XCOM: The Blogger Edition – Part 2


9 March, 2015


A small flying saucer has been detected in the vicinity of Japan. The bogey has been classified UFO-1.

An interceptor is scrambled from the XCOM base somewhere in a remote part of the Philippines.



The interceptor is en route.

Shortly after, a tense air battle begins, the interceptor exchanging shots with the larger alien vessel while Command and Control can only watch with bated breath and crossed fingers.


The interceptor takes heavy damage, but the UFO drops out of the sky.

Back at the base, Mission Control crew break out into a round of spontaneous claps. The relief is palpable. These alien craft -can- be hurt with our current missile technology.


Not that much though. Surveillance indicates that the grounded UFO is still mostly in one piece, and that alien crew are moving at the crash site. Salvaging for supplies to repair their craft perhaps?

We can’t have that.

The only one doing the salvage today will be XCOM.

A squad is scrambled.


From left to right, Rookie Bhagpuss, Squaddie Izlain, Squaddie Gypsy Syl, and Rookie Joseph Skyrim.

The mission: Operation Vengeful Jester


The team is to locate the crashed UFO and eliminate any remaining crew members.

Secondary objectives are to secure any Meld canisters and preserve as much of the alien craft as possible for salvage.

The transport manages to find a clear landing zone on a road that’s wide and flat enough.


The team disembarks into a streetscape filled with rubble.

The uncontrolled descent of the UFO has shaved off the tops of many of the buildings in this area. It looks like the aftermath of an earthquake, fires smouldering in the distance, burst pipes leaking their contents, the skeletal wrecks of cars abandoned on the road.

Hopefully, an XCOM communiqué went out in time to the Japanese authorities to order an evacuation of the area, minimizing civilian casualties but the team doesn’t have the time to look too closely.

They’re here for one thing only: Get in, neutralize any X-rays, take apart the craft for usable salvage, get out.

The squad proceeds down the road, spreading out to take advantage of the ample cover from the rubble and before long, startles their first batch of aliens.


We already spent our turn moving, so the aliens get a free turn to do whatever nefarious things they feel like doing, without getting shot at.


They scurry behind cover. And they do love their Mind Merge…

(Gives +25% Critical chance, +25 Will, and 1 additional Health to the receiving alien. Conversely, if the originator of the link is killed, both will die.)

Then the buffed alien takes a shot at Rk. Skyrim.


And hits for 4 bars of damage, leaving him considerably wounded, with just two more bars to go.

Now the XCOM team moves.

Sq. Izlain approaches, using the wreck of a red car for partial cover, and takes a shot at the nearest alien.

(As much as it would be nice to take out the originator of the Mind Merge, the cunning little things are clever enough to stay further behind and I didn’t want the squad to get too spread out.)


He hits for 3 damage, something that would normally kill them, but it’s saved by the last bar of Mind Merge.

Not for long:


Sq. Syl is now the one toting the shotgun (I checked this time before firing willy nilly) and she runs up to stick the barrel in its face.

95% chance to hit, 20% chance to critical… Goodbye, linked alien.


Rk. Bhagpuss is a little too far away to have a good chance of hitting the other alien, but since there’s no point rushing up further to give the alien a free close-range shot, has a go at it anyway.



Choosing caution as the better part of valor, the wounded Rk. Skyrim is ordered to use the sturdy sides of the van for full cover.

He will be later positioned to support the assaulting Sq. Syl as that half of the team approaches a signal indicative of a Meld canister.

As there’s already two soldiers on the left flank to chase after the last alien, we veer Sq. Syl to the right to pick up said canister before it self-destructs.


She also successfully locates the crash-landed alien UFO in the process. and startles a second group of aliens…


…who scurry off into the cover of ruins and darkness out of sight.

Oh, that’s not so good.

Rk. Bhagpuss is hastily ordered to head to the right as well, and go into Overwatch to wait for the aliens to show themselves.

(I have full confidence that Sq. Izlain will be able to take on the one measly alien on the left…)


As expected, the little critters show themselves.

Rk. Bhagpuss takes a reaction shot, but they’re pretty fast moving little gits and he misses. (Overwatch has a -20 Aim penalty, and even more if the target is dashing (-40) but hey, it’s still better than not shooting.)

Sq. Syl also gets to take a reaction shot,


and hits for 4 damage!


The alien squeals most satisfyingly as it explodes in a shower of strangely colored goo.

Well, that teaches them to run around without care in front of a shotgun.

Meanwhile, Sq. Izlain is in pursuit of the retreating alien from the initial encounter.


In a low crouch, he stalks through the rubble of a collapsed building to creep up on the alien.


Then he stands up, leans over the rubble and critical hits the alien with an automatic burst from the assault rifle for 6 points of damage.

Surprise, motherf–ker.

Over in the right corner, it’s now Sq. Syl’s turn to take action.


Oh look, another frag grenade.



Well, it was -outside- the UFO.

And in this mess, who would notice one more thoroughly wrecked piece of rubble?

All four tangos down, the squad starts moving to regroup with each other and approaches the UFO cautiously.

As they peer in through the strange glowing window? doorway? entrance? a strange being unfolds itself from what previously looked like a hovering shard of crystal.


Through the inbuilt cameras on the team’s suits, we get a close up look at the UFO’s hull, which is still mostly intact after that high-velocity crash landing. Dr. Vahlen, the XCOM lead researcher, marvels as much over the comm links, but the squad really isn’t interested in that as a priority.

As the otherwordly alien glides around inside the alien craft, Sq. Syl opens fire from Overwatch.


And unfortunately misses.

Still alive, the Outsider alien returns fire at Sq. Syl, but also just as fortunately, misses too.


The Commander on high expressly orders Rk. Skyrim to follow the Meld signal and retrieve the last canister before the window of opportunity for salvage is lost.


As much as it might be nice to move up in support of Sq. Syl to take potshots at the strange alien, there’s no point risking the wounded soldier when there’s also an important job that needs doing.

In the long term, the retrieval of as much Meld material as possible for the scientists and engineers back at home base may end up the key to winning the war.

Rk. Bhagpuss is moved up in support instead, ready to offer covering fire on the next turn if needed.


Sq. Syl suspects she can end it without any issues arising.

There’s no cover in the intervening space, so it is a risky maneuver, exposing oneself to whatever else may be inside the ship lying in wait.

But well, that’s what Assault troops are for, taking the big risks to go in first.

Luckily, there’s no other aliens within – the survivors must have all exited the wreck already.

At this range, we’re talking 100% chance to hit and 70% chance to critical with a shotgun.


6 points of critical damage completely disrupts the structure of the strange energy being, and it explodes into a hundred harmless motes of… stuff. Whatever it’s made of. The boffins back home can figure it out later.


No further live aliens are detected on site.



5 aliens killed.

0 XCOM operatives lost.

2 of 2 Meld canisters recovered.

Operation Vengeful Jester ends with an Excellent rating for all categories.


The after action report. No promotions just yet, Rk. Skyrim is wounded for 4 days. (That’s pretty fast considering the extent of the damage!)

The team has barely enough time for any R&R because the Council sends XCOM an urgent message.


I guess we’re going to Paris.

We’re one member down, so we have to pick up a fourth.

Team, meet your new sniper.


Coming up next, Operation First Law in Paris, France!

XCOM: The Blogger Edition


3rd January, 2015

We are not alone.

The first alien device showed up on a perfectly normal day on a perfectly normal street crossing.


Curious onlookers were drawn to the strange object, glowing with a pulsating light never seen before on this Earth.

This was a mistake.


Authorities that later arrived on-site found no trace of them, except for traumatized energy signatures that left an indelible silhouette etched into the environment.

The XCOM Project was formed in the light of these new developments. Its goal, to respond decisively to incidents of an extraterrestrial origin, and act as a first and last line of defense against any alien incursion.

Little is known about this secretive global paramilitary organization, save that it is compromised of some of the best military and scientific personnel the member nations have to offer, and that it is known to be based somewhere in Asia.


The initial baptism of fire for the first batch of XCOM soldiers is Operation Sacred Prophet.


7 March 2015. 1.52am.

An ongoing alien abduction is in progress in Kano, Nigeria.

All remaining civilians have fled the area, collateral damage is not a concern.

The boots on the ground today are:


From left to right: Rookie Missy Mojo, Squaddie Izlain, Squaddie Jeromai Wolf, and Rookie Gypsy Syl.


The drop zone is clear.

The two squaddies move up to check the first building for any signs of extraterrestrial activity, taking care to stay under cover.


Tensing, they swing the doors open. No movement so far, from their vantage point.

Rk. Mojo fans out to check the left flank. Still quiet.

Rk. Syl heads to the right, and makes contact.


The tangos are quite a distance away.


Any further movement closer would be considered ‘dashing,’ which makes firing while on the run impossible.

So Rk. Syl is ordered to fire on the target with a 50% chance of hitting.


And incredibly, manages to hit. Not enough to kill it outright though.

Sq. Wolf moves up to assist, but misses.


(As usual, the Commander giving the orders entirely forgot who was carrying a shotgun until the weapon was fired from way too far away. Oops.)

The tough little alien git returns fire, which fortunately misses Rk. Syl.


On the next turn, Rk. Syl moves in closer, getting a more advantageous 70% to hit, due to being at closer range and having an angle that’s closer to flanking the target.


It’s a critical hit for 4 points of damage! Splattering bits of alien all over the restaurant’s once clean tiles.

The other alien thinks the better of staying around and books it out of the restaurant and into the nearby alley, where it is later chased down and shot by Rk. Syl in subsequent turns.

In the meantime, Rk. Mojo has been steadily moving up around the back of the two buildings.


The alien device used for abductions is in sight.

Shortly after, the team disturbs the next group of aliens from… whatever they were doing.


While the aliens run out of sight and take cover inside the building, the rest of the team (minus Rk. Syl dealing with the previous alien in the other alley) moves up to support each other, also remaining within cover.


Strange purple energies are seen glowing from the builder’s brick walls as the aliens do some manner of unfathomable mind linkage with each other.


It’s finally time for the shotgunner, Sq. Wolf, to make the first assault into the building. Taking a deep breath, we take an educated guess via the glow as to where the linked alien is and select a position that will successfully flank it…

…only to curse as Sq. Wolf smashes through the door to surprise a second pair of aliens…


…who also scramble for cover.

The final situation, Jeromai Wolf, in the middle of three aliens and one more out of sight. *gulp*


On the bright side, we -did- successfully flank the alien we wanted. (As highlighted in yellow, indicating a much higher chance to hit.)


At this close range, with a shotgun, we’re talking about a 95% chance to hit and 70% chance to do critical damage.

Sq. Wolf blows alien guts all over the CD albums with a 6 damage critical. Scratch one linked alien. (They get a health buff from 3 to 4 from their Mind Meld skill.)

Three more aliens to go.


Rk. Mojo is in a good position to get up close and personal with one of them.


The door slams open, she rushes through, and from a super-close vantage point giving a 78% chance to hit, riddles it through with bullets for 2 damage.

It’s still alive, but we can fix that.


Sq. Izlain casually leans in through the doorway, and executes it.

Unfortunately, there’s two of them still alive and they retaliate.


Missy Mojo is covered with 3 bars worth of plasma burns from the alien hiding behind the display cases that merely contain mundane technological gadgets. Its plasma pistol is far more advanced.


The alien that originated the mind meld is hiding in the corner way over there and has Sq. Jeromai Wolf flanked. It shoots him in the backside for 2 damage. (Ow.)

Even more annoying, it sends him into a panicked state. Ignoring any orders from the Commander on high, he decides of his own accord to duck and cover in between two display cases.


Cool as a cucumber, Sq. Izlain waltzes up to the pillar where he takes aim, having an 80% chance to hit…


…and critical hits the alien for 6 damage. Tango down.


In the meantime, Rk. Syl has finally managed to rejoin the rest of the squad after the little diversion taking care of the alien who ran off.


Though she’s coming up on the alien from another direction, the alien is behind hard cover and there’s only a 30% chance to hit with an assault rifle.


She is, however, carrying a frag grenade.

Which coincidentally can do 3 points of damage and affect everything in its area of effect.


Rookie Syl earns a promotion to Squaddie with that kill, ending the mission with a bang. That was the last alien on site.

9.52pm. Operation Sacred Prophet comes to a close.


6 aliens killed.

0 XCOM Operatives lost.

1 of 2 canisters of a nano-substance called Meld were recovered.


Scientists and engineers are still working on analyzing its properties, but initial reports suggest that it may eventually be possible to create genetically modified augmented soldiers or cybernetic warriors linked to combat armor chassis using Meld.


The after action report. Rk. Syl has been promoted to Squaddie and assigned an Assault class.

Wounds will take Rk. Mojo out of action for a week, and Sq. Wolf is down for the count for 9 days. (Sheesh. Where the hell did that alien hit him?)

So, thus ends the first battle of my new XCOM campaign. 🙂

I’m playing on Normal difficulty this time around, up from Easy, so I fully expect some casualties will happen down the road.

I also decided to turn on Ironman mode, which means one save file, period. No save scumming, no take-backs. If I screw up, well, the mistake will be baked in, probably as part of someone’s tombstone. :p

I tweaked a bunch of settings to be different from the vanilla game this time around, turning on some options from the Second Wave DLC.

Not Created Equally and Hidden Potential are on, meaning that each soldier starts with different stats and stats will increase randomly when they’re promoted. I thought this might increase the realism factor a little, some soldiers may have better Aim than others, while others will have higher Will scores (important for resisting and using Psionics later in the game.)

Aiming Angles from the Enemy Within expansion is also on: “Units receive an aim bonus the closer to flanking an enemy they are.” Which I like, as it seems to reward taking the trouble to perform flanking movements.

There is, by the way, no way I could figure out to customise which countries the soldiers come from, though you can name them and do a heck load of customisation of their looks and armor. So as much as I would have loved to change the flags to more closely represent the origins of several bloggers, after a while of struggling, I gave up. I don’t have unlimited money to keep hiring soldiers looking for the right nationalities…

Next up:

Two new rookies replace the wounded Mojo and Wolf in Operation Vengeful Jester!


This Summer’s Steam Sale Haul and Quick Reviews/Impressions


The whole of last week has been a singleplayer Steam sale extravaganza indulgence.

This time, as some other bloggers have also resolved, I don’t intend to just buy and then promptly forget about them and never play them.

I’ve been buying a little more consciously, asking the question “Will I play and install this now, or at least sometime between now and December?”

(Considering my hard disk has only 10GB space left after installing a bunch of the latest haul, this does actually make a difference. I decided to put off Dishonored, fer instance, until the GOTY edition hits 75% off, probably during Winter sale or a daily deal, since it’s 9GB and hasn’t gone down as far as it could go.)

Then as Aywren in the link above mentioned, I proceed to install and at least play for long enough to give the game a fair shake. I’m a little less concerned about cleaving strictly to at least an hour and so on, probably because I don’t really dismiss games I choose to buy. -Something- about the game interested me to begin with, so I’m already motivated to give it a shot.

Should something start to turn me off from the game, I can usually put a finger on the specifics of why quite quickly and then make a decision to play on or “leave for another time.” That’s me. I have the opposite problem of not being able to throw away games.

Here’s the haul so far:

Monaco – Played 51 minutes – $1.49

A cute colorful top-down game with a unique style and flair, one takes on the roles of various crooks and criminals (such as a locksmith who picks locks, a mole-like digger of tunnels) and runs around interacting with objects related to the heist theme (locks to be picked, computers to be hacked, terminals to turn off laser motion detectors, bushes to hide and take cover in, etc.) There are guards to be evaded or slaughtered, depending on your preference and availability of any handy weapons, and generally some rather varied ‘flavor’ objectives (eg. one mission will have you escape a prison, another rescue someone, yet another retrieve a valuable object, etc.)

One couldn’t help but get the feeling that one was losing a distinct element of the fun by only playing it single-player. There does look to be a moderately intriguing overlapping storyline of some kind where various crooks tell their side of the story/heist, and also the possibility of beating your own time by accomplishing speed runs, but I just can’t shake the impression that this would be a lot richer played co-op. Dungeon Defenders is another game that felt like that, and to a lesser extent, Magicka also. This sort of deflated me from attempting the game further, because a) I can never seem to find people on at the right time to play these things with, and b) if I played it singleplayer now, wouldn’t I be spoiling my multiplayer experience on the off chance that I do?

Oh well. Filed for “Perhaps another day, with friends or when I finally get bored enough to see what the story is about by myself.”

State of Decay – Played 2 hours – $4.99

A purported zombie sandbox game I’d been keeping an eye on for a while, it popped up on consoles first, before finally making its way over to the PC.

I wanted to like it, but my first overwhelming impression was “OH GOD SO ORANGE.”

Someone made a stylistic choice of overwhelming the aesthetic with an orange tint, and for whatever reason, it doesn’t sit very well with me. It makes everything much harder to see, and I confess I almost look forward to night time when it just gets dark and shadowy and cooler in color temperature. I even Googled to see if there was a way to mod the awful orange out, and unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a simple fix, though it may be possible to manually edit some of the engine’s configuration settings or something like that.

Not willing to delve into the innards of the xml files just yet, I gritted my teeth through the orange to be dismayed yet again by the poorly animated models. I think I’ve gotten spoiled animation-wise after playing a sequence of games which, regardless of whatever faults one may think they have, are undeniably polished animation-wise: GW2, Dark Souls, Wildstar, XCOM, A Wolf Among Us and so on.

In State of Decay, one swings hopefully at the air with a melee weapon, assuming that one is doing damage to the zombies very near to you and seeing them recoil somewhat, despite never actually making contact.  Conversely, they come up near you and take swings at the air, which you -think- they’ve missed, but it turns out in the next second that the game will show you a lovingly animated sequence of the zombies grabbing and immobilizing you. *sigh*

Or I guess you shoot guns, which at least seem to work like how all FPSes work, but then there’s the worry of limited ammo supplies and all the noise you’re making. Or I guess you can creep slowly in slow motion everywhere, and we’ll see how long your patience lasts with doing that.

If one can get past these annoyances, there’s -some- potential in State of Decay. You get to gather a group of survivors, apparently characterised by an assortment of traits like “Team Mom” and “Cop” and “Liked Gardening” and so on. You can apparently work on befriending them enough to switch into their point of view and play them as your current protagonist. They have sufficient AI to accompany you and do a decent job defending you (and it’s a lot safer to let AI attack AI, given the cruddy animations.)

Much of the gameplay involves sneaking around and going to various houses and structures to search for supplies to fortify up your home base (wherever you’ve chosen to set it up) – a very standard zombie trope, and doing your best to make the surrounding areas safer by clearing out zombie infestations, etc.

I can’t help but get the impression that there are a lot of potential building blocks for someone to pick up and generate a decent emergent narrative out of, but that it’s still lacking a little something to make it happen more organically. One has to work at it quite a bit to craft some semblance of narrative.

So far, I got my survivors out of the tutorial area and to the initial home base of a church, meeting other survivors and am working to retrieve sufficient food, medicine and building materials to expand. We found other survivors and added them to our number, which was helpful for getting more hands and runners to take supplies back to home base without me having to haul each one back. I got a less melee-adept NPC killed by having her wander out alone at night looking for supplies when my more combat-oriented one was taking a break to rest off his fatigue. Oops? I wish I could say this was some kind of tragedy but honestly, I had no connection with her beyond being a controllable avatar/tool I could use to do what I wanted to do, and my only worry is that I’m down to two controllable characters from three.

Maybe if I got adept enough at the game that I could actually roleplay them differently, but frankly, survival needs all force them to behave the same anyway. I need supplies to expand, so -everyone’s- got to go out and search for them and bring them back. I only have so many guns and ammo, I can’t just keep shooting willy nilly so everybody better get used to sprinting a lot and meleeing to level up your fighting/survival skills. Who knows, maybe it’s different later on. Maybe not.

The last aspect of State of Decay that was intriguing was that the game supposedly goes on without you and your input. Your survivors will continue to do things or whatever. So far, the second time I logged in after 12 hours, there wasn’t much change. So I’m leaving it for a longer period and seeing what happens after a week or so. We’ll call it a mourning period for the NPC I managed to run into a roomful of zombies. (Well, duh, one has to open doors and walk into rooms to look for supplies, right?) If they all end up starving to death, I can’t say I’d be terribly crushed, or further motivated to keep playing.

“One more try, then possibly shelved until further notice.”

Shadowrun: Dragonfall DLC & Don’t Starve: Reign of Giants DLC – Played: Not yet – $9.98

I’m intending to get around to Shadowrun soon.

I’ve been putting off Don’t Starve because I’m kind of scared of the increased seasonal difficulty, to be honest. My last Don’t Starve game has me relatively set-up aboveground, but I still haven’t mastered safe cave exploration by any means (Depth Worm attacks past Day 100 are something I’m still struggling to solve) and have never ever gotten to the Ruins level yet. The thought of making aboveground not-safe-anymore with the Reign of Giants DLC is frightening. I just picked it up now because I’m sure within these six months between now and winter sale, I’d want to be playing Don’t Starve again and might eventually progress to the point of being able to take on the DLC.

XCOM: Complete – Played 27 hours – $16.49

In my book of 75% off deals, I paid for it too soon because $16.50 does not, by any means, resemble $7.49 or $10.19 type of sale prices.

I also don’t give a shit about sticking to my miserly ways after playing the demo and LOVING this game. It’s a miracle I managed to wait as long as I did, I think.

I missed the XCOM classics during their original era, but gave them a try during a Steam sale or other. I remember being utterly bamboozled by the arcane interface and lack of any explanation whatsoever (Ah, those good old DOS days when you just get thrown into the deep end and/or have to read manuals as thick as a flight simulator’s to play ’em), struggled to do anything, struggled with DOS/Windows incompatibilities and crashes, and got half of my squad or more massacred in the first fight because one had very little clue on how and where to even begin playing.

The updated XCOM does away with all that, providing a touch more modern graphics, a slicker (if console-like) interface, a lot more handy in-the-moment tutorials and pop-up tooltips and explanations. It also provides a relatively interesting beginning, middle, end narrative to overlay over the actual gameplay of mission to mission randomized map turn-based combat.

I enjoyed this game so much I managed to complete an entire campaign (just the base game, on the easiest setting, since I’m a beginner to XCOM and a wuss after the ‘classic’ experience) this week, and have just started a new one with the expansion options and a more normal difficulty setting. I intend to cover this more in a separate post, so I’ll stop here.

Conclusion: “So worth it. Playing the shit out of it. XCOM adds a ton more rep to Firaxis’ awesomeness, as befits the company that made Alpha Centauri.”

Epic Battle Fantasy 4 – Played: Not yet on Steam, Probably a couple hours on Kongregate – $2.99

Here’s an interesting one. It’s a free flash game that I tried for the hell of it when I was bored waiting for a boss to spawn in Guild Wars 2 and needed something on the side to keep me going. It’s not going to win any super-professional graphics awards, but it’s not ugly and has a relatively consistent anime-ish look to it.

It follows a lot of the standard JRPG tropes. You move an avatar around, fight a bunch of monsters, leveling up in experience, items and gold with each encounter. Combat is turn-based Final Fantasy-eseque, you have your skills and spells that you select to do damage to monsters, they do the same to you, there are elemental resistances and susceptibilities and so on to keep in mind and exploit.

If you presented it to me right off and asked me to pay for it sight unseen, I probably wouldn’t. But because I had nothing else to do and wanted some nostalgic but quick-firing spurts of JRPG style action, I ended up playing it and getting sucked into its basic storyline (retrieve magical plot devices of some kind, meet a host of characters to join up with you along the way, etc.) and rather habitually cranking it up every time I had to wait for Teq or Wurm to spawn and enjoying the wait time where I otherwise wouldn’t have.

I unfortunately fell out of the habit after losing interest chasing Teq/Wurm daily (plus the wait times got more streamlined and the TTS leaders started to demand more un-AFK attention for shorter periods of time, so there was less opportunity to play a JRPG in the other screen uninterrupted)  and stopped playing Epic Battle Fantasy 4 as a result. It left me with a favorable impression though, and when it got to an affordable amount on sale, I decided to pick it up to show my support and thanks to the developer for entertaining me when I needed it.

“I may get around to playing it later, maybe figure out to transfer my Kongregate save to Steam, or not. But not at this moment. Still, it’s definitely worth trying out for free.”

Sleeping Dogs DLC Collection – Played: Not yet – $6.99

As mentioned in an earlier sequence of posts, I did quite enjoy Sleeping Dogs and was intending to get the DLC.

I’m not entirely sure when I’ll find the time to play it, but I’m sure an opportunity will crop up between now and the winter sale. At 80% off, it was a steal anyway, and worth feeding back a little money into the developer’s pockets (minus Steam’s cut, of course) for some hope of a sequel.

The Wolf Among Us – Played: 9 hours – $8.49

Another slightly overpriced from 75% off game that I don’t bloody care about sticking to my rules because it’s SO BLOODY GOOD.

It -says- I played it for 9 hours, but it feels like a lifetime. It’s THAT rich and atmospheric and densely packed with story. I played it in one continuous marathon sequence because it was impossible to put down.

It’s a Telltale Game. You know how they go by now. A mix of the adventure-ish and their own unique dialogue/meaningful choice genres that add up to some kind of self-constructed self-tailored narrative assembled out of a couple of branching storyline possibilities.

Personally, I liked it a TON more than the Walking Dead that catapulted Telltale Games to fame. The Walking Dead was *sigh* zombies, mixed with a dose of ordinary people in a hopeless setting. Bleak, apocalyptic, full of no-win scenarios that posit the despairing theme of all the ways people will sacrifice their humanity in order to survive in the new dog-eat-dog nihilistic world, or die. How one doesn’t end up feeling depressed, is beyond me.

The Wolf Among Us very faithfully recreates the Vertigo Comics brand – a name which is synonymous to me with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Mike Carey’s Lucifer, and of course, Bill Willingham’s Fables, which it draws from. Vertigo Comics, to me, is about adult/mature (but not necessarily pornographic) themes. They veer a little or a lot darker than what you might expect from the word ‘comics’ in a superhero sense, and tend to mix in a dose of fantasy or the supernatural, but they’re not necessarily depressing. A number of them follow a more epic heroic or superheroic story arc structure too.

It mixes in a dose of the very noir Sin City, with its stylish graphical flair and dark urban underworld, but gives it color and brings to life a series I’d previously never followed. (Which I’m now correcting by going through a bunch of Fables comics and enjoying them too.)

You play Bigby Wolf, otherwise known as the Big Bad Wolf of fabled fame, and end up quickly embroiled in a murder mystery that has ramifications for all of Fabletown (the tiny community where the Fables reside in our mundane world.) The game does a good job introducing its settings and characters in an understandable fashion to anyone unfamiliar with the Fables universe, and serves as a rather intriguing prequel to the Fables comics series. (On reading the comics, there are a number of significantly more poignant echoes regarding certain happenings, due to having played the game.)

I really enjoyed the whole thing because it felt like the protagonist The Wolf Among Us had a lot more character than Walking Dead’s protagonist. Maybe it’s just me projecting because I have this thing about wolves *cough* but I do think Bigby Wolf feels more capable and a man of action, with more freedom to go dark and “be bad” as befits the story. In the Walking Dead, the protagonist feels like more of a blank slate, where one is gingerly stepping around trying not to be politically incorrect or racist, and applying one’s own social mores and morals onto a tabula rasa cardboard character to act as an extension of the self. In the Walking Dead, Lee is the everyman, it’s up to you to shape him however you like. In The Wolf Among Us, Bigby Wolf is larger than life, he’s a Fable, and he’ll never let you forget that he’s the Big B. Wolf.

I found choices much easier to make as a result, and was never stuck agonizing over “what is the right decision” as I did in the Walking Dead. After all, you never knew what kind of a horrible unexpected effect and nasty plot twist your trying to be good in Walking Dead would do to you later. In The Wolf Among Us, the right decision was always the one that Bigby Wolf (as -I -conceived him) would do, and damn the consequences, Bigby would be up to dealing with whatever it was that happened after.

The story also flowed a lot more naturally and followed narrative logic and conventions – reflecting a more cause-and-effect style fairy tale – rather than Walking Dead’s unending litany of “hey I just thought of a great moral dilemma to dump these characters into next! Let’s figure out how to join these together with the bare minimum of story, probably by just saying they walk/drive to the next place where this happens!”

My naturally played save game is ready and waiting for Episode 5 with bated breath. In the meantime, plans are underway to re-enjoy the story at a more leisurely pace, probably at least twice more, to see the roads not taken.

Is there any conceivable reason why you shouldn’t get this game? Only if you really don’t like dark, noir, urban fantasy themes and think they’re Satanic or something.

“If you don’t buy this game, I’ll huff-and-puff and blow the money out of your wallet to help you get it.”

Magicka: Dungeons and Gargoyles DLC – Played: Not Yet – $0.99

Continuing in my theme of buying super-micro-sized transactions to support a game I really enjoyed once upon a time and hope to get around to playing again, preferably with other people, but I’ll solo it otherwise.


 Space Hulk – Played: Not Yet – $2.50

It’s a Warhammer 40k game. It’s SPACE HULK.

Yeah, I understand it’s probably a buggy horrific mess of a WH40K Space Hulk game, which is probably why the price has collapsed so quickly, but for a couple of bucks, it’s worth trying out because it’s SPACE HULK where you get to shoot tyranids in Terminator armor.

“Will share first impressions soon, when I get around to trying it.”

Civilization V: Brave New World DLC – Played: Not Yet – $7.49

Well, Civ V’s a good game. It’s the expansion I don’t yet own, and maybe need to give me a kick in the pants to have another go someday soon.

I’m sure sometime between now and Winter, I’ll have the urge for a game that can create a decent enough emergent narrative, and I’ve found Civ V to be not half-bad at producing these sorts of alternate history stories.

“Be on the lookout for a grand tale of warring nations, maybe sometime this Fall?”

So, in total: $62.40 for 6 games and a lot of DLC for 6 games, some of which are expansions in their own right.

This or a full-retail-price box on launch day?

I’ll take this any day.

*swims around happily in games like Scrooge McDuck swims in coins* (Yes, DuckTales is also on the wishlist. But not this Summer.)

By the Second Day of Steam Sales…

…my wallet gave to me…

  • 5 bucks for trading trading cards

(because selling Summer Adventure spares makes $$ and buying ten cent trading cards to sneak a point in when my team looks to be winning the day sounds like buying a cheap lottery ticket)

  • 4 XCOM titles

(ok, the complete edition Enemy Unknown, Enemy Within and its two pieces of DLC – even though I know it will go cheaper later, but I made the mistake of downloading and trying the demo and have now convinced myself I’ve put it off for long enough)

  • 3 spare games

(State of Decay, Monaco, the entire Leisure Suit Larry Collection – that last title from GoG – at least these were good 75% off deals for games that I wanted and managed to wait long enough)

  • 2 more DLCs

(Reign of Giants for Don’t Starve, and Dragonfall for Shadowrun – totally not at 75% off, but ehh, I do love both games and can sort of justify paying more to support the developer)

  • and one serious case of zero self-control.

On the bright side, all totaled up, it still costs less than an MMO box on launch day.

The bad news is, there’s ten more days of this?!


GW2: Loyalty to the Legion (A Short Story)

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's...Samurai Charr!

Warning: I tried to write a short origin story around a screenshot of my lowbie engineer, Flame Fireflash, whom I splurged two transmutation charges on to revive my leveling interest, and it ended up stretching to 6000 words and killed gaming time for several days.

Long-winded, that’s me. Contains some vulgarity and one rather oblique reference to the r-word, but nothing of that ilk ever occurs in the story. No sex, but maybe some corny plot and phrases. Also furries. As in charr.

When I was a cub, I never liked fighting.

The others in the fahrar would grapple and tumble, snarling and growling in what seemed like mock fighting to adults, but was actually a deadly serious bid for hierarchy and respect… amongst their peers, anyway.

“Grawl feet! Grawl feet!” They’d chant as they adopted the hopping ape pose and pranced around me in a circle, hoping to get some sort of reaction.

I’d do my best to ignore them as I flipped through my schematics book or took apart some device with the big paws they were referring to.

They’d move on to fake whispers between each other like “I don’t think she’s a charr, -I- think a Norn got drunk and stuck in between a Bear and Leopard form!” or “She can’t be Ash, she’s as dull as Iron.”

The decidedly less creative ones would struggle a bit, then come up with witticisms like “Dumb ogre” or “Flame’s Flame!”

I’ll never know what possessed my mother when she decided to name me with the Gold Legion’s appellation, but I was the one who had to live with it.

Funny thing was, if they finally got too annoying or some idiot decided to lay a paw on my stuff and provoke me into standing up, they’d all quickly back off a step or two and glance towards their ring leader.

That was the cub I would stomp towards and grab.

I don’t know if it was just my parents’ genes or if my mother’s mission and birthing in the field delayed her in getting me to a fahrar, but I do know that I was very big for my age. Still am, even decades later.

He or she would spit and snarl and claw and bite, but I was taller and outweighed any of them. I’d use that leverage to my advantage, remembering as much of our teachers’ lessons as I could, and eventually, some scrapes and ripped fur and toothmarks later, the ring leader would be pinned down under my four paws or I’d be sitting on their head or something like that.

Most of the time, that would be the end of it.

If two or three moved at once, I’d toss an insult in their faces about being too scared to take me one on one, which usually stopped them in their tracks, or at least got them to try their luck one at a time. It never did work out for them.

After that, they’d leave me alone for a while and I’d be careful to spend more time around adults until their short attention spans found another target or they got riled up amongst themselves by someone squabbling for a higher position in the gang.

It wasn’t too hard because I found the defensive perimeter turrets and mortars fascinating and would always ask any soldier willing to humor me a million and one questions about how it all worked – loading the ammo, differences between the ammo types and when you used each, calibration, tuning and maintenance and so on. As I said, I looked old for my age, so many gave me more measured and considered answers than they might have for any random youngling.

The problem was Rakis.

Rakis had a mean streak in him wider than a marmox, and an ego far larger than you’d think his slim and small frame could accommodate. He somehow took it personal when I flipped him over during one of his attempted bully sessions and got his horns stuck inches deep in muddy snow. His buddies had to dig him out while he was flopping about and squealing like a slaughtered piglet and he never quite got over the humiliation.

He didn’t dare face me head on for years after that, but I was aware that he’d started treating everything we did in the fahrar as a competition between the two of us.

He’d race to raise his hand and answer a question first, and on the off chance that he managed to get it right, he’d shoot me some kind of triumphant look like he was trying to make a point.

While we were training with the guest scouts and stalkers, he’d swagger around with a happy smirk when he always arrived faster than me, which wasn’t hard at all since I had to take special care of where I placed my big feet and bulk in order to stay as silent as Ash Legion expects of its future operations groups.

It was all ridiculously weird because I certainly wasn’t the least bit interested in this imaginary competition that only existed in his head. The more I ignored it, the more he seemed to think that it was on, always sneaking glances when he thought I wasn’t looking, bragging loudly to his friends, or conversely, sulking if I scored better marks on any test, be it marksmanship or chemistry or tech devices.

When we were teenagers, I recall a casual acquaintance jokingly ask me if Rakis was sweet on me. I sighed and told her it’d been going on for years and I was still trying to figure out myself if it was a crush or a rivalry. She laughed, I laughed, then forgot about it.

In hindsight, that was a mistake.

You see, I didn’t cultivate any really close friendships in the fahrar, but I did try to stay on civil terms with everybody that allowed it, since after all, we were all going to be in the same warband. As one of our mentors told us gruffly, you don’t have to like or be pals with all your bandmates, just learn to work together and trust that you’ll have each others’ backs when the bullets start flying. Which was how I assumed things would be. It’s our tradition, after all.

I should have maybe listened more intently to the brief conversations I had with our veteran spies, all grizzled and scarred. “In our line of work, you can’t trust anybody, cub. Don’t ever let down your guard.” They didn’t get to their age by being foolish and stupid. They were survivors.

Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

It wasn’t a rivalry, or a crush. It was a grudge.

A grudge Rakis’d had nursed within his black heart for ages until he finally worked up the courage and found the right opportunity.

It was our seventeenth year in the fahrar, and the night before a very important term project was due. Scoring a good grade would help get you into the first pick, those promising recruits that the better soldiers – craftsmen and artisans of their art, be it assassination or reconnaissance, scouting or sniping, traps or turrets – wanted to mentor and groom. Flunk it, and you’d be left in the bottom ranks and assigned the grunt work that nobody else in the warband wanted.

I was up past midnight in one of the workshops, determined to synthesize better and better variants of the chemical glue that was going to be submitted along with my lab report and improved valve release mechanism for a portable glue turret model that Ash scouts favored.

And I was alone. Absorbed in my thoughts and the steady bubbling of my experiments.

I didn’t hear them come in.

Something or someone landed a heavy blow on my head, sending me snout first into the lab bench, and clawed hands grabbed my arms.

Reacting with more instinct than thought, I roared with rage and fought back, shoving backwards and grappling with my attackers. I only succeeded in flipping myself over and seeing that there were three of them. Rakis, of course, and he’d brought his two closest flunkies, bigger than him but not much in the brains department, which was probably why they followed him and laughed at his jokes.

They pinned me against the lab bench, still snarling with fury, while Rakis dumped the hot glue I’d been making all over the counter and my back to help snare me in place.

“Grrrarrrgh,” I yelled as some of the goop got past my fur and scalded my hide. “Back off!” I raised one clawed foot warningly, ready to kick and rip anyone within reach.

Unfortunately, his two friends, beyond holding my arms down while I was getting increasingly glued to the table, were keeping a wary distance on each side and Rakis quickly slid out of range, an ugly smirk on his slimy snout.

“Fuck you!” I said, in lieu of anything better that came to mind with adrenaline pounding through my veins. I regreted it the moment I said it, afraid it might have given him ideas.

“In your dreams, Flame.” Rakis leered at me lasciviously for the space of one worrying breath, then he chuckled. “You don’t have to worry about us raping you. Nobody wants to fuck a gorilla.”

His two flunkies sniggered in unison.

“Then what the hell do you want?” I snarled back.

“I want you to fucking -fail-, bitch,” he said, as he reached around me carefully and grabbed the file with my lab report and my valve mechanism. He held both of them up for me to see. He let the valve drop on the floor, and grabbed all the pages out of the file, report, tests, diagrams, schematics and all – everything I had spent weeks and months working on – and tore them up theatrically.

“You’re going to crawl to the Primus tomorrow with your tail between your legs and tell him you have nothing to submit. Nothing at all.”

Like an afterthought, he lifted his booted foot to stomp on my valve. The dramatic effect was rather lost when he suddenly screeched in pain, having discovered how sturdy well-assembled steel could be, even in small packages. It must have been like trying to step on a caltrops.

I couldn’t help it. I laughed.

That really pissed him off. He picked up the offending valve and pitched it out the window, with so much fury that it must have bounced off some structure outside. The air rang with a resounding metallic clang. A muffled “Hey! What was that!” followed it up.

“Oh, look,” I drawled,” You’ve gone and alerted a sentry. Better run, boys.”

His flunkies were aiming worried looks at him now, and he’d half-turned to check that the coast was still clear.

That’s when I screwed up.

Despite outside appearances, inside I was boiling with rage and worry over what tomorrow would bring and how I was going to salvage what remained. There weren’t many hours left till dawn. I just wanted him -gone.-

I hawked up a gob of something disgusting and spat it at him.

It went right into his eye.

Then he went mad.

Rakis grabbed me by the throat in a one-handed choke as he yanked a random bottle off the bench and drenched -my- eye with it.

I later found out it was ascetic acid, but at the time, I just knew that half my face felt like it was on fire, that I couldn’t see and that he was right in front of me within reach.

I screamed in pain, kicking and biting and trying to rip all the fur off my arms and back in an attempt to get free from the glue and KILL him.

After what seemed like an eon of snapping ineffectually at air, I managed to sink my teeth into his arm with a lucky lunge. He howled in turn.

By this time, his flunkies were fighting to separate the both of us. “We gotta go, Rakis!” One of them gasped.

To this day, I don’t know if it was rage or desperation that drove him to it, but he pulled out his dagger and stabbed me. Twice. The practiced doubled motion that Ash Legion assassins are trained to use.

He was, thankfully, still a novice-in-training or I might not be here telling this story today. The sharp agony blossoming in my chest took most of the resistance out of me and he pulled free.

There was the soft patter of padded feet and a sudden silence only broken by my ragged wheezing. Everything hurt, but my eye was what hurt the most.

My thinking had gotten very fuzzy by this point, my vision out the working eye near nonexistent, everything was dark and blurry and I just remember being convinced that if I could just wash my face I would be fine. I knew there was a bucket of water that I had drawn earlier just over by that stool there… if I could just get to it…

That was how the patrol investigating the ruckus found me.

Half-drowned, face-first in a bucket of well water, what remained of my fur in shambles and covered in glue gloop, bleeding out on the floor.

To say that the Primus was incensed, would be an understatement.

In the first few days, I spent more hours lying unconscious than awake in the infirmary, full of medication and with more bandages than fur on my body. But during one of my brief periods of lucidity, I overheard our Primus bellowing at the medic demanding answers and wanting to speak to me.

Arc Steeltrap had been a Legionnaire leading Ash Commando Group 43 through many successful actions against Ebonhawke before his final sortie, when a human-rigged explosive device blew half his leg off. The story went that he picked up his leg, limped over to the next room where the insurgents were hiding, and beat their heads in with it.

He survived, of course, but his stealthy days were done. They made him Primus of our little fahrar instead, where he seemed to spend his time hobbling around with his walking cane, making grumpy faces at everyone and grumbling about cubs these days.

It really wasn’t a face I wanted to see looming over me while I still hurt all over and couldn’t even crawl out of bed to the latrine.

All credit where it was due, Medic Kludge Steelsuture, one of his wounded bandmates that had been moved back from the front with Steeltrap, managed to dissuade him twice before he finally ran out of patience on the third visit and pushed his way through.

“All right, cub,” he glowered, “What happened?”

I wriggled as far back into the bedsheets as I could. I’d been dreading this question.

I mean, what was I going to say? If I blurted out the whole truth to all the adults, Rakis and his friends would doubtless get punished but the rest of the warband would probably never trust or even tolerate me near them again. I was a loner by nature, yes, but gladium was a word even I didn’t want to hear.

“Cub, we went over the perimeter defenses,” said Primus Steeltrap, in a surprisingly gentle, if gruff, tone. “Nothing was broken or showed signs of being tampered with. Sentries report seeing nothing until they heard sounds of a struggle in the workshop and went to investigate. We need to know if we have Flame Legion spies in our midst or if intruders managed to sneak in without us realizing.”

I shook my head mutely.

“No? So no outsiders attacked you, is what you’re saying,” he continued, with a persistent logic. “Which makes it an inside job. And since all the adults in the settlement should have more sense than to threaten and nearly kill one of my fahrar trainees, coupled with your reticence to say anything, it must have been one of your band mates. Am I right? You don’t have to say anything, just shake your head or nod.”

I didn’t know what to do. In a miserable whisper, I said, “I don’t want to rat out my warband.”

Medic Steelsuture, who had been hovering in the background like a mother hen, spoke up then. “This is serious, Flame. It’s not snitching. It’s not your regular bar brawl amongst soldiers that got a bit more drunk than they should have, that we can close an eye to, or some pushing and shoving and slapping each other around. Someone pulled a knife on you, and damned near killed you. His or her own band mate.”

Primus Steeltrap’s voice was a low growl. “Blood may tolerate their damned “field promotions” where some rager kills his superior officer and takes over, but we’re Ash and better than that. We have companies and a chain of command for a reason. We train assassins, for crying out loud. You think we’ll have much of a Legion left if we let every random hotshot think they can solve all their problems by stabbing any charr they don’t like?”

I shook my head.

“Exactly. So tell us who did it.”

I shook my head again.

“Suit yourself, but this isn’t going to get any easier. I can’t graduate the warband with a loose cannon in their midst. If we can’t solve it in-house right now, we’ll have to make a report. The higher ups will send an investigator. One way or the other, the culprit will get caught.”

Bastia the Bloodhound was… stern, regal, focused. Sharper than an obsidian blade. I’d never met anyone like her.

She was my only visitor during my recovery, which did, I’ll admit, leave me feeling lonely and a little disappointed. I told myself that the adults were probably barring the others from entry, but I never even saw anyone try to talk to Medic Steelsuture and I couldn’t shake the feeling that nobody cared enough to make the effort.

She did visit very regularly though, with a very pointed look at Medic Steelsuture, who would wordlessly get up and walk to the front of the infirmary out of earshot and give us privacy.

I was always very wary about what I said to her, in case I gave away something I didn’t want to.

For lack of anyone better to talk to though, and out of sheer boredom, I let her speak and I listened, instead of feigning tiredness and going to sleep, something I was already doing for too many hours of the day.

“Good morning, Flame.” Or afternoon, or evening, but she always called me by name, and without that little twinge of lip that many others would use when saying the word.

“Morning, ma’am,” I would mumble, or “Evening, Investigator” to stay polite. There was something about the way she carried herself that demanded that respect.

“A little update for you.” She always prefaced herself with that phrase, which sometimes felt odd, as if I were her superior officer and she was reporting to me, but I think she was just used to reporting whatever she found to various parties in that clipped, terse tone of hers that it’d become a habit.

She’d been to the workshop and examined the scene and found these various colors of fur stuck to the glue. These ones over here were probably mine, wouldn’t I agree? These others were probably from the perpetrators, yes, plural, because these were black or very dark grey hairs and these were an off-brown or orange that seemed more than a touch darker than mine.

Problem is, these are fairly common coat colors and more than one charr in your warband shares that sort of coloration, right?

Or they’d kept my warband on barracks arrest until she had a chance to interview them all. You’re not very liked by your warband, are you, Flame? They’re all claiming innocence and ignorance of why anyone would want to attack you.

That you’re a loner and kept yourself to yourself and burning the midnight oil would be something you’d do while most other self-respecting trainees would be catching all the sleep they could get. Which was what they all say they were doing. But you and I know that some of them are lying… want to tell me how many is “some?”

I’d peek my one eye at her – Medic Steelsuture still wasn’t sure if my other eye would heal, he said he’d irrigated it further after my fogged up attempt at it but that its best chance now was bandages and time – and say something noncommittal, and more often than not, Bastia’s amber eyes would be glittering right back, watching my every expression.

Or well, regardless, there was someone who was going to get into a spot of trouble. Brek? Did I know him?

I kept my face as still as possible. Brek was one of Rakis’ flunkies who was there that night.

Did I want to know how she sussed him out? My band mates were all on lockdown, as she said. I was stabbed, and the culprit wouldn’t have been able to clean the weapon they used very thoroughly under the watchful eyes of both the posted sentries and the rest of the warband. So she made them produce all their belt knives, spares and all. There weren’t any ill-cleaned weapons, but Brek was missing one of his spares.

But you know, she didn’t think he was the one. A little too thick, and he seemed genuinely shocked to find out that he was missing a blade. All he can say is that he thinks someone stole it. He’s been told the Quaestor’s going to hang him by his entrails for losing an issued weapon, and that he may very well get charged with assaulting you, if no one else comes forward.

I tried not to blink or react, while inside, I was cursing Rakis’ duplicity and cunning. He must have decided to throw Brek in front of the grenade in order to save himself. I was stuck debating with myself if I really should name Rakis to this outsider, or settle for Brek catching the punishment – I mean, he was there, after all.

Then Bastia laughed.

“Flame, you younglings may think you’re being clever by saying nothing, but all your faces are like open books. I can tell you recognize the name, and that you’re not immediately protesting his innocence. If I wanted to, I could just read to you your entire warband roster right here, and I guarantee I’ll see you twitch at the right names.”

That earned her a glare, which she only seemed to find more funny.

“Oh, you’re not the only one I can read. Brek looked immediately to his friend Rakis for help, who pretended to find a spot on the wall utterly fascinating. Then he sort of caught the hint and tried not to look anywhere, but couldn’t help but exchange a pleading look for help at Clinker when he thought no one was watching, who gave him a helpless shrug. We hauled him off after that, and he’s having some serious alone time to consider his future in a cell at the moment.”

She aimed an arched eyebrow at me. “How am I doing so far?”

“Congratulations, I guess?” I rasped. I leaned back against my pillows, trying to determine if the strange feeling in my chest was the stress of trying to keep a secret I wasn’t sure I should be keeping being released, or if it was more tension from anticipating what the rest of the warband would say when I returned, or how Rakis would react.

“You don’t sound too happy. Did you fancy him?”

“HELL, no,” I snarled.

“Ah good, you have some life in you still. As I was saying, I don’t just want Brek. I want his two friends also. All their coats match the hairs left in the workshop and I don’t hear any protest from you that I’ve got the wrong individuals. Have I?”

This time she didn’t fill in the silence like she usually did. She just looked straight at me for so long that Medic Steelsuture looked up from where he was busying himself with some tools disinfecting to check that she hadn’t left. He looked down again though when he saw her, so I couldn’t expect any reprieve from that direction.

“I…” I didn’t want to fight. Or get anyone in trouble. I just wanted to be left alone and accepted for who I was in the warband. It was always everybody else who couldn’t leave me be, always said I was sucking up to adults and outsiders for help, teacher’s pet and all.

But I couldn’t make myself lie and say she got the wrong charr. That would be wrong too. I couldn’t bring myself to cover up for the warband that much when I doubted they’d do the same for me.

Now they were going to blame me for this too.

“No, you haven’t…” I whispered.

Bastia nodded like she had been expecting it, and turned on her heels to cross the room and speak to Medic Steelsuture in a low whisper.

He nodded, saluted and left.

Then she came back, pulling up a chair right next to my bed. Bastia settled into it, leaning back and grooming her claws with a small switchblade.

She seemed content with not saying anything, just studied me while I looked back worriedly at her.

Finally, I broke the silence. “What’s going to happen now?”

“The barracks arrest should be released shortly, if it hasn’t been already,” she replied. “A trap has been set for Rakis and Clinker. Both are under close surveillance. I’m staying out of sight to ensure they don’t spook further. I’m positive they’ll do something hasty and stupid soon, like try to dispose of the real weapon, or get in contact with Brek to get their stories straight.

“There’s the very distant possibility that they’ll go rogue and try to run, but the sentries have been doubled today, just in case. Or they’ll think you blabbed and come here to get some revenge and silence you, which is why I’m here, standing guard.

“They’re young and not really hardened criminal types, so I find the latter unlikely. Hopefully, they’ll be caught in the middle of doing something very incriminating.”

“If they aren’t?” I said.

Bastia gave me a level, even look then. “There will be a tribunal called, Flame. There should be enough circumstantial evidence to make a decent case, but the tribunal won’t give two hoots about my hunches on how they obviously looked the guiltiest. The only one who can give direct evidence was a witness who was there. That’s your decision if you want to testify.”

“I… I don’t know…”

“Your loyalty is commendable, Flame, if rather misplaced.” She steepled her fingers. “ I’ve interviewed your warband, remember? I’ve read all your dossiers. They don’t like you. Their distaste is quite clear. Maybe your name put you on the wrong foot from the beginning, maybe it was the age disparity, but you’ve never quite found a good fit with them.”

“Still, I’m no traitor,” I protested weakly. “And… I know he stabbed me, bbut it still feels like telling on them.”

Bastia grunted. She stood up and looked out the window.

“What about you,” I asked, “If it was your warband, wouldn’t you want to defend them? Keep them together, not lose anyone?”

“These days, my loyalty is to the Legion first,” she said. “My warband comes a distant second. As an Investigator, I travel around too much to really form close ties anymore.”

“These days, you said.” I pointed out.

She smiled, a wry, sad smile. “You’re pretty sharp. I like that.”

“That’s not answering my question,” I said.

“Long fucked-up stories are boring, kiddo.”

I gestured weakly to my bandaged, mummified self. “I don’t think I’m going anywhere in a hurry.”

Bastia laughed again. “Fine. You wanna hear a story so bad? One about misplaced loyalties?

“Once upon a time, there were some charr I knew…”

And it starts with a love triangle, Bastia said, two males, one female, all Ash and from the same warband.

One of the males, the one the female thought she loved more, was assigned to a deep cover operation in the Iron Legion. The rest of the warband was posted alongside the Iron Legion group, ostensibly to reconnoiter and combat a Flame Legion incursion in the Iron Marches, but to help pick up his covert reports, run interference and so on, minimizing contact otherwise.

Problem was, the operation went on so long, with the Iron Legion warband under such intense fire from the Goldies, that the Ash male started to believe his cover story, that they really were a band of brothers and the reports back to Ash started drying up, getting more terse and infrequent, until one day they stopped completely.

Fearing that he’d gone over for good, the Ash female disobeyed orders and went to talk to him. He confirmed as much, saying his loyalties were now with his warband, who would die for him and vice versa, that the unit was being moved north to support a big battle in three days, and that he was done with deceit and might even fess up who he was if Ash didn’t leave him be.

The Ash female returned to her warband. She didn’t get into trouble, only because the Legionnaire was the other male involved in the story and was crazy over her.

For a day, she brooded over the right thing to do before deciding to report what she’d found out from him. She was dreading the order that would come down to clean up the mess, likely by offing the errant Ash male.

Instead, a priority message came down that the warband was to intercept a Flame Legion group to the southeast, containing a contingent of shamans that were not to be allowed to reinforce the battle up north, and to ignore the Ash male that had gone AWOL for now.

Realizing that she had suddenly been given one more chance to convince the Ash male to come back to his senses, the female decided she had to break away from the warband and head north.

Some would call that desertion, you know?

The Legionnaire caught up with her while she was barely half a day away. He’d sent the rest of the warband onward with the intercept orders for the Flame Legion group.

They had a righteous quarrel, with heated words and not a few blows exchanged, but the female got her way by shamelessly manipulating his ego and his love for her. He left with the impression that he wasn’t as good as the other male she was chasing, that he wasn’t good enough for her.

The Ash female raced north to find out that she had been too late.

At dawn, just before the coming battle, the Ash male had come clean to his Iron brothers, naïvely thinking that they’d saved each others’ lives so many times over that they’d clap him on his shoulder and say all was forgiven. Or at least, not overreact.

Instead, they tore him apart, and hung his carcass on their siege engine as a traitor.

There would be some strongly worded inter-Legion messages exchanged from one Tribune to another, after the fact.

There was nothing the Ash female could do but trek back south to rejoin her warband, suspecting that she would also be gutted, hung or stuck on punishment squad for the rest of her life for going AWOL.

Except she found out that no one ever had the chance to report it.

You know what the dumb fuck of a Legionnaire did, after his quarrel? He decided he would singlehandedly infiltrate the Flame Legion group to assassinate the shamans. Because male ego.

They caught him. His torture drew in the rest of the warband, whose loyalty to their Legionnaire overrode their common sense. Some were captured, some they slew, some converted.

The only lucky thing was that the Flame Legion was delayed because they were so busy destroying the Ash warband.

The Ash female managed to sneak into the camp and free the few remaining captives. Half of those were lost assassinating the shamans and some of the converted, before the bedraggled survivors managed to make their escape in the chaos and limp home. With their warband decimated, the handful were all reassigned elsewhere.

“The End,” Bastia said.

“That was you,” I said.

She shrugged. “I didn’t name any names. I just said they were charr I knew a long time ago. The moral of the story is not to get shortsighted about your loyalties, I suppose. Or maybe that shit happens, and you deal with it the best you can.”

I thought in silence for a while.

“You do know,” she said, “that while you’re recovering, the rest of your warband has turned in their term projects and you’ll miss the first draft.”

“Probably the second and third as well,” I mumbled.

“Your future with them is an omega wolf’s lot. Always getting bullied, gnawing at the fringes for some acceptance.”

Put like that, it sounded so bleak. I said nothing.

“I’ve read your dossier. You’re intelligent, competent enough with a rifle – though that eye may affect your marksmanship from now on – good with mechanical devices. You’d make a decent enough investigator. Or even an Iron Legion infiltrator if you don’t forget your true loyalties.”

I stared at her with my good eye. “Are you…”

“Yes, Flame. I’m offering to be your mentor.”

“If I testify and leave with you, of course,” I said bitterly.

“As I said, you’re sharp. I can’t very well separate you from your fahrar and warband without just cause.”

“Sometimes,” I said, to no one in particular, “I hate the way Ash Legion works. All this subterfuge and plans within plans. Charr watching charr, hoarding information and secrets.”

Bastia chuckled. “Kiddo, we’re not here to be liked. Internal Affairs is here to make sure the whole machinery works. Do you know your history? What happened when the charr kept losing to the humans, and what happened when we won?”

“We trusted the Flame Legion blindly and believed in false gods?”

“For a time, we actually won doing that, even if it was completely misguided and under chauvinistic rule.” She corrected.

“No, we fought amongst ourselves. Each time the charr were driven back, we were too busy killing each other to prove we were right. We forgot the chain of command, let renegades have their way, and got undisciplined and disorganized.

“Ash Legion is here to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Yeah, we watch and spy on the other Legions. If charr don’t police other charr, who’d you want in their place? The humans?”

A deep cough interrupted. Primus Steeltrap had joined us. “We have them, Investigator Bastia. Trying to drop the knife down the well the gladium use.”

“Ah, excellent work, Primus.” Bastia turned smoothly. “Please have them ready to be transported to the Black Citadel by this evening.”

“What’s going to happen to them,” I asked.

“A tribunal,” Primus Steeltrap rumbled. “They’re juveniles, probably punishment detail of some sort, if they’re found guilty of the assault.”

“They will be,” Bastia said.

“If,” said Primus Steeltrap firmly.

Bastia the Bloodhound grunted noncommittally. She stalked towards the infirmary entrance without another word, but she paused before leaving and turned her head to look directly at me.

“Well?” she said, as she stood silhouetted in the doorway.

And I knew that she wouldn’t wait a second longer if I hesitated. “All right,” I said, sealing my fate down one path for good.

“You’ll hear from me soon.”


It’s been nearly twenty years since that day. I’ve gone through multiple warbands, always remembering what Bastia said. “Loyalty to the Legion.”

People sometimes ask how I can hunt and kill my fellow charr, or turn them in on orders, without the least bit of regret.

They’re wrong.

I regret the senseless waste and the need for all this fighting and subterfuge every single day.

But every society has its criminals and its renegades, and if charr don’t catch other charr, who will?