Mylo and the Summoned Hero
Kasumi had never seen anything like that before. Sure, she had experienced a few minor earthquakes in her life, the kind that rattled your fork off the table. Seeing the ground lift and twist, that was new.
"Holy s—! How much money did the developers dump into the game engine? That was next level terrain deformation. And the destruction physics were top notch."
If only she’d been streaming. Or at least recording. People need to see this. To put it in other words, Kasumi needed to tell someone about it.
"Mr. NPC!" Kasumi ran through broken streets calling. She’d neglected to find out where he lived. "Mylo! Oh, right. He was working, wasn’t he?"
She made her way back to the tower. The roads, under which the mana pipes mainly ran, shouldered the brunt of the damage. In places cobbles held together but thrust upward steep enough to be rock climbed rather than walked. Elsewhere, pulverized stone fine as beach sand was all that remained of the road. Most of the buildings seemed intact from a distance, but closer viewing showed their newly acquired list and snaking cracks. The further Kasumi went, the more the destruction demanded its realness acknowledged.
This ingame event hadn’t just ripped up the terrain, they even had NPCs running around fighting fires.
Kasumi stopped looking around in wonder. Better to keep her eyes on the cobbles directly ahead. That way she didn’t have to see. She covered her ears so she wouldn’t hear.
Did they have to make the NPCs that real?
Her heart wedged in her throat. It was an event. It had to be. Everything would be okay. All just 1s and 0s on a server. But the evidence kept wandering into view—here a patch of blood, there a small missing shoe.
Storyline NPCs. The devs can’t kill off them so easy. Mylo, he’s well voiced. He won’t even have a scrape. Maybe a bandage, but it’ll be purely cosmetic. She just had to find him to prove to herself that nothing was wrong.
She went to find him at the pumping station, which was roped off with its front falling in fragments around tortured pipes. The tower atop which they met lay tangled and draped across several roofs.
She picked her way inside, over small glowing stones until she found a trio of people in concerned whispering. "Hello! Is Mylo Bract here?"
Mr. Morin turned, looked at her with bleary eyes, and screamed at her to get out.
By asking around a little, she learned where to find him. Someone said they'd seen Mylo at a healer’s house.
Fine. Everything’s fine. He’ll be here just to check on a relative.
Did Kasumi really expect that Mylo had gotten through such a violent event unscathed because he was, in her mind, an important part of the game? No, but it was the only shred of normalcy she could cling to. Apart from monsters in the ruins dropping money and items when they died, apart from the user interface, this world routinely ignored game logic.
It was a clear and brisk morning despite the season, but that’s not why that’s Kasumi shivered in front of the healer’s hut.
If she was wrong, and Mylo really was a person who could be hurt, that meant—
Kasumi pushed open the door to room number 8, and there discovered Mylo. His skin was paler than normal for him, but no obvious injuries. No bandages adorned him. Plus, he was clearly laying in a hammock. Who puts a patient in a hammock?
"Yo, Mr. NPC." She walked over to stand above him. Mylo, breathing softly, didn’t stir.
From out in the hallway, shuffling steps preceded the healer, a hunched old woman with wrinkles aplenty and wise, glacial-lake blue eyes. "I thought somebody came in. Don’cha ever sign in the visitors’ book?"
"Just do it next time. Today’s a little crazy." The healer looked between Kasumi and Mylo. She wore a kindly smile. "Came to see your friend?"
"Is he okay?" Kasumi pulled back the sheet to see Mylo’s wounds.
Instead of bloody bandages or gauze, she found Mylo. Lots of Mylo.
Kasumi flushed straight red and threw the cover back into place. Springing back, she asked, "Why is he naked?"
"Ran outta gowns. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do. Lots of patients less lucky than this one." The healer reached out a gentle arm to prevent Kasumi pulling up a chair beside the hammock.
Kasumi discovered how hard it is to purge a visual memory before it forms and carry a serious conversation at the same time.
"So, he’s okay?"
Closing her eyes, the old healer pondered for a moment and pursed her lips. "He will heal. Time is all anyone can give him now."
I’ll come back and see you later, Mr. NPC. Don’t worry, this town of yours soon be back to normal. Through the blush, she smiled. No. It’ll be even better.
Kasumi left, and the healer went to check on her more tenuous patients.
Picture a flat and sunbaked land. Dark gray columnar basalts sprout from the ground. Gangly trees wave flowing, draping leaves wider than Mylo’s arm span. Pale yellow grasses rustle with iridescent beetles, and woody green shrubs thrust crimson cones toward the sky.
Got all that? Good, now turn it sideways, ground on the right, sky on the left. Orthogonal to gravity, that’s right. Loose pebbles tumble free and spin into a brilliant purple sky that drops on, and on forever.
Like a cliff, only not, because the plants grow straight out toward a stationary sun and the horizons are up and down.
Now you understand why Couzinet arrived falling and screaming.
With cat-like reflexes, she lashed out and snagged the branches of a shrub. They creaked and bent under the strain, threatening to break and drop her.
"Oh no you don’t." Couzinet got better purchase with her other hand and hauled herself up, her feet scrabbling on dirt that happily took the suggestion to tumble into the sky. After some minutes, she grappled her way around the side of a columnar basalt outcropping just above the shrub, and sighed relief from its top.
Couzinet leaned back against the ground and called, "Anyone home?"
Mylo appeared on a tree trunk a little ways above and to her left. He blinked and looked around. Then down.
"Is your subconscious always like this?" Couzinet yelled at him.
"What happens if you fall and don’t wake up?"
Mylo shuddered at the thought. "I hope that never happens."
An annoyed, lynx-like ear flicked. He looked like the hero’s guide, not that Couzinet had ever seen him up close. If she was right, then she could stop hopping, finally. That manaquake had ruined everything, Couzinet had the guide’s apartment and routine all worked out so she wouldn’t have to search for the right mind, but instead she had to run around searching. Better confirm.
"Do you know Kasumi Hoshino?"
"Yes, but she wants me to call her by a code name, Pelgram," Mylo said. His air was affable, chatty.
Couzinet smiled and crossed one ankle over the other, hands behind her head as though lounging on a deck chair. Here in the cellar of the mind, the host lacked armor. They didn’t realize when they gave up sensitive information.
"So, I got a glimpse of you, a couple others, and Kasumi entering a boss room in Old Edule."
"Kasumi got the killing blow, or did most of the damage, right?"
"No, I did both."
Couzinet’s tail thumped the wall, which was really the ground. Not how this was supposed to go. But she relaxed. Bound to be a few setbacks along the way. She looked over at Mylo, tinged green by the light shining through a huge leaf. Lounged with his stomach against the tree, he looked relaxed, almost in a trance. But his brow bowed under tension.
"You know you’re at a healer’s, right? You okay?"
"Well, first off, I don’t know how much that boss monster dropped—that’ll determine whether I can quit this town. Meeting Kasumi has been a whirlwind. Oh, and then there’s my boss. I used to think she didn’t like me, but earlier…"
Mylo went on unpacking his uncertainties for a few minutes. More concerned with matters of the heart than his injuries, apparently.
Dipping into someone’s liminal space for answers cut both ways. They couldn’t filter what they said to hide information, nor could they whittle their answer down to the asker’s interests. Pose a vague question, get a seven-generation familial saga.
Couzinet cleared her throat. "Look, I’m glad the spring of your life has finally come, right, but there’s one thing I want to know: what are your intentions with Kasumi?"
"I want…" Mylo trailed off and stared across the dusty, tilted terrain for a while. "I want to spend more time with her, and learn what this feeling is."
Picking her words carefully, Couzinet asked, "What would it take for you to stop hanging out with her?"
"If she stopped wanting to be around me, I guess that would do it. I feel like she’s going places. I hope she takes me with."
So he won’t chase after her, good.
"You have a weak heart. No resolve." Couzinet nodded to herself, satisfied now that the guide wouldn’t remain an obstacle for long. "The hero and the Jagai will leave you here to live your boring, little life.
If she’d been watching Mylo, she might have caught the twitch and the her words changed the light in his eye.
Deep burgundy gaze swiveled and searched her. A frown grew. "You’re a probe, aren’t you?"
Couzinet almost fell of her rock.
Nobody guards their mind this deep, right?
She was still safe, probably. Mylo remained reposed on the tree trunk, in the same pose that he’d appeared in. Not able to move voluntarily this deep, it seemed—his head would turn when he wanted to look, but deliberate motion required training down here.
Still, unnerving to have her class detected.
Couzinet shouted, "Who the hell taught you?"
"A detective," Mylo said, without supplying the name.
"You won’t remember any of this conversation."
"Probably not," Mylo admitted.
With practiced grace, Couzinet flicked herself upright and jumped off the basalt like it was a diving board. She’d already learned what she came to, so no reason to stick around remained.
As air fluttered her jacket, she somersaulted and twisted. Vertigo helped push her back to the safety of her own mind.
Mylo meanwhile struggled to surface. Paul had asked him to find the summoned hero, and this intruder had let slip a hint that Kasumi was it. If only he could hold on and remember. Maybe this explained all the wild things Kasumi said.
Ezre Lafferty signed into the visitors’ book on the healer’s coffee table, which currently held a large towel-wrapped tankard of warm coffee next to a stack of paper cups. She wrinkled her nose.
This healer’s hut was large by Edule’s standards, but still basically a house. From an oak beam hung a slate board with patient names and room numbers chalked on it. Cramped lettering squeezed around the sides evidenced that the healers had crammed patients into extra rooms to handle the emergency. To the board’s left hung a needlepoint embroidery that read, in gothic lettering, "These Bitches Give Stitches!" The sofa hosted a series of equally droll, but wordier throw pillows.
Ezre sighed and consulted the board, then hurried to room 8.
There she found Mylo, hammocked and covered in a cotton sheet. He didn’t look great, but she’d spent the last ten hours running with a fire crew, seeing far worse. The sun peeked onto his face, and would be right on his eyes soon. Ezre lowered the blinds, then carried the wicker chair from the corner and plunked it down by Mylo’s side.
It didn’t seem real or right that it’d been just a day since Mylo visited her flat, asking to borrow letters. What had he done with them? None were opened, of that she made sure. Ezre chose to put it out of her mind, and not repeat yesterday’s embarrassment.
He surprised me yesterday, that’s all. This time I’ll show no cracks. Perfect defense! With that, she settled in to wait.
She didn’t have to wait long.
Mylo stirred, blinked around the room and then to Ezre. "Hey, Boss."
"Do you want me to call you ‘Bract’ all the time?"
"Settled. First names when we’re not at work."
Mylo took a moment to take stock. Hints that he lay in an improvised medical room included, but were not limited to: the hammock beneath him, an ironing board leaning against the wall, lavender sock fresheners, and floral red lamp shades on the currently inoperable candlestick-style lights.
Interesting room, but Ezre presented the greater intrigue. Mylo may have forgotten Couzinet’s subconscious intrusion, but he remembered the stack of Ezre’s letters. Though they were alone, she carried herself upright and confident as she did on the pumping station floor. Her expression friendlier, open to the idea of idle chatter, but still professional down to bedrock.
"So," Mylo asked, "is everyone okay?"
Ezre shook her head, then qualified it. "In town? No, there have been casualties. Damage mostly to the streets, which at 3 in the morning are basically empty. If it had happened at midday…I don’t want to think about it. We don’t have numbers yet, but there are a lot of injuries and a few deaths already where buildings collapsed or burned."
"As for the station…"
Ezre curled forward, propping her elbows on her knees and scrutinizing the floorboards. The walls around her heart were about to be tested—how do you admit you got a person you care for hurt and stay cold?
"A few got stunned, but none so hurt as you—except the splitter. That thing shot its reynolds valves clear through its tank. The back of it looks like a colander." Looking up, she said, "Look, Mylo, I—"
"I’m sorry," said Mylo.
Ezre looked up, amazed.
"You were counting on me. Putting me alone on a triple was the price of stacking my coworkers so they could share the hit and not die."
He didn’t say it boastfully. Most of the night crew, and most strobili in general, got hooked on coffee as children and never stopped. Caffeine poisoned the gyre—a welcome relief for a young strobilus who hadn’t learned to cap it. No discomfort, but no growth. They grew up with brittle reservoirs and anemic gyres. Ezre had learned to avoid caffeine thanks to her mentor, but she was dimly aware that Mylo had no teacher—somehow figured it out for himself.
Ezre sat silent for a moment. "And here I was thinking I was gonna have to explain it to you."
Resettling with a somber look in her eye, she said, "But I made that decision expecting the safeties to work. It wasn’t supposed to get so rough. When you hit the floor, I thought…" Ezre fell silent with hands clenched.
"So, do we know what happened with the safety valves?" Mylo asked, and the conversation veered into safer waters. She told him about the fellows from the print shop who came into the station before it ended, and how they got several tin-type pictures of Mylo on the floor. Would probably be in an afternoon news bulletin, along with reports of Callawea’s other shortcuts.
Maybe I didn’t need to worry. He doesn’t want to go through an emotional wringer either. Ezre smiled, glad she could keep her head around Mylo after all.
Mylo nodded at what she was saying. "If we’re making a song and dance of it, should I quit? Protest the conditions on my way out?"
She wanted to say yes, to tell him that’s just what they needed to keep the pressure on. It would be easy to say and true. If Mylo looking dead on the floor did end up on the newspaper’s front page, followed by his resignation citing perpetual staffing shortage, why, the unionization vote would be all but won.
But Callawea wouldn’t shrug and be waltzed over. Maybe the vote would be proposed, but they’d find some condition in some dusty legal tome to snarl and delay, then force a revote. And that was the best case scenario, where that decrepit family didn’t resort to intimidation or worse. This one quake in Edule was too small, too local to impact the Jagai’s sprawling realm, and force the Callaweas to make any real changes.
There had to be a long game, one Ezre couldn’t quite see yet. Best to keep close anyone loyal and capable for when she had a plan.
"No. Don’t quit just yet. Use your sick leave and PTO first."
Mylo’s eyes went wide. "Wait, we have paid time off?" Under the urgency of his question, he sat up. Under the pull of gravity, the sheet fell to his waist.
He was wiry and tanned. The latter he got from sleeping the day away between shifts under a south facing window. Ezre noted that Mylo’s daily climb up the spotting tower had done him a few favors. She’d always wanted to pet his fluffy hair, but now….
Mylo scrambled to cover himself again. "Sorry! I thought I’d be in a gown or something."
If only I wasn’t your boss. Ezre’s free-thinking thoughts decided to think outside the brain. "The things we could do."
"…You want to do something together?"
Ezre scrambled. "Training! I was just thinking you needed real instruction from another strobilus. I’ve got a whole regimen of things to teach you! Hahaha."
Damn it! We’re alone. No one would know. I could grab him by the shoulders, kiss him, and let nature take its course. The thought was tried for mutiny and forced to walk the plank.
"Yeah, that’d be great." Mylo beamed for a moment. "But…I can’t feel my gyre. Or the reservoir. And even if I get them back, I don't really know what I'm doing."
"Rest, get well." Ezre turned to go.
At the door, she looked back. "Hey Mylo, don't write yourself off just yet. Every strobilus gets freaked out the first time they get hurt enough to not feel like a strobilus anymore. You'll heal. And you've come a long way with just the basics. We'll start training in a few days, okay?"
With that promise floated out, Ezre departed.