WarSpell: World Sailing

Game of Freedom, Book 3

Frank Johnson to the rescue? He’s not a high level merge. Not an officer of renown, just a recently retired Sergeant. But the other half of his merge needs his help. And a Retired Airborne Ranger well it’s unwise to under estimate them.

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Frank Johnson no longer fits in the army. The world he’d built up over twenty years of service to the USA doesn’t work anymore, as much because of what the Merge did to him as what it did to the world.Francisco wasn’t one for following inconvenient rules, and following the rules is pretty central to what a modern soldier is. Meanwhile, Francisco, his other self, the other side of his Merge, is trying to do something important. Something that Frank fully approves of, But to do it, Francisco desperately needs supplies and a link back to Earth. So Frank takes his twenty, hocks his pension, and collects a crew of misfits to provide that link, that vital life line, between Earth and Twir’s world. They, ah, “acquire” a sailing catamaran, and set off to cross between Earth and Twir’s world. But they also have to navigate eight thousand miles of open ocean to get to Halforc Bay. While they’re doing that, Francisco isn’t idle and neither are the orcs in the Orclands or the humans and elves in the rest of the world.Getting there may be half the fun, but in this, the third book of the Game of Freedom series, it’s just the beginning.

Chapter 1:Collecting the Crew

Location: Frank Johnson’s Quarters
Date: May 30th, Merge Plus  151

Sergeant First Class Frank Johnson read the responses to his ad and trashed most of them. No wizards of any strength had replied, at least so far. There was one elf who merged with a medium level natural wizard/fighter, with no book wizard skills worth mentioning, who wasn’t high enough to cast world sailing and, almost, he trashed her application too. She was an elf and Francisco didn’t think much of elves, and Frank knew the orcs hated them with a passion.

Then he reconsidered. Her list of spells was useful and she had fighting abilities. He invited her to come to Georgia if she was interested.

She arrived two days later. By then he had tentative responses from Cap Donaly, Don Anderson, and John Smith.

Frank was really hesitant about Cap Donaly; he was the only member of the group that wasn’t merged.  But he knew boats, and Frank didn’t. He didn’t just need someone to sail the boat, he needed someone to buy it.

Location: Frank Johnson’s Apartment
Date: May 31, Merge Plus  152

Maggie showed up first. She was five foot four or thereabouts and had the elven look that Frank remembered from the few elves he’d met in his life as Francisco and the ones who had appeared on TV and the net since the Merge.

Her hair was golden blond, not white blond, and it was wavy, not straight. She was wearing a backpack that looked to be as big as she was without apparent difficulty.

Frank offered her a beer or coffee. She went with coffee and once she was situated, he sat across from her and asked, “Tell me about yourself?”

She did. About the half-elven wizard she’d played and her life as Maggie before the Merge.

He let her talk, taking it all in. “You’re a natural wizard? You can make a living as a translator, if nothing else. Why do you want to go?”

“Elf wood trees.”

Partly from the game and partly from his memories as Francisco, Frank knew what she was talking about. An elf who got old or injured would merge with a tree and be slowly healed, be brought back to a condition of excellent health, a fraction of an inch taller than when they went into the tree. You could use all manner of trees for that. Any tree with a trunk big enough to fit the elf inside it, but the best trees for it were the Elf wood trees. They were short, with wide trunks. They were also resistant to external magic and there weren’t any, or at least there weren’t very many in the Orclands. Orcs took great pleasure in chopping down any they found and burning them.

“Those trees—” Frank started.

“I know. They aren’t common in the Orclands. But I figure that with Count Southland being your other self, something can be worked out. Or, failing that, I can take ship to the west coast of Amonrai.” She shrugged. “I’m willing to work my passage.”

Location: Frank Johnson’s Apartment
Date: June 1st, Merge Plus  153

Don Anderson showed up in a fifteen-year-old pickup truck packed to the gills with guns and other equipment.

He had a list, and for Twir’s world it was a treasure trove. And he knew about the history of warfare. After the truck was unloaded into the large storage unit Frank rented, they were seated in Frank’s apartment with beers and chips.

“I’m figuring on becoming the Nobel of Twir’s world,” Don said. “I know how firearms have evolved over the years. So that’s what I brought. The tools we’ll need to start making stuff. Not all of them, but enough for a good start.”

* * *

Cap Donaly arrived the next day and promised Frank that he would find a good boat, but insisted that he needed more money. Frank, who had already gotten a loan secured by his pension, explained that there wasn’t any more money.

* * *

Then John Smith arrived. The very first thing he did was cast a hidden room spell on one wall of Frank’s apartment, explaining that he needed a quiet place to work. The next thing he did was demand a copy of the world sailing spell to study.

“I don’t have it yet,” Frank was forced to admit. “I’ve been trying and I still have friends in the service, but world sailing is a high level spell for which there is a lot of demand. It’s in the military spellbook, but so are a lot of really dangerous spells, so the whole spellbook is classified top secret. Meanwhile, there’s a congressional committee demanding that any sharing of any spells from the spell book be specifically authorized and paid for.”

It was true. Only a few weeks after the Merge, Congressman DeRoy pointed out that, thanks to the donation in the days right after the Merge, the US government possessed possibly the most extensive spellbook in the world, that it was an asset of incredible value, and to give it away would be to steal that money from the American taxpayers. He started leaning on generals and introducing legislation to prevent that resource from being given away. He’d gotten support from the left and the right and even the middle, what was left of it, and managed to push through a tweak to the UCMJ making it a federal crime to share any spell in the United States Military Spellbook without prior written authorization.

Frank did have friends, and there was an A-Team stuck on Twir’s world, but the paperwork was running into roadblocks.

Chapter 2:The Repo

Location: Baja, Mexico, Merge World
Date: June 20, Merge Plus  173

Donatella Alvarez felt the feet on the deck at a subliminal level, but didn’t wake up until the engines started. She looked over at the clock in the forward starboard cabin she shared with her fellow boat bunny, Susan Washburn. It was four in the friggin’ morning and Manuel was out there testing the engines after she only had two and a half hours of sleep. She grabbed her pillow and pulled it over her head.

“What is that crazy man doing at this time of the morning?” Suzi complained sleepily.

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s just testing the engines for the hell of it?” Donatella answered hopefully.

Just then the boat started to move. “Oh, fuck!” Donatella threw off the pillow and grabbed her clothes while pushing her thick black hair out of her eyes.

Suzi was doing the same with her shorter blonde hair, bikini bottom and tight tank top. It took them a couple of minutes because they knew better than to show up sleepy-eyed in the public areas of the boat. Drug lord Manuel Rodriquez expected them to be presentable at all times.

* * *

The Dona Maria was a hundred yards into the bay and moving at eight knots before the girls showed up on deck. “Who the hell are you? No one’s supposed to be here,” the guy at the wheel squeaked. The guy was wearing a captain’s cap, looked a bit rumpled, and he had that well groomed, well exercised, but soft look that was common in bankers and lawyers.

“That’s my line, asshole!” Suzi turned to a chest, where she opened up a drawer and pulled out a Glock 9.

“Hey now, wait a minute,” the guy said. “This is . . . a perfectly lea— ah, legitimate . . . repossession of the boat in compensation . . .”

“Are you nuts!” Donatella asked. “Do you have any idea whose boat you’re repoing? Manuel Rodriguez is going to have your ass flayed alive when he catches you.”

That was for sure. Manuel was generous both in salary and little gifts like diamond earrings, but he wasn’t a man to cross and he was possessive as hell. He killed people who got in his way. Donatella had seen the bodies a couple of times. In a way, that was part of the attraction. He was exciting and dangerous.

“Well, he’s got to catch me first, and that’s going to be harder than you think,” blustered the guy in the captain’s cap.

Suzi waved the pistol back and forth. “Not hard at all, asshole. Now step away from the wheel so we can take the boat back, before I pop a cap in your ass.”

Suddenly, there was a thump on the deck behind them, and captain’s cap smiled. Suzi started to turn and a voice said, “Hold it right there, miss. You’re covered.”

Suzi’s body stopped turning, but her head didn’t. Donatella saw Suzi’s eyes widen as she saw whatever was behind them. Meanwhile, captain’s cap drew his gun and Donatella noticed for the first time that it was an antique ball and cap six shooter, not a Glock or Mac 9. On the other hand, antique or not, the gun in the captain’s hand had plenty of knock-down power.

“Like I said, miss,” captain’s cap continued, “he has to catch us first and that may be harder than you think. You might want to put that pistol back in the drawer before an accident happens.”

“He promised me a million bucks for getting him and his boys out of the joint,” said a voice she almost recognized. “This is my million bucks. As for you, I didn’t know you’d be on the boat. Look, Suzi, Donatella, I can take you back to Columbus with me on the next trip, and you can call him to come get you.”

“Johnny, is that you?” Suzi asked. Now Donatella recognized the voice. It was Manuel’s druggie wizard, John Graham.

“Yes, it’s me. This is a disguise spell. It’s not like I can run around after they flashed my face all over the news.”

“Johnny,” Donatella said, “you are in some shit, mi compadre. Manuel was already pissed at you for running off like that. Now you’re stealing the Dona Maria and kidnapping us. Are you loco?”

“He owed me,” John repeated, sounding like a spoiled five-year-old, “and he was going to keep my ass locked up until I died. Now, do you want me to drop you off in Columbus or not?”

“Which Columbus?” Suzi asked.

“Never mind that,” said Donatella. “You know what Manuel will do to us if we come back without the Dona Maria. ‘They had guns’ isn’t going to cut a whole lot of ice.”

“Oh, shit. You’re right. We are royally screwed.” Suzi put the pistol back in the cabinet and went and sat down. “John, you fucked-up asshole, you have gotten us all killed. Manuel has a scryer. You know he’s been collecting magic users since the Merge. He can find us anywhere on Earth.”

“As it happens, ladies, we won’t be staying on Earth that long. Just long enough to transfer the rest of the gear to the yacht and for John here to craft world sailing. Then we’re heading for Twir’s world. Have you been following that blog?”

“Which one is that? There are a lot of blogs about game world adventures these days.” Donatella thought about it, trying to place the blog in question. The Merge had gone both ways and often enough there had been at least information about the other side of the merged where the characters suddenly had the player’s memories.  Then the rest of what John said penetrated. “John, you know world sailing? You told me you’d never learned it.”

“Well, I can work it out from the book. I’ve read the spell and practiced a little. I think I can get it.”

“Oh, crap,” muttered the guy in the Union Army blouse.

“You’d better, you asshole, or we’re all dead,” Suzi said.

“Look, it’s going to take us a while anyway,” captain’s cap said. “John, you get the rest of the gear. Call me Cap, ladies. Now if you don’t mind, please help Don here stow the stuff as it comes in. We have a load of gear for Half-orc Bay and we need to get it put away while John crafts the sailing spell.”

“Either that or we drop you in Georgia to wait for Manuel to find you,” John offered.

The look Suzi gave John at that point would have killed him on the spot if she had the evil-eye.

The next trip brought a woman named Maggie Huston and more supplies. She said, “Frank is going to wait at the storage unit and come with the last load.”

Chapter 3:Quitzy World

Location: Off the Baja Coast, Quitzy World
Date: Local Date Unknown, Merge Plus 173

The Dona Maria was a hundred and two feet long, with a beam of forty-three feet. Put another way, it was as big as a good-sized house. It had three decks, including the staterooms in the hulls, and was a party boat from end to end. Down the ladder from the upper deck, the lower deck opened into the main lounge with kitchen, dining rooms, and another pilot station. Cap was running the boat from that pilot station, not the one on the upper deck.

That was where he stayed, but the rest of them gathered on the lower deck, open to the air but in the shade. John came out of the small office where he had been crafting and joined them.

“Good job, John,” Frank said with a smile. He turned and yelled into the main lounge. “Cap, where is the wind from?”

“Port quarter, just like it was before this weirdness happened. Frank, I got no sonar return. None at all. It’s as if the planet was water all the way to the core. No radar or radio, either.”

“That’s as it should be,” John shouted back, then sat on one of the couches. “We’re leaving the world before the sound waves have a chance to bounce off anything. Thousands of steps a second, I think.”

Don had his fifty cal open and was running a patch through it. Black powder weapons had a tendency to fouling.

“So, Frank . . .” Donatella patted the couch next to her. “You’re going to be a count?”

Suzi looked at Donatella, then at Frank and started to grin, and Frank knew he was in trouble. “I have been promised a barony by Francisco, Count Southland. He’s the other half of my Merge.”

“I wish I’d merged,” said Donatella.

“I don’t know. What if you’d merged with a druggie like—” Suzi broke off looking at John.

“He did well enough just now,” Frank said.

Then the spell ended, and they were back in the ocean with clear skies around them.

“What happened? I thought this was supposed to last for hours!” Frank said.

“It is. I must have gotten the timing wrong,” John said. “Look, I was checking it, making sure everything was right, when they started shooting. So I stopped checking and cast the sucker. Would you rather we were still back there?”

“No. You did the right thing, John. So where are we? Do you have any idea?”

“Not really. In theory, what happens is that you flip between worlds and the spell is constantly looking for a world that is like the one you’re heading to. So what ought to be happening is we are in a world that’s a lot like home, like Earth, the merged world, but a little bit like Twir’s world, which is a pretty standard game world. But the continents are different between those worlds, and they have different moons and. . . . Well, we were in a hurry, so I have no idea what we’re looking at.”

“Okay, John. I want you to go craft another version of world sailing and while you’re at it, try and figure out what was wrong with this one. I want to be able to leave here as quickly as possible if something comes up.” Frank turned to the lounge. “Cap, check and see if there are GPS satellites up, and while you’re at it, see if there is anything on the radio.”

“No GPS and there’s some strange shit on the radio. It sounds like whale song or something.”

Suzi, who had changed into her work clothing—blue jeans and an “I’m horny” T-shirt—pulled a cell phone from her pocket and turned it on. “Nope. No bars.”

Cap Donaly shouted from the main cabin. “Frank, I’m seeing something weird in the masthead video. It looks like some sort of bird.”

What now? Frank wondered and headed for the bridge. Or helm, or cockpit, whatever it was.

The pilothouse was a largish room with comfortable chairs, the steering wheel, and a set of flat screen video monitors, which showed such things as sonar returns, magnetic north, wind direction, and the like. On one of the screens was a picture of the sky with a flying creature in it. It was long and sinuous, and there was no way those wings were keeping the thing in the air. They weren’t big enough. They were bird wings, and the snake-like body had feathers as well.

Donatella stepped into the pilothouse and gasped when she saw the screen. “It’s Quetzalcoatl!”

“You mean like Cortez Quetzalcoatl?”

“No, that’s all Spanish propaganda. Quetzalcoatl was the god of learning and rebirth and the name of the high priest of the Aztec temple. I took a course on it.”

“Human sacrifice?” asked Cap.

“Yes, probably.”

“You willing to be our virgin sacrifice?” Frank asked.

“She’s not qualified and neither am I!” Suzi said.

“Well then, while showing all possible respect for native religions and the like, I would submit that if Quitzy out there is looking for dinner, the larder is closed.”

“What makes you think it’s looking for dinner? It was the god of learning. Maybe it’s just curious,” Dona suggested.

“Tell you what, if you decide to go have a chat with it, I won’t shoot it until it tries to eat you. How’s that?” Frank said, then he struck a pose. “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup!”

Dona stuck out her tongue.

* * *

He was seventy-five years old and eighty feet long. Though he had never heard of ketchup, he found humans delightfully tasty. He was also starting to find them a little interesting as he got older. He was a dragon, born of an egg. His intellect had grown slowly, as had his size. He was young for a dragon and about as smart as a human—though he had barely considered the idea that humans might actually be smart. He spoke no language because he had never had occasion to learn one.

Dragons of most species are solitary creatures, with little interest in communication until they reach a hundred fifty or so. On the other hand, boats generally meant humans. And, though the larger members of his species kept him away from their herds of humans—not being willing to share—he had often managed to dine on sailors.

So it was with a happy heart and joy in the world that he sailed for the funny-shaped big ship. His thoughts were images and smells and a sort of internal code, with little that might be thought of as words.

If translated, they might have come out as something like, Oh goody! Tasty treats in a funny new box.

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