Chapter 15:

The Graceful Exit Problem

Mylo and the Summoned Hero

Mylo got as close to the wreck of the pumping station as the guards would allow. In the orange glow of golden hour, the hulk of the splitter looked already rusted. He figured it would be a while before this place was repaired and ready to work. Heck, it might be a while for him too. As Ezre had said, holes scattered through the rear of splitter’s tank. It looked how his mana reservoir felt.

He went home, and for the first time in years slept at night. Comfort eluded him. A warm night that wouldn't last long, but he was so used to sleeping in a pool of sunshine that he got up halfway through to hunt for blankets. Eventually he tossed his pillow aside and took his dreaming outside.

Mylo climbed the fire escape ladder to the roof. Shingles flexed and twisted underneath him, but held their formation. Up on the top of the curve, Mylo laid back and tried to impel.

Normally he saved this tradition for fall. But in the aftermath of the quake, all the summer adventurers and the merchants who catered to them headed home well in advance of the long northern winter. In other years, Mylo had lain in a cool fall autumn breeze watching the exodus. With mana rushing in his bloodstream, the broomsticks and magic carpets and tamed tinamoks would form a golden streaming trail in the sky, pointing south.

But with no mana, Mylo sat staring up at the normal sky, noting a traveler’s passage only when a star winked out behind them.

I wonder if the trees where they’re going are really like Paul said. Up here, on the verge of tundra, only austere, needly pines grew. Why does anyone who can go anywhere come here?

Dawn came soon enough, silhouetting the departing, but also making Mylo visible to the landlord, who didn’t take kindly to people mucking about on the roof.

Mylo clambered down and opted to take a walk. See the damage.

In his neighborhood it wasn’t bad. The only pipes here went to the waterworks, and their pipes used less excitable materials. Usually concrete, Mylo’d been told. The nice parts of town hadn’t fared so well. Lots of cracks, a few partly caved rooms, but most structures were largely intact. The streets not so much.

Still a boring town.

He picked his way over loose cobbles, stumbling a lot, until he reached the clock tower. The newly reinstated analog faces sat shattered on the ground.

"Yo, Mylo!"

Mylo turned and saw Kasumi standing over a diagram with a small crowd and giving him an energetic wave. She turned back to her companions for a moment, said something that sent monocles dropping, then ran over.

"How are you today, Mr. NPC?"

"Was that the Mayor you were talking to?"

"Yep. She’s nice, isn’t she?"

Mylo admitted he’d never met the Mayor, or anyone else in that circle. Rather than explain how she had come to mingle at such lofty heights, Kasumi grabbed Mylo’s hand and dragged him off towards the ruins.

Today the entrance to Old Edule wasn’t nearly so busy. Monsters needed to be put down in any season, so some adventurers stayed year round—but they weren’t used to losing the summer crowd so early.

But Mylo’s attention was demanded by his hand, or rather, Kasumi’s which held his. Her fingers were soft, warm to the touch.

How much longer will someone as fascinating as you want to hang out in such a boring place? You can fight, you lack common sense, but you can fight. Someday soon you'll make it out of here.

Kasumi spent the walk trying to tell Mylo in excited tones about something that sounded to him like an illegal bloodsport.

"So they say something random before they fight? I’m not seeing why that’s important."

Kasumi nodded to herself. "It is a hallmark of Ark Sister Works games. Doesn’t relate to the characters at all, most of the time."

"Then why are you telling me about it?"

"’Cause it’s cool. Here, I’ll show you."

She spotted a blood rabbit nestled in the remains of the old brewery. Rather than rushing in and drawing its aggression, Mylo was pleased to see Kasumi preparing to fire from range—like casting classes were supposed to.

Kasumi took aim but didn’t fire. For a moment she just posed dramatically, robe rippling in the breeze.

"Uh, are you gonna—"

Golden eyes flashed. "The doctor said 6 months. Lunch ends in 90 seconds. Let’s get some bread. Begin!"

A single flame wisp shot out of her hand and struck the dozing blood rabbit between the horns. The rabbit flopped onto its side and dissolved into coins.

Mylo cracked up. He’d never seen an anticlimax like that before. "Are you sure it’s not a damage-buff incantation?"

"No. It’s all about style."

They walked a little ways until they found another blood rabbit, this one nibbling at the grass in an odd gap between the walls of the old library and a building whose original purpose had been lost to time.

Kasumi handed Mylo a dagger. Nothing fancy, just one of the items dropped by a centipede during their previous outing. In the light it dazzled like some holy artifact.

"Kasumi, I ca—"

"Hey! First rule of Internet: Don’t use anyone’s real name. Now, get out there and show me a good ArkSisWorks intro before you kill that bunny."

She slapped him on the back between the shoulder blades.

Mylo took a hesitant step forward. Just one blood rabbit, he’d survive this, probably. What made his breath catch was the expectation to perform. She had only demonstrated a handful of intros, and spent most of her explanation talking history.

His not to wonder why, his but do and hopefully not die.

"Fighting i-is pointless, uh, if you use a mace, that is…" Mylo turned to look at Kasumi for confirmation that he was doing it right. He wavered through the rest. "Man versus rabbit. F-fight?"

A disappointed hand covered golden eyes for a moment. "This is gonna be a lotta work. Mylo! Confident delivery! Less dad-jokey!"

Kasumi’s shout reverberated off old stone walls. The rabbit, having ears, looked up to see what was the fuss. It saw 2 enemies, Mylo the nearer. It put its ears back and squeaked.

Mylo figured his best chance was to joust the rabbit. Actually, that was a terrible idea. The rabbit’s horns had more reach than the dagger. But if he rushed it, then the fight wouldn’t drag on. Just get it over and done with.

He charged, dagger clenched in his right hand. The blood rabbit seemed to flinch out of its own lunge. Perhaps he’d surprised it?

Perfect. I can’t do Kasumi’s intros yet, but I can do this!

At ten feet and closing the distance fast, Mylo’s foot came down and the ground gave underneath. Dirt and grass concealed rotted boards with centuries of decay to their name. Supporting a rabbit was about all they could manage.

Mylo tumbled out of sight, into gloom.

Kasumi and the blood rabbit peered down into the hole.

Cupping her hands around her mouth, Kasumi shouted after him, "You still owe me a boss monster!"

Ataga Corliss
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