Oh yeah... the world was ending (... remind me why I care?)




            I don’t smoke, and I rarely drink. I hate loud noise and crowds of people. I especially hate being around groups of people who are smoking, drinking, and loud. So why the farging hell was I sitting here in a seedy little bar drinking piss poor beer that needed more good barley and less stomach acid, trying to not cough up a lung from the haze that filled the air from various assortments of weed and pipe?

            Oh. Yeah. The world was going to hell in a hand basket and some how, someone in the government decided I could help. Whoop-de-fuckin-do. I took another drink of the beer, and grimaced as the flavor abused my taste buds and the acid belatedly scorched my throat. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the acid had hit first. I should just dump the damn cup out. I have a habit of drinking what I’m holding as long as I know it’s not drugged, you can insult people badly by not drinking whatever it is they have given you. When it’s a matter of killing my tongue or killing me, in most instances I vote for my tongue. I’d feel pity, but my tongue’s usually pretty good at getting back at me by surviving and passing on the flavor to my brain. Yay.

            Anyway, they wanted to meet me here. Why? This bar was one of the few neutral zones. The world hadn’t really gone to hell… it just… well. Became hell, I guess. That wasn’t even true, you were fine if you just knew what you were dealing with. Knowledge is power and all that. Go smart people.

Too bad the world is full of idiots.

            Like the one who had just pretended to slyly stride into bar. Kind of funny, that. This might be a “neutral” bar, but it didn’t mean it was a popular place. It was a seedy bar, and seedy now a days meant that a human entering the bar was less likely to walk out on his own power than to be tossed into the trash. Non-neutral bars, it was a given that the remains were in the trash. This wasn’t a popular dive for humans because random humans generally had something less than a fifty percent chance of walking out under their own power. It was also the only “neutral” place anywhere near where I was currently living.

Only about three other people in the bar were humans, and they were like me, well known amongst the communities and knowledgeable enough in what had happened to scrape out truces. The other three were men; two were big burly men and not too clean, like most everyone else in the bar. The two of them *looked* like they might be able to share enough brain cells to figure out speech enough to say, “Me bash.” The third was almost gangly in appearance, and was in far more dire need of a bath, but his eyes were sharper even hidden as they were in shadow. He kept to the shadows closely, talking with a couple of Forest Shades. I certainly looked out of place here, one of four lone humans in a mass of bodies and apparently the only one with any particular sense of hygiene or fashion. I was dressed in simple, yet carefully cut clothing made of a soft, sturdy dark green cloth that wasn’t quite clingy but certainly made itself snug. The man who just entered the bar looked far more like one of the patrons, but every one took note of him in their silent, small ways—an ear tilt here, a flick of tail there, a small curl of talons and a short glance. He didn’t *fit* and if he wasn’t careful, someone would eat him.

            He made the rounds, like he’d been trained to do. Everyone else in the bar figured out quickly what I already knew. He was a government man, a spy of sorts or an operative at least. What human government, they didn’t know and didn’t care. If it were an important government that they should concern themselves with, he would have fit. The man was well-trained, don’t get me wrong. He’d never be suspected in an all human or even in a mostly human bar. But here, surrounded by fey, caps, shades, demons, bakemono, “deities,” and any of one million other entities found inside of ancient myths or forgotten in stories of ages past, the man stuck out like an NBA player shopping in a women’s petite section of Macy’s.

            He eventually made his way over to me and grinned, showing a set of too-straight teeth that were covered over with a darkening film. “Heya, pretty. Howsa about you…”

            The man had broken off what he had been saying with a nervous flick of his eyes towards the barkeep, who had leveled the veil-side equivalent of a shot gun at the man’s temple. The barkeep was a big being, muscle rather than fat, but he looked sort of rotund. His skin was the color of dirty granite rocks, and everything else about him had the same feel… like one day a set of rocks just decided to look sort of like a human and got up and walked off. This was one of the few bars that had a stone floor, and it was because the barkeep here was a golem of sorts, or at least the sort of being that led to the legends of golems. Silence suddenly spread throughout most of the bar as people sent hostile looks to the man. Many actually turned, hands on weapons, or gloves and fingertips glowing lightly as they readied to cast.

            The barkeep’s voice was deep and gravely, an effect I know he practiced to scare the human customers, but the heavy brogue was real as he ground out, “Donna nae be bot’ering t’e lady ‘ere.”

            “It’s alright, Kaedre. I was expecting him.” Kaedre didn’t look at me, but he moved the gun marginally. “I don’t suppose I could have a real drink now? Your new tender didn’t recognize me.” I tilted the cup towards him so he could peer one moss green eye down into the cup. He grunted and put away his weapon. People relaxed marginally and conversation started up again, almost exactly as it had left off, though perhaps a touch louder than it had been a moment ago.

            The barkeep picked up the cup and set it down in front of the man next to me. Two arms literally sprouted from his mid section and reached for the things he needed to mix my regular drink and in short order I had a drink in front of me in a clear glass. A glowing orangish ball moved lazily around a small lake of bluish-purple liquid. It wasn’t the alcoholic version, or else the ball would look like it was on fire and the liquid would be clearer.

            I sipped the sunset drink, causing the “sun” to whirl madly for a moment or two while the man stared at me for a couple of seconds. I waited patiently. Or, I looked patient, I guess. If he didn’t hurry this up I was going to shove that farking cup up his nose.

            “They would protect you?” He sounded astonished. The sleezy, oily tone he had surely spent sometime mastering had dissolved from his voice, leaving a very clear astonished Virginian accent bare for the observer of human accents.

            “If you manage to make a truce with them, you have proven yourself to be a completely different tier of being than the average human. They would prefer that those of us who have some intelligence survive long enough to procreate and produce more intelligent humans that might eventually be something more than the uncultured raging barbarians that they feel the majority of humans are.”

            “We are the barbarians?! They--“

            I shot him a warning look. Farking idiot was going to get himself killed and that would make a mess on my shoes.

            He bit off the slur before it formed fully. He paused for a moment, angry and trying to control it, but I think half hoping another fight would almost break out. Except this time he’d probably fight.

            Finally, he continued. “We are still trying to figure out exactly what happened. Everyone who we have managed to speak to has told us to contact you. Why?”

            I didn’t even bat an eye, “Because I figured it out awhile back. Not anything to be done about it, other than learn how to endure. Give them a little more time, they’ll figure out a way to get all of the people from certain countries back in one location. Their Council is like any other committee; it seems that some things transcend race and governments.”

            Kaedre snorted and added a thimbleful of liquid to my drink. The “sun” flashed brilliantly for a couple of seconds, then the alcohol diffused throughout the drink, making the sun “flame” and the liquid turn clearer. I tilted my drink at him in a salute, then took a healthier sip of it. Alcohol literally helped me remember details that I mean to tell people. I don’t get drunk, period. Which is why I rarely drink. When everyone else goes and is getting wasted, and you are just sitting there going “ooo-ka-ay, nothing’s happening other than I can suddenly remember how I hurt my knee when I was three,” it sort of looses its appeal. Besides, there are some things one doesn’t want to remember.

            The man stared at me. He was obviously getting frustrated. That made me want to laugh. I had answered his question. He’d better learn how to do this sort of conversation if he was going to be dealing with others very much at all.

            “Well, would you be willing to tell me?”

            “Of course.”

            Another long pause ensued. I drank more of my drink, incredibly amused. Kaedre was doing his damnedest not grin, but I could tell.

            “Would you tell me?”

            “Tell you what?”

            The man gritted his teeth and finally ground out, “Would you tell me what happened regarding the tripling of Earth’s mass and the sudden physical rearranging of land and water masses on Earth, please”

            “That’s better. Certainly. Here’s the short version. Earth has always had this much mass. Some couple of thousand years ago, there was a big, huge war between humans and the non-humans. Some of this was actual fighting, some of it was simply that the humans did too much harm to the environment and used materials that were poisonous to the non-human races, and some of it was religion, on both sides. In any case, there was war. Eventually, people realized that the war wasn’t worth it. Each group, each side, had their own reasons but eventually it boiled down to this… they needed to separate the main factions of the fighting somehow or they would all die. So all of the nations with magic and even some of the human nations got together and created what is now commonly termed as the “veil.” This literally forced all of the people of the factions into certain areas, and secluded them from each other. The hows and technical explanations are confusing, but it comes to this… to stop the war, they put us normal humans on a different side of the veil, which was sort of like a magical wall, separating us from them. Each side of the veil had a certain amount of land separated for its portion, and each portion lived as if it were now its own world, literally

            “The veil recently collapsed, no one is really positive why, only that it happened. Now everyone is back on one world again, one series of landmasses divided by nothing more than distance and water. The effect, as far as we on our side of the veil were concerned, was rather like taking a paper ball and spreading out the sheet of paper smooth again. What was the surface of the paper ball is now spread out in odd lines across the surface of the flat sheet of paper. That’s what happened when the veil collapsed.

            “A nation as large as America, and China incidentally, is now spread out over half of the current world, and not necessarily in a particular pattern.  The stars in the sky are different because we are now seeing the whole picture of stars whereas before we only had a limited view due to how the veil worked. Our satellites are gone because the gravitational change resulting from this sort of sudden change either blew them into space or crashed them into the earth. The few that are still in the atmosphere are… well,” I shrugged, “calibrated wrong. Their calculations for where to send what information are based on a planet with a third of the mass as this planet has.”

            He slowly blinked, digesting the information, and probably hedging time for the people on the other end of his recording equipment to give him directions.

            “So it’s all the fault of these magic doers?”

            “Nah, it’s as much the fault of technology. We simply assumed that a set of numbers was a constant set, but in the current reality they are not.” Now if that wasn’t some stupid penny and dime philosophy crap, I didn’t know what was. However, there is such a thing as too much information, especially since I wasn’t sure exactly how our leaders would respond to this situation.

            A few months ago, I would have happily helped with this… told the guy anything and everything that he wanted to know. Now? Things are a little… complicated.

            A puzzled expression passed over his features, and he glanced around the room, “They all knew, didn’t they?”

            I grinned, maybe he wasn’t completely useless, “From the moment you stepped in, lad.”

            He straightened, irritated at my casual use of the word ‘lad’ in reference to him, “I have been sent to bring you back to the current location of the President so you may brief him fully on this situation. I am charged with your safety in this matter. Please gather the things you think you need, so that we may be on our way.”

            “Ah, and is that an order? Because I’d rather be staying here. I’m not of a mind to cross the Kindre Mountains this time of year. Besides, I’m lazy. I have absolutely no intention of walking that distance. I’m fine where I am.”

            He stiffened. I had just taken all of the carefully collected and detailed information that had been gathered in the years of Big Brother peering over your shoulder, and cheerfully tossed it into an industrial strength garbage disposal with a couple pounds of spam, vinegar, and liquor. All of the information on me had always said I was intelligent and developed my own opinions, but at the same time, was generally willing to support the government. There was nothing in my profile to suggest I would refuse such an ill-disguised offer to help the government get back on it’s feet. In fact, my profile said the opposite.

            That meant that this man had orders to tell me of this not-quite-request, and the information that I wouldn’t refuse. He had no instructions or authority to make this an actual order. He sputtered and tried a few more times to convince me to leave with him.

            “You are starting to irritate me, agent. This is neutral ground, but you had best leave before it becomes something else.”

            The man finally left, fuming. The forest shades peeled away from the human man in the corner and slid outside behind the agent, following him from the shadows beneath a blade of grass or a tree leaf. One cat-like creature with a scaled stomach and long whiskered ears abruptly ended its conversation and rose to follow, as well as a couple other beings that I couldn’t quite catch with my eyes.

            The man who had been speaking with the forest shades rose silently, pulling the edges of his cloak closer around him more out of habit rather than chill, and walked over to where the agent had sat. He freed his hands of the cloak and ran careful fingertips over the bar and underneath it, even checking the chair. He turned and looked back towards the other occupants of the bar tap room, his head tilted ever so slightly.

            Memory escapes me, despite the drink I’ve had, and I’m not quite able to think of the real race name of the fellow at the table next to me. We humans would call him a dwarf, barely three and a half feet tall with a shock of a beard carefully pulled into two braids. A helmet cap of some sort was pulled down over his head, and nearly obstructed his eyes from view. He was holding up a small black device in one hand, while quite gaily chatting with the dwarf next to him.

            “And I sez, iffn you want tae have it, lout, hit the bloody bastard wi’ yer mace and take the damn thing. And he sez, ‘ye rock-head’ – yeah, calling me a rock-head he had some nerve lemme tell ye – ‘I donna nae want ‘im pissed at me later.’ He’s a bloody soft-heart, I say, an’ I sez back to him…”

            The man deftly snagged the device from the dwarf and examined it briefly. A second later, an arc of yellow-red lightening laced between his fingers and fried the circuitry on the listening device. He looked back up again and conversation slowly died down as everyone else shook their heads.

            “Only t’e one?”

            Kaedre sounded almost offended.

            I chuckled, “Kaedre, remember, they don’t have means to make more right now. Using that mic in here was actually probably a compliment. Their supply is quite limited, and I bet the portion of it that he has available is limited even more so.”

            Kaedre grunted.

            I turned to the still silent man and arched an eyebrow at him.

            He considered for a moment then nodded, “Short range, perhaps two or three hundred yards, my lady.”

            “Stop calling me that,” it was an automatic response from me as I considered, worrying my lower lip with my teeth, “Perhaps we should have waited to destroy it. He will already know that something went wrong with it.”

            One of the twins snorted, and damned if I knew which of the two it was, “No offense, hun, but he was already well aware that his mission got dragged through the privy and tossed out in the mud. I’m sure it won’t be surprising him all that much, after all.” The two of them were actually quite intelligent, they just played stupid rather well.

            I half-smiled, “You are probably right.”

            “I was na nae sure ye would nae go wi’ t’e man when he offered, Councilor.”

            Brawn, the dwarf who had found the mike was regarding me with serious black eyes that were mirrored by almost everyone else in the room. Even my thrice-damned guards were giving me those serious puppy eyes. That did surprise me.

            I grinned wrily, “Would you have let me go?”

            A noise that sounded dangerously like a small rock slide sounded behind me in a note that I had associated with irritation from Kaedre, “ ‘Tisn’t like we’ve much of a choice, lass. ‘Tis yer life.”

            I turned and eyed Kaedre warily then looked back at the rest of the assembled, “I’m mildly insulted that the lot of you seriously thought I might disregard my current responsibilities.”

            “Is not like it’s a pleasant life ye’ve chosen w’ us, lass,” Brawn’s voice was damn near sympathetic, “We know that it takes stern stuff to stay w’ it. And we would na nae blame ye fer choosin’ sommat a might easier.”

            I chuckled, “Then the lot of you has forgotten far too quickly how stubborn I am.”

            A faint chuckle swept through the room. The sheer tenacity with which I had forced my way into the ranks of “acceptable” human was quickly becoming stuff of minor legend amongst the non-humans. It was only belatedly that they and I discovered I was from a long line of humans considered the good sort of human. My family even had a seat on the ruling council. A fluke in the spell outline that had formed the veil had accidentally set my family on the wrong side, leaving a traditionally very powerful Council seat unclaimed for thousands of years.

            I sighed, “This is work that must be done, Kaedre, all of you. It must be done, and it is all the more urgent for having been ignored for the years my family was gone. I may not be the best person in my family to fill that seat, but I will not leave it empty. That is not something I can do in good conscience. This area needs its representative back, and I won’t remove the chance you and yours have at lives that aren’t a constant struggle.”

            “Love, you’ll have to forgive us,” the alto drawl had confused better ears than mine, and the tight-laced bustier and dress Jaylier wore today only confused his gender even more, “but we aren’t really used to the whole liege-lord idea. Even if we were, not all of the other lords are what one would call…” he rolled his wrist in a flip of his hand, “dedicated or loyal to their subjects. You’ve shown a remarkable amount of… now what did that charming French man call it?... noblesse oblige. We just aren’t used to it.”

            I tried not to stare at Jaylier. I had been concentrating too hard on the upcoming meeting to have looked around too much. I had always thought he looked, well, feminine, but this was really the first time he’d dressed the part to the nines. He was even perched lazily in a dark elf’s lap.

            “Jaylier… I’m sorry… *what* are you wearing? I mean… why?”

            Wide silver eyes blinked slowly in confusion before he realized what I meant, “Oh, well, it is a bar, but there aren’t any females in your guard contingent, yet. There needed to be a female in the room somewhere other than you, otherwise one would reasonably expect that you’d be picked on by the men.”

            I rather thought that it would have been less suspicious to have one lady no one was picking on rather than one lady and one other female that looked like a bar room whore. I, at least, wasn’t dressed provocatively, while Jaylier was dressed as provocatively as he could without revealing he was a male. Since not all females of human-like races had big breasts, that wasn’t too terribly difficult to do.

            I did stare at him now.

            Finally, he sighed, “It was *fun,* okay?”

            “Okay, that I believe.”

            Kaedre and a couple others chuckled, including the dark elf who promptly got thumped with Jaylier’s fan.




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