power they held over all the other guilds was unquestionable and they shored all bias to none. If one had the connections and wanted someone else dead, the Bladed Vags were the ones that could make that happen, with every such assassination manifesting in either the complete disappearance of the victim, or the appearances of a tragic accident befallen them.

To the majority of the populace of civilization, they were unaware of such matters except in hushed conversation or talk of conspiracy. These powerful guilds were simply referred to as the five or more often, nought referred to at all. The truth was that most were simply too busy working in order to survive, and had little time or energy left at the end of a day to contemplate such matters.

There were other guilds as well, such as the Artisans Of Honoured Craft, a trade guild representing most if not all of the smithies, the stone masons, carpenters and brewers of the civilized world, whose attention was mostly spent perfecting their craft during work hours, and celebrating it through drink and dance at the end of the day.

Few, save the Sages Of Bahn and the Weave Wrights were as well known as the five. Most went about their lives choosing blissful ignorance, and those who didn't often found their path leading to intrigue or destruction. Those who disregarded these facts of life in civilization were always free to leave the safety of the walled cities and live off the land in the wilds. Those who made such a choice were almost always never heard from again, for there were many more roads than those obvious routes to be traveled, in a metaphorical sense of speaking.

Some brave or foolish souls however, chose to walk these hidden paths. Those roads not so obvious or well laid out as the others. They tread forth in the spirit of adventure along the road less traveled as it were, and that is where our adventure begins.

The End Of The Road

Despite the lack of those out and about after dusk, it was upon this very night that five travelers strode the road as they approached the edge of the Forests of Rigathsha. They'd traveled far to reach a similar keep, much like that of the Canetes Lordship, though its occupants were much different by nearly every measure. It lay well beyond the boundary between the civilized lands and into the wilds. Its walls were constructed entirely of hardwood, drawn from trees cut directly from the Rigathsha Forest and laid side by side as posts with sharpened tips. 

During the day no children would be found playing outside of this keep as its residents had none. There too were the ranged guard upon parapets of the keep's walls, who instead of bows were armed with deadly tooth and claw hooked javelins. They watched carefully, on their guard as the travelers approached the gate. Even with the onset of night the Keep's denizens could see nearly as clearly as if it were day, for they were not Humanish, Aelvish or Duarvish.

The first of these travelers strode in front and boldly so, whistling a tune as he did. His hand resting upon the pommel of his sword which sat comfortably in its sheath. His features were hidden by a cowl and cloak that also covered the scale armor he wore beneath. Beside him a much larger and more hulking figure loomed, keeping his vision leveled on the gate as they approached. He too wore a cloak which concealed his body well, a large two handed hammer slung across his back, its handle protruding up over his left shoulder. Across from him was a smaller figure both in height and breadth. He too wore a cloak like the others and both his hands bore a wealth of rings of various color and size.  His confident yet careful strut only overshadowed by his display of vanity.

He looked around keeping a steady eye on both the path before them, and to their sides. Behind these three were two women, one with long and beautiful golden red hair that crept out from beneath her helmet. She bore a long bladed sword at her side, her body protected by dark banded armour. Beside her the other lady was struggling, carrying a large sack nearly matching her size that clanked with her every step, as if it were filled with metal cookware. Her features were quaint and subtly beautiful as well, though her hair was a little shorter and darker. Perhaps as if through some lack of confidence she tried to appear as hidden and insignificant as she so felt. Too distracted to concern herself with her esteem, she tried with little luck to keep the contents of the sack from their clanging.

"You missed a verse." the man with the rings said to the one whistling.

"Nonsense." the whistler stopped long enough to speak before continuing his tune. 

"You did. It goes: to the wealth of the land and the wing of the feather, Magravarta made a stand and the kingdom came together... You missed that part." the man of many rings corrected the whistler.

"Well that's not how we sing it in Velshald." the whistler stopped once again only long enough to speak before continuing to whistle, though at a much quicker and aggravated tempo.

"Are we almost there yet? This load is far too much for us." the lady of golden red hair spoke.

"Yeah! And why did we have to carry this anyway? Aren't we supposed to have a mule or something?" the short haired lady spoke.

"We do have mules. Two of them, and far prettier I'd have to say!" the man with the rings spoke, a devious rictus stretched across his face.

"Watch it bucko, or the only sight of us you'll soon have is our backs as we depart with our share of the loot," the sack carrier replied.

"Shhhush! Quiet! We're here. Follow my lead and you'll all live long enough to spend our reward." the whistler told them.

"Alright, but you're carrying it for us next time!" the red haired maiden replied in a cold and scolding manner.

They'd arrived at the gates to the keep where two Gollucks stood guard. Gollucks were muscular humanoids with a trio of horns extending from their head. They were barely clever enough to wield weapons and armor, and even more so to build keeps. Yet their intellect beyond that was little if at all. They stood sneering at the group before one of them spoke.

"Shajkuck kuck nook SHrrrack!" it yelled up to the parapet.

"Kral dack shuck kuck KKuck!" another yelled down from above.

A moment later and the five travelers heard the sound of a crank and wynch turning, and the gates to the keep opened to reveal a larger more elaborately dressed Golluck, who on either side was bracketed by even larger guards. Their gauntlet covered hands rested upon the pommels of their weapons. As a group, they approached the five travelers stepping boldly out through the gate to meet them. 

"See? They're civilized enough to have simple machinery. A crank and gears to open that gate! That means we'll be able to negotiate with them, without having to resort to plan B," the one with the many rings on his fingers reasoned.

"They could have stolen that crank from someone else you know. Don't give them more credit than they deserve. They're kidnappers, remember?" responded the whistler as the Gollucks approached them.

It was the elaborately dressed Golluck who spoke first.

"You have traveled a long way for her. I knew you would when I smelled her. She smells of noble humanish blood," the Golluck worked up a large lump of phlegm in its throat, spitting it on the dirt before them.

"Her hands are soft and unscathed as if she's never worked a day in her life, as so many of her subjects do in the fields or the mines. She smells... rich. Like the potpourri your women gather in leather satchels in the fields outside of the King's Keep at Yarvor. Her guards were a tasty meal for me and my men, but we knew better than to devour this one. She smells like... like lots and lots of coin. Coin I'm assuming you brought with you?" the elaborately dressed Golluck spoke in their tongue, surprisingly intellectually.

"You waste my time with idle talk, Wark. I brought what you asked for," the whistling man spoke in a harsh tone.

"Watch your tongue! Let me have a see of it little man, or this deal will sour and you'll be our next meal," the Golluck stepped closer peering down at him forebodingly.

The largest of the travelers stepped forward matching size easily with the Golluck, one hand on the pommel of his hammer. The whistling man put his hand out to block his fellow traveler from intervening.

"Give her over to us first. Then you can have your well deserved prize," the whistling man told him keeping his ground.

"GKTarthshik! Mckack Tuk!" the Golluck yelled back to the Gollucks beyond the gate.

The gates slowly opened revealing the girl, who despite her condition and the surrouding darkness, seemed to glow with a brilliance all her own. She was as beautiful as the songs whose bardic lyrics spoke of her. The heir to the Canetes Lordship. The one who would ascend to the throne as representative of the royals and leader of many in the civilized world of Xarn. Yet here she was, prisoner and hostage to the Gollucks. One Golluck had each of her arms, restraining her by force. She struggled against the grip of the Gollucks to little end.

"Ahhkk! See. There she be. Alive as you can see. Now hand it over. Now!" the decorated Golluck demanded.

"Alright. Myrizar. Give it to them," the whistler turned and told the ringed man, nudging his shoulder slightly as if in code.

"R-really?" Myrizar confirmed.

"Yes. Really!" the whistling man asserted firmly.

"Ok..." Myrizar answered sounding as if he didn't agree with the whistling man's choice.

Time slowed to a crawl and Myrizar's hand shot forth and a small bubble flew forward from his hand. It slowly arced towards the ground and when it impacted it exploded to create a thunderclap of such proportions that the Gollucks were stunned, most clasping at their tiny ears in pain.

The whistling man drew his sword, and a moment later the Golluck he was speaking with lay on the ground with a gaping wound to his throat. By that point the larger one of the five had drawn the two handed hammer from his back with one hand, swinging it down hard upon one of the Golluck guards. The guard fell to the dirt, its helmet and skull crushed by the single blow. They continued forth leveling guard after guard in a vicious display of combat prowess like none had ever witnessed. The whistling man's skill with a sword was truly incredible and beyond mere mastery alone.

"Here we go again." said the girl with the golden red hair, her eyes rolling in sheer skepticism at their display.

"Yeah great. More loot for us to carry. Maybe they'll make the Princess there help us," the other girl spoke.

The whistling man swung his sword bringing down the last of the guards holding the Princess.

"Milady. I am Barandan at your service. I'm here to rescue you," Barandan bowed before her.

"And what am I? I stopped most of those guards you know?" Myrizar interjected.

"I'm sorry Milady. This is my page and squire Myrizar..." Barandan was cut off.

"Page? Squire? My friend merely jests Milady. I am Myrizar Silverune. At your service," Myrizar bowed throwing it on thick.

The lady with the long golden red hair put her finger in her mouth, purposely gagging herself.

"I cannot believe this. After making us carry your weight, you're trying to pickup the Princess? Disgusting!" the other rolled her eyes, concealing her envy well.

Behind the Princess a distance away a Golluck stood atop the parapet winding up with his hooked javelin. He threw it full force at the Princess who stood rooted to the ground in terror. The javelin screamed through the air as every Golluck hooked javelin did. The large hammer bearing figure reached out with one fist catching the javelin mid flight. In the same motion he then drew a small spiked disk from his belt pouch and threw it. It flew at the Golluck who'd thrown the javelin hitting it square between the eyes. The Golluck fell dead, dropping from the high wall to the ground outside of the keep with a thud.

"And I am Thendenol, Sage Of The Hammer." Thendenol offered up the javelin to her as a gift, bowing respectfully.

"I am totally not going to carry this loot anymore!" the loot carrying lady stated dropping the sack, kicking it a few times in sudden frustration and anger.

"It looks like we are victorious Milady. Your freedom has been acquired and your..." from behind the Princess there arose an army of Gollucks, which had come charging from the barracks lured forth by the noise of battle. 

"...your beautiful buxom should commence in flight at once!?" Barandan panicked in fear quickly grabbing one last glance of her as he turned and started to flee.

There was a moment of disarray as the Gollucks charged at them.

Imagination And Dice

A group of six preteen youths sat around a dining room table, scattered papers and pens before each of them, while one at the end of the table sat behind an ad-hoc cardboard screen. Between them all in the center of the table were a series of multi-coloured, multi-sided dice.

One of the dice, the polyhedron with twenty sides, sat with the number one facing upwards.

"Wait! Wait! I'm Barandan. I'm supposed to be a brave heroic fighter of the wilds and a path guide. I wouldn't run!" yelled Dane at Trev, their games master.

"You just rolled a natural one! You failed the morale check. That means that you're a blubbering mass of fear on the battle field and you're fleeing. Maybe it was some deep routed fear in your character that was triggered by the sight of a sizeable Golluck force. Just be thankful that you had time to yell run to your party before you did!" Trev replied.

"Is this really how every game is? What was up with making us carry all the loot? We didn't even get to use our characters." Janet asked Dane and Trev.

"Uhhhh. Its like... you know. An initiation," Dane told Janet.

"That's some initiation. Making us carry all the loot? I think you did it because we're girls." Denise came to Janet's defense.

"Look the truth is that you guys... and girls can't just start out a game like that. It's just not right." Trev told them.

"I thought my character concept was pretty good. A Sage Of The Hammer. A half-Golluck who'd learned the lore of the gavel," Mick, a tiny framed youth said, looking over his character sheet.

"So is Myrizar Silverune. A bard acrobat. Come on? Hitting them with that Sound Storm spell was priceless!" Ken put up his hand and slapped Dane's in reaction to their plan in the game.

"Look. It wasn't that the characters were bad, though it was bad of you guys making Janet and Denise carry all the loot. Come on? It was their first game. It's that you can't start out at the top. You have to begin you know... at the bottom," Trev explained.

"Why?" asked Ken.

"Because... That's the way it is. You know, like life," Trev explained. 

"Like life? You mean everyone in the world starts out broke? You mean that nobody is born into money?" Ken responded.

"This isn't about money. Its about life experience and skill. Even the person born into a family with a gazillion bucks has to learn to live and survive. They just survive under different conditions. Like the Princess. Put her in a room with a Golluck and she's dog meat. Put her in a Court in the Keep negotiating deals with the Merchant's Guild and she's an ace. Put Barandan, Myrizar or Thendenol in the same place and they'd be lost, though they'd do alright against the lone Golluck. Its all about life experience and being on your familiar turf. You're not born at the top of your life experience. You have to start at the bottom and earn it!" Trev defended his earlier statement.

"Like us making them carry the loot. They have to start at the bottom!" Ken responded as Janet and Denise smirked at him.

There was a moment of silence as Janet, Denise, Ken, Dane and Mick considered what Trev explained, ultimately unable to come up with a good argument to support them. Trev then spoke, breaking the moment's silence.

"You know, I'm a pretty good games master but I'm not the best. If we had Nelson, here... you'd see." Trev explained, a little disappointed that the game hadn't worked out for everyone.

"Nelson? Nelson? He'd never play with us. He's like a legendary games master. I played with him once. It was like the most completely awesome campaign I've ever played. Ever!" Mick said to them.

"I'm in his math class. I could ask him. You know. I could really ask him..." Janet told them, pouring on the charm, having become aware of the power members of her sex often held over men.

"I completely love women..." Mick fell to his knees, bowing in complete awe of Janet.

"You're in Nelson's math class? Could I have a piece of your shirt?" Trev said in awe grasping at her sleeve.

"You forgot to say please!" Janet punched Trev in the shoulder playfully.

"No. I'm serious. I could you know, ask him?" she said, needlessly batting her long eyelashes and puckering her lips seductively.

"You mean like a dungeon date?" Ken asked.

"As long as you promise not to make us carry loot in the next game. If you do, I'm not playing any more," Denise said drawing a big X through the inventory list on her character sheet.

"Yeah. Let us play the characters we want to be instead of giving us these pre-made ones," Janet backed up Denise in negotiation.

"We thought it would help with the learning curve. Its a long and difficult process making these characters you know?" Trev said.

"Well Denise here is a straight A student. Are you saying that its beyond her or us?" Janet responded, showing her negotiating skills freely.

"You mean that we shouldn't make our own characters simply because we're girls, right?" Denise began, catching on to Janet's negotiating.

"Well, we haven't had girls play with us before," Trev replied.

"You never asked us before," Janet replied, looking to Denise who nodded.

"Well, because you're... slow," Trev defended himself.

"Slow?" Mick answered.

"Nebbish. Definitely nebbish," Ken continued.

"...Intellectually impaired too?" Trev finished, a hint of sarcasm on his face.

"Watch it. We're none of the above. Let us borrow the player manual until next game. You guys already know it by heart. Start treating us fairly and we'll get Nelson as the games master for a whole campaign as a reward," Janet said extending her hand in preparation for a bet.

"An entire campaign with Nelson?" Mick said falling over in his chair.

Trev looked at the group who all approved. He then took Janet's hand and shook.

"You mean that I'll finally get to play as a character? It's a deal! Totally!" Trev shook her hand firmly.

"That would mean you'd be a part of our party, Trev," Ken reminded his friend.

"That's going to be awesome!" Trev said very excitedly once again giving Ken a high five.

"It certainly is. I'll be able to get you back for some pretty nasty things you did as games master..." Mick responded in sarcasm.

"I don't know, I'd like to see Trev as a member of our party," Denise added, trying to keep her interest in Trev, incognito.

"Thanks Denise." Trev smiled back at her uneasily unsure of how to approach the situation and his own feelings versus his lack of experience.

He may have been a great games master, but he'd still had much to learn of life. More so on how to feel comfortable being himself around members of the opposite sex. Especially one that he liked.

There was a moment of awkward silence between the early teens in the room as the one true struggle of adolescence suddenly became familiar.

"Alright. Consider this another chance. We'll finish this chapter tonight. If we get Nelson as games master, we'll can this campaign and start fresh in his world. Let's take another shot at that morale die roll," Trev offered the gamers a compromise which they quickly accepted.

Dane picked up the twenty sided die he'd cast only moments before, attempting once again to beat the odds and keep his cool in the midst of the Golluck onslaught. He shook the twenty-sided die in his closed hand and then threw it at the table.

The die spun and tumbled for what seemed an eternity.

Moments later Barandan yelled at the top of his lungs.

"...Run!!? We're hopelessly outnumbered!!!" he cried pushing the Princess out of his way to escape.

The two ladies had dropped their loaded sacks and had made a head start down the road. Barandan who'd been sprinting like a world class athlete to escape the Gollucks tripped over one of the sacks, tumbling to a stop on the ground. Thendenol himself running, paused long enough to pick up Barandan in his arms and throw him over his shoulder lick a sack of potatoes.

Myrizar checked his six to see that the Gollucks had already re-captured the Princess and were still in pursuit of them.

"By the cold of Frald, they're going to catch us for sure!" he yelled to Thendenol.

The girl with the red hair pulled a flask from her belt pouch and threw it towards the Gollucks.

An elixir of slippery oil exploded from the flask covering a large area behind them as they fled. As the Gollucks stepped onto it, they slid and fell to the ground, covered from head to toe in the gooey and oily mass.

"Denise? Care to add to that?" asked the girl with the long red hair.

"I certainly do Janet." the shorter girl replied, pulling a bow and arrow from her back.

She armed the bow and drew back with all of her might as the red haired girl lit the tip of the arrow ablaze with a flint box. She fired the arrow which flew threw the air arcing perfectly into the oily goo. It exploded ablaze, spreading the substance and fire for tens of yards around their pursuers. The Gollucks had been abruptly halted in their pursuit as the their party continued to flee into the protection of distance.

A few hours later, exhausted and weary, the five of them walked casually into the Canetes Lordship Keep after the guards let them pass. They were led by two ladies, the one of long red hair and the other with the shorter dark hair and a bright smile. Behind them Thendenol, Myrizar and Barandan carried the sacks of loot which they'd retrieved amidst the calamity caused by the girls.

"'Twas a good idea to redistribute the goods as you did! It made for a much more hasty getaway, though seeing as we did haul the burden for the remainder of the trip does it not make sense that the distribution should remain as it currently is?" Myrizar slyly suggested looking to Barandan and Thendenol for approval.

Thendenol smirked, taking a moment to do the math in his head. Janet's eyes momentarily caught those of Barandan who had been observing her a little more closely than she'd have liked. Much to Barandan's relief, Thendenol began counting aloud as he struggled with the math.

"fide... nex... ein... stal..." Thendenol counted aloud.

"Worry not my astute friend for the haul is good though we should pay the wenches a fair share for their effort... and timeliness..." Barandan interjected Thendenol's attempts to count.

"I suspected as much. Perhaps you are right Barandan, assuming that you aren't trying to trick us all for other reasons?" Thendenol responded noticing Barandan's sudden distance from his loyal friends.

"You're dividing the plunder without our input? And what's with you calling us wenches? Did we once call you mites?" Janet responded,

"Who did you call a mite? Explain yourself or retract what you said and hold your tongue or lose your tongue entirely!" Myrizar demanded.

"Ahhh! So amongst you it is courageous to refer to the women kind as wenches but when we turn the blade and call you mites, it's a crime? And how did you plan to exploit that ploy? To benefit your tally of the treasure?" Denise stepped up in Janet's defense.

"Tally? I haven't even counted it..." Thendenol became defensive.

"WAIT!" Barandan interrupted before Thendenol had a chance to continue his count.

"Perhaps we should measure its value first before an appraiser. Then we shall divide the loot between us all." Denise spoke confidently.

"You'd make a great Tyral Magi, fair Denise..." Barandan tried appealing directly to the women.

"I am already a Tyral Magi you imbecile. You are obviously more so attuned to the anatomy of my friend?" Denise confronted Barandan directly.

Thendandol and Myrizar turned their immediate glare to Barandan.

"What?!" Barandan queried his male counterparts.

"Are you trying to say that your cries of: the men as sung will be as one! were nothing but a ploy to rally us behind you?" Myrizar demanded of Barandan.

"No, you buffoon. We are much different than the bard's song to which you refer, and speaking for us should be my quill upon the parch, Should it not?" Barandan threw all of his magnetism behind the delivery of his speech.

Myrizar and Thendenol turned and discussed the matter amongst themselves clearly moved by Barandan's words.

"If do you so speak for us, then defend us mites. I mean men!" Myrizar stood confidently.

"This isn't about us women versus you men." Denise challenged them.

"Then what is it about?" Myrizar queried.

"It is about us all, each and every one of us, women and men." Barandan eloquated.

Myrizar looked to Thendenol who looked back.

"Mmmm. Sounds pretty good to me..." Thendenol agreed.

"Great! We've surpassed the strife. Now let us get to the treasure?" Myrizar suggested.

"Appraisal it is!" Denise absolved of the group.

"Done!" Janet agreed.

Myrizar and Thendenol looked to Barandan perhaps hoping he'd protect their interests. Barandan shrugged as if to say: negotiations are ongoing. 

"This is going to take some time. They're shrewd negotiators," Barandan whispered to his male counterparts.

By the time Barandan had synthesized an answer they'd agreed upon, Denise and Janet had already entered into the appraisers shop.

"I think that we're about to miss out on our share of the loot?" Myrizar observed.

An ominous voice suddenly boomed from the sky above them...

"Mick! It's dinner time!" Mick's mother called from up the stairs of their basement.

"Guys, and Girls. I have to go eat." Mick announced handing Thendenol's character sheet to Ken, who had been playing Myrizar.

"Maybe we should call it a night?" asked Ken.

"It's Mick's place. Ask him." Dane suggested.

"Its kind of late. I don't know if I like this. I mean we just carried your treasure for the whole afternoon and then after we rescued you, you're trying to take away our credit for that part of the adventure. I don't know if I like this game," Janet announced flashing a gaze to Dane.

Dane looked to his character sheet momentarily and then back to Janet.

"Look, I'm sorry. I think that you'll really like this game. A lot. You just have to give it a bit. I mean, its rough at first. I know. These guys made me carry everything too in the beginning. You have to believe me, Janet. Give it one more chance. If you don't like it, then we'll understand," Dane stuck by her side as he urged her to stay.

Janet blushed slightly though she held her distance deep in thought about whether she'd wanted another night of role play.

"Alright Trev. When are we playing next? We'll give it one more shot." Janet agreed.

"Wait! I haven't agreed!" Denise looked shrewdly at Janet.

Janet crossed her arms waiting for Denise's decision.

"OK. I Agree. As long as it doesn't interfere with my homework," Denise nodded in support of her friend.

"Great. Its settled. Why don't we meet in the library at school and discuss how to develop characters? Let them in on the game?" Ken suggested.

"Great idea! What do you say? Maybe we could meet tomorrow? I mean its Monday. What else is going on after school?" Dane suggested urging Janet to his side.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." Denise responded packing her character sheets up in her backpack.

Denise hesitantly accompanied Janet who'd already made it up the stairs and towards the front door.

"Who knows? If I pass my test tomorrow, we might be able to drive here," Denise added as she adorned the sneakers which she'd left hewn by the front door.

"You're doing your driving test?" Dane asked as he donned his runners.

"Tomorrow. At 3PM sharp. If I do it, I get a big insurance discount. Not to mention that I get the exclusive use of the family utility van. No questions asked. I think that would be pretty good for role playing parties, don't you think?" Denise posed purposely trying to incite her friends.

"You have completely awesome parents!" Dane adjusted his shoes and stood.

"Yeah, they're pretty cool but my parents just remember being kids once themselves..." Denise responded.

"My parents would never lend us the family car," Ken replied.

"Maybe they're too scared that you'd turn out like them?" Dane suggested.

"They'd love that. They're rich. They love money," Ken replied.

"I take it you don't?" Denise asked Ken.

Ken turned away from Denise unable to answer. Perhaps as a result of his own lack of confidence but more so as a result of his imagination. How he'd imagined his father would respond to such a question. Money rocks. Poverty balks. He's then continue with speech about how his dedication and work (meaning family inheritance) kept a roof over their heads and that he should start appreciating it more than he did.

Ken turned away unable to answer Denise with a response, his mind still pondering how his father would deal with it. His sense of self worth did not include money, but that didn't alleviate him of the feeling that by as much that he was somehow letting his parents down.

"Let's just stick to the game, ok?" Ken replied as he finished lacing his shoes.

"Tomorrow then. The library?" Denise confirmed.

"Agreed," Trev said as he handed the player's manual to Denise.

"Thanks for the game guys... and girls," Mick said as he let his friends out of the house through the front door.

"Thanks Mick," Janet said, giving him a quick peck on the cheek, causing him to blush profusely as he closed the door behind them.

They walked together down the sidewalk as the setting sun lit the path for them. The continued, laughing about the game as they walked never knowing that while one adventure had just ended, that the one on the path ahead was just getting started.

It would be, to all of them, the adventure of a lifetime. An adventure of legendary proportions, for they were, or rather, would become The Legendary Of Xarn.

Late Dinner

Dane unlocked the front door and stepped into the tiny hall foyer of his family's modest semi-attached home. The loud projected voice of his Mother emerged from the kitchen.

"Don't let the door...!" she began, only in ear shot from Dane.

He quickly turned attempting to catch the door, but by that time it had already slammed shut.

"...sorry Mom..." he said cringing as their giant hulk of a neighbour on the other side of the wall pounded it fiercely, his mumbled yelling barely audible from their side.

"We're having a hard enough time with our neighbours as it is without you slamming the door! Now, where were you and why did you miss dinner?" his Mother started the interrogation.

"I told you on Friday that I was playing Xarn with Trev Mom," Dane responded, slipping one of his running shoes off with his other foot.

"Make sure that you unlace them so they last longer. You're not getting another pair of runners until next September!" his Mother continued, the clanging of pots came from the kitchen as she emptied the dishwasher.

"Alright Mom," Dane sat on the floor and unlaced his other shoe properly, following suit by unlacing the one he'd already taken off. 

"Have you finished your homework for Monday yet?" she continued the onslaught.

"It'll only take me half an hour Mom. I'll do it after I eat. I promise," he replied, standing up in his sock feet.

"You'll do it before you eat, and don't forget to take out the garbage," she finished as he sighed in frustration having already removed his shoes.

He lip synced her words as she goaded him, a comically horrific frown on his face as he did.

"Hi Dad," Dane said as he passed the living room where his Father was already passed out, stretching the length on the sofa as he snored in front of the television.

His Father mumbled something incoherent as Dane stepped into the kitchen, taking his school texts and tablet computer from his knapsack.

"Here, have it while you do your homework, but next time you're going to be late, call first," she kissed him on the top of his head, having pulled a warm plate of leftovers from the microwave. 

She placed it beside his homework on the table.

"Mom, I'm going to need some money for tomorrow. I did all my chores this week?" Dane asked diplomatically as he opened his textbook to the bookmarked page.

"Dane, money doesn't grow on trees you know! Your Father and I work hard every day so that we'll have a roof over our head and food on the table. Besides, you still haven't taken out the garbage yet!" his Mother began her familiar lecture about family finances.

Dane groaned with a smirk on his face.

"I'll do it right after this, Mom!" Dane responded.

"Make sure you do, and don't tell your Father that I gave you anything, and don't ask again for another two weeks!" she said to him grabbing her purse from the counter and pulling forth a crisp twenty dollar bill for him.

"Thanks Mom," he quietly mouthed to her.

"...I heard that!" a tired forced groan came from the living room.

"How does he do that!?" Dane whispered to his Mother.

"What are you doing Wednesday afternoon Dane?" asked his Father, sitting up on the sofa now fully awake.

"I've got a biology assignment I've got to hand in," Dane replied.

"You're coming to work for me for the afternoon, after you hand in your assignment," Dane's Father told him.

"But I've got to stay for the whole class Dad!" Dane looked to his Mother.

"I'll give you a note and tell them to let you out early. You've got to learn to start earning your own money Dane," Dane's Father entered the kitchen, messing his son's hair playfully with his hand.

"I've got a paper route, Dad!" Dane reminded him.

"That's barely fifty dollars a month, Dane. That worked out alright when you were nine years old, but now you're seventeen. Besides, I bet that you'll be asking us for a lot of money when you start dating..." Dane's Father leaned against the counter facing Dane, pulling his wife closer to him and putting his arm around her.

"I am dating, Dad!" Dane replied.

"Who is she?" asked his Mother.

"You don't know her. She's from school," Dane lied, too embarred to be talking about the subject with his parents.

"Look son, women love nothing better than a hard working man," Dane's Father replied with a smug smile on his bearded and mustachioed face.

"...and a washboard stomach," his Mother added sarcastically, playfully smacking her husband's rounded belly, which protruded slightly over the lip of his pants.

"See. I'm a walking stud," he replied to her snide remark coyly winking at Dane.

"Its alright Dad. My girl and I like to walk and talk in the park... we don't need money for that," Dane lied yet again.

"Why don't you take her to a movie? You could do that with the money you make working for me on Wednesday afternoon," Dane's Father suggested.

"Look, its just weird talking with you guys about stuff like that. Its like talking about the stuff under the bed," Dane replied, clearly looking and feeling uncomfortable about the topic.

"Yours or ours?" asked Dane's Father, looking to his Wife.

"Both?" Dane replied diplomatically.

"Fair enough. All I'm saying is that you'll probably feel a lot better with yourself and her if you don't have to ask us for money when your paper route money runs out," Dane's Father reasoned.

"Mom. Dad. I quit my paper route a year ago. I just didn't tell you," Dane admitted.

"Oh. That explains it. Look, I can't take you permanently at work, but I can at least get you acquainted with the idea, and you'll make a lot more than a crisp twenty," Dane's Father suggested.

"How did you know! Were you going through my purse again!?" Dane's Mother slapped his belly again, a bit harder this time.

"Honey, I was looking for the lip balm. Honest..." Dane's Father replied defensively.

"Stay out of my purse!" she glared at him.

"Look, he has to learn sooner or later. Son, you're coming to work with me on Wednesday afternoon. I'll pick you up outside of the school at 2PM. I'll leave the note for your teacher on the table tomorrow morning. Alright?" Dane's Father asserted.

"Alright Dad," Dane shook his head disappointedly.

"4AM comes around early honey. I'm going to bed," Dane's Father kissed his Wife and once again messed up Dane's hair as he made his way to the stairs.

"I'll be up shortly. I've got to make lunches," Dane's Mother responded.

Dane went directly to working on his homework while his Mother finished making their lunches for the following day. As he worked on his math homework, his mind wandered to the girl who sat two seats ahead of him in math class. 

It was her first year at their school as she'd transferred from another school in the city and as such, she had few friends and seldom talked with anyone. Dane however had met eyes were her a few times, and at math class on the most recent Friday, she'd even smiled at him. He blushed profusely when she did, more embarrassed that she caught him eyeing her than anything. At that moment he'd taken in the curve of her delicate chin. The slope of her nose and the fullness of her eyelashes.  The reflection of the room in her irises and pupils. Her pink, rounded cheek bones and the way her long hair framed her face like the perfect painting.

The image of her stuck with him for the rest of that day and into the weekend. He dreamt about her that night and thought about her all day Saturday. On Sunday during their gaming session, when the Gollucks had retrieved the kidnapped Princess from their brig preparing for their ransom exchange, he had envisioned her, though he couldn't remember her name for the life of him.

"I've got to get up early for work tomorrow. Good night," Dane's Mother said as she put their finished lunches in the fridge.

"Good night Mom, and thanks. You know, for the money?" Dane said gratefully.

"Make sure you're on time for school and don't forget about the garbage tonight!" she said, kissing the top of his head once again and then making her way over to the stairs and quietly up.

The kitchen was quiet again as Dane tried his best to continue with his homework, but he could only think about the girl from his math class and once again he tried his best to remember her name.

He struggled with his memory for what seemed an eternity, when the name suddenly popped into his head, his mind having recalled it from their daily attendance check. 

For some reason, he started hearing music in his head. It was a familiar song too. An older one he remembered hearing when he was only a kid. One that was very popular on the charts at that time:

I never needed love

Like I need you

And I never lived for nobody

But I live for you

Ooh, babe

Lost in love is what I feel

When I'm with you

Baby-ee-ay-ee-ay-ee-ay-ee-ay. I get chills when I'm with you...

"Sherisse. Her name's Sherisse," Dane said aloud, deep thought as the music blurred the line between fantasy and reality.

In his fantasy world, he saw her in her Royal gown, walking seductively in his direction, her eyes fixated on him from across the marble tiles of the Royal hall. He too was in his best attire, a silk cape slung over his shoulder. Even the scabbard that held his sword was golden, and encrusted with jewels.

They were within arm's reach of each other, their lips just about to meet for the first time when someone, or rather something grabbed her from behind. He reached out to her, but something was holding him back as much so as she was being pulled away from him.

"No! Sherisse! Sherisse!" he yelled struggling against those holding him back, but he didn't want to take his eyes from her to deal with them directly in case he lost sight of her.

When she was on the other side of the Royal hall from him, something pulled her through an arched doorway and she disappeared from sight. 

"Nooooo!" within his daydream he screamed at the top of his lungs, while at the kitchen table nothing more than a barely audible exasperated breath left his lips.

He then heard her horrific scream, which abruptly ceased and all at once he was left with an echoing silence reverberating through the marble floors of the Royal hall.

The fan on the home heating system startled him from his daydream and he felt as if someone had launched him into his seat at the kitchen table from a catapult. He looked around, a sudden feeling of uneasiness overcoming him and when he looked at the notes on his tablet computer, he saw words he did not remember typing.

They read:

...beware the Eaters Of Qarval...

He squinted at his screen to be sure he wasn't hallucinating but when the words remained, he stopped and rubbed his chin, leaning on his elbow.

"Where have I heard that before?" he asked himself.

When his heart slowed to a moderate pace, he was calm enough to continue with his math assignment for the next day. His mind however, kept returning to thoughts of Sherisse and the music he'd heard in his mind.

Dane finished both his homework and his leftover dinner, but he forgot to take out the garbage that night.

The next morning before he left for school, he found his Father's note for the biology teacher in a sealed envelope, and another note folded beside it. He unfolded the second note to read it with his breakfast.

It read:

Here's your note for Wednesday son, and if your Mother asks about it, you remembered to take out the garbage on Sunday night.


Your Father.

PS: You owe me ten bucks of your allowance ;-)

A Tale Of Two Women

Janet's alarm clock went off, the radio blaring the pop music of a local FM radio station. She lay on her front, her head pressed deeply into a fluffy pillow, while her hair was a twisted mess fit for a bird's nest.

She lifted her head away from the pillow enough to get a look at the digital clock's face. When she saw it was 8AM, she rolled over onto her back and lay silently still for a moment, the music still blaring.

"Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? Well listen to MUCH FM for your chance to win the MUCH FM Adventure Getaway..." the DJ spoke, full of morning energy as Janet saw her younger brother pass the doorway of her room on his way to the bathroom.

"Jason! I've got to get ready now! Don't..." she began as she heard the bathroom door slam shut.

"Why do I even try!" She clenched her fists as she slid out of bed in her night gown.

She donned her slippers and put on a housecoat, grabbing her makeup tray from her dresser and heading to the downstairs bathroom.

"Don't forget to make your little brother's breakfast, Janet! Oh and we're taking him to his hockey game after school so you don't have to walk him home," Janet's Mother was putting on her shoes and almost out the door as Janet arrived at the bottom of the stairs.

"...morning Mom," Janet said, turning at the bottom of the stairs on her way to the other bathroom.

"I've got to go, Dad's waiting in the car. See you at about 7PM tonight," Janet's Mother said as she left, closing the front door behind her.

"Bye Mom!" Janet replied, still rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

She began her morning routine with a facial cleanse, after which she did her makeup. By the time she'd gotten to her lipstick, there was a knock at the front door.

She checked the time on the clock on the front hall wall as she opened the front door.

"Morning!" Denise said cheerfully as Janet let her in.

"Sorry, I'm running behind a bit," Janet said returning to the bathroom to finish her makeup.

"That's alright. Want me to get Jason's breakfast for him?" Denise asked.

"Could you? An egg and two sausages. Eggs over easy," Janet replied as she finished her lipstick.

"What about you?" asked Denise.

"I'm not hungry yet," she replied, already gathering her makeup kit into the basket and on her way up the stairs.

Denise already familiar with Janet's kitchen, practically being like a sister to Janet, began preparing breakfast for the ten year old Jason as he arrived in the kitchen still in his pajamas.

"Where's your school clothes Jason?" asked Denise as she started frying the sausages, knowing that the eggs would taste better fried in their juice.

"I'm not feeling well today..." Jason tried to pull one over on her.

"Awww, that's too bad. Today's candy Monday at school," Denise told him.

"What's candy Monday?" he asked her, his curiousity peaked at the mention of anything containing sugar.

"Everyone who shows up to school today gets free candy," she told him.

"What candy?!" he asked enthusiastically.

"Well, this time its a chocolate bar, a pack of gummy bears and bubblety-boo gum," Denise told him, effortlessly finishing up the sausages as Jason's stomach groaned in hunger.

"Chocolate bars?" asked Jason excitedly.

"You heard me," Denise replied, already cracking the egg as the aroma of breakfast filled the lower floor.

Jason turned and ran to the stairs, taking them two at a time. He then ran to his room, closed his door and got dressed.

By that time Janet had emerged from her room, pulling her blouse on over her bra and fixing it in the front hall mirror.

"What did you tell him? I've never seen him move that fast before!" Janet said as she entered the kitchen.

"All done. Uhhh, I told him that its candy day today at school," Denise put Jason's plate of food on the table.

"What are you going to do when he finds out you lied?" asked Janet.

"Well, as it happens, I didn't," Denise said, opening her own lunch and pulling a chocolate bar, a pack of gummy bears and a single piece of bubblety-boo gum from within.

"Quick! Hide this in his knapsack before he gets down here again!" Denise told her friend.

Janet wasted no time, immediately pushing the handful of candy into Jason's knapsack beneath his school books.

"It totally rocks having a smart friend that works in a greasy spoon part time as a cook, that's also an awesome homework tutor," Janet showed her appreciation of her best friend as she pulled her own school texts from her bag.

"Well, I've got unterior motives you know. If you can get Nelson on board as a games master, that will go a long way to me getting Trev's attention," Denise admitted.

"You are such a sly fox, girl!" Janet replied, causing Denise to giggle and blush at the thought.

"If you can get Nelson on board, that makes the two of us. We wouldn't want to go to the graduation dance this year without dates, would we?" asked Denise.

Jason quickly ran down the stairs fully dressed and ready for school. He immediately went over to his place at the kitchen table and began consuming the breakfast Denise had cooked for him.

"Don't forget to thank Denise for the breakfast," Janet told her little brother.

He simply smiled, opening his mouth, revealing his chewed food to both of them, after which he began to giggle and laugh.

"Close enough," Denise smirked as a note from within one of Janet's books slipped out and fell on the floor.

"What's this?" asked Janet, leaning over to pickup the note.

She unfolded it in hand and was shocked to see writing in a language that she did not recognize.

"Is this some kind of joke?" asked Janet, looking to her younger brother accusingly.

He looked up at her chewing another mouthful of food, shaking his head negatively in response.

"Wasn't me either," Denise added as Janet handed the note to her.

Denise examined the note, knowing immediately that the symbols weren't part of any human language she'd ever seen.

"It fell out of your English Literature textbook right?" asked Denise deductively.

Janet turned the textbook on its side and saw the words Rennaissance In Literature 301.

"Exactly," Janet said, still a little bit uneasy.

"Probably the notes of the last student who had that textbook last year," Denise suggested.

"Maybe," Janet responded, suddenly seeing the time.

"We're going to be late if I don't get to work on my homework," Janet said, sitting down at the table as Denise quickly sat beside her.

"Alright, so the answer to question one is...?" asked Denise, referring to her own notes.

"What's the question again?" asked Janet.

"Who wrote A Tale Of Two Cities?" asked Denise.

"Oh, that's easy. Charles Dickens!" Janet responded.

"You got it! Write that down for the answer," Denise urged her friend.

"Question two: what literary device was the author playing upon with the first paragraphs of that book?" asked Denise.

"Uhhhh... ummmm...." Janet said thinking hard about the question but not making any progress.

"I'll give you a clue. The theatre..." Denise revealed.

Janet shook her head, still thinking.

"The two faces..." Denise added.

"Oh! Uhhhh! The two faces of the theatre!" Janet responded excitedly.

"...and their names are?" Denise pressed Janet.

"... uhhhh... Athos and pathos!" responded Janet.

"Correct, though you need to be a bit more precise..." Denise encouraged her friend.

"Comedy and tragedy! Thalia and Melpomene!" Janet answered.

"Brilliant! Write that down as your answer," Denise assured her friend that she had gotten the answer.

"Question three, the last question. In your own words, what do you think is meant by that introductory paragraph?" Denise asked the last question, reading from their homework assignment.

"Uhhhhh... One of the cities is experiencing prosperity while the other is suffering tragedy?" Janet contemplated the first lines of the book.

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times..." Denise reminded her friend.

"...we come into a drama set amidst a dichotomy of balance..." Janet became intensely involved, recalling the first time she'd finished reading the book only three weeks ago.

"Go on..." Denise listened as Jason ignored them, instead focusing on his egg.

"We come into the book the same way we are born... in the midst of emotional extremes around us... from that point and every step into the book we take, we are swayed to either side... not fully knowing where we'll be by the end of the book..." Janet spoke in a stream of consciousness.

"Awesome! Go on..." Denise coached her friend.

"...and yet of everyone who reads it, no two people end up with the same extreme of emotional commitment. Some of us are affected one way, the rest of us the other way, though it affects no two people to the same degree... of these two sides, is there a difference that is more than subjective experience?" Janet surmised her final answer.

"Write that down exactly as you said it, and you're looking at straight A's all the way. Not bad for a cheerleader," Denise replied, wiping a tear from her own eye.

"My outfit! I forgot to wash it and there's a game today!" Janet said, cupping her hand over her mouth in shock.

"No more cheer leader!" Jason said mocking Janet as he began to giggle again.

"One thing at a time! Get that answer written down and we'll figure out the outfit problem at school, or we're going to be late!" Denise kept them on track as she got up and grabbed Jason's empty plate, putting it in the dishwasher.

Janet quickly wrote down the last answer in her notebook, and then gathered her books and put them in her knapsack.

"Come on Jason! You're going to miss candy day..." Janet said, getting up from the table and putting on her knapsack.

Jason's expression turned to one of fright at the thought of missing out on the candies. He quickly ran to the front door to put his shoes on, forgetting his own backpack in the process. Denise, being the observant girl she was, grabbed it for him, having finished stowing their dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

Janet in the meantime was already to leave and waiting for Jason as Denise helped him don his backpack.

"Looks like you've got two sisters now. Come on, or we're going to be late!" Janet told her little brother, who scrambled out the front door ahead of them.

Janet locked the front door after Denise stepped out, and the three of them were on their way together.

They failed to take notice of a black car, which had slowly trailed them from a distance the entire way to school.

Morning At The Market

Trev walked south quickly along Don Mills Road on his way to Van Horne Avenue with a bounce in his step as he strode. His backpack strap was slung over one shoulder while his ear pods were deep in his ears, comfortably blaring his favourite grunge band.

The late September morning sun was already well into the sky and warming his right side as he reached the intersection lights. He strode east across the road and at the halfway point, stepped into the Peanut Plaza parking lot heading towards his favourite dollar market.

An older lady was just ahead of him approaching the door, a pink shall pulled over her thinning white hair, and a flowery light coat stretched to her knees. Trev quickly got the door for the lady, smiling as he did.

"Its good to know there's still young men with manners," she remarked to Trev.

"I'm sure that if our roles were reversed, you'd do the same," Trev said, speaking a bit loud over the volume of his ear pods, which she assumed was his compensating for her poor hearing.

She smiled again and continued into the store ahead of him, where he grabbed the second door for her and she thanked him again. Outside and down the walkway a bit, a pair of teenagers stood outside of the ice cream store. One had a skateboard standing lengthwise, propped against his knee while the other held a tiny paper notebook, with a pen in his other hand.

They looked at each other and nodded upon seeing Trev's act of courtesy. The one with the pen quickly put a checkmark in his notebook. The one with the skateboard then arched his knee, tipping the skateboard onto its wheels as he hopped onto it and pushed off along the sidewalk. As he passed the large windows of the dollar market, he tapped the bottom of his right eye three times, just beneath the lid. Another patron in in the store, a teenager wearing a pair of Ray Ban sun glasses, a surplus petty coat and a pair of combat boots caught sight of the skateboarder's signal discretely as he worked his way along one of the aisles to close in on Trev.

Trev in the meantime was headed over to the snacks, where he grabbed a bottle of Blast-Aid, a popular energy drink and a small bag of barbecue chips. Beside him, a man that appeared much older than him and yet was dwarfed by him considerably despite Trev's five foot nine stature, stood staring up at a bag of spicy corn chips on the top shelf.

It was fairly obvious that the short man, certainly a dwarf by any standards, could not reach the chips upon which his eyes were focused. He continued to look at them intensely as if by concentrating he could will them into his reach.

Trev felt momentarily feeling awkward by the situation, was unsure of what the problem was. He knew something was wrong, and looked to the tiny man's face. The man, a moustachioed and bearded man of Southeast Asian descent returned Trev's glance through a pair of thick framed bifocal glasses.

He then returned his gaze to the chips on the top shelf. Trev's eyebrow's arched for a moment before he spoke as the man in the Ray Ban glasses reached a line-of-sight point further down the aisle.

"Excuse me," Trev said to the short man in the thick framed glasses.

The shorter man smirked slightly in disappointment and then backed up for Trev, who took advantage and stepped by the shorter, making his way to the cashier.

As Trev strode along the aisle towards the front of the store, he didn't see that the short man shook his head negatively to the man in the Ray Ban sunglasses, who then signalled to the skateboarder who'd made a second pass from the other direction.

When Trev arrived at the cashier, he had a sudden realization, understanding what the shorter man had been trying to tell him. Trev immediately turned and ran back the other way towards the snacks aisle just as he saw the shorter man leaving the store from the corner of his vision.

Trev stopped in disappointment, shaking his head at himself that he hadn't noticed the shorter man's plight earlier.

He then rationalized that it might have been an embarrassment if he'd offered to get the chips from the high shelf for the man. Some people prefer not having to rely on others, especially for something that so many of us take for granted.

Trev thought about it some more, and considered that if it hadn't been a bag of chips, it might have been a future opportunity. Something that might have made a really big difference in the man's life. Something just out of reach.

Then the metaphor came, and he thought about all the ways that he too was like the short man. That he might need someone to reach that top shelf for him someday. Maybe when he graduated, and applied for College or University. He might have to rely on someone else that could reach that top shelf for him.

What if that person didn't realize that Trev couldn't reach that shelf, but that he desperately needed something from it in order to progress in life? 

"All it takes is that one missed chance," Trev said aloud, once again speaking over the volume of his music as he shook his head feeling sorry for the short man.

It was at that moment that someone else who'd been skulking along the aisles had overheard Trev's comment. Another teenager not much older than Trev, though dressed that much more hip than was he.

He wore a pair of baggy pants and slick runners, with a track suit jacket and a black baseball cap with a perfectly rounded shell. The crest of the cap depicted a phrase in perfectly white stitched lettering.

The phrase read:

I'm Just Taking It

And that is precisely what the teen in the baseball cap did. He looked over at Trev and realized that he was looking at a gold mine.

The man in the baseball cap then passed Trev, and made his way over to another short patron of the store. This time, it was the same elderly lady for whom Trev had held the door.

She had been looking up at the top of one of the shelves, reaching for a jar of tomato sauce. The teen in the baseball cap having passed Trev, immediately reached for the tomato sauce, and handed it to the elderly lady, who gratefully accepted it.

"Thank you so much. You have no idea how long I was trying to get that jar," she said to the teen as she showered him in appreciation.

By this time, Trev had caught sight of what had happened, and had pulled the ear pods from his ears as he watched them from the other end of the aisle.

"Lady, my mama raised me real good and I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on an opportunity just because they couldn't reach the top shelf," the teen in the baseball cap looked over to Trev menacingly as he spoke, and smiled like he'd just stolen candy from the baby.

Trev looked back in disbelief and at that moment he felt disgusted. As if someone had raped the very goodness from his mind and being and was wearing it as their own. He shook his head at the teen, who turned back to the elderly lady and walked her to the cashier.

The youth in the Ray Ban sunglasses in the meantime had noticed what the second teen in the baseball cap had done. He nodded to himself in approval, even signaling to the skateboarder once again, who relayed the signal to the teen with the pen and notebook.

He put a line through the part of the notebook with Trev's name on it, scratching it out, while circling the name in another column and putting a star beside it.

"That's our secret Samaritan," he commented to the skateboarder, ensuring nobody was close enough to hear them.

Meanwhile, inside the store, rationality finally found its way to Trev again and he decided that it was all a coincidence. That nobody could take your own goodness from you. More likely, the guy in the baseball cap was of a similar mind set to himself, and that the whole situation was a good thing.

Trev then made his way back to the cashier, and found his way behind the elderly lady and the teen as the guy in the Ray Ban glasses had arrived behind Trev in the line.

The elderly lady paid for the jar of tomato sauce, and then paid for the snacks of the teen in the baseball cap, also handing him a twenty dollar bill.

"That's for doing the right thing. For seeing it, recognizing it and acting upon it," the elderly lady said to the teen.

"Thank you lady, but I was only doing the right thing. I guess I'm just a gold mine sometimes," he once again looked back to Trev deviously as he spoke.

Trev felt slightly uncomfortable about the teen. As if there were some deep seated malice behind his eyes, but then he quickly corrected himself, reasoning that he was likely being possessive and egotistical. Nobody would be so malicious as to take the goodness of a person.

Besides, nobody can read minds, he thought. That only left coincidence and in the case of the elderly lady, it had worked out as serendipity. It was also good to see that such acts got rewarded too. Maybe Trev's own goodness in this way would eventually come back to him some day.

"I guess the early bird gets the worm," the youth in the Ray Ban sunglasses said quietly to Trev. He too hinting that Trev may have missed out on much more than which he was currently aware.

"But the second mouse got the cheese, didn't he too? Don't worry, I've seen you in school before. I know who you are," the teen in the baseball cap added, raising his hands like he'd somehow won the game with both anecdotes, having overheard the youth in the Ray Ban sunglasses' remark to Trev.

The sharpened comments hurt Trev ever so slightly, so he slipped the ear pods back in his ears and tuned the world out the same way he did whenever he suspected others were trying to get to him.

The teen in the baseball cap pushed past the elderly lady, letting the door close in her face, though nobody saw that except Trev and by that time, he'd finished paying for his own snacks and was already at the door to open it for her.

She looked back at him, somewhat disappointed as he held the door for her, and Trev simply looked away as she continued through.

When they got outside, the skateboarder was now with the youth in the Ray Ban glasses and talking with the teen in the baseball cap. Trev noticed that they were shaking hands but he didn't hear their words.

"How's it goin? I'm Danny," The teen with the notebook and pen introduced himself.

"I'm Jon," the teen in the baseball cap replied.

"Jon, I'm not going to beat around the bush, so I'll get right to the point. You see, my friends and I here are... looking for similar minded people. The kind of people who want to encourage a prosperous world, and we've been watching you for some time already," Danny told Jon, who nodded affirmatively as he listened.

"Some people don't quite make the cut..." Danny said as Trev continued on his way to school, lost in his music.

"However, we think you're ready..." Danny smiled as he spoke.

"Welcome to the club. I'm Vance, and this is Kyle," the skateboarder introduced himself and then the youth in the Ray Ban sunglasses.

Each of them offered their hand, ready for a good firm shake.

"Vance. Kyle. I guess that I'm Just Taking It all," Jon smiled deviously, accepting their hands each in turn as he looked in the direction Trev had gone.

Trev disappeared behind the fence as he rounded the sidewalk from the parking lot, feeling like he'd lost a lot more than he'd known.

Pre-Game Preparation

Janet hung her backpack in her locker on one of the metal hooks within, quickly checking her watch after she'd locked it. It was now ten to twelve and twenty five minutes from her cheerleading warmup for the day's football game and she still hadn't found anything to wear.

She looked down the crowded hall to her right, and not seeing anyone she recognized she then turned to her left, her long hair sliding off of her shoulders hanging down across her chest. A few lockers down and on the other side of the hall she saw Minnie, another girl from the same cheerleading squad.

Janet immediately ran perkily over to Minnie, calling her name as she did.

Minnie turned to see Janet and a smile stretched across her face.

"Janet! Almost ready?" asked Minne, her eyes pressed together into her full face smile.

"Yep! Except one thing. I don't have an outfit to wear. I forgot to do my laundry this weekend and all my outfits are ix-nayed. You wouldn't happen to have an extra, would you?" asked Janet.

Minnie was a little shorter, but roughly the same modest chest and waist size as Janet.

"I have a skirt you could wear, but no shirt," Minnie replied, opening her locker, fishing through a series of clothing hangars. When she found the one she was looking for, she pulled it, hangar, skirt and all from the locker and handed it to Janet.

"Thank you sooo much Minnie! You're awesome!" Janet jumped excitedly having had her friend solve half of her problem.

Meanwhile, a couple lockers down from them, one of the quarterbacks for the team had overheard their conversation. He quickly grabbed his bottle of Polo from the locker and sprayed a bit under his chin. He then ran a comb through his hair and grabbed his team sweater from the locker having seen an opportunity for which he'd long been hoping.

He hid the sweater behind his back and approached the two girls, his clean shaven face and perfect smile leading the way.

When he arrived, he raised his right arm and leaned against the lockers beside the girls, admiring them both.

"Janet," he greeted her nodding once, intensely focused on her.

"Hi Stefan!" Minnie greeted him excitedly, blushing profusely as she did.

"Minnie," he nodded, acknowledging Minnie though he kept his eyes on Janet.

"What's up Stefan?" Janet responded, seemingly unimpressed by his presence.

"Whatcha doin' Friday? I've got my parent's car all weekend you know," he asked Janet.

"I'm staying home. Thought I might reorganize my closet or dust the top of my bedroom door," she replied somewhat sarcastically.

"I was thinking that maybe we could get together? You know, go for a drive. There's a good movie playing at the drive-in. You know, the one with the quarterback who gets a scholarship, but he wants the cheerleader instead?" Stefan did his best to warm up the conversation somewhat mechanically.

"Really? I'm more into seeing the one where the predatory slasher hunts down the students trapped in the school overnight, but the courageous cheerleader saves the day. You know the one?" Janet replied to Stefan, meeting his gaze directly.

He looked away for a moment uncomfortably, and nodded to one of his passing friends.

Janet looked past Stefan and saw Dane approaching his locker from down the hall. He looked directly at her and then to Stefan, before he pretended not to see them at all by the time he'd arrived at his locker.

Janet's confident smile waned for a moment, and she returned her gaze to Stefan, who'd also reconciled his.

"If you change your mind, let me know," he handed her a note with his name and phone number on it.

It smelled strongly of Polo cologne.

"If I change my mind. I'll call you, but don't count on it," Janet said, looking towards Dane hoping that he'd look her way.

"Look, I don't want you to think I'm weird or anything, but I heard you talking with Minnie about your outfit. I don't have one of the cheerleader blouses, but I could let you wear my team sweater?" Stefan revealed his freshly washed sweater, offering it to her as if it were an engagement ring.

Much to her relief, he didn't get down on his knees or propose to her. She cautiously accepted the sweater, examining it carefully and then looked to him, her expression having eased somewhat.

"I guess I have no choice, but I'm impressed that you thought of helping me," she said to him, easing their earlier tension.

"..though that doesn't mean that I'll go out with you," Janet responded being sure to lay down the line.

"I'm not doing anything on Friday," Minnie inferred, blinking several times as she flashed her long eyelashes at Stefan seductively while Janet continued to examine the sweater.

At that moment, Dane looked over once again and felt the pain of jealousy upon seeing Janet holding the sweater across her chest as if sizing it up to wear it.

"Thanks Stefan. I'll accept your sweater, and maybe some time you can come out with my friends and I too," Janet smiled at him gratefully.

"Really? That'd be cool!" he replied, feeling confident that he'd made progress.

The P.A. System announced its presence with the eruption of sudden static from the speakers throughout the halls:

Your attention please. Your attention please.

Will the members of the football team and 

cheerleading squad report to their respective 

locker rooms. Warmup will be commencing in ten 

minutes. Over and out.

"That'd be me," Stefan said, suddenly feeling important, the smile on his face growing.

"I know. Bye," Janet waved with her fingers as Stefan left to retrieve his gear for the football game.

"Here. This is yours," Janet handed Stefan's note to Minnie, whose eyes rolled as she smelled the Polo on it.

"Are you sure? I mean you two would make a nice couple," Minnie responded to Janet's offer.

"Well, I've got someone else on my mind, but I'm impressed that Stefan did that for me," Janet spoke honestly.

Dane looked over again to see Janet turning and making her way back to her locker with Stefan's team sweater. Minnie followed behind her as they met up with Lily, another member of the cheerleading team. The three of them then made their way to the girl's locker room as Dane watched them leave.

Dane jumped when he felt Ken's hand slapping his back.

"Buddy! Why so grim and jittery?" Ken asked Dane, his red and blue Adidas bag slung nonchalantly over his shoulder.

"Its nothing. Really," Dane responded not wanting to talk about it, though he'd seen Janet leaving and could only draw his conclusions from that.

"Look, I'm in good with the coach. I could get you on the team as the mascot if you want to get closer to Janet?" asked Ken, slapping his back again.

"I'm already close to Janet. She's my friend," Dane spoke quickly and diplomatically, alluding to nothing protectively.

"Fair enough, but being the team mascot could lead to many greater opportunities in life you know, and women love a guy in uniform," Ken smiled at his own joke, as Dane's frown disappeared slowly to be replaced by an awkward smile.

"Are you going to the game?" asked Ken.

"Of course I am! I wouldn't miss seeing a game for the world! Besides, I'm meeting Denise and Trev there," Dane said honestly, though he was torn between what he'd seen of Janet that morning, and his visions of Sherisse from the weekend.

"Alright. I'll be seated with the rest of my physed class. If you change your mind about the mascot thing..." Ken said, smacking Dane's back again before he left.

"We'll see. Later dude," Dane spoke as if he were hastening Ken's exit.

He finished organizing his locker, and redistributing his bag of homework when he spotted Sherisse walking in his direction.

His mind returned to Janet holding the sweater up to her chest, but he couldn't for the life of him see her in a relationship with Stefan. Especially with everything he knew about her.

She had an entirely different set of life values. A different sense of humour that set her apart from other women. Sure, she was attractive enough to be the school's honey and likely idolized by many of the people in school, but she walked to her own beat.

She, like the rest of their group, was essentially an outcast. A misfit who could not be cajoled into any of the various social cliques to be found in school.

The Preppies couldn't relate to her or her sense of fashion. She was simply too clean cut for the Rockers and far too edgy for the Breakers. She was too bright for the Goths and yet not bright enough for the Nerds.

Many of the Jocks liked her, but she saw them coming from a league away, quickly and easily. The Art-Hogs were a picky bunch despite the fact they were borderline pariahs themselves and saw Janet simply as not being avant-garde enough for them.

In all truth, Janet belonged to only one clique in the whole school. It was their clique and it had thus far remained unknown and nameless. She simply fit in amongst those who didn't fit in anywhere else despite her sometimes clumsy sense of independence and her star-like beauty.

Dane caught himself being possessive, despite the fact that he'd never, ever discussed anything approaching companionship with Janet before. Not to mention he was feeling jealousy despite the fact that he'd spent the entire weekend fantasizing about another woman. A woman that he admitted to himself that he simply did not know. 

However, he did have an option when encountering such potentially life altering circumstances that were too confused or complicated to be solved by careful evaluation alone.

He reached into his locker and found his Mini-Book of Meaningful Quotes. He held it carefully in his hand and began flipping through the pages as if he were fanning the book. He then inserted his finger, stopping it at a random page.

He kept his finger there, and read the saying indicated at that line.

"If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both. Confucius," he nodded, agreeing with the wisdom and its applicability to the situation as well.

"True. If I don't choose one, they'll both get away..." he said contemplating the situation from the limited experience of a seventeen year old male.

Dane turned to look at Sherisse and as she passed, she blushed and smiled at him, quickly looking away when she realized he was also looking at her.

His mind returned to Janet's face and her admiration of Stefan's sweater. He cringed at the idea of Janet being with Stefan, though he couldn't rationalize why he felt that way. Could it have been that he had been harbouring this secret attraction for Janet for so long that he simply took her for granted, especially given their long friendship?

"She's my friend, and there's no question that there's something more going on between us, though we've never talked about it..." he spoke at the book, and directly to Confucius.

"Maybe she made that choice for me... and Stefan's sweater was her way of saying it?" Dane said aloud, forgetting about Janet as he turned to watch Sherisse continue down the hall, admiring the arc of her thin waist, the curve of her hips and the shape and form of her slender legs.

"What should I do?" Dane held his book up and began fanning the pages again with one hand, inserting his finger into the book and stopping it at a random page once again.

He examined the page, reading the quote he'd landed upon aloud:

"Several girlfriends are easier to handle than one wife. Hugh Hefner," Dane said aloud.

"Thanks a lot for nothing!" he threw the book into his locker, now frustrated and beginning to wonder if he wasn't just confusing his issues.

He struggled with his conundrum quietly for a second and then reached into his locker, retrieving the tiny book he'd tossed moments earlier, brushing it carefully off.

"I'm sorry. I'm confused about this whole situation Mr. Hefner," Dane began talking to the book.

Then another thought occurred to him. Something that connected both the quotes he'd picked randomly while trying to solve his problem.

"I guess you and Confucius were really referring to bunnies, weren't you?" Dane asked his book, thinking about the stack of magazines under his bed at home.

In The Rafters

Denise was huddled close beside Trev as they sat on the rafters on the south side of the football field, their backpacks beside them. He had the Xarn Player's Manual on his lap as Denise asked him questions about the game and the process of making her own character.

"So these stats are just a way of measuring how capable my character is?" she asked him.

"Precisely. So for instance, if we were to make you into a character, you'd probably not be the strongest but not a complete weakling either. Maybe a nine or ten," Trev continued explaining the stats system.

"Nine or ten? Out of what? Fifteen?" she asked him.

"No... uhhh... eighteen, because you're human and that's the maximum natural potential of strength for a human," Trev explained to her.

"I don't know. This sounds a lot like you're giving me limits because I'm a girl," Denise accused him.

"Wait a second. I wasn't going there at all. Imagine how strong you are compared to the strongest person you know of in reality. The strongest a person can be," Trev suggested a course for her imagination.

"Alright. So I'm not that strong," Denise said disappointedly.

"But you're also not that weak. Given that fact, you'd probably not want to be someone who relies on physical strength in the game, like a Fighter or a Paladin," Trev suggested to her.

"If I as myself was in Xarn you're saying," Denise clarified.

"Precisely. Your hand eye coordination is pretty good, but again you're not at the peak of human potential. You'd be about a twelve for dexterity given that you're not coordinated like an athlete," Trev added.

"Now I'm not athletic? You're not giving me much credit," she responded defensively as they spent their first time alone together.

"Same with me Denise. I'd be close to the same thing too. A nine or ten for strength. An eleven or twelve for dexterity. This isn't strictly about you or putting you down. I'm just comparing the real us to the stats in Xarn so you can get a feel for a character's strengths and weaknesses," Trev managed to justify his explanation of the stats, though just barely.

The truth was that Denise had been looking forward to their meeting for the whole morning. She knew that Dane and Mick would arrive soon and her time alone with Trev would end. She wanted desperately to make progress with him and it seemed that things were already going awry for her.

"Let me ask you something, Denise. Could you go run out on the field and play on the football team? Today. Right now?" Trev asked her.

"Are you asking if I'm capable of playing? Of course. I can do anything I put my mind to!" she defended herself.

"Precisely! However, if you caught the ball and were running with it towards the end zone, do you think that you could outrun those guys who play this game just about every day?" Trev asked her honestly.

"That depends! Where did I catch the ball? How far ahead of them was I when I caught the ball?" she asked him, trying to narrow down all the hypotheticals.

"Let's go with two scenarios. In the first scenario, you caught the ball and were only three meters away from the closest opposing player," Trev described for her.

"Go on," she pressed him anxiously and perhaps competitively.

"In the second scenario, you caught the ball a great distance away from the other players. You're still a distance from the end zone, but the nearest opposition is nearly as far from you," Trev explained the second scenario in their little game.

"Alright. So because I'm not a top class athlete, in the first situation they'd catch me," she admitted.

"Precisely. That's exactly what would happen. A bunch of guys, as strong a bull would pile onto you and completely crush you," Trev bluntly explained the outcome of the first scenario.

"Simply because I was so close when I caught it and they're strong like bulls and I'm not!" she said defensively, now thoroughly enjoying their little game.

"That's right! They're the practiced athletes! When it comes to just about everything physically, they've got us beat in football," Trev admitted, softening the blow by inferring himself onto her losing team in the first scenario.

"Alright. So what about the second scenario?" asked Denise, now very interested in their little game and where it was going.

"In the second situation, you catch the ball and start running your fastest, already a great distance from the nearest opposing player. However, they're athletes and you're not. They close the distance between you and them quickly, but as it turns out, the fact that you caught the ball so far from them, they didn't have enough time to catch you in the first place, and you score a touchdown!" Trev exclaimed, excitedly raising his hands for her.

"Yesss!" she raised her hands too in celebration of the fact, even wrapping her arms around him for a moment to celebrate.

The other students sitting on the same rafters watched them, even laughing a bit, not understanding what they were doing.

"So I was able to win without strength and..." Denise began.

"... and dexterity. But, you know why you really won?" asked Trev.

"Why?" she moved her face a little closer to his, happy that he didn't back away from her when she did.

"Because, you were the one who developed that play. You came up with a plan on the field, knowing they were stronger than you, more athletic than you," Trev continued.

"As strong a bull. As smart as bull too," Denise added, thoroughly enjoying his scenario now.

"Precisely! You also had a quarterback with a good arm..." Trev said, pointing to one of the quarterbacks on their football team who were currently warming up for the game.

"No, not him. I want you...?" Denise asserted as much so as she asked him.

Trev stopped to think about it for a moment before continuing.

"Alright. It was me. A quarterback with a mediocre arm at best. A guy who can throw the ball in a roughly straight line about sixty percent of the time. Let's check if I threw the ball straight, and see if you caught it?" Trev suggested, pulling a set of dice from one of the pockets in his knapsack.

He took a pair of ten sided dice in his hand and began shaking them furiously.

"Alright. The white die is the tens. The black die is the ones. I've got to roll above forty to get the ball in a straight line," he said as he tossed the dice onto the Xarn player's manual on his lap.

The dice spun for a moment before coming to a rest on the book's cover. The black die read four and the white die read seven.

"Yeah! That's seventy-four. So the ball arcs high into the air directly on course to you as you position yourself to catch it. You step from side to side trying to estimate where you need to be..." Trev narrated their scenario.

"How do I catch it?" she asked him with baited breath.

"Lets find out. You have a twelve dexterity, so you have fairly good hand-eye coordination. Not the best, but not bad," he handed her a twenty-sided die.

"Is this the ball? Wait - this is a dodecahedron. What am I supposed to do with it?" Denise asked him immediately recognizing it as one of the Platonic solids from her Physics class.

One of the same geometric solids that were at one time used to describe planetary motion before Copernican dynamics became the standard model.

"That is a twenty-sided die. You need to roll that die and either get more than seven or less than thirteen. Pick one," Trev told her.

"...because I have twelve dexterity, in order for me to catch the ball, I have to roll within my ability score right?" confirmed Denise.

"Precisely! So if you roll under thirteen..." Trev began.

"Or over seven... depending upon what I pick?" asked Denise.

"If you roll successfully, you catch the ball," Trev explained, the game now becoming very clear to her.

"Alright. I'll try to roll under thirteen," she responded, now shaking the die in her hand.

She tossed it at the book in his lap and it nearly rolled off the edge, just stopping shy of it by a centimeter.

The die read twelve.

"Yeah!" Denise screamed, even standing and doing her own impromptu end zone dance, which even got a small applause from the other students.

"Thank you. Thank you," she bowed and took her seat beside Trev once again.

"Nice dance!" Trev complimented her.

"So what happened?" she asked, curious about how the scenario played out.

"Well, the ball flew through the air and you stepped back and forth trying to find the perfect place to catch it, but the sun gets in your eyes a bit and you have trouble seeing the ball," Trev narrated once again.

"You reach out, putting your hands where you think the ball will land, still unable to see the ball. Then it lands in your hands, bouncing once as you fumble with it, trying to hang onto it. Finally, after bouncing it between your hands, you get it tucked under your arm and sprint down the field all the way to the end zone!" Trev smiled at her.

"I get it! Because my roll was so close to what I needed, it was a close call..." Denise surmised quickly.

"See. You weren't the strongest. You weren't even the best athlete, but you still won in that situation. Why do you think that is?" Trev asked.

"Uhhhh... Because I'm clever?" she asked.

"Precisely! You used your brain to take advantage of what you had at your disposal. You made a plan that you'd go for the long shot and were able to get far enough away from the opposition when I threw it. You used your intelligence. If you had your own team full of these strong athletes, you'd be the one making the plans and they'd be the ones using their strength and athletics to make sure you won as a team," Trev smiled.

"So I can make any character I want, right?" Denise asked Trev, admiring him for his help in getting her to where she was now in terms of her understanding.

"You can," he said encouragingly.

"Even a boy?" she asked him.

"Even a boy. A Human. A Golluck. Aelves. Duarves. You choose," Trev explained to her.

"So the character doesn't have to be me. In other words, I'm not just taking a projection of myself and putting it into the Xarn game world, right?" asked Denise very analytically.

"That's why its called role-playing. I suppose some people like to play as themselves, but the real fun is in playing someone that is completely different from yourself, but that's your choice as the player," Trev explained to her and she began to understand the possibilities and the appeal.

"So if my character is strong and athletic, I'd be better off as a fighter, whereas if my character is smart, I'd be better off using magic, right?" asked Denise.

"Right. Not only that but if you're acrobatic, you might be a Rogue. If you're wise and healthy, you might be a Monk or a Cleric," Trev told her.

"So which do you do first, the ability scores or your profession?" asked Denise.

"Most games masters let you choose, and then allow you to move your ability scores around so that they suit the profession. I know that's how I do it. Nelson however is a bit more strict from what I know about him," Trev told her.

"If we get him as our games master, what kind of player are you going to be?" asked Denise.

"I don't know. I was thinking about being a Ranger, and then I thought I'd like the chance to play something else a bit different. A fighter type, though with a few differences," Trev described the character he was planning.

"Can we play as... well... can I be your wife?" Denise asked him directly.

"Wow. That was direct. Wouldn't it be better if we got to know each other as characters first, and then take it from there?" asked Trev very nervously and unsure of whether they were role-playing or being real.

"Alright, but I want our characters to know each other. To have a history together. I think it would be fun," she said playfully moving a bit closer to Trev, though she herself was on unfamiliar territory for she'd never flirted in her life.

Denise, though confident and intelligent, had remained very shy for most of her young life. By the time  she had begun to be noticed by boys, her intelligent persona had been a threatening deterrent to many of them. Men who preferred their women to be timid and uninformed.

As she got older and more experienced in life, she began to resent the men who pressured her into hiding her intelligence, for most of them only did as much so they could be made to feel smarter.

She could always detect them and generally did her best to stay away, which worked out for all, as there were women (and men) who preferred blissful ignorance. None of the friends in her circle ever expected Denise to dumb herself down, and most all of them welcomed her perspective and point of view, as often it would benefit them in some way.

When it came to dealing with people beyond their circle however, she had difficulty because not everyone was ready to accept such an intelligent woman or even that women could be that intelligent. In many ways this freed her up from social pressures that otherwise might have distracted her from her academic pursuits.

When Trev had joined their growing circle of friends, it was her that first took notice of him and she entertained the possibility that he might even like her. She struggled with the idea of flirtation, even discussing it at great length with Janet, when as chance would have it, Dane invited them to play Xarn in Mick's basement. 

During the course of the game she'd only hinted at it a few times, but Trev despite being mostly naïve had picked up on it right away. His way of dealing with was to pretend that he hadn't noticed. That when they both confronted the matter cordially, he would discuss it with her then.

Now it appeared that time had arrived and yet Trev found himself caught by the fact that if they talked about it, that it might take away the excitement and mystery of just seeing where it took them. Of letting things happen.

The serendipity of it all as it were.

They now both knew that they were attracted to each other, but they had to keep it fun. To make it an adventure.

As they nervously looked at each other, the coach's whistle pierced the air interrupting their moment.

"...I think the game is about to start..." Denise said to Trev timidly as Trev's face got closer to her's.

"Oh. So it is..." Trev responded quietly, still looking at her.

"So, break any new ground?" asked Dane as he climbed up onto the top bench at the back to take a seat beside Denise.

Denise and Trev were momentarily caught off guard by the question, both preferring to keep their attraction to one another hidden.

"...I meant with creating your Xarn character. Did you get one made yet?" asked Dane playfully.

"Trev had just finished explaining to me how the stats work, and I'm pretty confident that I've got it now," Denise assured Dane.

"Actually, we're going to be making the characters for Denise and Janet in the library, during lunch," Trev reminded Dane.

"I'll be there," Dane responded, suddenly having spotted Janet amongst the other cheerleaders.

He spied the cheerleaders for a moment, stopping at Janet as she stood out from the rest. She was wearing Stefan's football team sweater.

Dane cringed, visibly flushing at the sight.

The whistle sounded again signaling that the game was about to begin.

Arena Of Champions

There had long been a rivalry between their local school football team, the Cougars, and that of the opposing team who were known as the Hunters, though it went much deeper than their names alone.

The schools had essentially opened on the same year, some sixty years earlier. Five years after their having opened, they each formed their own football team as part of their athletics program and founded the secondary school league.

In the first year, there were only four teams though that number grew to seven teams the following year. By the end of the first decade, there were fourteen teams that spanned the entire city and by that time the stakes had become considerable. Not only was there the notoriety of winning the FAAC, the Football Athletics Academic Cup, but there was also the prize money. Money that would handsomely fund the athletics program of the winning team's school, allowing for better equipment and facilities, not to mention the post game party. A dance that was attended by staff and students alike.

In the first ten years of the league, the cup had made its rounds between six of the teams, staying with one of them for four years in a row. That team was the Hunters. On the eleventh year, in a brutally competitive playoff game, the Cougars took the cup from the Hunters, hence breaking their four year streak and at the eleventh hour as some would say.

For the decades that followed, this rivalry only grew to new heights as the cup found its way between those two teams, seldom making its way to another school. On three other occasions it did just that, but ended up stirring the competition between the schools considerably. Roughly fifteen years ago from the day's game, the Hunters took the cup, and for the last time in more than a decade it had not found a different home other than the locked glass cabinet of the Hunter's team school offices. 

During that rough game, the Cougars lost their star quarterback to injury mid-game. An injury that ended that player's football career. His participation in any athletics program from that time forward ceased, adding injury to the insult of loss and firing the hot coal embers of rivalry that much further.

Only once since that game did the Cougars manage to make it to the finals, the Hunters effectively holding onto the cup against them and the other school football teams of the region over those fourteen years. This year had initially started with a resounding *thud*, as the Cougars lost their first three games earlier in the season (two of those games against the Hunters). Then, by some miracle which many attributed to the locker room speech delivered by a legendary man of his own right otherwise known to the league as *the Coach*, the Cougar's performance rebounded, and from that point on, they'd lost only two games of the twenty one they'd played since then, of those games nine of them had been exhibition games over the summer vacation.

The year's season thus far, with the exception of the thud, had gone well for the Cougars. Much like their rivals, the Hunters, they found themselves making their way up the ranks and into one of the top places in the league ladder. Their momentum was definite and their game was on, but the competition was as fiercely eager to take the cup from the Hunters as were the Cougars. The Hunters in turn had trained a nearly unstoppable defense lineup for the season, while their star player, a running back, was nicknamed by the fans as the "Cheetah", after the namesake of the world's fastest land animal. A namesake that saw the mammalian Cheetah as one of the most successful hunters of the wild. The Hunters' Cheetah had taken down as many of the opposing team players running for the Hunters' end zone as he had scored for their team during the seaon.

The Stefan was the Cougar's star player, a quarterback with an impressive history of landing the ball in the arms of another Cougar in the end zone, or getting it there himself. Despite his game performance, he was nowhere near as popular during game time as was the Cheetah, who even had a draw of fans from other schools in the audience of every game. Stefan didn't lack the enthusiasm of his peers in the school, for they supported him wholeheartedly and the turnout in games had never been higher in their history. To himself he wasn't lacking anything, least of all an overinflated ego, though most of his life he'd been tripping over himself. Most people though were in much the same or similar boat, while those that weren't tended to see the swelling wound on him every time he did.

The cheerleaders danced on the sidelines as the two teams took their positions on the field. By that time the audience had grown considerably, as many students from other schools were attending the game as well. Some of them routing for the Hunters, and others for the Cougars. Along the sidelines just outside of the Cougar's Den, Minnie and Janet led the introductory team cheer, encouraging the audience to their feet to dance along with them as the music poured out through the conical loud speakers. The Coach paced the sidelines, his eyes firmly fixed on Stefan, reminding him about what they'd earlier discussed. Stefan nodded as he adjusted his jock strap, and stretched his legs before taking his position behind the running back in center field.

The first lineup of the Hunters were in position, ready for Stefan's kick-off. The running back held the ball in place as Stefan focused on it intensely. He eyed the left side of the ball from his perspective, lining up his internal balance as his tension reached its peak.

Stefan ran forward aggressively in a controlled sprint, his right foot connecting almost perfectly with the left side of the ball, just beneath its perch. The ball initially spiraled end over end, eventually correcting itself into a linear, lengthwise spin as the motion tensor caught up with its angular momentum. The ball was now moving aerodynamically, generating its own lift, though not where one would expect it. The ball continued on its trajectory forward as the air pressure to its right side built up, forcing it suddenly to the left.

The Hunters ran for the ball, their quarterback, Casey Clemins positioning himself where he thought the ball was going to land. Instead, that build up of pressure manifest in angular lift that directed the ball sideways. The ball arced suddenly, Casey side stepping as fast as he could to correct his intercept. The ball missed his cupped arms by half a foot, bouncing high and tumbling down field towards the Hunter's end zone.

It chaotically bounced end over end, as the Hunters chased it, the Cougars advancing further infield into their own end. At the sidelines, the Coach's smile stretched across his face amidst the cheers of both the cheerleaders and the fans.

"That's my team!" he said aloud as he watched their opening play unfold.

The ball side spun one last time as Denny, one of the experienced Hunters snatched it up, tucking it protectively under his folded arm. His sprint barely lost momentum as he curved across field, his cleets digging in as he arced back towards the Cougar's end of the field. The rest of the Hunters quickly improvised a defense strategy for him, blockers angling their line against the oncoming Cougars offense.

Denny narrowly dodged the first of them, jumping with his left just as Mark, one of the Cougar's linebackers dove for his right foot. Denny continued his curve, just narrowly missing the sideline as he continued forward, Hunters and Cougars closing on his position.

Denny passed another, and then one more as the third in the current assault collided head on with him, the two impacting with a sudden full body clap in mid-air. Gravity took hold, folding them both at the brink of shock to the surface of the unwelcoming turf, as the crowd rose to their feet to see.

"The Hunters will start their assault on the Cougar's home field from the thirty yard line..." a voice announced over the speakers as the Coach nodded his head in satisfaction.

Stefan jogged casually back to the sideline, the cheerleading team facing him as he passed them on his way to the Coach.

Dane watched Janet intensely as he sat beside Denise and Trev, who were now as entwined with each other as they were the Cougar's game.

"Looks like the Cougars are winning and you're losing," Mick arrived, shaking his head as he saw Janet in Stefan's sweater, immediately knowing the score.

"Huh? Oh. Naw. Its a cold morning. She's just keeping warm," Dane responded diplomatically as Mick shook his head.

"She's keeping warm? In the quarterback's team sweater? Man, you have some serious delusions about women and quarterbacks..." Mick suggested cautiously.

"Look, if you're trying to help... just..." Dane began as a familiar curve approached from the left side of his vision, distracting him from Janet's sweater.

Sherisse walked carefully across the gravel to a front-line seat, where she sat by herself, the books of her last class still in hand.

Dane focused on her intensely as she organized herself, crossing her legs and perching her books on her knee, drawing the attention of half of the field's men in the process. She quickly fanned through the top book to a page of her choosing, which she focused upon, looking momentarily over to Dane, who blushed, looking away from her.

The Cougars and Hunters in the meantime set themselves up for the first down of the game. 

At that moment, Dane watched as Sherisse had suddenly become the same Princess from his first imaginings of her. Her long flowing hair dangled beneath her tiara, flowing with the moving air.

She was perched on a golden chair. A modest throne before a gladiatorial field, where numerous warriors prepared themselves for their battle of truth, having just sworn their oath of fealty. Many still kneeled, their foreheads pressed against the flat of their blade as they prepared for what was to come.

Squires cleaned their scabbards and polished their blades vigorously, as the gladiators prepared themselves for the opportunity to formally earn their honour from the crown.

"Passing are you?" a groggled voice spoke beside Dane.

Dane looked over to where Mick was standing, and instead saw a tall, muscular behemoth of a man. A beast. Perhaps both.

A pair of horns jutted out from the beast-man's cheeks. His eyes dark and piercing, yet soft and wise while a large hammer was slung over his shoulder.

Dane's blue jeans had disappeared and he now adorned in ringed armour, from the nape of the neck to heel. A shapely breast plate covered his chest as it gleamed in the late morning light.

His ringed gauntlet hand gripped the hilt of his bastard's edged blade. A sizeably forged weapon hilt which a skilled warrior could wield with just one, or if force required, both hands for a full forced swing.

"Passing? As in graduate you surely mean?" Dane challenged the ominous man-beast.

"No. I clearly implied passing, as in - giving up - as in - wussing out" the beast-man snickered.

"You trifle with your life, Golluck, and so easily I might add by the implication that I might give up!" Dane 
challenged the larger man, Dane's blade pressed firmly into the dirt between their mutual opposition.

Dane stared the larger man squarely in the eyes, though found no fault of character within.

"And what by the stars is a wuss?" pressed Dane, his ring-mail gauntlets clanked against the hilt of his blade.

"A beast of unimaginable proportions. Far above the skill to fetch by the likes as one of your being," the Golluck stood fiercly, unmoved by Dane's challenge.

"Wait a second there sly talking tall guy. You lost me there. I'm a wuss? Or wusses are tall sly talking guys. Kind of" Dane challenged the Golluck, whose face seemed suddenly distracted.

The Golluck pointed, his index finger, following something through the air as it fell along a curve destined for the onlookers of the audience before them.

"The Princess!" Dane exclaimed, running for Sherisse as he followed the Golluck's direction.

Dane suddenly dived, reaching out and grabbing something from the air as he landed at Sherisse's feet, rolling to a stop.

He looked up at her, and for the first time, she addressed him.

"I am in your debt, brave and gallant protector from death," she said to him as he lay faceup, focused on her shapely face.

Dane shook his head, as if something weren't quite right.

"Pardon?" Dane asked Sherisse.

"I said thank you, that was a pretty good catch. Is that your breath?" she quizzed him.

Dane cupped his between his mouth and nose, and sniffed.

"Nope. Not me," Dane responded to Sherisse.

"I think its coming from you..." Mick responded, referring to Sherisse.

At that exact moment, the Coach approached Dane, looking at him on the ground.

"Son, did you catch that ball yourself?" the Coach asked Dane.

"I did, sir," Dane responded.

The Coach quickly reached into his track pants pockets, grabbing a set of keys from within.

He then tossed them unexpectedly onto Dane, hitting him square in the forehead.

Between Dane's eyes the keys lay for a second before either of them responded.

"No. I guess not. Thought you might be a natural," the Coach stood looking over Dane who still lay on the ground beneath Sherisse' boots.

The Coach retrieved the keys from Dane's forehead and from that point ignored him, returning his focus to the field.

Meanwhile, Sherisse returned her attention to Dane, smiling at him seductively.

"That really was a good catch you know. Not many guys could have made that," she smiled at him, her lips forming a shapely and glossy bow.

"I good catch..." Dane replied, suddenly absent of linguistic skill in her presence, lost and blubbering.

She leaned forward and laid an affectionaly wet kiss on his forehead.

"You really are extraordinary, aren't you?" Sherisse asked him, still looking over him as he lay on the ground before her.

"No M'aam. We're going to be legendary..." Dane responded, lost in her eyes as he thought about her and Xarn.

"Can't lay there all day," Mick walked over to his friend and offered his hand.

"Thanks man," Dane accepted it, hoisting himself to his feet.

"I'm Dane. Dane Pirgins. At your service," Dane bowed for Sherisse, throwing it on nearly as thick as he had bowed for the Princess during the previous day's game.

"Pleased to meet you, Dane. I'm Sherisse, but you can call me Sherry," she responded timidly, looking up at him from the bench.

"I'm Mick. Mick Pha," Mick introduced himself.

Sherry looked to her right, eyeing a man who stood on the other end of the rafters from them. He shook his head negatively in disapproval ever so discretely. Neither Dane nor Mick noticed as their attention was entirely focused on Sherry. She looked down for a moment, a sudden sadness on her face.

"Is everything alright?" asked Dane.

"Look, I've got to go. It was nice meeting you," Sherry stood up, her books in hand as she turned towards the school and began to walk.

"Are doing anything later? After the game?" asked Dane, catching up with her.

"I'm sorry Dane, but I don't think we should be talking," Sherry continued on, now looking down as she picked up her pace.

"Why? What did I do? I thought maybe...?" Dane kept up with her.

"It isn't you. Its me. We shouldn't speak. It was nice talking with you and you truly are a gentleman, but I've got to go and we can't talk," Sherry continued, a look of emotional pain on her face.

Mick grabbed a hold of Dane's arm, holding him back from following her.

"Whatcha doing man?" Dane asked his friend, pulling against him.

"Come on. Lets watch the game. She doesn't want to talk, and in our books, when a girl doesn't want to talk, we honour that, don't we?" Mick looked at him, as if reminding him of something he'd momentarily lost.

"'re right. Very well," Dane responded, still looking to Sherry as she strode towards the back entrance of the school.

"You did everything you could, and she still didn't want to talk to us. Let it go," Mick said to Dane as they walked back to the bench.

From the sideline of the field, Janet looked on, having saw the entire exchange. She wasn't sure if what she was feeling was jealousy, or just sympathetic remorse for one of her friends.

Dane caught her glance as he walked with Mick, feeling a sudden tinge of guilt for having spoken with Sherry while Janet was so near. Then he saw her sweater once again, which had clearly been given to her by Stefan, and a sense of justification came over him. Ultimately though, he didn't realize that it was really a form emotional vengeance he harboured towards Janet for having accepted Stefan's sweater. 

A moment's more introspection and he realized the destructiveness of his state of mind, consequently feeling guilt and anguish for it. He suddenly recalled a conversation he'd had with his parents a few months earlier, which ended with his father telling him that growing up was hard to do, but that some of the most difficult things in life were the most rewarding.

He thought about Janet, and then Sherry. He then wondered what he should do, suddenly wishing that he'd had his Mini-Book with him.

"I can handle everything in class. Even the math, though sometimes it sucks. I can handle homework. I can even handle my chores at home. But there's one thing I can't handle and that's women," Dane said, shaking his head as he walked with Mick.

"Look man, get over it. She didn't want you. Janet clearly does. What's the problem?" asked Mick.

"Does she? Then why is she wearing Stefan's football sweater?" asked Dane.

"Remember that time you left your gym clothes at home, and you had to borrow some from me?" asked Mick.

"Yeah. What about it? I said I'd give them back, I just forgot them again... even though that was like last year," Dane replied semi-apologetically.

"That's not my point. My point is that just because I loaned you my gym clothing, its not a mark on you to say that I own you. You're treating Janet's situation like that," Mick suggested to his friend.

Dane thought about it for a moment and then replied.

"You think that Stefan owns Janet?" asked Dane accusingly.

"No man! I said that he doesn't own her, whether he gave her his shirt or not. If she's wearing it, maybe she didn't have hers with her?" Mick responded defensively.

"When a girl wears guy's clothing, they're sending a signal to everyone else that they belong to him," Dane replied, drawing from his superstitious understanding of social acumen.

"I don't know where you got that from, but that's not true," Mick replied, a comical smile on his face.

"Alright Romeo. If you're such a expert on women, then why are you single? Huh?" asked Dane accusingly.

"Don't go there. I'm trying to help you and you're being a total jerk," Mick replied as they arrived back at the bench, taking a seat beside each other.

Suddenly, the crowd cheered, distracting Mick and Dane from their conversation. They both turned to see what was happening in the game and quickly saw what had unfolded.

The Hunters had tried a passing play, which was blocked by one of the Cougar defense men. He'd knocked the ball out of the path of the receiver just before he'd caught it. The ball had spun, flying through the air as the Hunters scrambled to adapt to this new situation.

Stefan had appeared from behind one of the Hunters, jumping up to intercept the ball, holding it tight in both his hands as he landed on his feet. With the nearest Hunter more than four meters away, he began a sprint, taking the ball down field towards the Hunter end zone, the crowd cheering as he ran. He ran the ball forty yards before one of the Hunters was able to take him down with a well timed leg tackle. The crowd was on its feet, cheering for Stefan as he got to his feet, holding the ball high in the air and waving. The Cougars had managed to get the ball to the thirty yard line, into the Hunter's side of the field.

Stefan walked casually off the field to the sidelines, still waving to the crowd and handing high fives to his team mates as he approached Janet. Janet, who'd long since returned to ignoring Dane was focused on Stefan, now the star player of the day. She was intoxicated with his sudden attention, and as he approached, he opened his arms and gave her a big hug, lifting her into the air and spinning with her. She did little if anything to resist him, but rather enjoying the team's moment and the good feeling when things come together.

Mick looked on, smiling for them as he sat beside Dane. Dane suddenly and playfully hit his friend in the chest.

"Come on man! I though you were on my side?" Dane asked Mick, in shock.

Mick's smile disappeared, turning to an empathic display for his friend.

"Oh boy. That's not good. It's *good*, but its not good," Mick responded, referring to Janet's apparent attraction to 
Stefan, speaking diplomatically on the matter.

"I'm outta here," Dane suddenly stood up, grabbed his knapsack and left Mick by his lonesome.

"Hi Dane," Denise waved to him as he quickly headed back to the school, but he simply ignored her.

"What's up with him?" asked Trev.

"...I think I know what happened..." Denise said, suddenly realizing that he had feelings for Janet.

She pointed to Janet and Stefan, both of whom were still locked in a loving embrace.

"Ohhhhh," Trev said.

"We can talk with him at the library later," Denise reminded Trev.

"If he even shows up," Trev responded, returning his attention to Denise's character sheet.

The football game continued, seeing the crowd though an exciting ride as the school day crept on.

Ironically, it was as Dane had predicted, for the Cougars had a legendary win.

The final score was Cougars, 13. The Hunters, 6.

The Hall Of Tomes

Denise and Trev were already seated side by side near the back of the library. They were at the only table that would be able to accommodate them all, once their friends had arrived.

In front of each were their notebooks and their morning's homework assignments. Both were self disciplined and tended to take on their assignments at the first opportunity. That in turn gave them plenty of time after school for other activities, but both tended to use their spare time for reading or listening to their favourite radio station on their earpod headphones and walkman devices.

Beside Trev were all of the player and character reference manuals for Xarn, while at the top were a stack of pre-printed blank character sheets he'd prepared before they sat down. They were in every sense, ready to go with the character creation. They only needed players, and most of all, they still needed Nelson.

Trev chewed on the end of his pen as he contemplated his morning's math assignment.

"Who do you prefer? Pythagoras or Euler?" Trev asked Denise, curious about her perspective regarding the two giants of mathematics.

"I thought we were going to take things slowly. Now you're asking me the kind of question that plagues the minds of real long term lovers?" Denise adjusted her glasses and blushed at Trev, who in turn blushed himself.

"I'm curious. Really," Trev smiled at her from behind his drooping bangs.

"You're working on a Pythagoras question, aren't you?" she asked him, already able to read him quite well.

"Maybe. So what's your answer?" he pressed her, still smiling.

"Promise my answer won't affect how you think of me?" Denise held up her pinky.

"We're making pinky promises already? Alright. I pinky promise," Trev wrapped his pinky around hers and stated his promise.

"Euler," Denise stated flatly.

"Really?! I mean Pythagoras! Come on! You don't think that Pythagoras' theorem is like the most important theorem in existence?" Trev responded in shock.

"You pinky promised!" Denise reminded him.

"But we're talking about Pythagoras' theorem!" Trev defended his passion for the formula.

"Its still Euler for me," Denise returned her attention to her own homework, a mischievous smile on her face.

"Care to explain?" asked Trev, still in shock that she chose the opposite side, as if it were an omen that their emerging relationship might be ill fated.

"Euler angles are required for aeronautical navigation," Denise explained to Trev.

"No kidding, but you won't know how far you've traveled without Pythagoras," Trev defended his stance.

"You won't know where you are or what direction you're going without Euler," Denise responded.

"...and Magellan, but we'll keep that separate," Trev replied.

"Its still Euler for me," Denise stood her ground.

"I can't believe this!" Trev responded, clearly frazzled and enticed by her stubbornness.

"My parents both work in aviation. That's how they met. My dad's an engineer, while my mom is an instruments specialist. Euler is a big part of their career," Denise explained to Trev.

Trev thought about it, and weighed it in his head before nodding in acceptance to Denise.

"I could see that. That's pretty awesome. So maybe they had a conversation like we're having now at some point?" asked Trev.

"Maybe..." Denise's smile remained as she continued with her own homework.

"My dad's a truck driver by the way. Maybe that explains my bias towards Pythagoras," Trev said to her.

"I bet. What kind of truck does he drive?" asked Denise.

"A big rig. A tractor trailer," Trev told her proudly.

"He must get to see a lot of places," Denise said politely.

"Naaa. Not anymore. He used to when he drove long distance. But then he settled down and started a family, and now he drives mostly in the city," Trev told Denise.

There was a moment of silence between them.

"He's a pretty smart guy. He's the one who taught me about Pythagoras. Euler. He probably could have been an engineer, but he loves driving a truck..." Trev responded making Denise a little bit uneasy.

"Sounds like you're comparing," Denise looked to him empathetically.

"No! Maybe. No matter, I'm proud of him. Of both my parents. My mother works as a cartographer," Trev defended.

"Really? So both our parents are in transportation! We're practically on the same team together then," Denise rescued the situation, causing Trev to smile.

"I guess we are," he said, suddenly feeling much closer to her.

Dane threw his books down hard on the table, startling them both as he fell into his seat beside them.

"I don't even know why I try," Dane spoke in a frustrated voice, announcing his presence with a start.

Dane craned his head over to look at Denise and Trev, who appeared calm and collect despite his loud arrival.

"The drama deepens..." Trev said, mimicking the sound of an announcer for a daytime soap opera.

" he hero, or villain. Only time will tell..." Denise continued with her own announcer's voice.

They watched him closely, but no signs of a smile emerged despite their best efforts.

"Is it the thing about the shirt Janet was wearing?" asked Trev.

Dane remained silent, instead preferring them to do all the work for their friendship.

"She's her own person, Dane. Her wearing Stefan's shirt was no different than if she were wearing yours and it offended Stefan," Denise spoke up for her friend and for women's rights.

"But I thought she liked me..." Dane started.

"Maybe she does, but have you ever gone to any length to give her a sign that you like her or are willing to try? Or are you just keeping her as a contingency. I've seen how you've been looking at that new girl," Denise addressed Dane directly on the issue.

Dane didn't know how to describe the politics of love, and the secret tug of war that often occurred between its players. He only knew that he felt a strong connection with Janet, but that she knew it and was toying with him. It was as if it were a power she had over him. A power she was readily exploiting. From his limited perspective, it was her doing.

"I don't know what to do anymore," Dane said in a hopelessly dramatic voice.

Denise rolled her eyes and secretly gagged herself at his comment, while Trev did his best not to laugh.

Dane was one of his best friends and had proven it on many occasions, yet Dane had his own issues. His own path lay yet ahead of him and he certainly had his own growing up to do. Trev could see that Dane was one of the few patches of wet cement in a sea of drying pavement.

Trev knew that he himself would be soft and easy going for most of his life. That people would expect that of him, and only when he was, would they be familiar with him. With Dane however, Trev saw that life somehow expected his friend to be the solid man. The chiseled sculpture, hardened and immovable. He was living in a world that would not accept him any other way. Yet, there was the chance that he may never end up that way himself. It was simply a question of which would break first. Trev feared the answer, for Dane's sake alone.

"Why don't we invite the new girl to play?" the idea came to Trev quickly and fluidly.

"What are you talking about? We already have a big group, don't we?" asked Denise, perhaps unconsciously vying for Janet.

"We'll probably be playing here, during the week, and at Mick's on the weekend. Here, they'll let us use the meeting room as long as we register as a club with the Principal's Office. At Mick's, he's got a huge basement and his parents even told us once they prefer us playing at their place, than not knowing where we are," Trev answered Denise.

"She said she can't see me..." Dane admitted.

"Who? The new girl?" asked Trev, Denise looked at Dane.

"Her name's Sherry. Anyway, I talked to her and she said she can't see me," Dane told them, looking very glum.

"I thought you were on about Janet, and now you're talking about the new girl like you've known her as long?" asked Denise, who couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"There's something about her... I just can't stop thinking about her," Dane admitted, once again sounding like a cliché from a daytime soap opera.

"And when Janet's around wearing another guy's sweater, you can't stop thinking about her!" Denise spoke up in defense of her own best friend.

"He's... confused," Trev defended Dane.

"He doesn't want a girlfriend. He wants a brothel!" Denise exclaimed, drawing the attention of the rest of the library.

"Shhhh!" someone in the library quickly urged them to be more quiet.

"Look, maybe you're right. We should invite Sherry. I think it would be kind of fun, not to mention she doesn't have any friends here. She might like us," Dane turned to face them now having unloaded his tension onto Denise without realizing it.

"In that case, we should invite Stefan too!" Denise came to a balancing conclusion.

"He's a jock. He'd never play Xarn..." Dane said, not realizing that Stefan was in the library and only an aisle away from their table when he heard the mention of his name.

"Hey guys. I heard you talking and I won't play what?" Stefan popped out from behind the aisle, asking defensively as if it were an assault on his reputation.

"Xarn. We're setting up a game of Xarn. Its boring nerd stuff," Dane did his best to talk it down.

"Yeah, you wouldn't like it and Janet's going to be playing. Janet likes smart guys and well, Dane here thinks you're not smart enough..." Denise started playing their game against them.

"Are you kidding me? I was on the checkers team last year!" Stefan said proudly.

"Impressive," Trev nodded, as Dane kicked his leg under the table.

"The Coach said it would make me a better tactician on the field. Now you're telling me that I'm not smart enough to play Xarn and Janet's playing to boot! Could you guys at least vote?" asked Stefan, almost pleading with them to let him play.

"I vote yay!" Denise's hand immediately went up.

"I'm nay on that!" Dane said without hesitating after Denise's vote.

Denise and Dane both looked at Trev intensely, as he peered nervously back and forth between the two.

"I vote yay..." Trev said with his hand up, though he nodded his head negatively side to side so as to cover both bases.

"Alright! So when are you playing?" asked Stefan.

"We'll be starting on Friday evening if we can get Nelson," Denise told him, looking to Trev and Dane who both cringed.

"You're going to need a character, and Janet's going to be here in two minutes to create hers. If you stick around, we'll help you make yours too," Denise offered, as Dane slapped his forehead.

A couple of aisles over, Sherry was going through the shelves in the Emily Dickinson section, when to her left, she noticed a man peering over to her. She purposely ignored the older man, instead moving further down the aisle away from him. As she approached the end of the aisle, she bumped into another man, who began mumbling the words to a familiar song:

You're never going to get away,
Never ever will you ever stray,
You're never going to get away,
From me,

You can run and you can hide,
But never will you find the stride,
To stop my feelings deep inside,

You're never going to get away,
You never will, I'm here to stay,
You're never going to get away,

From me,

Sherry's heart raced as she felt the panicked turmoil of trauma welling up in her. She turned back down the aisle from whence she'd came, but the other man had his eyes fixated on her. It was obvious that they were closing in on her. It was too late. She'd been found. Even after running from school to school, they always eventually caught up with her.

She quickly peered through the shelves and saw a familiar face sitting at a table not far.

Stefan had just pulled up a chair and was now sitting at the table with them. The smell of Polo cologne strong in the air. Denise had begun explaining about the game and the characters, drawing upon what she'd learned from Trev, while Trev oversaw her, jumping in here and there to fill in the blanks.

Dane sat at the table across from them when Sherry came up behind him and kissed him gently on the cheek.

"Hi honey. How's your day going?" she asked him, taking a seat beside him.

The Polo filled air around Dane was quickly replaced with a sweet and subtle perfume that quickly got his attention.

"Good?" Dane answered, secretly hoping that he'd answered correctly as he pinched his leg beneath the table to be sure that he wasn't dreaming.

"I was just finishing up finding my books for my English lit project," Sherry laid a book of the works of Emily Dickinson on the table, catching Denise's attention.

"You like Emily?!" Denise said in complete and utter anticipated shock.

"I do, but I've only read a few of her works. Why?" asked Sherry.

"Are you kidding? Emily Dickinson is like my favourite poet and author of all time!" Denise stopped long enough to address Sherry.

"Oh really? Well Dane and I are going to be spending a lot of time together. Aren't we honey? Maybe we you could help me with my project?" asked Sherry of Denise, looking back to Dane whose face had turned completely blush like a man whose poor luck had done an about face.

"I'd love to! Sorry, my named Denise," Denise introduced herself.

"Stefan. Captain of the football team," Stefan stood, presenting his best canned smile for Sherry.

"Trev. Pagan new wave nerd at your service," Trev smiled, introducing himself.

The two men who'd frightened Sherry, now walked purposely into her view behind Stefan and Denise attempting to intimidate her.

The same one continued speaking the words to the same song quietly, further stressing Sherry.

Sherry leaned closer to Dane, grabbing his hand and holding it tightly. At that moment, he knew something was wrong. It was then that he too heard the man mumbling the words causing Sherry such stress and anguish.

You're never going to get away,
Never ever will you ever stray,
You're never going to get away,
From me,

You can run and you can hide,
But never will you find the stride,
To stop my feelings deep inside,

You're never going to get away,
You never will, I'm here to stay,
You're never going to get away,

From me,

She squeezed his hand tighter and whispered in his ear.

"Don't let them do this to me. Please," she pleaded with him, holding onto him.

He continued listening to the words, and all at once he began to understand why she'd left him during the football game.

"Excuse me. Do you have business with my friend here?" asked Dane of the two men who were very obviously maintaining a proximity to someone at the table.

"What are you talking about? Are you ill?" asked one of them.

"Maybe he forgot to take his medication or something," the other one said.

"Are these guys bothering you?" asked Stefan of Dane, standing up to his full height to face them.

"They're bothering my girlfriend here," Dane stood up himself to add to their presence.

"What are you talking about, I don't even know you," one of them said to Dane, then looking to Sherry as if to mock her.

"They're trying to freak my girlfriend out. I'd suggest that you get lost now, or there's going to be trouble," Dane challenged them again, leaning over the table as if he were ready to leap across at them.

"You heard him. Get moving now!" Stefan said to them, each of them with a snide smile on their face as if they'd succeeded in their goal.

"Don't let me ever catch you doing this to my girlfriend or any other woman again!" Dane spoke up loudly, something fierce in him awakened.

"That is clearly messed up! He didn't take his medication!" The two men walked towards the exit of the school library, bumping into Janet as she was coming in.

"They didn't hurt you, did they?" Stefan moved quickly over to Janet.

"No. What's going on?" Janet asked, amidst the sudden confusion as the two men left, attempting to fade into obscurity.

Dane sat down beside Sherry, who was now at the brink of tears. She wrapped her arms around Dane, and he cautiously returned the gesture. Although this was the stuff of his dreams, he felt it wrong to take advantage of the situation this way. Would she have come over to him on her own in the absence of this sudden need, he asked himself. It was at that moment that he realized something very important. He realized the difference between when someone seeks to be near you for social convenience, and when someone seeks to be near you because they want to be near you.

He realized that what he'd wanted with Janet was all about his own social convenience. Ensuring that she would be there, when he'd gone through every other option with every other girl. It wasn't about her or their friendship at all. It was all about him. Meanwhile, when he'd seen Sherry for the first time, he felt like he wanted to know her. To get to know her, though he didn't want for it to be a case of her simply needing someone to protect her. That could be anyone, and the deciding factor would have nothing to do with either of them wanting each other or to know each other. However, if they did get to know each other, and she chose to be with him, and he with her, it was meant to be.

He looked at her situation, which was clearly a difficult one for in the short period of time she'd come to him seeking protection, those men trying to cause her stress had pushed her to her limits. The fact that she had come to him indicated that she trusted him. Trust. The foundation upon which every successful relationship is built.

In those few moments, he'd reached an epiphany. As if he'd leveled up in his understanding of life and love. And now the woman he'd dreamt of had come to him. The trust was there, and he'd proven he was worthy of it, but would this magnetism between them remain? 

What kind of man would he be if he simply preyed upon a woman in need. As they sat there wrapped around each other, his earlier thoughts of self involvement had abandoned him, and now his mind was on her and her situation.

"I'm sorry I left you at the game earlier," she finally leaned back from their embrace to face him.

"That's alright. So are you here because you want to be, or because you needed some protection?" asked Dane calmly.

"Both," she looked him square in his eyes and he saw only truth.

"We're going to be playing a game together on Friday evening," Dane began, handing her a dry tissue he'd produced from his knapsack.

"What game?" she asked him, wiping her eyes.

"Xarn. I think you'd like it. It has you written all over it," Dane smiled.

"I'd love to play, but you and your friends are going to have to teach me how," Sherry told him.

"My friends? I'd say they're your friends now too," Dane responded as Stefan returned with Janet at the table.

"Dane," Janet said quickly and quaintly, still aware of the earlier tension between them.

"Look, Janet... I'm sorry. You deserve better than to be treated like a second choice," Dane said to her directly.

"Wait, someone was treating you like that? Where is he? Point him out to me?!" Stefan reactively became defensive for Janet again.

"Don't worry about him. That jerk's gone. He must have ran off with those other creeps..." Janet said to them, looking at Dane assuredly.

"Sherry, this is my good friend Janet. Janet, meet Sherry," Dane introduced two of the most prevalent women in his life to each other.

"Pleased to meet you Janet. So, are you into Emily Dickinson too?" asked Sherry.

"We're working our way up to introducing Janet to Emily. However, we're still one author back on the Dewey decimal system at Dickens as it stands now," Denise responded for Janet.

"Oh my gosh! I got like an A- for that Dickens assignment this morning!" Janet quickly gave a hug to Denise.

"What are friends for?" Denise smiled.

"Sorry we're late guys. Let's get to it," Mick arrived with Ken, the two of them sitting down beside one another.

"Something happen while we were gone?" Ken looked around the table, now seeing Janet with Stefan and the newly arrived Sherry with Dane.

"No. Just a couple more players," Denise responded casually.

The friends converged on the table as they each began creating their characters for Xarn.

Ironically though, the characters they created had been taking shape within each of them for their entire lives, and yet it was as if they'd just been born at that very table.

No Nelson, Half Nelson, Full Nelson

He arrived at his locker standing before it as if in shock. Taped to it was a crudely crafted note complete with an equally crude diagram, all hand drawn in crayon. Nelson for the life of him couldn't make heads or tails of it, and whatever was intended by the cruelty was completely lost to illegibility.

"Welcome to another day in the life of Nelson," he said aloud as he ripped the note from his locker, crumpled it up and went to throw it into a nearby waste basket.

At the last moment, he hesitated, instead tossing it into one of the newly arrived recycling bins.

"A couple of months from now, and I'll be tearing more hate mail from my locker, recycled from the very same paper and wax as said discarded note. Oh the irony of it," he said as he ritually twisted the dial on his lock to gain access to his locker.

The locker door swung open to reveal a door covered with various post-it notes containing random facts and statistics from his classes. Within the center of the post-it note wallpaper, a tiny vanity mirror sat centered at face height.

Nelson checked his expertly trimmed moustache proudly in the mirror. He'd been one of the few that had been hit by puberty early, and had for the span of a year and a half, been cultivating his moustache since then. Neighbouring the mirror was a picture of Alex Trebek, against whose moustache he compared his own.

"Almost. Not quite, but almost," he said proudly, twisting the corner of his own moustache until it curled upward.

"Nelson, ready for the jog this afternoon?" one of the Physed teachers walked by.

"I've got a note from my parents. Bronchial Asthma, Mr. Fowler," Nelson responded.

"Push-ups it is," Mr. Fowler responded as he continued towards the gymnasium.

"And I was just starting to get to know you," Nelson tapped his slightly pudgy belly.

"At least you've got a bit of a stretch before afternoon classes," a pretty girl said from behind him.

Nelson turned to see that it was Minnie, one of the cheerleaders for the football team. He looked at her skeptically. She just stood there batting her eyelashes at him innocently. He then looked around, up and down the main corridor until he spotted Mick, Ken and Janet, each of whom quickly turned away looking in another direction.

"Did he see us?" asked Janet.

"I don't know..." Ken responded, trying to use his larger size to hide them all.

Nelson turned back to Minnie.

"The answer is no," Nelson said to the short cute girl.

"But I haven't even asked you yet?" she responded.

"Then please do ask," Nelson turned to her again with a smile.

"Nelson. Would you like to be the games master for a game of Xarn for us?" Minnie asked him, throwing her seductive charm on thick.

Nelson's smile grew wide, even beneath the perfection of his moustache.

"No," he simply responded, turning back to his locker and exchanging one set of books in his bag for another from the shelves within.

Minnie moved in closer to him, and looked up at him pleadingly.

"Pretty please," she said softly, her pink lips and glowing cheeks framing her perfect eyes.

"You're a good friend. You know that?" Nelson said to her politely reaching for her hand.

He held his out for a moment, and she cautiously put her hand in his.

He then led her down the hall, all the way to where Ken was covering for Janet and Mick, the three of them still trying to remain hidden.

Nelson tapped Ken's back. Ken turned around, a look of surprise on his face worthy of an oscar.

"Nelson? What brings you to this corner of the school?" Ken responded, remaining completely oblivious as to why Nelson would have approached them, though in all truth he knew fully well.

"Hi Nelson!" Janet said enthusiastically, waving with her fingers.

Mick stood there in shock, perhaps a victim of stage fright, or his own idolization of the most legendary games master of all.

Nelson smiled at them, all three.

"Did you guys lose a Minnie?" he gave her hand over to Mick, who stood silently holding onto her, unsure of how to respond.

"The answer is still a resounding no!" Nelson said to them, his smile unwavering.

"And Minnie, don't sacrifice your dignity for friends that don't have the where-with-all to come ask me themselves," with that Nelson turned and headed back to his locker.

"Did you hear that! That's the stuff of legends! Not only did he save face for Minnie, despite the fact that she tried to seduce him, he put it all right back in our lap," Mick said to them, still in awe.

"Whoa dude. That was intense," Ken added.

"He's pretty slick. I'm beginning to understand your bro-mance for him," Janet said to them.

"Does that mean you don't want me to play?" asked Minnie, seeing as their agreement was that if she could get Nelson to run their game, they'd let her play.

"Of course you can play," Janet promised her.

"He was totally right. He saw right through us even before Minnie approached him," Ken realized.

"Maybe we need to approach him as equals rather than sucking up to him," Janet suggested.

"He's pretty smart, right?" Ken asked.

"He's near the top of the school in grades. Yeah, he's pretty darn quick," Mick agreed.

"We need to give him something that's a challenge to him. A challenge worthy of his attention. Something that stumps us," Ken suggested.

"What, you mean like our homework?" Mick asked them.

"Not really. I mean Denise already helps me there," Janet responded, feeling a smidgen of guilt, especially given the fact that they were considering a way to lure Nelson into their service.

"Don't you get it? He really was right about us. Look at us. We're scheming for a way to trick him into this. By all right we don't deserve him," Mick suddenly realized.

"Hey guys," Dane approached just having finished his first class.

They all looked at Dane, and looked down.

"That good eh? I take it he said no?" Dane confirmed with them.

"He didn't just say no. He changed us in ways we haven't fully been able to grasp yet," Mick replied, still pondering.

"How's Sherry doing, Dane?" asked Minnie sympathetically, having already heard that she was having difficulty with mean people.

"I saw her this morning before class and she's much better, thank you for asking, Minnie. I'm still trying to piece this together. Why would those guys follow her around?" Dane asked somewhat rhetorically.

"She is pretty. I mean, you guys don't always hear the kind of stuff that happens to women. The stuff we sometimes overlook. Just try to forget," Janet responded.

"I have my butt secretly pinched at least twice every week," Minnie said, the guilt she felt in even saying so was apparent on her face.

"I've had my breasts grabbed three times already and we're only in the first month of the school year," Janet added.

"Most girls don't talk about it because we don't want to make our guy friends feel bad about being guys... and because there's still a lot of people who still see it as complaining..." Minnie said, shrugging her shoulders.

"Sounds to me as if Sherry has the doozie of girl problems that way," Janet agreed with Minnie's observations.

"I don't feel right talking about this without Sherry, but we have to do something. For her sake," Dane agreed.

"That's it!" Mick said in sudden realization.

"What's it?" asked Ken.

"Nelson! Why don't we get him to help us solve this mystery?" Mick asked them, looking to each of his friends in turn.

"What are you talking about? He basically wrote us all off!" Janet reminded Mick.

"No he didn't! He brought Minnie back to us. He saved face for her, and taught us that what we were doing was wrong. Especially trying to involve her in that scheme. He's the best person to help us figure out Sherry's mystery..." Mick said to them, taking center stage as he finished his delivery looking to Dane.

Dane realized that Mick's insight was right on the nose. That Nelson was a natural. He'd be an asset to their group, and together they might have a chance of solving Sherry's mystery. They only had to figure out a way to work it into the game. A game of Xarn with a purpose. A higher purpose.

Janet and Minnie began to realize that there was something much more important at stake here. Something important not just for them, but possibly for all women.

Dane, since having had Sherry place her faith in him, had changed considerably when focusing on someone about whom he cared, rather than his own meanderings. He'd somehow found peace within himself and purpose in his pursuit of a meaningful relationship with her.

Since their plans to play Xarn with Nelson as their games master had slowly been realized, more and more pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place. Denise and Trev had discovered each other, from right under their own noses. Janet and Dane had finally resolved a sometimes bitter and jealous tension between them. Janet had even found substance and attraction in a man she'd initially doubted in the form of Stefan. Sherry had taken a leap of faith in trusting Dane, and had earned the friendship of a group of people who were more and more becoming motivated by a higher purpose.

That purpose had recently become a part of their awareness and now it became clear that Nelson might be the last piece of the puzzle. The piece they needed to unravel Sherry's mystery.

"I'm going to talk to her about this myself and see what she says. We're all in agreement though that we're going to help her with this?" asked Dane of his friends.

"You can count me in," Minnie batted her eyelashes at Dane.

"Stefan and I are in for sure. He really surprised me, not to mention he really likes you guys. He said he feels real around you," Janet told them.

"I'm in for sure! I mean I see a future football mascot in you," Ken winked at Dane.

"Dane would look cute running around in a cougar suit," Minnie giggled.

"Thendanol is at your service, brother!" Mick bowed for Dane.

"I'll bring Denise up to date on what's going on and she can explain it to Trev after class," Janet agreed.

"Alright. I just want to say... thanks. You're the best friends a guy could have. Even when I was being a jerk, you stuck by me. Thanks," Dane nodded to them as sincerely as his heart could muster.

Suddenly, he felt a tap on his back. He turned around to see Nelson, who'd been waiting hidden behind him since they'd started their conversation.

"A game of Xarn with a higher purpose eh? That's a pretty tall order you know," Nelson stepped out from behind Dane and into their view.

Minne blushed, side-stepping closer to Mick.

"I'd say you're going to need a good games master for that," Nelson continued.

"Not just a good games master. The best," Dane responded as if they were in negotiations.

"The best isn't available from what I hear, but I'm interested in anything that has a higher purpose, if you'll take me," Nelson twisted his moustache, a confident smile on his face.

"Welcome aboard," Dane held out his hand, and they shook firmly.

"Ladies and gentlemen. This Friday evening. At..." Nelson began, looking around to each of them for the person who'd be hosting the game.

"My place!" Mick announced.

"At Mick's place at 7 PM sharp. Now I've got to go and get to class. Sometime between now and then, I'll be preparing for our first session," Nelson assured them.

"Can we just clarify that we're not dreaming this. Our first session of what?" asked Ken.

"Of course. Our first session of The Legendary Of Xarn! See you then," Nelson announced to them after which he strode down the hall and disappeared into his next class.

To be continued...

Further Content

Playing: Baldur's Gate 1 2 3, Neverwinter Nights 1 2, Conan Exiles, Icewind Dale 1 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition, The Witcher 1 2 3, Pathfinder: Wrath Of The Righteous, Total War: Warhammer 1 2 3

Credits and attribution:

Artwork: Amy WongWendy PuseyGhastly, Brian Joseph Johns, Daz3DUnreal Engine...

Tools: Daz3DCorel PainterAdobe PhotoshopLightwave 3DBlender, Borderline Obsession...

All books and stories here written here on Shhhh! Digital Media are written by Brian Joseph Johns, though I do suggest you read the work of my childhood friend, published author Robert Tozer (or here on Amazon), especially if you enjoy the Zombie genre. He certainly developed one of the most interesting and refreshing takes on it, perhaps even revitalizing it in the absence of a consolidating force like George A. Romero.

The song When I'm With You by the band Sheriff was written by: Sebastien Lefebvre, Pierre Bouvier, Arnold Lanni, Charles Comeau, Jean Stinco and released in 1982. ℗ 1982, 1992 Capitol Records, LLC. All rights reserved.

Special thanks to Humble Bundle and their August 2019 Deep Learning Bundle, which proved to be an immense research tool for the writing of The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons and A Lady's Prerogative III: Singularity.

Humble Bundle are a software and eBook book retailer from which a portion of their proceeds are used to raise money for charitable causes that you as a customer can customize when making a purchase, to benefit charities of your choice. Shhhh! Digital Media has been a customer and proud supporter of Humble Bundle since 2012.

Special thanks to World Community Grid, a distributed computing program whereby idle time on a vast population of end-user computers can be repurposed to contribute to a variety of scientific research programs on the forefront of the sciences. World Community Grid's distributed network (which is based upon's own BOINC software) contributes immense research resources to everything from the Large Hadron Collider, to world efforts in the battle against pandemics to create effective cures against modern virii, including COV-19 and its variations

Join World Community Grid now, and contribute to global scientific research benefiting everything from Astronomy, Mathematics and Medicine to Global Environmental Data Research.

Shhhh! Digital Media has been a proud contributor to World Community Grid and BOINC since 2012, even hosting its own Tynan And Associates research team since 2014.

A very special heart-felt thanks to Everett at SKH!

The Royal font used for the Xarn text of the title image provided courtesy of Font Space and can be found at the link:

d20 image on book title courtesy of: — {{U|Technical 13}} (e • t • c) derivative work of an original by wirelizard, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons, which applies strictly to the title image only and not the written work contained herein, or any other written work published on this web site ( or For details of the license granted with regard to the title image at the top of this page, see the CC0 license for details. Any use of the image must include attribution in the form of an html link to this site: and the creator of the image, Brian Joseph Johns, and credit wirelizard for the derivative work of an original image as per Wikimedia Commons.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Joseph Johns (applies to the written content and all artwork except the Legendary Of Xarn title image, which is part of the CC0 license as the result of the inclusion of the d20 image by wirelizard, included in the image (which itself is licensed under CC0).

The musical composition: Legendary is written and produced by the band Welshly Arms.

Copyright © 2023 Brian Joseph Johns