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         On reflection, Chess decided that the artificers seemed okay with them moving in. But he definitely got the impression that they intended to remain in charge. The poor guys did not, however, prevail for very long against Ileana.
         “I want to start a garden,” Ileana told them all one evening. “I know it’s autumn, already, but there are some winter crops we could plant.” She raised her head to gaze out the nearby window.
         Chess, watching her, caught his breath. He had always found her to be, well, reasonably cute in her own petite way, he mused. But somehow, now that she had used Fogg’s razors to shave her head completely bald, she seemed more attractive. He shook his head and smiled to himself.
         “I would like to go up in that tower over there,” she said, referring to an antique-looking monolith of a building that was perhaps a kilometer away from the building where they now sat. The tower, along with the large clock that was set into its roof, was plainly visible, even through the woods that separated them, because it was perched at the summit of a sheer cliff face.
         “There must be an easy way to get up there,” Ileana continued. “If it’s structurally sound, I think we could get a good view of the whole area from there, and decide the best place to plant the garden.”
         “For the garden, I think we will want to construct a system that can catch large amounts of rainwater. Groundwater seems to be quite polluted in this old mining area,” Noah said.
         Ileana sighed. “Where are those water wizards when you need them?” she grinned ruefully.

         The next day, they journeyed over to the tower. Ileana had been correct in her assumption: there was a gradual path leading up behind it. They wound their way up the dusty, but intact, spiral staircase in the center of the tower, and looked out through the windows on the top floor.
         As the girls debated over placement of gardens, Chess stood back, watching their animated conversation. They seemed happy, he thought. And he had gotten them here. Noah, too, had achieved his stated goal. And Gryff was finding the adventure, or whatever it was he wanted to find, out on the road. Chess figured that it would not be long before he left them again.
         And as for himself?
         Chess climbed the final set of stairs to the roof of the tower. The wind blew his hair and whistled through the metalwork, and he could hear the structure creaking rhythmically under his feet. He stood at the edge, where the railing had disintegrated, and looked out onto the scene. Before him were the seven grouped buildings that he now considered to be Lodestar, together on the crest of a foothill, and all bounded by a still-utilized highway. And then Chess lifted his gaze beyond that, to the bluish, cloudy outlines of the Appalachian Mountains that formed the horizon. And beyond that, somewhere, he thought dreamily, was the ocean, the boundary of this beleaguered continent.
         Chess’s back still ached terribly, along with his leg, and he suddenly felt very tired. Unbidden, thoughts of his family came to his mind. They were out there, somewhere in the opposite direction. In his imagination, he traveled back to them, along the way encountering the memories of all that had happened on his journey: the villages, the people, and all the ordeals. Outside sounds became obscured by the white noise amplifying in his brain.
         Maybe, he thought… maybe he was done, now. Maybe he could just let go. His friends were here and reasonably safe. His family was back in civ and reasonably secure. Maybe it would be okay.
         Closing his eyes, he leaned out into space, feeling weightless and almost free, as the wind swirled around him. Without thought, he opened his arms and very slowly let himself fall forward, to oblivion.
         The gentle touch of a hand on his chest shocked him into opening his eyes.
         Ileana was standing beside him. “We still need you, Chess,” she murmured in his ear.
         He sucked in his breath and took a shaky step back, embarrassed and frightened at what he had been about to do. He blinked at Sariel, who was also standing close and frowning at him.
         “Go to hell,” she growled.

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“Child,” my father’s voice replied, “All things thy fancy hath desired of me Thou hast received... And all thy days this word shall hold the same: No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name. But as for tasks --” he smiled and shook his head; “Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by,” he said.
- “The Suicide” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

         Delving further into the subject of trying to achieve or maintain peace: obviously, my character Chess does not like to use violence to achieve his means. Likewise, a thief in a role-playing game is not as likely to use violence as his opening play. Thieves tend to rely more on things like careful observation and knowledge of situations and human behavior, as well as deceit and stealth -- they would probably call it wit and skill -- and, well, sneaking around a lot and then running really, really fast. However, the landscape where Chess finds himself is pretty violent and he has other people that he wants to protect. Also, he has friends and others around him who do not have many qualms about using violence, and sometimes he is fortunate, if not terribly happy, that violence rescues him from certain dire situations.
         Originally, the plan was for Chess to engage in some violent acts, although he would do it with regret. But then it became more interesting to help him get around problems in other ways. Non-violence is not all that common in sci-fi and fantasy stories, though. Or, it seems, in any story, these days. I can understand this tendency somewhat because I love swords and sword fights -- but what is the end result of a sword fight? Even a victory in the Olympic sport of dueling is a metaphor for the killing blow.
         A few blogs back, I explored how some historic nonviolent revolutionaries like Gandhi tried to handle this dilemma. But sometimes we just don’t want to see peaceful solutions in our stories. We want to watch the hero destroy the bad guys.



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