Episode 1: Enter the Aces
“The political landscape in Rastaban Prime has once again been shaken up. High lord Ohmaaran believes it is time to change leadership and denounce that the Draco Star Alliance will eventually end up being another oppressor to their free world. Meanwhile on interstellar news the war in the Centauri system has been going on for almost two years now, we go live to Julian at outpost…”, I tuned out the rest. Conflict and war was something I didn’t really want to hear this morning, but I’m afraid we might get our dose of it soon. I was reviewing reports of more unrest in Rastaban Prime. This world is one of the most important in the system with large amounts of trade and production coming from it. Another news segment started, “Today we watch the special sky show performed by none other than the legendary trio of the Draco Star Alliance. Live from Eltanin IV, here is Millie with more on the show”. The star pilots. Three of the best fighter pilots in this system performing a show for the masses. Of course, it all helps the public image of the Alliance. Not too long ago it was every planet on its own. The governments were at each other’s throats trying to settle the territorial lines, but in space it’s very difficult to settle on who can claim what. So the alliance rose and not only settled the debates, but the hearts as well. Our peace is fragile though. The government of Rastaban Prime has been in opposition to the Alliance for some time now and internal dissidents have been particularly aggressive about it.
“Grand Marshall Olivia Manzanares, please report to the Command Bridge”, that was my cue. I finished with the small details of my uniform, turned off the monitor and headed out. As I made my way to the Command Bridge, my mind was swarmed with thoughts. I was glad that the Alliance formed. I kept my title and they provided some nice cozy quarters on the recently remodeled security station. There was, of course, a lot of work to do. Smugglers, pirates and all manner of rebellious groups had to be dealt with. It was difficult to keep everyone happy and the leaders of the Alliance were painfully aware. The majority of the people supported them. Most of the leaders were reelected after evaluating their previous performance. It has barely been four years. I hope the current peace lasts, I also hope I didn’t just jinx it. Meeting the general always gets me a bit nervous.
When I entered the command room everyone was laser focused on the forward viewport. The star pilots were giving their best performance yet.
“Wait really? Is this why you called me?”, I asked somewhat puzzled.
“Oh of course not Grand Marshall.”, the General said.
“Ah, ok, hit me. Why am I here? I was kind of enjoying the few days off.”, I said rather playfully. Nothing much had been happening recently and General Yen Li always worried that I was too focused on work. She ordered those days off.
“Always eager to work eh? Well, I have just the thing. You see that monitor? Those aren’t the aces.”
“They’re actually on a mission and they want us to send a cleanup crew.”
“Seriously? Now I’m just clean up?”
“Hey, don’t scoff at a mission like this, we could gather some good intel. Regardless, their mission is to sweep some smugglers before they reach Rastaban Prime.”
My eyes widened, “That planet again. I keep hearing rumors and I don’t like them.”
“Don’t be surprised, but we think it might be connected. I want you and two other fighters to hack into the cargo transports. You can do that from your ship now by the way. I took the liberty of installing the new systems.”
“That’s great. Are those the new ones we ordered from Sirius?”
I smiled, we had those systems ordered for months. Then, I said as I grinned, “I’ll contain my excitement for now.”
“Sure, take two pilots and get going. You are to report back in three hours.”
“Yes ma’am. I’ll be heading out then.”
Our jump to the sector was smooth. When we arrived the renowned star pilots were finishing up the last of the escort ships. Talia, Mira and Stella. It was awe inspiring to see them in action, even if for a short time.
“Alright you two, let’s get closer to the cargo transports. We each take one and then converge on the fourth. Should be a piece of cake. Hino, take the farthest one. Jaan, take the closest and I’ll take the middle transport”, I said to my wingmates.
“Acknowledged.”, said Jaan.
“Heading there now.”, said Hino.
I was glad to pick these two. Some of the best friends one could ask for. We’ve stuck through thick and thin. I wonder if the star pilots were the same.
“Grand Marshall, glad you made it. We’re gonna stick around for a bit to make sure there are no reinforcements. The combat unit will be infiltrating the transports soon, you’d better get to work quickly”, Talia said.
“Acknowledged, this won’t take long.”, I responded.
A little over an hour passed and we finished our mission. We stopped to watch as the trio of elite pilots jumped away to their next mission.
“Let’s head back to base. The general will want to see what we found.”, we made our own jump out shortly after.
As soon as we arrived we noticed quite the commotion in the station. When we arrived at the Command Bridge everyone was staring once again at the screen. I was surprised to see the star pilots here with us. Then, I noticed the voice of the newscaster, “…that is the information we have so far. Relations with Rastaban Prime had been shaky for quite a long time. Their declaration and the apparent death of their leaders has us questioning if this will be the end of peace in Draco. This is Liliana, reporting live. Our coverage…”, the sound was cut off. General Yen Li had that look. She was worried. Our next steps would be very important. Rastaban Prime has declared war against the Alliance.
“This is unit three five one, beginning planetary survey of Rygel five. Command, do you read?”
“Unit three five one, this is command, we read you. You may proceed with the survey.”
“Acknowledged. Sensor scan commencing. Preliminary data shows similar atmospheric composition to Earth. Large landmasses and a variety of oceans. Plant life is thriving along with a civilization of humanoid creatures. Their technology appears to be similar to humans from the 2000s. The main exception here is that this civilization lives in a state of harmony with their natural world. As such the hazards that consumed our world and the markers we might have used to discover other civilizations are non-existent. Their carbon footprint is minimal. Weather effects are handled by adapting their dwellings to the environment surrounding them. Systems have detected a number of satellites orbiting the planet. Picking up some of their transmissions for further investigation”
“Unit three five one, your survey has provided enough data for now. You may return to command as soon as possible.”
“…But sir, we could and should learn more of them. Perhaps they could be the key to restoring Earth.”
“Earth is lost. If we cannot make the necessary changes on Venus, then we cannot do them on Earth. The same weather has affected both planets for years now and we still do not possess the technology or the resources to fix things. For now, all we can do is learn about our universe and perhaps one day return.”
“Acknowledged. Closing survey and returning home.”
For many years humanity saw as Earth became an inferno. A runaway greenhouse effect, much like the one on Venus, took over the weather and environment of Earth. With the technology of the time people were able to escape, but ended up traveling the galaxy in hopes of finding a safe harbor. None was found and the ships began to lose power. Little by little only a few remained. Many of which decided to return home and orbit Earth until some of the science vessels returned with good news. The surveys were meant to provide a template to reverse the effects of the runaway greenhouse effect. Sadly many of the experts that could help perished during the launch of one of the Liferaft starships. So they must learn once again all the science lost in those minds. Maybe one day they could reverse the disastrous weather and return home.
This will be the first in a series of writings meant to provoke thought, analyze different aspects of our lives and overall bring forward subjects that may be uncomfortable to discuss. The issues mentioned in these posts feel like an important step to diversify the content of the blog. As for the content itself it will cover current issues or rising curiosities that come to mind from time to time. Now, onto the subject matter.
Slavery as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary states that it is the practice of slaveholding, the state of a person in forced servitude or a person that is entrapped and exploited. According to our history slavery was abolished, though there are remnants of it in the form of human trafficking. The expanded definition states that people who are entrapped or exploited could also be referred to as slaves. A lot of people in our society sometimes call our current labor system a kind of slavery. They work to pay off debt. A debt that is accrued and even heightened by a system that forces people into acquiring debt to build a payment reputation called credit. Subsequently they require this credit for loans, be it a car loan or a mortgage. This is in a nation that heavily relies on cars for transportation and sells the dream of the single family home. The nation in question is the United States, one of the richest countries in the world. It is with this preface that I open this discussion and criticism about our modern subservience.
Work has been for a long time the avenue for many to afford living. Thus by extension a person who does not work cannot afford to live. Is the value of life lost because of this? Of course not, though some people might actually argue such a thing. The general lack of empathy could be the topic of another writing. We have seemingly entered a time where people are only valued for the amount of work they can perform. People needing an income to afford basic necessities like food and shelter forces people into a situation where they need to work no matter what they can or cannot do. In order to make this more poignant I take a line from the declaration of independence of the United States which says, “we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. This is said in one of, if not the most important document of the nation. Despite this there is no guarantee of having these Rights. Our economic system is obsessed with profit. Slowly, with each passing year, we bear witness to how the value of work has been reduced. Even with a decent salary some people will find their savings, if they have any, drying up as a result of inflation. People are not voluntarily working for their own betterment or the betterment of society, they work because the alternative is starvation or homelessness. This is the modern whipcrack, but it is not a powerful sting in the back and bleeding out in front of the other slaves. It is the slow painful death while surrounded by indifference and condemnation. We look at the homeless like pests, less than human. We look at them like we look at animals scrounging for scraps. The blame of losing a job is often placed solely on the worker. In recent times we have seen companies lay off thousands of employees with little consequence. Inflation is also blamed on a higher amount of people being able to work. They are then laid off and condemned to the stress of a new job search that could prove unfruitful. Technological advancements that are meant to ease our lives and work have turned into the threat of unemployment. Companies see automation as a way to get rid of employee salaries and as a way to continue to enrich their already bloated executives. Yet it was said, once, that one of our fundamental rights is to live and be happy. Such a thing is a fading dream to many. As it stands there are parts of the US where even holding a steady job does not guarantee the ability to survive. Some people in these situations use what few alternatives they have. A second job, investing what little they have or going into more recent high risk endeavors like cryptocurrencies or non fungible tokens are some of the options people can take. Meanwhile our politicians turn away and bicker amongst themselves, constantly shifting blame and deepening their senseless rivalries.
In recent times a number of employers have popularized the saying that people do not want to work anymore. To be frank, a lot of people probably never really wanted to work at all. It is only through that hidden cattle prod known as starvation that people are pushed to find a job. With salaries being barely enough to sustain most families the tolerance for a workplace that does not value its employees has vanished. No one can really choose not to work. Only the very few wealthy can easily manage this. Extreme wealth drives an adverse effect on the economy. It is essentially a pile of money that goes nowhere but a few select individuals. This is in contrast to people who have barely enough. There is no balance to this. One person should not hold so much so that they would have enough for several lifetimes. The government, through taxation, could help prop up the rest of the population. It can reassign a lot of money that lies stagnant into the economy. If the economy works with a limited amount of currency then those who hold the most of it are doing nothing for it. When the extremely wealthy choose to invest they do so on other high wealth endeavors, keeping the money within their own circle. Their wealth alone could solve many issues, but instead, either by willful greed or plain indifference, they choose to retain their wealth. In the political side of things, wealthy politicians can sway public opinion by pouring money into the media.
We live within a system of limited resources. This limit is not recognized by a lot of people, particularly those who have too much money in their pockets. Housing is one such limited asset. The less supply, the higher the prices because demand increases. A person who cannot afford a house is forced to rent or live with a relative. This might impact what job opportunities they might have. Rent spikes are not unheard of and can also push people into homelessness. A person without a home address will have little to back them up. Some even opt to live in their cars, risking what little they have.
The advent of new forms of artificial intelligence has caused quite a bit of turmoil recently. Jobs that seemed otherwise out of reach from automation are now threatened. Art, writing and in some cases programming itself are things that an AI can replicate. These new systems have the potential to lighten the load of work on people. Sadly, instead of relieving the workload it might end up removing employment positions entirely. This turns the innovations of AI into a problem, not because of the innovations themselves, but because our economic system is tied to the basic needs of a person. Automation should be the tool that returns us the time we lose and lost while working to gain income. Time we could use to learn more and to live more. We should have the availability to seek happiness and that of those around us if so needed. Free time is essential for our innovations. It is essential for our art and culture to thrive because it enables people to expand their creativity beyond the scope of being forced to create things strictly for profit.
A possible solution to the problem of having to work to survive would be to provide a basic source of income. As the popularity and application of automation rises, so does the need to ensure that people can continue their lives. The future will require less people in the workforce. It should be liberating not a condemnation. For some there is always the excuse that funding must be found to sustain such programs. Though the excuse often falls short when deciding to fund military efforts.
Our economic system has to adapt. A lot of people do not recognize that it is a system that is strictly for calculating values. It is a balance that reacts to its main drivers, supply and demand. There is nothing in it that is humane in its applications. Thus essential elements like food and shelter rise in cost. Through the manipulation of supply and demand we arrive at the problems we face today. Our economic system needs to evolve with us and it must be made more humane. This disconnection with our very existence will drive more people towards misery, homelessness and starvation. Take for example the price of food. In the pure economic sense, in order to drive a reduction in demand prices increase, but food is an essential need of people. Demand for food increases with the population so the net effect is a perpetual increase in price. A similar effect is seen in higher education. An entire generation was told from early on that a career would grant them high wages and job stability. As demand for higher education increased, so did its cost. It also encouraged businesses, in the form of private colleges, to rise to meet demand. Sadly inflation is outpacing the increased wages, making the efforts of many feel pointless. That is, when such wages were actually offered. Companies have used this increase in education to add more requirements to positions. This often results in adding years of experience to a posting that might not really need such a requirement. Limitations in supply also increase price. Housing is one such item. In cities where demand is high the cost of buying a house and even renting is very high. Very little is done to mitigate this problem. Then there are people who had the capability to buy houses years ago and now rent their properties out. Those were most likely wealthy enough then, and now even more so. A group of people looking to make a profit out of other’s needs. A shelter, a home, is essential for survival. A person or a family with a stable home can acquire groceries, buy appliances and so on. It moves the economy through the consumption of goods. A lot of people do not see this. We have money hungry corporations who can increase rent by 20% or more on apartments without a thought as to how it will affect the tenants. At many times this is driven by executives whose only goal is to hoard blindly.
Politicians have a knack for turning important topics into buzzwords that they can easily dismiss. They will often twist the meaning and simplify something as complex as an economic system. Some scream socialism or communism without a second thought. Oftentimes we see people going against these systems lacking any knowledge of what they entail. People who are obsessed with their political parties will then spread their fear around. Few, if any, stop to actually research any of the known economic systems. Our systems should be adaptable. We shouldn’t have to apply a single thought line to everything because it denies our very nature. That we are a diverse group with varying needs and wants. Any economic system we choose to have must possess a large dose of humanism or we will never grow with them. They will forever become avenues that people in power will abuse for their own gain. Greed will be our undoing. Whatever we call our economy it must respond to us and our needs, not the other way around. It is imperative that we don’t just choose one, but instead build something tailored to our needs.
Food, shelter, healthcare and education. These are the fundamental needs of every human being. Some might argue that education isn’t a fundamental need, but without it we cannot have a functioning society. If we could find a way to ensure these four elements as unalienable Rights we could perhaps finally move forward as a civilization. It is shameful that despite our technological advancements we still haven’t found a way to balance this out. We have economists, scientists, financial analysts and others who could convene and do the necessary work to make these things a reality. Sadly, such a thing will remain a dream as long as politicians, blinded by their greed, power and rivalries, continue to diverge from the problems that affect us. They alone, with very few exceptions, are responsible for many of our problems. As elected leaders many do not recognize the influence they have on their followers. In their constant, short sighted endeavors they condemn the future of many either through inaction or indifference.
“How would you receive the end of the world?”, she asked.
“Laureen, are you ok? Why would you ask that?”, I was puzzled. This strange question just out of the blue. That was two weeks ago. Today I watch as the people around me have given in to the chaos that has unfolded. The end of the world. No one could believe it when the news broke. A rogue planet was detected rushing towards the solar system. Its passing would pull every other planet and alter their orbit. Estimates placed the rogue planet passing just a few miles from Earth, but it was enough to tear the crust away. So now we waited. As the end of everything within our civilization slowly arrived. Financial markets were the first to crumble into dust. People lost any motivation to continue going to work. A few still did it to preserve what little normalcy they could. Others tried helping each other out, but there was no denying the panic that took over most. I sat on the balcony of our home near the Quincy shore. Laureen, recently celebrated her 16th birthday. She was sitting next to me, and I said, “Now you see how I would receive it. With you by my side. People are bound for death, it is an inevitability of life. It often begs the question of why read the story if you already know the ending? Because the journey is always worth taking. Whether for good or for bad, we did what we could with what we had. Me? I’m proud to have been able to raise such an incredible daughter”. She laid her head on my shoulders. Lifted herself again and told me, “I was actually looking forward to college, physics was going to be interesting”.
A low rumble could be heard and felt this morning. Outside everything was eerily quiet. The planet was set to pass by today at midday. I was making what little we had for breakfast. Power has been out for a few days already. After breakfast I went to sit down on the balcony again. It was almost midday. Everyone could make out the planet in the sky already. A cold darkness swept across the area. I looked around for Laureen, I couldn’t find her. I wanted to run to look for her, but my body didn’t seem to respond. “I guess, this is it”, I said to myself while looking at the sky.
“Dad, wake up.”, I heard her voice clearly. Stunned and confused I noticed I was lying down on a bed. “So, did you like the experience?”, she asked calmly. Without hesitation I answered, “It was horrible, why did you make me do this again?”. A rush of memories ran through my mind as if a train was running through hundreds of stations, leaving every passenger safely on them. “The idea was to experiment historical events through the eyes of people living at the time as captured by the light data we acquired”, Laureen explained. “Yes, yes of course, how could I forget? It’s still very disturbing. Thank goodness we were saved”. We will remember the solar system as the birthplace of humanity but the universe is full of things to discover. “We should try to search for our saviors next”, I suggested. That question had been on everyone’s mind after the incident. “You know they sent the ship and everything else automatically, there is little evidence they’re still around. I’ll see what we can arrange, for now you should get some proper sleep dad”. “Yeah, no sense in lingering here”, I got up, walked to my quarters, laid down in bed and fell asleep.
Garin stared at the sky, watchful for Solus’ arrival. I looked at him and despite the wisdom of ages coursing through his mind he could not help the urge to have childlike fun. “Go on”, I said. He wanted to fly off, drop and then catch the air in his wings. His own enjoyment washed over me like a spring breeze. It was refreshing to see such light. Solus saw him in the distance and joined for a little while. Like a mother and child, they made me wonder if Solus influenced Garin’s form. They spent a few minutes up there while I toiled away with some magical energy. Solus had already given me a way to start up the portal that would take me back to Earth. When they finally came down both of them were happy to have flown around so freely. “Such freedom is an immeasurable gift, I am glad I get to accompany you Jake”, Garin said, his wisdom often stunned me for only having been born a short while ago.
With Solus’ power aiding us we built a proper gateway that could be used to more easily establish portals. Not only would these be used to travel to Alfarand, but it could also be set up to open a portal to Earth. After a supply caravan passed through on their return from Alfarand, Solus and I prepared the portal. While we channeled our energy into it, Solus taught Garin the necessary knowledge to travel in such a way. In a few minutes the portal was ready and we stepped through. Solus stayed behind to continue her work.
We emerged from a bright light, in the middle of a road. After getting my bearings I noticed it was early morning. I looked around slowly, taking in the scene. In a short moment I recognized everything around me. It felt odd being here, right in front of my house. I figured maybe a day had passed since Garalith had taken me to Argumand. When I entered home dad was there in the kitchen, preparing a sandwich no less. He looked at me and said, “well, it certainly has been a while. How are things in Argumand?”. I’ll be honest, I felt kind of angry because he had kept most of his power and the existence of that world a secret for so long. “Really? That’s how you decide to greet me? How about explaining everything?”, I replied. “Look, there was no easy way to explain everything about that world and our magic”, then he noticed I wasn’t with Garalith, “Wait, Garalith passed?”. He looked sad, but recovered fairly quickly, “hmm, I see you have a new companion. By the way, I had to clean up the mess Garalith left behind”. Mess? I looked at Garin, then back at dad, “What mess? What do you mean?”. In all this time I believed only a day passed between the time I was taken by Garalith and my return, the truth however, hit me like a truck. “It’s been three years Jake. I used my magic to rearrange the memories of a lot of people. I made them forget about Garalith, the incident at college and I had to make them forget about you. People would start to ask about you and it caused quite a stir here. You lost your grant at college. Everyone was suspicious so I had to take action. I knew Garalith would take you to Argumand. Every wizard with a guardian has to fight in the war”, dad explained. Meanwhile I was rather stunned. Part of me felt I had to continue the life I had, despite not really wanting it anymore. After all the experience I gathered it would have been very difficult to return to such a limited existence. I then said, “So my life here is over. I didn’t really come back for it though. I came back for you, to tell you my home is in Argumand”. “Jake, I should have returned to Argumand a long time ago. As I told you before, meeting your mother changed everything. When she passed away I was heartbroken. There was nothing that could make me return to a war torn, dying world”, he looked down and then back up to me. I explained what had happened in the time I spent in Argumand and Alfarand. The people I met, Solus and the other guardians. “I’m proud of you Jake. You accomplished things generations of us only dreamed. To think all we needed was to see Alfarand with our own eyes, to acknowledge that its demise would also mean our own”, dad said. He looked at Garin and spoke to him for a bit. Garin introduced himself. At this point dad explained that he had severed his link to Garalith, thinking it would save me from being taken into the war. What he didn’t expect was that this mystical link was passed down to me at that moment. He had argued with Garalith many times. The day Garalith came for me was the day the link was broken. “I really don’t know if I should return to Argumand, Jake. I made my life here, despite the difficulties of living in this mostly magic-less world. Do what you feel is best for you and your guardian”, he said. Dad was understanding. He knew that nothing could keep me there. I could learn so many more things and have such incredible freedom in Argumand. Then I realized, “Will you be alright here? You’d be alone without the same freedom we have in Argumand. Are you sure you want to stay?”. He replied, “I guess, the one thing that would take me from here is you. You’re right. For whatever reason I thought my future would be here, but after learning how things are going there perhaps it’s time I returned”. “Tell you what, let’s take time to live there and see how it goes. If at some point you don’t like it you could simply come back. With our magic there really isn’t much that is out of reach”, he was appreciative of my offer but he knew that if he left he wouldn’t return. Despite the friendships he gained in his time on Earth there was nothing compared to living alongside guardians and wizards. Sure, Argumand has none of the technological advancements of Earth, but surely in due time we could come up with even better stuff. “Then it’s settled. When do we leave?”, I asked, knowing well that dad would want to leave things in the right order. “It’ll take me a few days, stay with me until then and we can leave together. And Jake, I’m sorry for not telling you about Argumand sooner. Once we’ve returned I can share some of my stories with you. Garalith was stalwart, but he could be mischievous sometimes”, I smiled and then walked to my old room on the second floor.
After a few days we bid farewell to Earth. My home in Liriath now had a new room. Dad was quick to make new friends and even reunited with old ones. His magic was also impressive. Together we traveled to different places in both Argumand and Alfarand. My life changed in such a drastic way. From meeting Garalith to reconnecting with dad after the war. The experiences were sometimes difficult to manage, but I never lost hope. I feel that it was that hope that led me to eventually setting Solus free and ending the war. Now, onto new adventures across these worlds.
(Author’s note: This comes directly after Alfarand’s Plea posting got a bit mixed up. My apologies.)
The days have blurred together while waiting for my eventual execution. I’ve only received tidbits of information regarding Garalith. Once the day arrives, Alara promised the resistance would be ready. In a moment’s notice, the day arrived.
“You! Out now! It’s time you pay for your crimes against Alfarand. Our lord king Ephram awaits!”, a guard loudly yelled at me. I was hauled across the city. The feeling of weakness did not repeat itself like the first time I was brought here. There was a magical stability around the statue of the guardian. It was clear it was still there, holding the integrity of the world together. Its magic kept the fabric of Alfarand from tearing apart and destroying itself. As I admired the statue one of the guards said, “You like it? It’s the beast your people so ruthlessly murdered! All of you will pay for what you did”. Clearly blinded by anger and hatred, nothing I said would move these people to more peaceful ways. I was pushed to kneel before king Ephram, the main ruler of Alfarand and its people along with a small group of people which flanked him. Many of them were really old, perhaps the remaining ancestors of the original council that once led this world. “I hear you are a child of Earth and a descendant of a power wizard from Argumand”, the king told me. It was a surprise he learned so much about me in particular. I didn’t expect them to care that much for prisoners. I replied, “Then maybe you would understand that I did not have a full choice in this matter. The guardian I inherited told me we had to defend Argumand at all costs. I have seen a lot of hatred in your eyes. The years of war have blinded you”. Before I could continue one of the guards screamed out, “Silence whelp! Shall we execute him now my lord?”. Ephram simply waved his hand and a nearby guard prepared a sharpened ax. The king started to move away with his entourage when a sudden blast hit the city. All the guards scrambled around while another blast was seen somewhere else. “We’re under attack! Guards, defensive positions! Kill him now!”, Ephram screamed at the executioner, but before he could properly swing the massive ax he was stunned by a small bolt of magic. Frozen in place, most likely paralyzed by the energy he was hit with, the executioner could only watch as the resistance moved in. They pushed Ephram away and freed me from my shackles. Alara gave me a small crystal and told me to channel my magic through it. It would help me restore my magic and protect my energy from being drained by magical voids. Meanwhile the cell that holds Garalith is at the other side of the guardian statue. I had to quickly sprint towards the cell and use all my might to free Garalith. Once there I blasted away the few guards that remained there and made short work of the sealed doorway. When Garalith emerged he looked like a starved wolf. He explained that the cell kept him from accessing any magic, starving was truly the best description sadly. Not a minute passed when I lost track of one of the guards. The man threw a javelin at me. It all happened so fast I barely had any time to react to the attack. Then the unthinkable happened. Garalith used his remaining strength to jump between me and the spear. It struck him right on the chest. “Garalith!”, I screamed out, then sent a powerful bolt of lightning that tore through the guard’s armor and sent him flying away hundreds of feet. The bolt had such immense power that for a second everyone around halted and stood in silence. I could feel the rumble of the ground as the energy shockwave traveled outward. I held Garalith as he spoke to me his last words, “Take the orb on my tail, it will survive me. Guard it with your life and in return it will provide for you. Goodbye Jake…”. I did as he told me. His body disappeared in a burst of light and sparkling dust. I held the small orb in my hand. My magic was fully restored. An army of soldiers approached. Their presence was more marked now. Without hesitation I unleashed a magical force that swept the soldiers off their feet. All the magical energy at my disposal, yet despite my anger at the Alfarand soldiers I would not unleash horrors upon them. Instead I directed as much energy as I could towards the statue. A beam of magic pierced the layer of stone and revealed the scaled skin of the great dragon guardian. The statue slowly crumbles and reveals the ancient being. With its release a wave of energy washed over everything. It calls to me, “Thank you for freeing me, I will pacify the people here”.
Days went by and the changes made themselves felt almost immediately. Fields of dust and sand started to grow new plants. Trees grew in once dead forests. The guardian roamed the entirety of Alfarand in a few short minutes. It was impressive. Kind Ephram heeded the wise guardian’s words and halted any further advances. A few people formed a council from Argumand and declared a ceasefire. The changes could be felt in Argumand too. My own role in all this would not diminish either. With the help of Alara and others we helped rebuild the old capitals of each world. Everyday holding on tightly to Garalith’s legacy. His sacrifice made this all possible, I think deep down he knew what had to be done.
The days felt long and arduous but the work kept my mind busy. Grief stricken over the loss of Garalith, I buried myself in work. Rebuilding both structures and relations between the two worlds was not easy. For Alfarand in particular it was years of hatred. They were only swayed by the charms and assurance of the great guardian. Solus, she called herself. It was her presence that helped push the ceasefire into a peace treaty between Argumand and Alfarand. King Ephram agreed to step down to allow for a new council to lead which included people from both his side and the resistance that sought the restoration of Solus. Wizards and their guardians traveled back and forth to help stabilize each world further. The changes in Argumand are notable. The Fields of Sorrow, a veritable wasteland, became a lush valley. With the new fields people could begin to cultivate again and settle down. The new council of Argumand was eager to rebuild. I was one of the wizards they called upon the most. Garalith’s orb gave me the additional power needed to perform otherwise extremely difficult tasks. Months went by quickly.
One day as I placed Garalith’s orb down on the table I noticed a crack on it. I was devastated. My only thought was that perhaps because of how much I had used the orb, it developed those cracks. After a few minutes I saw as the cracks had grown. It looked like the orb was about to fall apart. I was compelled to continue watching it until finally it exploded in a wave of magical energy and a cloudy maelstrom. From billowing smoke and lightning emerged a new guardian. I thought, “the orb must have been like an egg. Do guardians reincarnate? Or is this the child of Garalith”. The small dragon, much like Solus, had nothing in common with Garalith. In an instant it grew to a larger size and began to speak to me. “Greetings, I am Garin, it appears you are the one whom I am bound to”. I responded, “So it seems. Are you related to Garalith in any way?”. “You must be referring to my predecessor. No. He and I are distinct beings. I hold none of his memories, despite carrying me his entire life. Such is the way of the guardians of Argumand. One life ends and another begins. My memories will shape me from now on, though we somehow carry part of our predecessor’s personality. It is an odd sensation to be affected by something you have not experienced yourself. A lot of the way we develop is encoded in the energies that course through our bodies”, Garin told me. It was astounding to see him develop so quickly in front of my eyes. The loss of Garalith felt distant now. It was comforting to have this new companion. It was clear that we would need to learn a lot of things again. In the war Garalith and I fought in tandem, but in this new time of peace I would have to teach Garin a very different set of skills.
In one of my travels to Alfarand I was approached by Solus and she said, “I see you have gained a new companion. You are blessed, for such a loss would break most wizards”. Solus and I had grown close. I freed her from the binds of the stone and together we helped bring Alfarand and Argumand into peacetime. “Maybe it’s because I’m not entirely from Argumand. My time on Earth shaped me”, I said. The great guardian rose and then said, “Would you like to return to your world? Is your family still there?”. For a moment Earth felt so distant. All my time in Argumand, the war and every experience felt like I had lived a new life. I hesitated because I questioned whether or not I wanted to return, then answered, “My father still lives there. He was once a great wizard of Argumand. Perhaps I should go to him. I want him to see how being here has shaped me”. “I see. Then let us convene tomorrow in Argumand. Until then I must tend to this world”, Solus said as she flew off to the sky.
My expectation of portal travel was definitely not what I experienced. Consciousness drifted between fully aware and completely lost. In those fleeting moments where I was awake I saw as soldiers hauled Garalith away and placed him inside a vault of some kind. Meanwhile I hobbled back into consciousness as I was thrown in a cell. I suspected it was somewhere in the capital city of Alfarand. A single barred window was the only access to the outside. There was no access to magic here. The Alfarand army had somehow found a way to cut the flow of magic in some places. I suspected they didn’t have full control of this. My reasoning was that in the moments I lost consciousness there was actually a drain of my own lifeforce. Surely they wanted me alive. It’s possible that lingering in those areas might have killed me eventually. What little I could see outside showed a crumbling and dilapidated city. Much like in Argumand the city looked empty. The sounds of people interacting were far.
I waited for some kind of interaction with the military for days. No one came, except for the soldier delivering the meals. At least I was treated humanely. Then, one day I received a message from a stranger. She sounded young and told me that I would be freed if I agreed to help them with a plan to stop the war. Naturally I agreed, I wanted to see no more bloodshed. In the following days I was briefed by the stranger on what their plan was. Few patrols actually passed by the prison, except when delivering food. The story of the war between Argumand and Alfarand goes back hundreds of years. The two worlds are said to be twins, created under similar circumstances. While Argumand received many guardians, Alfarand received one. That guardian’s power was respected, but also feared by many in Argumand. Back then a council led the cities of Argumand. It was those people that decided the Alfarand guardian was too big of a threat. Their fear led to the beginning of the war. The final goal of the council was to seal away the guardian. Many of the guardians in Argumand protested this decision, but nothing could be done. In a short time relations between the two worlds crumbled and a bitter hatred took over. The council was successful in sealing away the guardian. With their victory the remaining kingdoms of Alfarand swore to take revenge. Knowing that the people of Alfarand would attack the council destabilized the portals that connected the two worlds so that they would only be active for short periods over many years. Enough time passed for the people of Alfarand to deem their guardian completely lost, something that the resistance knows to be false. A gigantic statue of a dragon lies at the entrance to the Alfarand castle. That statue is the guardian itself, paralyzed in stone. All that needs to be done is to find a way to reawaken it.
The whole ordeal of the guardians and the worlds was devastating to hear. I understood now the reason why both worlds seemed to be decaying. Both worlds need their respective guardians to keep the magical energies flowing. What is worse, if either Alfarand or Argumand lose their magical stability both worlds suffer. It now falls to me and this resistance movement to try and restore the Alfarand guardian. I could only think of one option, trying to free Garalith. Our execution would be done in a few days. Alara, the woman who I had been talking with, informed me. She promised that she would do everything in her power to help us escape. All I could do now was wait and prepare.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet
Now that it has been some time since launch, I figure I can write a little about the games. I bought Violet version, and like many fans of the franchise I expected to have a good, fun adventure. Indeed, the game is really fun and true to the usual Pokémon experience. Sadly this has been a rather disappointing launch due to the number of glaring technical issues that make it clear the games were rushed. Among the problems are crashes, players clipping through the environment, pokémon spawning behind walls and many other performance issues. The game implements animation level of detail that changes the amount of frames played on character and pokémon animations depending on how far the camera is to them. The problem lies in how close the player has to be to actually see the full animation play. Windmills in the distance will show playing just a few frames of animation. Then there are the problems with frame rate. An area like Caseroya Lake can have a low frame rate while moving around it. These technical issues will hopefully be resolved in future patches.
Another subject is the matter of Tera Raids. The game’s main endgame content has a number of design issues that add difficulty by removing player agency. Tera Raids feature a battle against a Terrastalized pokémon. For anyone who hasn’t played yet, or is unfamiliar with the mechanic a terrastalized pokémon has its type changed to its Tera Type which can be any of the 18 types in the game. The Tera Type will provide the Same Type Attack Bonus (+50% power) and even more if the Tera Type matches the original type of the pokémon. In raid battles players can go against a terrastalized pokémon that has had its health scaled depending on the amount of stars. Their level also scales. The concept is actually pretty fun and challenging but there are elements added in its execution that cause some frustrating points of friction. Let’s start with the battle itself. Tera Raids are a multiplayer focused mode, though a single player can take them on with the help of NPC trainers. Solo players will sometimes have a difficult time when dealing with certain pokémon. Right off the bat solo players are pushed aside. In the battle itself the basics are there more or less. Players pick a move to use and so on, but there is one quirk of these battles. They run on a sort of active time battle. Players can act at different times without having to wait for anyone else to pick a move or action. In a way it resembles a one on one battle with all players whittling down the same health bar. These battles also have a time limit. Each time a player’s pokémon is knocked out a time penalty occurs. For some reason players are also penalized with a delay in returning to battle, which feels excessive given that everyone has already lost a chunk of the main time limit. One problem I found is related to the user interface. Each time the player’s pokémon performs an attack the UI is hidden. It’s counterintuitive because this happens very often and it leaves the player without one of the most important pieces of information, their pokémon’s health. Speaking of UI, it is terribly minimalist. There is little in the UI to show when something will happen, despite Pokémon Legends Arceus having a visual action queue that was not carried over for some reason. Something like the action queue could certainly help players strategize better. Players doing these raids solo will notice that NPCs will not move until the player has chosen an action first. Other events will also hide the menu and reset selection. There have been times when even an attack is outright canceled. On the other hand sometimes the menu is shown but cannot be interacted with. For a game mode that has a time limit, having the menu either frozen or not showing at all is frustrating. Stat changes, boosts or reductions, can only be seen in yet another menu that must be navigated to, instead of having a clear symbol for such in the UI. Legends Arceus had this and, once again, this feature is missing here. Wasting time running through a menu that could disappear at any moment is absurd. Any players focusing on managing buffs have to make due with that menu navigation. The problems with the UI are only a part of the issues plaguing Tera Raids. The Raid pokémon has the ability to perform certain actions when it reaches specific thresholds. There are two particular thresholds, when the pokémon reaches a certain health, possibly a percentage, and when a certain amount of time has passed. These thresholds can have a number of actions performed by the raid pokémon. Sometimes they can perform an extra attack. They can also remove debuffs, stat reductions and afflictions like poison or they can remove buffs from the player and disable their pokémon’s ability for one turn. Although these seem fine to add for the challenge, they’re sometimes used multiple times, discouraging the use of stat increase moves. The raid pokémon will also put up a shield that reduces damage to ¼. The game itself will tell the player to terrastalize their pokémon to deal with the shield, except they can only do this after charging their tera orb three times. Each damage dealing attack charges the orb by 1. The raid pokémon can also steal a charge, delaying what is a crucial step in the battle. The fact that damage dealing moves are necessary may discourage players from using status moves. On the other hand, moves that deal damage and have guaranteed status changes are much more valuable in this situation.
Something the developer should have phased out by now is hiding certain values. Since their introduction Individual Values and Effort Values are hidden values that affect the total points a pokémon has in their stats. On one hand Effort Values are only shown as an ambiguous graph and gained by defeating other pokémon. On the other, Individual Values are assigned when a pokémon is generated. There is no specific way to actually see these numbers. On the Effort Values graphs there are cues that can be followed to know when the pokémon has maxed out its effort points on a single stat and overall.
It was such a great experience to see Gamefreak try out new things when they launched Pokémon Legends Arceus, only to backtrack some of the changes made there. The quality of life improvements were well received and it is surprising many of them were not kept. One of which is being able to evolve a pokémon at any point after the option became available. The strategies of choosing between strong and agile style attacks added new depth to a progressively aging battle system. Hopefully whatever the developer has planned will include fixes to the current issues and some quality of life improvements to remove or at least alleviate the points mentioned above.
Year end recap
2022 was the year that I finally decided on writing and maintaining this story blog. Personally its been a mixed year for me. My job search has been fruitless, my career as a game developer is in an indefinite hold, but I’ve still been able to survive, mostly thanks to my partner’s support. I threw myself into the unknown when I started this particular endeavor. Currently, I try to write when I get the chance and post at least once a week. This week was an exception because of the holidays. Regardless of all that has transpired, I remain committed to continue writing. No matter what next year brings I am very grateful for those of you who decided to follow the blog and have liked what I have shared. It is my wish to continue to provide my small, humble form of entertainment. That it may bring a fire to your imagination. Thank you again for reading the stories. Happy new year!