Category Archives: Chapters

Chart the STARs

Red was sorting through a large pile of leather-bound tomes when she found him. She briefly considered letting him be, but then decided to spare him the agony of sifting through the heaped literary detritus by interrupting him.

“So,” she said, “what’cha got there?”

He sighed. “Well, these are some exhaustingly exhaustive genealogies of the dingbat-swash line of Bookwyrms, and now my eyes hurt from poring through them at great length. My conclusions so far is that I haven’t found any record of the exact Bookwyrm that infested you, so… we’re basically back where we started.”

“I did find some information on the ‘dragon magician’ who apparently works in or with STAR, so do you know anything about that?”

“That’d be… The Slayer, I think he’s called.”

“Ominous.”

“Mmm, quite. I think he’s called Acheron? Wait, no, Asterion. I think Acheron is… someone else? I swear, half these idiots took a name beginning with ‘A’.”

“You know their names?”

“Eh, some of them. It’s not a very helpful thing to know, honestly. I talk with a guy from their ‘esoteric sciences’ division on occasion — he sometimes tells me things he thinks would serve both our interests to know. I might also be infiltrating some part of their operation, but whichever bit of me is doing that, I’m not sure what it’s doing.”

“You’re infiltrating them subconsciously?

“Maybe? I’m not sure; that’s what being ‘subconscious’ means. But sometimes I see signs, and it’s a bit spooky, but I think that me is on my side, if that makes any sense. Not like the one from the tower.”

She frowned, tilting her head as she tried to make sense of what he was saying. “Okay? That’s nice, if completely incomprehensible.”

“Rude.”

“I’m just telling the truth! Having alternate selves has got to be confusing. At least, when I have alternate selves, they’re in my dreams and things, telling me about evil, or power, or darkness or something.”

“I don’t know if that’s better. You did see how the other-me talked, so maybe there’s a trade-off between random violence and immediate activity?”

She shrugged. “Anyway, so there’s no extra information on this Bookwyrm being a specific one?”

“Nah. Well, not that I can tell. What did you find out about this Slayer?”

“Oh, that he’s apparently known for setting fires in the Library, which sounds like a bad idea.”

“Yeah, catastrophically bad.”

“Right. So, apparently he was hanging around with some group of ruffians or STAR people or something, so I think he might be associated with their efforts to find me? Or would the whole fire thing preclude that?”

He pulled a face. “STAR aren’t exactly known for obeying the rules of the Realms they visit — to be fair to them, they don’t usually know the rules, because they don’t like actually communicating with ‘Realmic’ creatures. I would say it’s less likely that they bought this guy in, given the possibility of collateral damage and repercussions, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”

“Hmm. I guess it’s tricky to predict them, since they don’t act as rationally.”

“Yeah.”

“You know anything else?”

“Not much beyond a name. They’ve changed the lineup since I last checked — STAR has a central council, with twelve members, their primary and most powerful field agents. Each of these positions has a certain cluster of themes, but they’re pretty vague. You’ve met Ariel, the Shepherd, and Thaumiel, the Path, back in Foyer, and the Slayer would be on this level.”

“Okay, why’re they called that?”

“Somewhat complex, but Ariel is what’s known as a Blue Witch, and Thaumiel is psionic. Exactly how that corresponds to their names and titles is a bit vague, but that’s more of a weird tradition thing.”

“I don’t know what either of those mean.”

“Right, of course. Blue Witches tap into an elemental power known as, unsurprisingly, the Blue. They have abilities related to storms, rough seas, and things in that general area. I think she can teleport around by transforming into lightning.”

“Okay. So what does being psionic mean? Thaumiel can read minds? Are they like Aidra?”

“Oh, I’m not like them at all,” said Aidra, from about two feet behind her.

Gah!” she started. “I’ve asked you to stop doing that!”

“And I refused!”

“You’re insufferable.

“So many people tell me that. I wonder what it means.”

She groaned. “Anyway, what was it you wanted to say about this Thaumiel person, Aidra?”

“Oh, their abilities are a bit like mine, but significantly departing in scope. Like, they can probably do many of the things I can —” he indicated upwards at the impossibly-stacked tower of cards, which was nearly scraping the ceiling of the massive library room — “but they’re several orders of magnitude out of my league. In the more-powerful direction, in case that was ambiguous.”

“Well, that’s bad?

“From what I remember,” said Red, “The Path is pretty conflict-averse. They were the one who was eager to drag the Shepherd off on a technicality.”

“That’s better. I guess they’re the person to negotiate with?”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think STAR have a dedicated negotiating department.” He paused a moment, thinking, then reconsidered. “Actually, they might have, but that’d be for, like, Sheolic contracts.”

“Huh.”

“Much as I’d love to hear the pair of you talk about the very boring STAR people,” said Aidra, “I must go. I am needed… elsewhere.”

And, with that, he ran back over to his card tower, and started to float upwards, borne aloft by another hovering pile of cards.

Red watched him go. “I don’t actually know where he gets all those cards from, and honestly I’m kinda wary of asking.”

“I think some things are too powerful for us to know.” She replied. “So is that all the information you have on the STAR people?”

“Everything that comes to mind. Why, were you thinking of taking the fight to them?”

“We’re fighting them?”

“I dunno. We might be heading for a confrontation with either them, or Grey and White, or maybe Syrk, so it’d be good to pick the arena, confront them on our terms rather than theirs.”

“Maybe we run into them all at once, and then they can fight each other?”

“Would that we’d be that lucky. No, I think the best idea is to avoid them until we can find an advantage or negotiating position.”

“We’ll be able to find a negotiating position?”

He shrugged. “Probably not with Syrk or with White and Grey. Which leaves STAR, which is probably as good a reason as any to do all this research. Speaking of, do you think we’re done here?”

“I’m… not sure,” she replied. “I’ll see what Nik and A Librarian have unearthed, then we’ll do some kind of planning or something.”