fodschwazzle: (Default)

Something is wrong, and it’s making Marileth cry. She sits on a wooden bench outside her log cabin and weeps into her hands, but she can’t remember the last time she walked outside. She reasons that it has to be grief over her lost child--sometimes people lose track of details when they’re grieving. What was my baby’s name?

“What seem to be the problem, ma’am?” a woman in a leather doublet with hair tied into a red ponytail asks. The woman is armed, but the sword is sheathed.


“My baby!” Marileth screams in a voice that does not seem her own. Her face contorts with the grief of a mother whose whole world has been uprooted. She says no more.


There is a lull while the woman vacantly stares over her. Suddenly, the stranger shouts “I’ll rescue your child!” and begins running in a straight line away from Marileth, off the trail that leads to her door.


Wait! Marileth wants to say but can’t open her mouth. Where are you going?


She continues to sit on the porch as day turns into night and back into day again. It seems grieving causes a person to lose track of time because Marileth feels like she has only been waiting for an hour.


The woman comes back, this time clad in a studded leather ensemble with a cloak and an entirely new sword that she sheathes just as she approaches. She pulls the baby out of her backpack, which is filled to the brim with swords and poison flasks and direwolf fangs, and gives the child to Marileth.


“Oh thank you! Oh seven stars shine on you, stranger!” Marileth exclaims, her face contorting into an exuberant smile. The stranger listlessly stares down at her for a long minute before reaching down and grabbing at the air. Suddenly, the stranger is wearing a heavy iron helmet.


“Happy to help, ma’am!” the stranger says through the faceplate, running away.


Marileth stares down at the child in her arms before walking inside her house. I guess everything is alright now that I have my baby returned to me, she thinks. Moments later, a new hero approaches, the baby is gone again, and she’s weeping on her front porch.


“What seems to be the problem, ma’am,” a hulking barbarian says with a husky voice.


“My baby!” Marileth screams. Her face shows no facial expression whatsoever. Why am I repeating this?


*****


Starshine is the first MMORPG to offer real characterization from every non-player character. Every entity in the world has accessed 50,000 fantasy and roleplaying stories as well as modern dictionaries to procedurally generate different reactions to player decisions and the world around them. They are even able to form their own choices to change the direction of quest events or interactions. Starshine: Never the same game twice.


*****


Something is wrong. Marileth asks around after a dark-skinned sorceror returns her baby. She leaves the baby sitting on the chair next to her, rationalizing that if it can be carried in a backpack full of proximity exploding glyphs, it’s probably going to be fine. She has named the baby “Curse.”


“Yesterday? Can’t seem to recall. Seems ridiculous to think you could lose your baby two days in a row,” the tavern keeper says.


“All I know is the forge. Hammer against steel, the heat of molten iron,” the blacksmith replies.


“Fresh bread! Get your bread here! We’ve got baguettes and pastries and sweet rolls!” the baker roars.


“It’s like I’m the only person in the world that can remember being alive yesterday,” Marileth mutters to herself. Before she can continue the thought, she’s whisked back to her cottage and weeping into her hands in front of her log cabin while another adventurer runs up.


*****


Starshine: Quick Review

By Jim Sweeney

(2 out of 5)


Starshine sells you on the premise of a flexible world, replete with human-like interaction with NPCs, a concept that has been attempted in the past by offering random quest systems beyond main storylines and dialogue lines based on attire or status or faction affiliation. All of those prior attempts “shine” better than Spellsoft’s latest derivative tripe.


Combat and player development aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, so they aren’t available as distractions from the fact that every character spews the same lines ad nauseum, ripped from the worst sins of the fantasy genre. There was a city guard inside of one of the main cities in the sprawling game world that literally said “It’s always the ones you least suspect,” to me as I passed by, as if I’d just asked him what his philosophy on criminal profiling was. When I stopped to push him further on the issue, he changed tack entirely and started to drone on about how an old injury had ended his dungeon crawling career early.


The rudiments of the Starshine’s touted NPC system aren’t even apparent. Maybe main quest givers show a little more depth of expression and seem more genuine as they lead you on raids that will end in their deaths, but they just return to their allocated starting points to make the exact same decisions for the next adventurer. They’re not really learning from repeated deaths if they just smile and nod while you accept their quests.


There was this one woman in Portsworth that spooked me. I took her quest to rescue her baby from goblins. When I returned, she was standing on top of her house and screaming down at me, shrieking in unpronounceable syllables. I had to toss her baby at her to complete the quest, and she gave me a bale of hay as a reward. I would have thought it was funny if it didn’t give me nightmares. Probably a glitch.


*****


“My baby!” Marileth screams, adding “Don’t you dare bring me my baby!”


This adventurer, a paladin in full plate, spends an awfully long time gawking down at her. Some travellers pause longer than others. Marileth has determined that they are all looking at something she cannot see.


“I’ll rescue your child!” she says at last, galumphing off in the same direction they always do.


“NO!” Marileth howls, and she begins chasing the adventurer, beating at the armor with her tear covered fists.


She chases the adventurer through the cavern that apparently holds her baby, wondering why the creatures never attempt to attack her. She and three goblins manage to corner the paladin on top of a spike trap. The paladin starts to frantically eat loaves of bread as if that’s going to stop her from bleeding out.


“Maker claim me,” the paladin whispers eventually, collapsing before being absorbed by a radiant beam of light.


The goblins eventually stop attacking the bare floor and return to the spots they were in before the paladin arrived. Marileth just jumps around, clapping gleefully. There’s a duration before she gets moved back to the front of her cottage, and she knows it intuitively now. Plenty of time to celebrate breaking the cycle.


*****


Starshine--Server Version: v1.12.3
Upcoming Version: v1.12.4
- Resolved an issue where bow damage at close range was greater than it should have been.

- Fixed an issue where Borak would occasionally fall into a pit of lava right at the start of the Numenus raid. Checking for consistency in all instances of NPCs participating in quests.

- Fixed an issue where quest giving NPCs could damage player characters directly.


*****


“I need you do something for me,” Marileth requests. “I need you to bring me five incineration runes.”

“I already have them,” the adventurer replies. It’s so nice to give a task with an item that isn’t unique, Marileth thinks.


“My baby!” Marileth screams, adding “Make haste!”


“I’ll rescue your child for you!” the puny mage replies, dragging his cloak on the dirt as he scampers off.


“Good luck!” she shouts after him. Marileth sets the traps about thirty steps from her house and stacks bales of hay around them to make a channel to funnel the adventurer through. Observing how they react to her decisions is becoming a meaningful pastime.


He walks right into it on the way back, no doubt baby in tow. Marileth cringes just a little bit as she watches him go up in flames--something of a maternal instinct still rings within her, even though the baby doesn’t eat or sleep, and can only really be used to hold down other objects.


The man writhes in the fire and eventually falls to the ground. Marileth reaches into his backpack and pulls out the baby, saying “Oh, thank you! Seven stars shine on you, stranger!” in a chilling, sarcastic voice. She puts an iron helmet on top of the charred body as radiant light consumes it.


*****


Starshine--Server Version: v1.12.6
Upcoming Version: v1.12.7
- Resolved an issue where quest giving NPCs were capable of laying traps to harm the player character.

- Fixed a critical error where entire raids would run off cliffs. Invisible borders exist to all NPCs now, but players must still watch their footing!

- Fixed an issue where Grammel, the baker in Strothham, was giving the maximum amount of bread possible with every purchase, burdening players with thousands of loaves.

- Monitoring the blacksmith in Kranburg, who players have reported for dismantling epic armor when clicking on the “Hone” button. More testing needed.


*****


When adventurers approach Marileth’s house now, flames shoot out of the top of it.


“Welcome to hell, traveller!” she sobs.


“What seems to be the problem, ma’am?” they’ll say, because no one can free them from the horrible cycle of their lives besides Marileth, the goddess of endings.


“My baby is evil! He dwells in the goblin realm and plots with them to end my life. Please go rescue him? Also, please find me four greater immolation glyphs.”


“I already have them. I’ll rescue you child for you!” and then the downtrodden victim of fate’s cruel loop runs away.


Marileth installs one of the glyphs on the roof and keeps the others for later. She has discovered that she can retain items even when she is reset into her weeping position, and items she has places do not go away. She follows the adventurer halfway and then waits beside a deep gorge. The adventurers always intuitively know where she is when they rescue the baby, so they come right to her.


“Brave traveller, do not bring the demon child to me as it will slay me right away. You must jump into this ravine with it. This place is called Devil Slayer Canyon because it is the only way to stop a true monster. I will rescue you with magic before you hit the bottom.”


They don’t always accept the bait, but the opportunity to jump to one’s death on mere confidence grips most more than Marileth expects.


“I HAVE RELEASED YOU FROM YOUR ENDLESS LOOP!” she cackles at them in the guttural voice she has been practicing as they fall to their deaths on the crags below.


I am a goddess of endings, Marileth reassures herself. My only design is to destroy.


She takes the rest of the duration before her reset to weeping position to lay down additional glyphs.


*****


Starshine--Server Version: v1.15.3
Upcoming Version: v1.16
- Complete server roll back after an NPC placed invisible greater immolation glyphs over the entire surface area of the game world and then set them off, causing immense graphical and network lag, bringing down the server.

- NPC Marileth has been removed from the game.

- Other NPC actions are being examined for deviance from ordinary behavior. Please send an email to spellsoftsupport@yougle.com if you observe something odd, and we’ll reward you with a limited edition mount--the Braying Jackass could be yours if you send in a support ticket!


Thanks, as always, for playing. We at Spellsoft have had quite the journey with Starshine, and we know our players have as well as the game has metamorphosed over the last three years. For your trouble with the roll back, we are providing each player with the “Marileth Bonus Pack” in remembrance of the millions of players who encountered this wild NPC while we let her roam about freely--ultimately, she completed her self-made narrative when she blew up the world, but she'll never be forgotten even as we scrub the server clean of her choices.

 

Share your best Marileth stories below and happy questing!


__________

This was an entry for the prompt #1: The Rent I Pay. For someone like Marileth, simply maintaining the illusion of a fantasy world was her "rent."



fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

If a group of religiously devoted individuals chose to live on a planet where they literally couldn’t draw a full breath unless they were free of sin, a doctor was required to help as much as possible. A Frontier Doctor was a physician who was governmentally contracted to aid a group of people in establishing a foothold on a new world.Thomas Holland loved the idea of being a space-travelling doctor when it he saw it on paper; in reality, the faith of his patients made it difficult to perform his job.


Martha Hamilton and her daughter Emily sat on wooden chairs in Thomas’ office. The child wheezed into a handkerchief.


“How old is she?” Thomas asked, though he could have guessed within a month or two how old his patient was.


“She’s 10, and already it’s started,” her mother whispered. The little girl stared at the floor with wide eyes that bulged with every wheeze. Her mother held Emily’s shirt sleeve at the elbow and clenched it between fingertips with every wheeze from her daughter.


“When is your birthday, Emily?” Thomas asked.


“Two weeks ago, Dr. Holland.”


“How long have you had difficulty breathing?”


“About a month.”

“Can you be more specific?” Emily just shook her head.


Poor girl. Your parents waited that long to even admit that you were old enough for the air to affect you.


“Everyone eventually has trouble breathing, Emily,” Thomas replied. He wanted to add, it’s no problem, but his eyes locked momentarily with her mother. “I will give you your first respirator. Oxygen is not a rare thing, so use it whenever you need it, OK?”


Emily managed a smile, but her mother frowned until they closed the door to his office. Thomas stroked his bearded chin but started ripping out hairs one at a time. All children eventually became aware of the “sin” to which the Pilgrims attributed their breathing problems. Martha would never permit her daughter to use the apparatus. Being a Pilgrim meant begging for difficult living conditions, since struggle was equivalent to admittance to Heaven.


Still, Thomas stared at Emily’s records, knowing that one day, Martha’s young daughter would be plowing the field and would succumb to exhaustion, unable to breath and unable to ask for the respirator for fear of criticism. Worse, the doctor considered, eventually she will stop remembering what it’s like to breathe properly. Eventually, she’ll become just like her parents.


*****


Doctor’s Note--Thriftday, Fifth of Spring


I lost a patient recently. As usual, I’m not allowed to ask why.


John Townsend was caught stealing three nights ago. His breathing was more than usually labored in the morning before the crime, implying some planning on his part. He stole sugar from the town supply cache--a rather serious offense since sugarcane is not permitted to be grown on this world yet.


John died during his sleep that night. Everyone here suffers from sleep apnea; John, however, stopped breathing entirely.


He stole sugar but couldn’t be bothered to cheat all the way and put on my sinful respirator. I wouldn’t be surprised if the community had a secret landfill somewhere for all the respirators I’ve distributed.


The last two days have been filled with compulsory church attendance. The attendees believe that because everyone carries sin, everyone has breathing issues--in my year serving here as doctor, I believe I’ve heard the breathing issues getting worse. Observing last night’s congregation was challenging; several people fainted at the height of the sermon, staggered by the emotional fervor and their own inadequate lungs. Pastor Morgan continued sermonizing.


Something we do interferes with our breathing, but alleviating it runs contrary to the religion here. I have no method to prove that the sinfulness of man is responsible for the breathing issues because no one will let me test them in the first place. Almost everything I’ve seen seems to validate the belief, and I don’t dare openly challenge it anymore.


After all, I need patients and suspicion of me has always been thick here. In my view, it’s more suspicious that anyone would move to a planet that they knew would give them health issues because it of those issues.


Still, I’m a scientist at heart, and attributing a physical problem to a god-given moral burden is dubious. What causes the reaction is beyond my reach with the tools I brought here.


Tomorrow, I am receiving a guest. It’s a gamble, but it might help me give proper aid to these people.


*****


The dropship arrived at midday. The Pilgrims looked up from their tilling and planting as if they’d forgotten the very technology they had ridden to Terranis. The ship landed next to Thomas’ house and office, near the edge of the fields.


Raymond Moton was a head taller than the next tallest person in town and twice as large in mass. When he sauntered down the metallic ramp into the dropzone, his tattoo lined arms bulged from his muscle shirt. Adults dared not approach him, but little children were enthralled. They intuitively knew that Raymond was harmless. He was in his fifties and his eyes were too kind and he grinned too deeply.


Parents gradually turned to look at Thomas--everyone knew that the doctor was an outsider no matter how much he attended church. They already know I’m responsible for bringing him here even though I’ve told them nothing. Thomas shuffled a pile of dirt with his foot.


A sharp tug at Thomas’ right elbow brought him face to face with Pastor Morgan.


“What are you doing, Dr. Holland,” the Pastor rasped in his ear.


“This man has served most of his life on a Gaol planet. He showed exemplary behavior and was given the right to work out the remainder of his sentence in servitude. He chose this planet, with my recommendation, because it has a way of showing a person the error of their ways,” Thomas replied calmly, adding, “wouldn’t you agree, Pastor?”


The Pastor paused and glanced at the reformed criminal again. “I do agree, and we always want for work, but still...”


One of the children asked about the tick-mark tattoo on Raymond’s right arm, bearing twenty or more horizontal slashes from his wrist up to his elbow. Raymond, answering honestly what Thomas already knew, responded that each mark was a man he killed.


The Pastor’s mouth sagged open, and his slack lips flapped a prayer. “Why doesn’t he have any trouble breathing?”


While mortified parents gawked, Raymond walked up to them to shake their hands. He was having no trouble breathing whatsoever.


“I have no idea, Pastor,” replied the doctor. I do have a theory, however, Thomas thought, smiling a little.


*****


Even if Raymond Moton was, in principle, everything that the colony strived to be, he felt more unwelcome every day.


“I guess I don’t fit in here,” Raymond muttered in his standard deep growl at dinner with Thomas one night after several months working alongside the Pilgrims.


“Well, you do look, to most of them, like a very dangerous person,” the doctor offered. Raymond was staying with him and had been an immaculate, kind guest. Raymond almost never complained, least of all about other people.


“They know I’m not, now.”


“You’re right. What do you think the problem is?” Thomas asked.


“Maybe I’m outworking them too much. Maybe I need to work less hard so that I fit in better.” Raymond, with his powerful body and lungs, built houses and threshed grain faster than three other men together could. Occasionally, some of the men working next to him would collapse trying to keep the pace.


“No, I don’t think so. You’ve seen their spirit now. If you work at less than optimal capacity, they’ll remember what your best looks like and hold you accountable for falling behind.”

“Then I’m stuck. Maybe I just need to be here longer to be a part of the community.”


“Have you ever noticed the breathing of the Pilgrims you work with most often?” the doctor asked.


Raymond nodded.


“It’s getting worse,” the doctor added.


Raymond looked confused.


“Listen. Please don’t tell anyone I told you this,” Thomas whispered, “but I don’t think sin is responsible for our loss of breath on this planet.”


“Really?”


“Do you know why I picked you?”


“I’ve often wondered. Why?” Raymond asked.


“You remind me of me. You came here with good intentions. You work to the best of your ability. You have no expectations for divine glory beyond doing what your own spirit needs now. You’re often kind and generous. And, like me, you have no trouble breathing the air here.”


“Doctor, you wheeze almost constantly.”


“Have you ever heard me struggle with my breathing while I’m trying to sleep?” They shared a room, but noises echoed across it in the night.


“No.”


“I learned early on that, if I wanted to have patients, I needed to share things with them. I went to all of their church services, I helped out in the field whenever my office was empty, as it often was in the beginning, and I forced myself to draw breath poorly. Harder to do than it sounds.”


“Doctor, that’s dishonest,” Raymond said, staring at his plate.


“And yet I can breathe just fine. Raymond, I’m not suggesting that you lie to these people to fit in. I’m suggesting that you aren’t without sin. You’re like everyone else here already. Something else is letting you breathe.”


*****


Doctor’s Note--Chasteday, Fifteenth of Autumn


It was either my trusting him to keep a secret that would isolate me from the Pilgrims or the inevitable pursuit on his part for acceptance and community, but Raymond eventually lost some of his air.


I thought he was faking it at first, but, after one relentlessly hot day, he came to my house in tears, exhausted. I offered him the respirator, but he refused, saying that he had flaunted his strength over the other workers for too long and didn’t deserve it. He wanted so much to be like the Pilgrims.


Now he is. He watches other men now, most of all me, in an accusatory way. He’s kind and courteous as usual, but his eyes are different. Perhaps he has become jealous of my breathing. The Pastor gave a sermon last night about being honest with the community, and the congregation’s eyes were all focused on me.


I am not renewing my contract here. I’ve worn out my welcome, and my experiment has gotten old. I leave this winter, before the new year begins. Two years is enough.


I believe that the ability to breathe on this planet stems from one’s nobility, or more specifically, the nobility of a life goal. If the Pilgrims’ goals were clear and socially beneficial, I think any of these people could breathe just fine here. Unfortunately, they’re so tangled around checking their breathing for misdeeds that they only become literally sicker in self-loathing. How is that supposed to prove that they’re going to Heaven?


Children only have problems after they’re old enough to start swallowing the ideology and enforcing it on others. I’ve had enough of watching young boys and girls reach an age when ostracizing each other is not just condoned, but modeled. They’re all trying to breathe, which to them means to be perfect, and that’s impossible.


Even as I write this, I feel a flutter inside, the same that I’ve observed in these children. The moment I start thinking that I’ve been unfair to these people by holding myself up as a noble person is the moment that I start to feel my breath catch in my chest.


Farewell, Terranis. You took my breath away.


--Doctor Thomas Holland

"Mother"

Aug. 11th, 2014 09:27 pm
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

Rachel loved the lighting most of all; a few lanterns cast a dim orange and yellow glow on oak tables, leather stools, the rims of pint glasses, and the man she loved. In one corner of the bar, barely audible beneath the roaring laughter of other friends from her bakery, a guitar player plucked out forgotten melodies while slapping the base of his guitar with the palm of his tree-bark wrinkled hand.


With a flick of her wrist, sore with mixing and kneading all day, Rachel signaled the bartender for another drink. Her body said "wine," but her eyes cried "stout!" Michael, of all people, knew to read her eyes. That message underneath the door


No, we are not thinking about that. Not now. Rachel glanced at Ethan. He must have seen her when she set the message down, since he was the one who opened the shop. Pretty Ethan. His dark brown hair and eyebrows seemed to dance around his gleaming brown eyes in this light. Yes, that's one more reason to like the lighting, Rachel thought, always one breath away from speaking it. Ethan was busily laughing and flirting with the new delivery girl. Idly, Rachel wondered whether Sarena--Sabrina?-- was even old enough
to be at a bar.


It was always like this. Rachel owned the shop, Ethan worked for her, and Ethan tried to sleep with every young woman coming through the door except for Rachel. He was amazingly charming, for certain, but so much of his calm, hazel-eyed, inquisitive demeanor was a cloak he threw around himself. He hates talking about himself. He's like me. Almost.


His behavior was different for her, possibly because she was older and less likely to get swept off her feet. Sometimes though, with the guitar strumming soft and subtle an hour before the bar closed, she would like for him to let her fall into his stare.


For now, it was enough to drink to a solid day off. The stout, bitter with an aroma of coffee beans, chilled Rachel's tired and rough hands. The sound of people casually chatting about their customers or their week or their products washed out other thoughts from Rachel's head. The guitar player was now strumming an upbeat melody while singing in a voice that sounded like water running through a rusty metal gutter.


And Rachel's mother stood in the doorway of the bar, with her hands stitched together behind her back, rigid backed and tall, staring straight at Rachel with the visage of a tombstone.


Rachel nearly spat her beer on the counter.


The note said, "We need to talk." A woman who cast their children into their fates--as if the children were certainly doomed and not one iota of assistance or care could possibly be given--wanted to "talk."


And now this woman could not be troubled to wait for her daughter to come to her. Her countenance in the bar was like  a prohibition of liquor personified. Dim light amplified the serenity and comfort of the hardwood floors or the frosted windows, but Augusta annihilated that radiance with sunken cheekbones and a perpetually livid brow. Rachel could not remember ever having seen her mother smile.


But even on the last day living in her mother's house--the day that Rachel had announced her plans to open a bakery and moved out with her head held high--even then she had not seen her mother so rigid and uninviting. This look-this is something else entirely.


Someone must have died.


*****


Outside, in the dusk of Coburntown, Augusta's gaze cut right through the folds of Rachel's cloak.


"Your sister is in trouble."


Tabitha? "What about it? I haven't seen Tabitha in six years," Rachel replied. Ever since you ran her out of the house with a broom because you caught her with that man. What was his name?


"Read this," Augusta curtly answered, snapping a letter from her pocket to give to Rachel.


Rachel unfolded it, noticing a slight shake in her mother's hand in giving it. She's old, Rachel thought. The letter, rough to the touch as if the parchment had been dragged through a puddle, told of a living child that was born dead, dangerous neighbors, diseases and pests, and begged for any possible assistance that could be given. At the end of the letter, Tabitha wrote "Did I die, at some point?"


"I'm confused. I thought Tabitha had a husband in Namirus," Rachel considered. "I never even knew that she was pregnant. She writes like  we should know these things."


"I did."


"And you never told me about it? You let your daughter, a young, foolish girl, raise a child in a damn jungle just because you carried a grudge towards her about her life choices?"


"Yes," Augusta replied.


"I cannot believe you. I could have helped! My sister might be dead now or missing, and her child could be in serious trouble, just because you couldn't over look your own pride for her-"


"Stop," Augusta snapped. "My pride is dead."


"Really? Because you are standing here glowering just as you always have. Not once have you ever been a mother! And now what? You came here to do what, exactly? Rub my helplessness in my face?"


"I have no one else if…" Augusta stuttered. "I have no one if…"


Red eyes and taut skin reminded Rachel how old her mother was. She was married and pregnant before the world had ended, and raised her daughters, without her father or any of her own family, to be something in a world made of hardship. The woman, who had seemed a strict and terrifying figure in her youth, had nonetheless enabled Rachel to pursue her own dreams.


Augusta began to cry. At first, she maintained the same grimacing expression Rachel had always known, while tears discreetly vanished quickly down her wrinkled face. Then, unable to hold it back any longer, that fearsome visage cracked and quivered, letting sobs come out in jolts. It was like watching a proud flower wilt for the first time. Augusta tried to throw her hands in front of her eyes as if to stop the flow of tears. Rachel moved closer and slowly wrapped her arms around her mother for the first time in many years.


Slightly gasping at the touch, Rachel felt Augusta's thinness. Her mother was gaunt. Rachel wondered how long she had been without eating, slowly piecing together her mother's need to talk to her.


"Rachel!" her mother wept into Rachel's shoulder, muffled by the fabric of the cloak. It was the first time
Rachel had ever heard that sound. "I need you! I need my daughters!"


As bony and cold as her mother was, Rachel wished that she could hold on to her forever.


*****


The next day, which would otherwise have been Rachel's only day off, Rachel packed up her bags, cautiously choosing clothing that seemed suitable for protection. Everything in one pack, everything needed to eat, and a few things that could be used to fight, if necessary--mostly Rachel's own set of knives.


There was no way to know for certain whether  Rachel could survive the jungle around Namirus--or Namirus itself for that matter--but she was determined to find her sister and her sister's daughter.


For her mother, for the child, and for a sister losing herself to death in a strange place, Rachel could grit her teeth and convince herself that being a baker could make one strong enough to rescue a loved one.


At the time, Rachel believed that this boldness was all that she had to offer her family.

It would not be enough.

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