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User:Arrow Quivershaft/Campfire Chat

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3P story universe

Campfire Chat

Author: Arrow Quivershaft

After a while, I woke up to tend the fire. Alex was there, sitting up straight in a somewhat lazy position. His breath rate indicated he was likely awake, though his eyes were closed. Probably trying to maintain nightsight. After a few moments of my movement, he spoke.

"I'm sorry I kept this from you." He said quietly.

I glanced over at Alex. "It would've been nice to know ahead of time, yes, since something I'll now need to keep track of in my decisions."

"I was ... afraid." he admitted.

"Of what?"

"The usual alien fare, government autopsies, probes, getting headline news, etc."

"I understand...the news and such did happen at first. It's kinda gone down in the past 19 years, although if you wanted to avoid making news, you've already failed that." I mentioned.

"Yeah, but I'm slightly different from your average harpy." Alex paused. "No offense."

"Fair enough; none taken."

"It's also why I don't want my soul, aura or whatnot fucked with.”

I let that slide for now. "So you're not from this earth...strange. I don’t blame you for wanting to stay out of news, given the concerns about the 4th realm..."

"Fourth realm? Aren’t there only three?” Alex asked. He learned quick.

"There's concerns that your existence is a harbinger of a fourth realm opening somewhere." I mentioned.

"Wait, there have been more like us?"

"You, Blossom, Nick Snider, and Nkosi, are the ones mentioned in the news."

"We've already been in the news?" he sounded a bit surprised.

"Indeed. I'd seen pictures of both of you before you even hired me. There’s a particularly popular picture of Blossom getting off a transport with RAF officers.”

Alex grimaced. "Oh fuck. And there I was trying to keep a low profile."

I smirked. "Kinda tough these days, especially when you're that unique."

"Let's hope you don't have to start fending off g-men too. What about the others?”

"Media stories about you are not at all consistent." I shrugged. “Probably because they’re all tripping over each other to have the news first.”

"Let's hope they keep calling me human."

"Hopefully." I paused. "I've been asking all the questions; that's not like me. You have anything to ask me?"

Alex smiled and dropped a hint. "Though I'm not quite human even in this form. ... questions ... dunno, let be think for a second."

"Sure, sure. Nothing better to do." I said nonchalantly.

"Hmm, aside from the money. Why are you doing this? Why are you out here?"

"I've always been fascinated with the realms, since I was young."

Alex nodded. "I can see why. A year ago I'd die to have a peek at this world."

"So yeah. After I got older, I went to school to be a Realms guide. Get the skills needed to be hired." I elaborated.

"And now you're out here saving tourist asses."

I scoffed. "I wouldn't quite put it that way."

Alex chuckled. "I'm sure."

"Usually, I stay behind at the camp while the warriors and stuff go out for the exotic hunting and exploring, right now.” Not entirely true but the best light to cast it in.

"Well, at least you don't get gutted by some freak." He went on. "It's a pity about those glittery freaks, I wish we had better weapons."

"Its part of the job, man. I really didn't want to get into fighting." Especially not another encounter with stormwings.

Alex nodded. "It's a pity I don't turn into some beefed up werewolf or something. Just a fucking raccoon." He changed the subject. "So, how many times have you done stuff like this?"

“Realmwalking? I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head. At least 20 to 25 times by this point."

"Nice. Glad you have experience, don't want to be turned into some bird girl or something. No offence," he added quickly.

I glanced to Dawn’s lodging. “None taken.”

"Hmm, did all the creatures here suffer the same fate as Dawn?" Alex asked inquisitively.

"Some did, some are offspring, others...I honestly don't know." I paused. "Heh, want me to scare you?"

"Hmm? After all I've been through? Be my guest." He grinned.

"They say that if you get devoured by all three heads of a cerberus, you're reborn as one."

"That must be fun,” Alex said dryly.

I shrugged a bit. "There's worse that can happen. Some of the most powerful gorgons can petrify you."

"Ah, definitely not fun." He frowned. "But then you're just dead. Not really that bad I guess."

"Well, sometimes they can fix that."

Alex nodded. "Let's just hope we don't bump into any gorgons."

"Yeah, I'd prefer to avoid them as well," I admitted.

"Of course, then there's the odd god, we don't want to meet them." he trailed off.

"Why are you going to see Selene, if you don't mind me asking?”

"...Another god did something to a friend, we're hoping that she can help fix it."

"Well, I guess you may as well try." Didn’t wanna pour TOO much water on that.

"It's all we can," He said morosely. "I wonder if they could do something about my shifting triggers..."

"No idea." I glanced at my mark again. Nervous habit, that.

"Well, we'll see." Alex resolved.

I nodded, gaze not moving. Eventually I looked up, and Alex was eyeing my mark as well.

“You looking at my Mark?" I asked, evenly.

Alex nodded. "Sorry."

"Not a problem. If I didn't want it visible, I'd wear a glove."

"Athene's a good god right?"

"By the general standards of good, yes, she'd be on the list. Companion of heroes, goddess of heroic endeavor, wisdom, and honor."

"Yep, good god." He shifted the topic. "Let's just hope we all get back in one piece."

"That's my job. Gimme some credit, man.”

There was a prolonged pause as I stoked the fire a bit. "By the way. One thing has been on my mind ever since we started out..." Alex said.

"Yeah?"

"Not that I don't appreciate her help, but why did Dawn come with us? I believe we only hired one dude." Alex noted.

"She's coming pro bono. I asked Blossom during dinner if she minded; she said she didn't."

"But in my experience only good friends do stuff pro bono." Alex nodded. Ah, crap. Time to divert.

"Dawn is a good friend of mine. Although she's very big into the adventure of it all. Ask her about it."

"Ah, I will."

"And she helps me. She's got more experience than I do, to be honest."

"Yeah, she's a good person." Alex said.

I nodded in agreement. "Indeed."

Another subject change. "Blossom’s sure of it but I don't know how receptive Selene is going to be to our requests."

"I don't know either. I can't tell you for sure, but my guess would be that if she does help, you may end up doing something in return."

Alex nodded. "And I don't like the sound of it."

I shrugged. "It's all you can do."

"Yep, if we want to get nick fixed."

I jumped on this slip up. "Nick? Is this the Nick Snider in the same reports?"

"Oh ... um, yes." he admitted.

I browquirked. "Huh. So you're all connected?"

"Yeah...” He didn’t seem to want to say more than that.

"Huh. So care to tell me what happened to him, or is that private? If I'm prying, tell me, and we can change the subject."

Alex took a deep breath. "You know that Nkosi guy, from the news?"

"Yep, yep I do. Kinda an oddball for a realm bigwig."

"He and Nick are the same person."

“Wait, what?”

"Well, they're not the same person right now, but they used to be. It's weird even for me." Alex admitted. "That's what you get for crossing Bast I guess."

"...bizarre. Crossing in what way?" This was...concerning, to say the least.

"Catching her attention mostly, from what I've heard."

"Ahh..."

Alex closed his eyes. "And now we're out to find a cure."

I thought for a moment. "So he crossed Bast...if the news reports are to be believed, Nkosi is kinda a big name person for Bast?"

Alex nodded and opened his eyes, eyeing me. "Which means that he might not want to leave."

This was bigger than I planned, and the worry showed on my face. "I *MAY* have an idea if Selene doesn't help. I don't know. I'd have to talk to Dawn and maybe a few others, do some research in the archives.”

Alex frowned a bit. "What's that?"

"Nothing, right now. I need to check to see if it's even a possibility. I don't want to needlessly raise hopes."

"You might have already. What's plan B?"

"There is no plan B yet. I have an idea, nothing more." I shook my head. "And I'm not even sure the idea will work."

"Humor me."

"I'd rather not, at least not until I talk to Dawn. Apologies." I looked at my mark again, pondering.

Alex held up his hand. "No problem, I'll hear of it soon enough." He eyed my hand and then asked, "Does this 'idea' have something to do with your god and this code those shiny birds talked about?"

Bloody hell, he read me like a book. "...you're more astute than you let on."

Alex grinned. "Thanks."

"I've told you I'm a devout follower of Athene. That comes with a code of behavior I must follow." I explained. "I can't renege on a deal, for one. I must act with honor. I also can't cheat, steal, or use poison, and must try to protect others weaker than myself."

Alex nodded. "And where does Dawn come into the picture here?"

"Dawn comes into the picture because she can evaluate my idea. Long story short, there are power struggles between the gods."

"Ah, and Bast isn't a buddy of yours," Alex guessed.

"That would be a fairly succinct, if somewhat irreverent, way of putting it." I agreed.

Alex smiled. "Athiest."

"That's a difficult position to maintain in the realms," I mentioned.

Alex nodded. "I can understand that."

I shrugged. "I don't know. That's my idea."

"Playing gods off against each other. Dangerous game. ... Well, you /are/ a follower, that should count for something." Alex said, analytically.

"Yes, it is. And that's why I didn't want to raise your hopes."

Alex nodded. "Lets give Selene a shot first. Though I'm worried about what we're going to have to pay."

"That I can't say. Selene is a fairly benevolent goddess, but she doesn't always deign to interfere." I paused. "I was just thinking my idea because, in theory only, Athene would have a vested interest in denying Bast a powerful follower such as Nkosi."

Alex mulled. "What are, even benevolent gods, going to think of us, outsiders ...."

"Your guess is just as good as or better than mine."

"Let's hope Selene lives up to her reputation." He paused. "Hmm. Any spooky stories about the realms?"

I smirked. "Sure."

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I finished telling the story after a while. It was a decent, if not too bad, story. We get worse at the guide socials. That said, Alex was new so I didn’t want to get too dark.

Alex inhaled deeply. "If anything quite near to that happens I'm outta here." He joked.

I chuckled softly. "Yeah. That's why I wanted to get us going early."

"That was early, my breakfast had barely settled."

"You need to take advantage of the daylight,” I explained. "We can't just pull out a Maglite and keep going."

"Yeah, but it doesn't help if you're a night person. It's a sorry steriotype but true." He shrugged.

"Agreed... I had some learning to do when I started heading out."

"Hmm?"

"One of the first things you learn is how to sleep anywhere. As well as being able to sleep almost on command and to sleep very lightly."

"An art I have yet to master,” Alex said annoyedly.

"It took me a while, but it's useful... I don't even need an alarm anymore. I wake up when I need to."

"Veery handy."

"Then I've been learning some combat skill, and some of the other things they didn't actually teach me in school."

"They don't teach you to fight? Just to run very fast I guess." Alex sounded confused.

"In school, they taught me the skills I needed to do my job. The finer details about Marks, the sleeping skills, combat, armor choices...that all came once I got out of school."

"Aah... A 'learn or be eaten' school of thought." Alex posited.

I nodded. "Yeah, more or less."

"I'm thinking about trying to get myself fixed while we're at it but I don't know if I'd be biting off more than I can chew." Alex said.

That couldn’t possibly mean what I thought it meant. "Fixed?"

"Well, right now I turn into an anthropomorphic raccoon every time I see something shiny. Certainly not as bad as becoming one of the denizens of the realms, but I'm sick of it."

"...ah." I nodded and paused. "Hmm. Again, I'm asking everything. Any more questions for me?"

"Ummmm..." Alex paused. "Hmm ... how has this trip been from your point of view? Good? Bad? Average?"

"Good, so far. We only had one encounter and we got off easy."

"Aah yes." Alex nodded. "I first thought you had chosen to be marked for your own security but then those birds started talking about slitting your throat and making off with us..."

"First, Dawn said they’d do that, not the Stormwings. But in any case, there's benefits and negatives to being marked."

"Yech, sorry. I'm getting a bit tired I guess."

I shrugged. "Not a problem."

"Still, I guess that not getting turned into something makes it worthwhile it by itself." Alex mused.

Nail on the head, there. "That's one definite perk, yes. Another is that if you're devout enough and useful enough, you may be granted a gift."

Alex curiously inquired, "A gift?"

"A special ability or power.” I explained. “One of the other guides at work was so devout to Poseidon that he was granted the ability to breathe underwater. It only works in the Realms, of course, but..."

"It is handy." he completed the thought.

"Yeah. For him, at least."

"What are you hoping to get?" Alex asked.

"Hoping? Nothing. I'd have to perform extra services for Athene, and as yet, I haven't been in the right place at the right time." I said. "Although I can't really say no when I'm asked, because that would be exceptionally bad form."

"Yep, I doubt a god would like that."

"And of course, there are the negatives to getting marked."

"Negatives?" Alex asked.

"There are three main ones. First, this-" he holds the Marked hand up. "-really tends to piss off alot of contemporary religions." I paused. "Although that wasn't as big a problem for me, because I consider most original human religions to be a lot of show with almost no go."

"They don't like the competition." he joked.

"Nope. I'm officially a blasphemer."

"Hmm?"

"Being marked is blasphemy... you have the Pope, and you have all the fundamentalists... they still wield more than enough power to potentially make things uncomfortable for people like me."

Alex nodded. "Yep, that'd do it."

"I've been advised that gloves may not be a bad choice when needed. And I do keep a pair handy." I went back to the main topic. "Back to the negatives...second, part of my essence belongs to Athene."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Part of my spirit, soul, whatever you call it. That's where the aura that Dawn mentioned comes from."

"Ah, so if Athene is affected, you are to?"

"I...don't know, honestly. I don’t think there’s really any evidence about that.”

"Hmm, not fun."

"And third, I have to keep a bit of a better eye on my back for some of the more extreme followers of Athene's enemies."

"Ah, yes." Alex nodded. "Zealots, good fun those people."

"So if Loki catches up with me, they may not be able to mark me again, but there's still plenty of other ways they can make me more than uncomfortable."

"Hmm ... like what?"

"Well, any given thing they did in the middle ages..." I shuddered a bit.

"Ah ... nasty."

"Yes..." And I’m willing to bet Nkosi, as an agent of Bast, took this interpretation pretty seriously.

Alex shifted the topic again. "Hmm, ever had any close scrapes?"

"Howso?"

"In all the years that you've been adventuring, have you had any close calls?"

I reflected. "For one, I'm just over a year, actually. But yes, I've had times where I've thought I was going to die, yes. More than I expected."

Alex’s eyebrows shot up. "A year?

"But yeah, I've had close calls. I've never been seriously injured myself, but I've had some really close ones.” Bloody gorgon. "Not routinely, but it does happen."

Alex nodded. "Not good for busness. But I guess we are all aware of the risks..? About risks...stormwings. If I do come across one that isn't as nice as the last pair, what's the best thing to do?"

"Run like hell." I bluntly stated.

Alex grinned. "A tactic after my own heart. I guess they wouldn't fare too well in woods and brush."

"Woods, nope. Brush, they’ll just cut you out of. And some have been reported to fire feathers like bullets..."

The grin faded. "Great..."

"Just saying."

He took it well. "It's better that I know anyway." he said.

"On a side note... don't tell Blossom about my idea, ok?" I requested.

Alex nodded. "I won't, Selene is everything to her." Pause. "Any other nasty critters I should watch out for?"

I shrugged a bit. "We probably won't meet a powerful gorgon...I'd be mainly concerned for things like chimeras or maybe a gryphon. But we made about 14 miles today, so we only have 6 to go tomorrow."

Alex twitched a bit at the mention of chimeras.

"Chimeras aren't as big an issue if you take proper precautions. They're similar to black bears." I explained.

"Though definitely shoot-on-sight monsters."

"It's usually better to let them be, actually. If you don't have a reason for them to mess with you, they'll generally leave you alone." And a lot of them learn their lessons about human weapons right fast.

"Jumpy people with high powered rifles confuse the issue.

“Well, we don't have any high powered rifles here." I reminded.

"So we play it safe." Alex nodded.

"Yeah." I paused. "If I may speak frankly?"

"Of course."

I took a breath and explained. "We're not particularly well armed, and I have only marginal combat training myself, and I'm probably better than both of you. We don't want any fights we can avoid, which is why I paid instead. Please try and get this through the Blossom.”

Alex nodded. "I'll reimburse you if I can."

I waved a hand dismissively. "No, it's part of the job. Save your money in case we make that trip to Athens."

"Okay." He grinned. "But don't be surprised if I do a favour for you."

“Ok, if you're sure."

“I'd feel guilty if I didn't." Alex grinned. “What’s your life like, when you aren’t out here with tourists?”

"Well, I live in Lecce. Right now. Apartment with another guide..."

"Girlfriend?"

"No, no. The apartment is assigned by my employer." My girlfriend was sleeping a little ways away.

"I'm not meaning to pry but do you have a girlfriend?" Alex continued.

"I do."

"That's good. Hope she isn't too worried."

I shook my head. "No, no. She knows it's part of the job."

"She doesn't mind you keeping company with Dawn?"

"Nope. Dawn's a mutual friend." It’s true from a certain point of view!

Alex nodded. "Okay. Though she is kinda attractive in a weird avian way,” He paused. “I hope dawn finds a good guy, she deserves it."

Heh. "She does."

Alex looked thoughtful for a moment. "Dawn talked about an animal spirit, so the Americas also have their own realms?"

I shook my head. “There are three major realms. There’s minor realms that sprinkle across areas like the western Americas."

"Major minor?" he joked.

I continued. "The major realms are Egypt, Greece, and Scandinavia, for their appropriate mythologies. There's spotty zones in India and North America, parts of Africa and South America. Those are the minor realms. They’re usually transient and there’s not much, if any, forcemarking or such there.”

He nodded. "Less powerful, less distinct gods."

"Yeah."

After that explanation, Alex fell silent. But it was close to his time to sleep, so I waved him off to bed, saying I’d wait the period in between out by myself. Dawn was up next and I wanted some time alone with her.

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I was waiting by the fire when Dawn came on duty. Once we got settled in, she said, “You take me to the nicest places.” She had her back to me, to not become night-blind from the fire.

"Heh, thanks. Just figured you could help me out, and again, thanks for this afternoon." I said.

"Usually it's the shit we come after that's fucked up rather than the shit we escort, but..." Dawn giggled lightly. "Eh, keeps it interesting."

"Yeah. They've got a fun story, talked to Alex the past few hours."

"How'd that go?"

"It went well. He's not as green as he lets on, he's just green to this place. That, or he's completely self-deluded, but I think we saw convincing evidence that that's not the case."

"We did?"

"You saw him change, so did I..." I shrugged a bit. We weren’t gonna get better evidence than that.

"Doesn't necessarily indicate experience.” Dawn noted.

"Yeah, true...But it does make his story a bit more believable. Otherwise I'd be seeing if we could get him committed on the way back."

"Fair that." Dawn said quietly.

"In any case...they're connected to those other new people around on the reports..." I took a breath. "This is background info to a question I have, so please don't cut me off."

"Go ahead." She nodded.

"One of their friends, a Nick Snider, is connected to that Nkosi that's connected to Bast. Apparently, the guy crossed Bast, and they're looking if Selene is willing to help." I explained.

Dawn grimaced. "Talk about a case of barking up the wrong tree..."

"Hmm? Yeah, I said I didn't know if Selene would deign to interfere..." I paused, suddenly uncertain. "I...was wondering... you think they'd have a better chance with Athene?"

"Doubt it." she stated. "You should know by now, Nate... You don't ask what the gods can do for you. You ask what you can do for the gods."

"I know. But they, apparently, aren't quite aware of that yet." I shrugged a bit. "In any case, the idea's out there to them now, so I may be making an Athens trip right before our own trip to Athens. No idea... It really depends on what they're able to afford, of course."

"What are they actually trying to /do/?" Dawn asked.

"Well, Alex said Nick and Nkosi were the same person, now they're not...they're out to find a cure of some sort."

"Cure for what exactly?"

"The...splitting, or alteration, or whatever." I said, feeling stupid.

"Ambitious..." Dawn trailed off.

"Yeah, I know." I sighed. "That's one reason Athene came to mind, honestly. Because Nkosi's a follower of Bast, and I know that Athene and Bast are in conflict."

"Well... In about the same way that the Nazis and Chinese were in conflict. The whole enemy of my friend is my enemy schtick."

I nodded. "Guess we'll see, though..."

"If they keep us on that long," she reminded me.

"Yeah." I paused to change the subject. "Well...anything you wanted to bring up?"

"Nah. Just... Watch yourself with those stormwings...I know you remember the last time you tangled with them."

That I did. "Once I pay the other half, they aren't going to be allowed to follow us."

"I smell a rat. Not used to coming in here with groups this weak."

"I'm edgy myself... I gave a rather blunt evaluation to Alex."

"Mm?" Dawn said, distractedly.

"We're not well-armed, and I've got only marginal combat experience, and given the looks of things, I'm better than both of them."

"We'll just have to travel fast, and advise tagging along with a group on the way back." she resolved.

"That'll work." I smiled slightly. "Alex said he hoped you found a good man. That you deserved it."

Dawn giggled a bit, and then laughed.

"Yeah, although I didn't actually make any noise. I just said I agreed."

"That's rich."

"Well, maybe it's already happened..." I joked.

"Never know."

"Guess not." I said.

"And maybe I'll just have to steal you away when we drop the kids off for a little arrival party of our own." Dawn turned back to grin at me, eyes shut.

I chuckled. "Make sure we're either not going to Athens, or we're done with our first trip there, before you do that."

"Why's that?"

"So we don't have an awkward situation with them."

"Do you think they can afford to hire us to Athens? Or are you making something personal out of this?" Dawn inquired.

"I don't know if they can afford it. If they can't, I'll decide that then. Although, it would be cheapest to just extend this trip if they have the money and drop a message for RI."

"Either way, I go where you go."

"Thanks." I smiled. “Always can use the help.”

Alex mumbled in his sleep and shifted, then rolled over and sat up. "Huh. Is it morning yet?"

"No, not yet." I said with a glance in his direction.

"Damn insomnia, I guess you get that when you're raccoon part of the time."

"Morning, Kiddo,” Dawn said

I chuckled. "Maybe."

Alex looked to Dawn. "Hey. The early bird catches the worm." he chuckled.

"Very funny.", Dawn intoned dryly.

"Sorry, I can't help it." He grinned. "I give you full authorization to make coon jokes in front of me."

"Eh. Takes the fun out of it." Dawn said.

Alex nodded. "So, Nathan's told you all about us?"

"Some, admittedly."

"That's good, you need to know what you're getting yourself into." Alex said cheerfully. Quick waker, that one.

"You say this two days into a quest." Dawn noted.

"Indeed." Alex said,

"That's not a compliment, Kiddo." Dawn said.

Alex nodded. "I'd rather not be in this situation either. But if I went around claiming I was an alien all the time I would get a probe shoved up my arse sooner than later."

Dawn shook her head. "I'm pretty sure that's not how it works."

"Hmm?"

"Nevermind." Dawn said. "Nathan, hun, if he's up, I'm gonna go lie down again."

"Sure, if you want, Dawn." Oh crap. "Although I'll get you up soon; my turn's on the way." I said.

"Sleep tight." Alex noted.

Dawn laid down on her ground pad. "Bastard." She joked to me, and went back to sleep.

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I looked to Alex as Dawn fell back asleep.


He glanced back. "Hey, I’m on shift again." he joked.

"Yes, yes you are."

Alex nodded. "So you've been interrogated by Dawn?"

I shook my head. "Not interrogated. We just chatted."

"Seen or heard any scary beasties?"

"Not yet."

“Good." He paused, then joked, "I'm glad to lend a pair of excellent human eyes to the watch."

I took it in the spirit intended. "Heh. Thanks."

"And while we're on a roll you are a damn sneaky bastard too." Alex said with a friendly grin.

"Howso?"

"I may be going out on a limb a bit but I assume your relationship with Dawn extends beyond that of a working one," Alex guessed.

I paused. "Maybe."

"So you and Dawn are slightly more than just friends."

"Yes, although that came after the working relationship," I admitted. I wasn’t required to say the latter part, but there was no point to hide it.

Alex nodded. “I'll keep it quiet if you want me to."

I shrugged. “It isn't a huge secret, even outside the realms."

Alex eyed me questioningly for a moment.

"Yes?"

He shook his head. "No, nothing."

I got where he was going. "No, we haven't done that yet."

He chuckled a bit. "Use a bedroom, far more comfortable."

"Can we change the subject?" This was getting uncomfortable.

"No problemo." he nodded. "So, do you have any more questions about me. It's your turn I guess."

I thought. "Well, not directly about you, but...more about this Nick/Nkosi issue. I can't tell what's going on here. He crossed Bast, and now...there's two of them?"

"Well, from what he told me Bast actually quite liked him. She has a thing with felines, and wanted to keep him but somehow they worked out a deal and Nick went more or less scot free while Nkosi stayed with Bast." Alex explained.

"Ok..."

"Yeah, it's kinda vague."

"Anything else you know, or...? Why's he want to go back on the deal?" I asked

"I think he had given up on his old life. But now that we're around..." Alex trailed off.

"...ah." I brought forth the bad news. "Well...Dawn doesn't think you'll have much luck. With Selene, or Athene."

Alex nodded. "I can understand that, we can only hope for the best."

"If nothing happens with Selene, I'm willing to go on to Athens, but..." I trailed off, hoping Alex caught the hint.

"You're technically a mercenary to put it bluntly. I'll check with Blossom when she wakes up."

"I don’t like that word, but it gets the point across. If you can't afford it, tell me, and I'll give it some thought."

"Thanks, we wouldn't even have gotten half this far without you two."

I shrugged a bit. "That's the job. Glad I took the job over what I wanted to do at first when I turned 18."

"And that was?" Alex inquired.

"Go Realmwalking, in an adventuring party. With a friend."

"Don't you already do that?"

"I do, but as a job now, rather than a vacation. And...my friend didn't come home." I explained.

Alex frowned. "Ah."

"As said. If you can't afford it, I'll give it some thought. You're an interesting bunch, and it does fit with my code somewhat, so..."

"Thanks."

I glanced up at the stars, just gazing for a bit. “I can't show you much in the dark, but tomorrow I could show you a few ways you can orient yourself."

He nodded eagerly. "Yeah, never could really figure that out."

"Well, I can show you one method right now."

"Please do."

I nodded. "You'll have to come over here." Alex carefully crept over to not wake anyone. I took his head and hand gently and pointed them towards the Little Dipper. “See those seven stars?”

"Yes, the bright ones?"

"Yeah. See the brightest one? That's Polaris, the North Star. It's visible over the entire northern hemisphere of the planet, and it barely moves; it doesn't perfectly show where geographic north is, but it's damn close."

"Handy." Alex understated.

"Immensely. It's been used for navigation for millenia."

"I'll keep that in mind."

I let him go. "And so if you ever get lost, you can use that to get your bearings. Even more accurately than the sun. Or a compass, for that matter... the only thing that's truly better than Polaris is GPS, and that doesn't work in the realms."

"You can navigate by the sun? But it moves." Alex asked.

"You can't really navigate that well by the sun without special tools, no. But you can orient yourself. Contrary to popular knowledge, the sun doesn't always rise at perfect east and set at perfect west. But you can use the general idea to orient yourself. Once you have east or west, you can get the other three from there.”

"Aah, that simple. Thought you had some smart tracker way of using the sun or something."

"No, not really." I shook my head.

The topic shifted again. "Hmm, just to sidetrack a bit, you mentioned a fourth major realm earlier. Did the others all appear at the same time?" Alex asked.

"More or less. 2001."

"And how long ago was that?"

"19 years... people aren't eager for another realm to open because one, they don't know where it would be located, two, how heavy the evacuation would need to be, and three, how bad the commerce effects would be."

"Yeah, it would have a serious effect if one of them opened over a large commerce or industrial region."

"Like last time, the Greek peninsula was a major economic center, for just one of the three. And it blocked trade out of the Black Sea... there's only one reason the idea of a fourth realm is even floating around, and I would be talking to one of the people who are that reason."

Alex chuckled nervously. "I never wanted to be a celebrity."

"Well, not like you had a lot of choice in the matter."

"Nope. And I'm afraid that I am worth a lot to some people. Hell. If some nutcase got it into his head that we were actually actively ushering in the coming of a fourth realm... but I guess that those stormwings are our biggest worries for now." he said.

"Yeah. We may shadow another group back."

"Those birdies wouldn't be too happy about that."

"I still have to pay. But it'd be for mutual safety."

"Caravaning always works."

“That's the idea."

"We should keep that in mind if we go to Athene." Alex noted.

"Athens is on the coast. So it's not a long trip once you're off the boat."

"Ah, good. I don't like the idea of trekking across this." Alex waved to the surroundings. "For days on end."

"No, no. If we go to Athens, it'll be by boat first."

Alex paused and looked around again. "You know, all this excitement and adventure can be fun at times."

"Why do you think I keep the job?" I smiled slightly.

"Aside from the dragon hordes and hot harpy chicks, the getting shot at is the fun part?"

"No, that's the part I could skip once in awhile."

Alex nodded. “Though I've heard that some people like that too..."

"I'm sure, but it's not particularly safe. Or sane."

“I was worried about it when I saw the border out of Bast's realm."

"I don't believe I have seen that, myself." I led.

"Troops on either side lined up behind fortifications. Jumpy and ready for war at any moment."

“That's been tried before."

"Hmm? How would that work?"

"Soldiers going into the realms are quickly trounced once their weapons cease to function. Similarly, realm inhabitants are no match for modern weaponry." I explained.

"So basically it degrades of two sides waiting for the other to advance." He interpreted.

"More or less, yes. Some countries have formed realm-operation military units since then, but they’re untested so far.”

"Nasty." Alex understated.

"This was why Nkosi raised some red flags when he left the realms. It would've been exceptionally easy for a follower of an enemy of Bast to simply pick him off with a good sniper rifle and a dash of luck."

Alex nodded. "Which is also one of the reasons I don't want to pick sides."

"I can understand... although generally, unless it's all-out war, followers of different gods can get on decently amicably."

"Then I also just don't like the idea of gods."

"Difficult to deny them when they actually exist and walk the earth." I pointed out.

"I don't, I just don't like the idea of worshipping someone. That's why I don't like celebrity fans."

"Well...you may be talking to the wrong person." I pointed out.

Alex paused. "Ah yeah, sorry."

I shrugged. "Not a problem, just saying."

"My big mouth'll get me killed some day." Alex noted.

"Then learn to keep it a bit less open." I advised.

He chuckled. "Yeah. Walking up to a god and saying something like that would be suicide."

"Depends who. You might get off with a stern warning."

"The stern warning could be worse than suicide.”

"Depends, yes."

"Depends on how creative the god is I guess." He paused, then sighed.

"What's wrong?"

"I'm not sure how I'm going to do this." Alex didn’t look happy.

"Petitioning the gods?"

"Yep."

"Well...as Dawn's told me more than a few times, you don't ask what the gods can do for you, you ask what you can do for them. So...I would guess that the best chance you would have would be to try and spin it more than a politician spins an unprovoked invasion." I guessed.

"Ah, great..."

"I've never petitioned the gods, so I wouldn't know." I admitted.

"Well, information is better than no information at all."

"Of course, they may be able to see right through that. I don't know."

Alex nodded. "My instinct was to be completely frank."

"That's another option."

"Blossom'll also be adamant on doing that."

"Then by all means, try it."

"Okay, I will."

"I'm not sure about how Athene will react if you petition her. Because she doesn't have much contact with Bast." I shrugged.

"Hopefully we'll have a better chance with you."

I paused, and nodded. "Maybe, we'll see, won't we?"

Alex smiled. "Yup."

"The relationship with Bast is more the fact that Athene and Bast place emphasis on wildly different values."

"Athene on truth justice, honor and whatnot, and Bast on cats."

"Not just that, but...eh. It's a working theory."

Alex nodded and changed the subject. "Hmm, did you know Dawn before she became a Harpy?"

I shook my head. "No. I didn't."

"Can't be easy, at least I look human most of the time."

"Lecce is about as far as she ever goes from the Realms."

"Then at least you're not the strangest thing people have seen."

"Nope."

"Dawn was one of my regulars at first." I explained. "The powers that be in the company try to keep you routinely with a few people."

"Easier to work with someone you know?"

"Yeah, and it's always refreshing to have a friendly face along. Or someone who can give you the vote of confidence to pick up the pieces where they fell..."

"Or at least someone you know."

"Few months ago, on a somewhat advanced run, I was the secondary guide. For staying behind and tending the camp while the other guide went trolling for swag with them."

"At least nobody is trying to tear out your guts on that job."

"Yeah, well...they got in over their head. The primary guide got petrified. The effect to morale was instant and devestating."

Alex shuddered. "Ah."

"If Dawn hadn't been there to give me confidence in myself, and give them confidence in my ability to get them out...dunno what would've happened."

"Sucky as it sounds but friends are important. People truly do need friends, don't they?"

"They do, yes." People need others to tell them when they're wrong and to lean on when they're having trouble."

Alex nodded. "Thanks for the advice."

"I'm just saying it like I see it, man. Take it for what it's worth, but I can't guarantee it'll always be right."

Alex grinned. "At the very least it's a shove in the right direction."

"Well, thanks."

Alex continued smiling. "My pleasure. It's good to talk about that."

"The issue? I'm sure...but now, I gotta get some sleep. Go wake up Dawn, she’ll be your companion the rest of the shift." I headed over to my mat and clocked out before my head even hit the pillow.

Preceded by:
Departing
Three Pantheons Succeeded by:
Selene's Grove