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Foxtails – Extended Version

The following post is an extended version of a short story I wrote in August of 2017 by the same name. Those who support me on my Patreon account at the $10 a month level not only got early access to the extended story you see below, they also got an exclusive patron-only audio reading of this story. If you’d like to get future perks such as this (or any of the other perks I offer), support me on Patreon.


I stood at the end of the bike path and stared out into the park before me. Sweat dripped down my forehead and into my eyes, clouding my vision temporarily before I wiped it away. I took a deep breath and made a mental note as to how my day was progressing. 18.5 miles done, 18.5 to go.

I walked my bicycle through the grassy park and toward the picnic area on the far side of the park. I leaned its emerald frame against the support posts of the gazebo and walked over to the nearby water fountain. The chilling liquid flowed forth from the silver spigot and hit my lips with its icy touch. My face flinched back instinctively from the shock before I went back in and took a couple of long drinks from the water’s flow. Though the water had a slight metallic aftertaste to it — and an even more faint scent of sulfur along with it — I gulped the water down ravenously. It was shit water, but it was familiar and comforting.

I knelt to the ground, adjusting my shoes around my feet in an effort to limit the soreness that would develop on my ride home. With calm and purposeful movements I learned as a teen, I unlaced the top holes on each side of my shoe, weaving their plastic coated aglets back through those top two holes, creating a loop I could swoop the opposite lace through. For whatever reason, this configuration of shoe tying always made my feet less sore after a run or a ride. At the bare minimum, the placebo effect was strong with this ritual.

I took a moment and absorbed my surroundings. It had been thirteen years since I was last in this park. As I expected when I set off on my ride today, not much has changed here. This town never changes. Sure, the gazebo had a fresh coat of paint (or two) in that time. The swing set had gone from a four seat apparatus to a three seat one. The people walking by had grown measurably older. But at its core, this was the same tiny hamlet I left after high school. While its charm and nostalgia had grown to tourists as it aged, the shortcomings of the town — and its people — appears as larger and more hideous blemishes to me with each new year. At least I was just passing through. Had my mission for the day required anything longer than this, I’m sure I would have said something to someone that pissed them off. It always happened that way.

As a warm summer breeze blew in from the west, I grabbed my bike and hopped on, pedaling back up the path via which I had arrived a few minutes prior. June was hardly my favorite month to be outdoors — I strongly preferred a jog through the vibrant October foliage or a hike in the frigid January air — but this seemed different.

I wasn’t more than twenty yards from the gazebo when an old man waved and called after me frantically.

“Ollie?” he shouted. “Ollie? Is that you?”

I kept pedaling, pretending I didn’t notice him. He was right about my identity. Everyone knew everyone in this small town. I just knew this man better than most. His name was Albert Kariss. He was a custodian at the elementary school, assistant coach of the wrestling team I captained in high school, and the neighbor of my third girlfriend, Mallory Quill. Even though I knew Albert and found him to be one of the less objectionable people in this area, I wasn’t about to talk to him today. My mind wouldn’t let me.

For weeks I had been battling this feeling that I was missing something. It took me a while to put my finger on what exactly was lacking. At first I chalked it up to being overworked and under caffeinated, though a long weekend and copious amounts of espresso later, I was still perplexed, albeit shakier. I took a short vacation from my day-to-day life to clear my head, skirting off from my townhome in northeastern Ohio to spend some time at a secluded cabin in upstate New York. However by the end of my time away, instead of having clarity and calmness, the feeling had only become more pronounced. It was as if a ghost from the past was calling out to me, beckoning me to seek it out. Yet no matter how loud the ghost yelled for me, I could not recognize its name, or its purpose.

The source of this feeling, however, I was sure of. I decided to take one last shot at trying to satiate whatever was stirring inside of me. Perhaps I was acting quixotically in hoping that there was some silver bullet that could kill this nagging feeling. It was a phase. It would pass. All things do. Yet, despite knowing this fact, or at least believing in the passage of all feelings, factual belief or otherwise, I set out for a place I hadn’t been in nearly a decade and a half, recreating an activity lodged even further in the past along the way.

A little under a mile up the path from the gazebo, I came to a road crossing. The bike path was leaving town — this would be the last road I’d cross for four miles — but not before crossing over a tiny street that saw virtually no traffic. In one direction, I could see the side street end on the main street of town. There were three or four houses on the street, all bunched at the corner of the primary road. In the other direction, the road continued on for around two hundred feet, crossing the bike path before becoming a dead-end at a fence leading into acres upon acres of soybeans. A tractor was more likely to cross the bike path on the road than a car. A bench sat on either side of the end of the road, often serving as a final stopping point before the park for any biker or runner needing a breather.

In my youth, I had stopped and sat on those very benches countless times. When running, they provided me with a place to sit for a few minutes before I finished my workout. Had I lived in the area as an adult, I likely would have done the same thing, though because I truly needed a breather rather than the act of laziness that my teen self took it as. If I was biking, particularly with a group of friends, the benches where a place for those of us who rode faster to pause for those who moved at a more leisurely pace. But those weren’t the moments that I associated with this place in the archive of my mind. At the age of 14, it was where I had my first kiss.

Mallory was my third girlfriend — well, literally third. I should really count her as my first girlfriend, as the previous two relationships lasted a combined five days of sixth grade. That said, she was technically my third girlfriend…but my first kiss. My first romantic kiss. Granted, I had been exposed to sloppy kisses from my great aunts that smelled of equal parts cigarette smoke, day-old hollandaise sauce, and that one old lady perfume that no one knows the name of but every seventy-year-old white grandmother who carries two Bibles in her purse seems to use. Those kisses were the stuff of nightmares. Mallory’s was not.

A group of eight of us had decided to bike the entire trail over a two-day span. Our parents all dropped us off at my friend Steve’s grandparents’ house, which was at the opposite end of the trail from the park with the gazebo. We’d ride that afternoon to Mallory’s house, which was just minutes from the park. We’d stay there overnight, then rode back to Steve’s grandparents’ so that our families could pick us up the following afternoon.

The first day of the ride was pleasant, albeit uneventful. Steve and his best friend, Matt, stopped at every possible gas station on the way to buy something. Usually it was a candy bar or something cheap like that. Apparently before the ride began, they had set a goal to see if they could ride the entire trail while stopping at every gas station on the way and buying something, all for under ten dollars. No idea if they succeeded. I spent most of the day riding in a group of three featuring Mallory, her best friend, Anne, and myself. The other three members of our group featured the Covelli twins, Ashleigh and MacKenzie, along with Ashleigh’s boyfriend, Trent. Throughout the day, Ashleigh and Trent kept sneaking off, trying to find somewhere just off the path to make out without the rest of the group noticing. Unfortunately for them, MacKenzie watched them like a hawk, leaving their freedom to be more of a want than a reality. Between all the stops for everyone, the ride took most of the day, even though it shouldn’t have.

We arrived at Mallory’s house in time for her father to make us all hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. The group of us stayed outside and huddled around the fire pit long after the sun had gone down, and well after Mallory’s parents and sisters had gone to bed. Around two in the morning, the twins were the first to turn in, quickly followed by Steve, Trent, and Matt. Anne snuck off to have a cigarette, while Mallory and I shared a blanket to protect us from the cool summer breeze. We worked our way through the quarter bag of marshmallows left, burning all of them to a crisp just to see how long they’d stay on the skewer.

About four o’clock, Mallory and I made our way inside, walking hand-in-hand up the narrow steps leading to her back patio. She went up to her room, while I curled up on a couch in the basement. I could hear Steve snoring from the recliner across the room, his tenor tones nearly perfectly alternating with similar snores from Ashleigh — or was it MacKenzie? — in the next room over. I was nearing sleep when I felt someone poke me lightly on the shoulder.

“Are you two dating yet?” Anne asked, the smell of yet another cigarette running off of her breath and into my nostrils.

“I think so?” I said, unsure of the actual answer. “At least, I want to be.”

“That’s good. As long as you make her happy, I won’t have to slit your throat.”

I could hear Anne smiling through the darkness.

“Sleep tight!” she said excitedly as she left the room.

I did not, as Anne put it, sleep tight.

On the second day of the ride, Steve decided that he wanted everyone to race back to his grandparents. Most of the group took off and rode as fast as they could, but Mallory and I didn’t feel like trying hard. The late night had sapped both of us from our energy, and though a massive stack of pancakes for breakfast was helpful, I still felt like I’d been hit by a train. Mallory, sensing my fatigue while feeling a good bit of it herself, had apparently convinced Anne to give us some time to ourselves. At least we’d enjoy the ride, even if we fell asleep midway through.

We stopped at the benches by the soybean fields and sat for fifteen minutes or so, watching as the sun melted the dew off of the giant foxtails growing by the fence at the road’s turnaround. Mallory leaned her head into my shoulder, resting there as we watched the droplets fall or vaporize, depending on their size. Her strawberry blonde hair still smelled strongly of the campfire from the night before.

“Is Anne actually going to hurt me if we date and I fuck up?” I asked, my eyes closed as I focused on the lingering scent of burnt maple wood and sugar emanating from Mallory’s soft locks.

“Depends how you fuck up,” she replied. “Did you mean to hurt me?”

“In this hypothetical situation? No.”

“Then no,” Mallory said, squeezing my hand in hers. “She’s all bark and no bite.”

As we got up to leave, Mallory gripped my hand and pulled me towards her. We only kissed for a moment, but in that moment, time stopped. I know its cliché to say, but everything around me evaporated from existence. All that there was in that moment was Mallory, me, and that slow, soft kiss.

It ended as soon as it began. Mallory laughed and jumped on her bicycle, pedaling off as quickly as she could into the distance. I gave chase after her, catching up around a mile later. We eventually caught up with everyone else, save for Steve, who won his own race convincingly. Despite that middle school kiss, Mallory and I broke up before the summer ended. I couldn’t even tell you why at this point in life. It just sort of happened.

We went our separate ways throughout high school, always staying decent friends, but never being particularly close. She went off to college at Central Michigan, while I pursued my studies at the University of Buffalo. We wouldn’t date until graduate school, where we happened to end up in the same economics program at Wright State University. I married her seven years later.

As my mind drifted back from long-gone days to my adulthood quest to free my mind, I parked my bike and sat down on the same bench Mallory and I had sat on as teens. It wasn’t literally the same bench — the rotting wooden benches had been replaced by nicer composite ones some years back — but the view was the same. Giant foxtails fading into farmland, dew clinging to their edges like tears on eyelashes. In the distance, I heard thunder echo through the sky. Even if I was bound and determined to relive that moment where I found that first glimpse of love, the world was not going to melt away for me today.

Save for a quick burst of rain, my ride ended uneventfully. I loaded my bicycle and drove home slowly. It wasn’t a race, after all. I arrived home shortly before dusk and unloaded my bike from the bed of my truck, taking a moment to refill the water bottle I’d brought with me from the hose on the side of my house. After a short breather, I left my house began to pedal up the street, just as I had nearly every day for the last year.

Unlike the bike path from earlier, which largely wound through small towns and farm land, this trip covered sidewalks and bike lanes through the suburbs. Though traffic was light this evening, I still had to be aware of my surroundings at all times. My mind couldn’t wander and linger as it had this morning or afternoon, lest I get hit by the driver of an over-sized pickup truck who was too busy texting to see me. Even though the ride was short — a mile and a half at most — it felt like it took twice as long as the 37 mile round-trip trek from earlier thanks to the amount of focus I had to place on not becoming a distracted driving statistic.

I stopped at an iron gated cemetery, locking my bicycle to the fence outside. I entered by foot, taking the same robotic path I always did — twenty-three steps forward to the first footpath, turn right, one hundred and six steps forward, turn left, then nine steps forward. I could do it in my sleep, I’m certain of it. There’s plenty of times I’d made the same walk in a fog, both a literal one and a figurative one. Sleep walking couldn’t be that much harder.

I came to a stop, reached into my pocket, and removed the giant foxtail heads I had picked from the grass by the bench. I placed them on Mallory’s grave and kissed the headstone, hoping that somewhere…wherever she may be…she was feeling the same way she did when we both had our first kiss.

The feeling of missing something wasn’t gone. I don’t know why I expected it to be. In the thirteen months since Mallory’s passing, the feeling waxed and waned, but never fully disappeared. I had hoped that reconnecting to a point in the past that was such a profound instance of happiness for me — as well as for Mallory, as she would admit after we’d been dating for some time — would calm the hollow feeling inside my soul. But it didn’t work. It never did.

I sat down on the rain-dampened path in front of Mallory’s headstone, staring ahead blankly at the monolithic slab in front of me. After a few moments, my eyes began to unfocus and my vision blurred. It was almost as if I were staring through the headstone, as if it weren’t even there. The exercise had become part of my routine since Mallory had died. It made me feel like the grave wasn’t real. If the grave wasn’t real, she couldn’t be gone. I’d get up from my seated position, bike home, and she’d be there, annoyed I’d left without telling her.

It never worked.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, rising from my seated position slowly. The long ride was finally starting to catch up to me, my back and hamstrings pulsing with dull, deep throbs. There was only one place left to go: home. I didn’t want to go back. I never did. But I had to. If I didn’t go home, there’s a chance I wouldn’t come back tomorrow. If I didn’t come back tomorrow, that was the first step to Mallory being forgotten. The memories of her were all I had left. I wasn’t going to let those go too.

WIP Update #3

My inner monologue: Oh hey. Are we at the six month mark where we provide an update to the novel you’ve been working on fort he better part of a year now?

*Checks calendar*

Also me: Yeah. Well, more or less. But it was a really shitty six months where I didn’t get much done because I was struggling with a ton of shit mentally. I was to the point where I felt like I was in a rut I’d never get out of1I wrote about this for an upcoming post that will go up at some point in (likely) March.. You can’t have expected me to write during that time.

My inner monologue: Did you write anything new in story?

Also me: Yes…

My inner monologue: Let’s hear about it then.

Also me: Finnnnneeeeeee.

Oh hey. Happy…*checks calendar again*…February. I know some of you are wondering how my work in progress of a novel is going. Especially since I decided to make finishing a draft (or two) of it one of my writing goals for this year. And yes, I know that doing a separate work in progress update post doesn’t exempt me from my regularly scheduled quarterly goal update posts, but if there’s any way I can get more posts out of the same amount of content with how busy I’ve been the last couple of months, I’m going to take advantage of it.

When we last checked in on my progress of the first draft, I had around 35,000 words and just under half of my chapters written. I can happily say that — as of writing this — the draft is now over 53,000 words, with 21 of the 26 planned chapters written, as well as the 22nd chapter started. At this point, it’s looking like the initial draft of the book will end up somewhere in the 65,000-75,000 word range, which is a bit short of where I’d ideally like to have the book when it’s completed. That said, I’ve already identified a few areas of the book that will receive some significant expanding in the second draft. Part of this will be for world building reasons, while part of it will be to better flesh out the backstory of one or two of the main characters.

On the plus side, being this far into the draft has gotten me to the point where I’m comfortable discussing some of the broader points of the book in a bit more detail. Since I’m still WAY far out from having this book ready for publishing in any capacity, I’ve deceided to limit that sharing to those who support me on Patreon rather than the general public. One of this month’s rewards was a podcast giving a little context as to two of the main characters of the story, but I’ll be expanding on this more in the coming months. If you’d like some of those pre-release updates, you could always consider supporting me on Patreon. Wink wink nudge nudge.

I’m also hoping that this first book will become part of a larger series. While I don’t have too much I can share about that at this point, I will say that there will be a noticeable tonal shift between this book — which is intended to be a sci-fi slice of life love(ish) story — to the rest of the series (which will keep the sci-fi parts, though not so much on the slice of life or love story parts). There are a couple of characters in this work in progress that will feature heavily in the rest of the series, hence wanting to build up backstory for those characters as I mentioned above.

I’m still hoping to have the first draft done by mid-April, which will require some significant writing over the course of this week to be a safe bet. Time after this week has the potential to get a bit more scarce2For reasons I’ll share in a later post., so if I can crank out an additional chapter or two before the middle of the month, it’ll make hitting that deadline a bit easier.

Of the various projects I’ve been working on, this is definitely the one I can remember being the most excited about. I wrote the short story that this project is based off of nearly two years ago at this point, so it’s been a story whose plot and characters I’ve become quite attached to. I’m excited to eventually share it with all of you.

My Fire Emblem: Awakening Character Tier List

The other day3Read: The other day as of when I wrote this in late January. By the time this goes up, this statement will not be true from a time standpoint., I came across a thread on Reddit where a person finished their five-year long playthrough of Fire Emblem: Awakening. In their post, they created a tier list of how useful they found the characters that you could recruit in the story, ranging from “actively broken” to “didn’t use lol”4Yes, I’m aware there’s another tier below that, but the user’s comments explain why..

This got me to thinking. I’ve been writing posts on this blog with Fire Emblem: Awakening as a topic for nearly three years now. I’ve got an entire blog series dedicated to sarcastically playing through the game that I consider to be far and away my favorite video game of all time. But I’ve never really done a true character tier list for the game. I’ve looked at the skills and tiered them, but never the actual characters themselves.

So, inspired by /u/WritersBlah’s post, I’m going to write a Fire Emblem: Awakening blog post that’s sure to piss off Fire Emblem purists. Maybe not as much as the shipping post I wrote, but it’ll be up there. Unlike the original thread, I’m going to go with a more traditional S through F tier list style. I’m only going to have characters you can pick up in the main story or the paralogues on my list, so no DLC characters. I’ll be considering these characters both in terms of their end game usefulness, as well as their usefulness as parents (if applicable).

Additionally, I am not going to add any of the SpotPass characters5Gangrel, Walhart, Emmeryn, Yen’fay, Aversa, or Priam. to this tier list, as I feel like it’s hard to objectively rate characters that join so late into the game — and are intentionally overpowered because of this. While I’ve used a couple of the SpotPass characters in playthroughs before6Aversa is a good mom for Morgan stats and skill wise., I’m excluding them from this list for that reason.

F: Units That Will Never See The Light of Day

Units: 43. Anna, 42. Say’ri, 41. Virion

While I truly don’t believe there’s a completely terrible unit in Awakening in terms of usefulness, it’s clear that some units are better or worse than others. Both Say’ri and Anna have their place in the game from a storyline standpoint, but unless you’re planning on marrying them to a male avatar unit, there’s not a lot of use to bringing their units into the game. Neither one passes down any particularly amazing skills that can’t be acquired elsewhere, nor are they so broken they can’t be ignored. Virion stands ever so slightly above the two of them, if only because he’s an early game ranged unit and you have to play a few chapters with him. You can’t get a ton of archers in Awakening, but Virion is easily the worst one you could get.

D: Trophy Units or Trophy Parents

Units: 40. Miriel, 39. Basilio, 38. Vaike, 37. Sully, 36. Flavia

Miriel and Vaike suffer from the same problem that manifests itself in different ways — they die way too easy in the early game, especially at higher difficulties. Whether it be Miriel’s squishiness or Vaike’s insistence on not hitting anything, you can’t rely on them to stay alive. Basilio and Flavia are late game trophy units with decent stats, but unless you’re marrying one of them to Robin, you’re likely not using them7Which is a shame because goddamn Flavia.. Sully is a possible wife for Chrom, but is easily the worst possible wife for him, including village girl. At least Kjelle is worth getting, but you almost have to marry Sully to Chrom, Donnel, or Gaius to make it worth your time.

C: Average, But Flawed

Units: 35. Tiki, 34. Ricken, 33. Frederick, 32. Olivia, 31. Libra, 30. Laurent

Tiki suffers the same problems as Anna/Say’ri/Basilio/Flavia, though at least she does have the advantage of being part of the broken as fuck manakete class. Ricken is just a harder hitting version of Miriel, though at least he does become somewhat tanky if you make him a dark knight. Frederick is amazing in the early game on harder difficulties, though using him heavily kneecaps the rest of your team. Olivia is polarizing, as her Dance skill essentially means you get to use your best unit twice in a turn. That said, you also have to keep her alive for this to be a worthwhile strategy, which wastes the time of other units or your healers. Libra is an odd promoted unit to get when he does arrive. He can hold his own, but is held back by being a relatively terrible parent unit. Laurent is objectively the worst of the child units, in part because of how much he’s like his mother. You can make Laurent usable, but it comes at the sacrifice of other, more useful child units.

B: Truly Average in Some Way

Units: 29. Kellam, 28. Stahl, 27. Brady, 26. Tharja, 25. Donnel, 24. Henry, 23. Panne, 22. Sumia, 21. Lon’qu, 20. Cherche, 19. Gregor, 18. Chrom

Before we get to the elephant in the room of this group, let’s hit some of the lower units on the list. Kellam and Stahl are just Frederick with better growths, hence bumping them up a tier. While Brady does get access to the all-powerful Galeforce skill, he’s hamstrung by his healer focused stats. Tharja, Henry, Donnel, and Panne are all interchangeable in terms of spots on this list, with Donnel being the best parent out of the group, but the other three being serviceable fighters — even good in the case of Panne if you reclass her. Sumia, Lon’qu, and Cherche are here because they are both useful (though not amazing) fighters and pass down good skills8In the form of Galeforce, Vantage, and Deliverer, respectively.. Gregor is one of the few parent units that gets Armsthrift without much effort, so he becomes a critical first generation unit. And then there’s Chrom. He’s important because you have to take him in levels and because he gives Aether/Rightful King to his kids. But…he’s objectively not that amazing of a unit. Better than everyone below him? Probably9I’d argue marrying him to Sumia makes him a better paired fighter, but doesn’t that mean Sumia’s the good unit?. Better as a parent? Also probably10Again, there’s a counter argument to be made here thanks to Donnel’s Aptitude access, Sumia and Donnel’s Galeforce access, and Gregor having Armsthrift.. But I find Chrom to be the weak link in most of my end game teams. That keeps him from the top two tiers.

A: Super Subs and Supporters

Units: 17. Maribelle, 16. Lissa , 15. Gaius, 14. Cordelia, 13. Yarne, 12. Owain, 11. Inigo, 10. Noire, 9. Nowi, 8. Robin

If Maribelle and Lissa didn’t give their kids access to the Galeforce skill, they’d likely be down in the B (Lissa) or C (Maribelle) tiers. That said, because of this fact and because of the fact that you have to level grind them to get this skill — making them competent in battle — they’re the bottom of the A tier for me. Gaius is essentially Donnel, only useful in fighting. Cordelia is the best first generation pegasus knight you’ll get, plus the class diversity she passes down to Severa is amazing. We then start getting into the bulk of the children, who are either good units who become great when reclassed (Yarne11Any taguel reclassed to an assassain is fun to use. and Noire12Oddly enough, I would argue archer is Noire’s worst class line. Making her a dark mage or knight line unit makes her beastly, if not a bit light hitting.) or are great units who are missing something keeping them from being top tier (Owain13Lissa’s inherited growths hold him back. and Inigo14If you’re planning on Chrom being his dad to give Inigo access to Rightful King, he becomes amazing. That said, the leg work you have to go through to make that a reality is pants on head dumb.). Nowi is easily the most underrated parent unit, particularly if you reclass her to a dark knight. The fact that my nickname for her on playthroughs is Nowi the Tank should give you some indication of her usefulness in that role. Robin is the best first generation unit both as a parent and in terms of usefulness, though they still fall short of the top tier thanks to how broken some of the kids get.

S: Look Upon Our Works and Despair

Units: 7. Gerome, 6. Kjelle, 5. Cynthia, 4. Severa, 3. Nah, 2. Lucina, 1. Morgan

Gerome’s high strength and access to several -Breaker skills make him a formidable unit regardless of who you make his father. Meanwhile, Kjelle’s utility pretty much dictates that you have to make Donnel or Gaius her dad, lest you miss out on a physical tank that hits twice per turn. Cynthia shares the positives of the first generation flying units, but without many of their stat limitation15Not to mention access to Aether if you make Chrom her dad like I tend to do.. Severa is a jack-of-all-trades unit who excels in a game that usually punishes that type of unit. Combine that with her inherent access to Armsthrift and you have a unit capable of using whatever legendary weapon you choose. With the right dad — even if that dad isn’t Robin — Nah can become your most powerful unit in the game, though she’s limited by the fact that Galeforce is better passed down to Kjelle, Gerome, and Noire than her. Lucina is broken because of her class access and all that comes with it, especially since she’s just a harder, better, faster, stronger Chrom. Morgan, however, is the strongest possible unit you can get in the game, being that Morgan can be the lone third generation unit if you marry Robin to one of the second generation units16Morally: ew. From a game play standpoint: This is absolutely the right call.. This becomes particularly true if their mom is Lucina/Chrom’s other possible daughters or if their dad is Inigo or Brady17Here’s something to think about: Inigo and Robin as Morgan’s parents passing down Galeforce and Rightful King to a Morgan that knows Sol, Vengence, and Ignis..

The Worst Fire Emblem Awakening Play Through Ever: Chapters 3 and 4

The following post is part of my series “The Worst Fire Emblem Awakening Playthrough Ever”. Spoilers ahead for a six year old game.


Welcome back to the worst Fire Emblem Awakening play through ever. When we last left the Shepherds, we had just gained several useful new units to our party, and also Virion. Sumia saves Chrom from a pegasus being angry at him, Frederick is still tired of everyone’s shit, and Miriel is squishy enough to die from a stiff breeze. We’ll work on that last one once we get access to reeking boxes18The reeking box is an item that allows you to call a small amount of lower level enemies to a map for sake of experience and money grinding. We will be taking full advantage of this because A) I’m a filthy casual. B) It’s fun. and C) Certain units are going to die quickly if I don’t do this. I will not be writing about reeking box levels..

In this post, we’ll be playing through chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 3 is the last formal tutorial-ish chapter, while getting to chapter 4 allows us to access the last menu area we’ll need to play the full game. After this post, I’ll toggle between playing one and two chapters per post, depending on how much I feel like writing.

Chapter 3: Warrior Realm

It’s snowing in Ylisse, which should be a happy time. Instead, Lissa is complaining that it’s cold outside. The Shepherds have arrived at the Longfort, which straddles the border of Ylisse and Regna Ferox. Frederick warns us that such a situation calls for diplomacy. Chrom stresses that he isn’t good at diplomacy, but he’s going to try anyway. We’re fucked.

The scene ends and immediately transitions to Frederick telling Chrom that the Feroxi troops are mobilizing. We don’t get to see what Chrom said to the Feroxi, however we can faintly see a Feroxi soldier drumming on his helmet in the background. We finally get to pick our units this map, which is convenient, as we drowned Virion under the bridge in chapter two.

As we go to start the level, we get yet another cut scene where the Feroxi commander orders his soldiers to attack. Chrom thinks it’s a good idea to try to deflect a barrage of spheres with his sword, clearly not understanding how the weapon triangle works. Sumia flies in for what would be a meet cute in literally any other story, but since we met her a chapter ago, I’m just annoyed. I hit Start and skip the rest of their conversation out of spite.

With the level formally started, we run into our first allied unit, the disembodied suit of armor from the cut scene before chapter two. Chrom goes to talk to the suit of armor and HOLY FUCK BALLS THERE’S A HUMAN IN IT. Apparently the human’s name is Kellam and he says he’s been with us for a while now. That said, we didn’t see him at all last chapter. Kellam is clearly a powerful warlock and we will use him accordingly.

For the first time, we’re battling other humans rather than risen19We’re ignoring the fact that Garrick might have been human.. I’m typically a conscientious objector, however, these fools are trying to kill me. I set everyone’s medieval weapons to stun and charge forward, gaining XP for kneecapping Feroxi. Christopher Robin suggests pairing up units to make battling easier, apparently forgetting that I’ve been doing this since the premonition chapter.

It takes a couple of turns to finish taking out everyone in front of the fort and gathering keys, mostly because I’m trying to build up some experience for underleveled units like Chrom, Lissa, and Miriel. Sumia is underleveled at this point too, however there’s far too many archers in the lower level for me to risk leaving her out there at this stage. After healing and picking up items from the ground, we advanced toward the two sets of doors leading to the fort proper.

Once we open the doors, we’re greeted by a highly defensive knight on the left. While Christopher knows that friendship is magic, he realizes that magic is also magic, taking out the knight in one shot with Thunder. Vaike kills things but takes a ton of damage, because that’s his thing. We thin the opposing forces out to a single unit, which we should be able to defeat mathematically. As much as I want Sumia to get the experience, she hits about as hard as using a room temperature brown banana as a hammer. So we let Vaike get the knockout with an actual hammer.

I say knockout rather than kill because after the level, the Feroxi commander apologizes for the attack. If she thinks she’s getting off this lightly for acceptable war reparations, she’s likely right, as Chrom is also shitty at negotiation. Lissa wants us to get a move on, so we end the chapter.

Chapter 4: Two Falchions

Our intrepid heroes have arrived at Arena Ferox just in time for a grand battle between the champions of Regna Ferox. This battle occurs between a champion selected by the East Khan and the West Khan of the empire. Christopher makes the mistake of assuming the East Khan’s gender, but instead of it being a broadchested, chiseled man like Christopher thinks, we get the woman with the best official art in the whole goddamn game, Flavia. The world is better for it.

Flavia tells Chrom that the dust up at the border was Plegia’s fault. Chrom still sucks at diplomacy, but that amuses Flavia, so she says that the Shepherds should be her champions in Khan Bowl XXVIII. If Chrom wins, Flavia will lend military assistance to Ylisee, but if Chrom loses, he’ll have to spend years answering why he didn’t run the ball on the one yard line when he had Marshawn Lynch in his backfield20FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PETE CARROLL, WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME?.

Chrom agrees to fight for honor, but also for hustle, loyalty, and respect. We get to pick six units, so we’re going to take in Chrom21Who is required in most every chapter., Sumia, Miriel, Frederick22Frederick and Miriel will be marrying later in this play through, so Frederick will show up quite a bit until Miriel can hold her own in battle., Kellam, and Stahl. It appears the West Khan, Basilio, has recruited none other than the masked fighter themselves, Marth. Who is, again, clearly not male from all of the art. Chrom and Marth have a sword off where Chrom notices that not only does Marth have a copy of his personal sword, Falchion, but that Marth’s father happened to teach her to fight in a style suspiciously similar to Chrom’s. The foreshadowing in this game is so thick you’ll have to cut it with a flamethrower.

We let Stahl and Kellam be our scout and bait units in this level, as it’s much easier to bait out Marth’s teammates than to deal with her head-on23Apply directly to the forehead.. Doing so allows us to pick a couple of units off with Sumia and Miriel, albeit at the expense of Stahl ending up on dangerously low health. Kellam gets in a stalemate with another knight in the process, but as a whole, taking out all of the not-Marth units goes quickly and smoothly. Sumia even says sappy shit to Chrom in the process24Their support levels grew from a random event space. I hate Sumia’s support event space dialogues. They’re rough, even by her standards..

Miriel gets to be the first to engage Marth because swords are not throwing devices, yet fireballs are. Because she’s paired up with Frederick, dual support kicks in and Frederick gets the knockout. I’m too busy laughing to read the rest of the dialogue of the chapter, however Basilio gives us the quiet swordsman Lon’qu to help us on our journey to the west.

Just kidding. I can’t help but mention who part of the post chapter dialogue is Lissa talking about how dreamy Marth is. Don’t worry. I’ll be linking back to this down the line. Chrom snips at Lissa, which I’ve never caught before this run, but it’s MUCH funnier having played the game before than it would be playing it blind. Also, Lon’qu says, and I quote, “He gives orders. I stab people. I think our roles are clear”. Spoken like a man who understands his place in a video game plot.

We end the chapter with a seperate cut scene of Chrom sharing the good news of Regna Ferox’s help with Emmeryn, only for them to find out that Plegia is invading. Maribelle has been taken and, despite my best judgement, we’re going to have to save her. Emmeryn tries to be diplomatic and remind everyone that one spoiled brat is not worth starting a war over, however Lissa, Chrom, and Phila25The head of Emmeryn’s royal guard. are off to save Maribelle. Some middle schooler is coming to join us. His name is apparently Ricken and because Chrom tells him he’s too young to join the mission, that’s a sure fire sign that we’ll likely have to save his ass too at some point.

End of Level Recap

Going forward, this section will have two areas — Units and Supports. Units will be where I share what level and class units are, while Supports will highlight any support growths between units, regardless of whether or not those units can marry. For those not familiar with supports, they go by letter grades — C to B to A, with level S available as marriage.

Units

  • Christopher – Level 5 Tactician
  • Kellam – Level 5 Knight
  • Lissa – Level 5 Cleric
  • Vaike – Level 5 Fighter
  • Stahl – Level 4 Cavalier
  • Miriel – Level 4 Mage
  • Lon’qu – Level 4 Myrmidon
  • Chrom – Level 3 Lord
  • Sully – Level 3 Cavalier
  • Frederick – Level 2 Great Knight
  • Sumia – Level 2 Pegasus Knight
  • Virion – Level 2 Being Dead to Me

Supports

  • Chrom & Christopher: None to C
  • Chrom & Sumia: None to C
  • Frederick & Christopher: None to C
  • Frederick & Miriel: None to C
  • Stahl & Sully: None to C
  • Stahl & Kellam: None to C
  • Stahl & Miriel: None to C
  • Lissa & Vaike: None to C

 

Four Nightmare Scenarios for an NFL Playoffs

I have a confession to make that will come as a surprise to far more of you who read this blog than those of you who know me in real life. I love ESPN’s NFL Playoff Machine. A lot. Ever since I discovered it26I honestly couldn’t tell you what year I discovered Playoff Machine. It feels like it’s been around as long as I’ve been using the internet., I’ve spent hours on it each year, trying to play out how the playoff picture would shake out after each week of play. While I would spend a good bit of time trying to create scenarios that benefit teams I like or harm teams I dislike, the most fun came from building out the weirdest possible outcomes possible. Whether that be finding a way to sneak in a team that has a 1% chance of making the playoffs27Five Thirty Eight is a great resource for seeing this type of thing when the season is going on. or seeing if I can make all of the teams with first round byes as of week 12 miss the playoffs, I find the entire exercise to be calming.

The best resource I’ve found for giving me this feeling during the NFL offseason is PlayoffPredictors.com. While they do far more than just NFL playoff prediction scenarios, the NFL predictor is an amazing tool for me playing out possible sources of weirdness when the Playoff Machine is down for the year28ESPN typically only has the Playoff Machine running during weeks 13-17 of the NFL season. This year, we got it week 12, which was amazing.. This led me to wonder — what’s the weirdest possible playoff scenarios that COULD happen in a given NFL season?

Allow me to be clear, these scenarios will likely never occur. They require a ton of absurdity to happen and likely will never even be remotely possible. But I want them to be. I’ve used the 2018 NFL schedule for each of these scenarios for sake of convenience more than anything else. I’ve also made an active effort to not have tie games unless I absolutely have to, as that’s just silly.

Scenario 1: Eleven 10-win Teams Miss The Playoffs

Link to the full scenario

We begin with the scenario that inspired this post — how many teams with 10 wins can miss the playoffs in the same season? The most teams that have finished 10-6 and missed the playoffs in the same season is two, which has happened on several occasions. There have also been three 11-5 teams miss the playoffs, (though only one in each season it’s happened) but we’ll talk more about that scenario a bit later on. In this scenario, not only do two teams total miss the playoffs despite winning 10 games, eleven of them do. Granted, in order for this scenario to happen, we have to have a plethora of putrid teams at the bottom of each conference. In fact, the bottom four teams in the AFC and NFC combined for 11 wins in this season, including a winless season from the Panthers.

Scenario 2: Six Teams with Losing Records Make the Playoffs

Link to the full scenario

Similar to the first scenario, we need a lot of extremes for our second scenario to be a reality. There have been four teams in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record, though two of those teams come with a giant asterisk. Both the 1982 Browns and Lions made the playoffs at 4-5 thanks to a strike-shortened season and were promptly routed. The two teams to make the playoffs with losing records since then — the 2010 Seahawks and 2015 Panthers — both won their first playoff game, so seeing a 7 win team win in the playoffs wouldn’t be unprecedented. In this situation, we’d be guaranteed at least two 7-9 teams picking up playoff wins, as both 4 vs. 5 matchups feature losing teams against each other. In a bit of unintentional symmetry, the AFC’s 4 vs. 5 matchup (Browns vs. Raiders) is the same matchup that occurred in the aforementioned 1982 playoffs.

Scenario 3: The Call to Kill Auto Bids for Division Winners

Link to the full scenario

Let’s talk about this scenario in two phases, beginning with the NFC. A scenario like this has happened on a couple of occasions, including the aforementioned 2010 playoffs where the 7-9 Seahawks played the 11-5 Saints in the first round. Even in seasons where there’s an 8-8 division winner, sports talking heads loudly wonder whether or not division winners deserve home field advantage in the first round if they have a worse record — particularly because it (surprisingly) matters.

And then there’s the AFC, where this idea is taken to its most extreme conclusion. For this scenario, I had every team in the AFC North lose every game they played (except intradivisional games) and every team in the AFC South win every game they played (again, except intradivisional games). This creates a situation where a 13-3 Jacksonville team is getting left out of the playoffs in favor of a 3-13 Baltimore team. No team better than 11-5 has ever missed the playoffs.

Unlikely? Incredibly. Hilarious? Yes. In retrospect, I should have done this in such a way to cause the Browns to be the 13-3 team to miss the playoffs, but that’s too much effort.

Scenario 4 – 83% of the Teams In the Playoffs After Week 11 2018 Miss The Playoffs

Okay. So a little background on this. First off, here were the standings following week 11 of the 2018 season.

And now we have our results. Link to the full scenario.

I tried my hardest to get all 12 teams that were in the playoffs as of week 11 to miss the playoffs at the same time. That said, when you have four teams with two or fewer losses after week 11, that’s REALLY hard to do. Especially when one of those team has a tie and there’s a division where you have to knock both a two loss and a three loss team out of the playoffs. In most other seasons I’ve found, this would be possible. In this season, however, we get this beautiful scenario where the only crimes against our rule are New Orleans and Pittsburgh making the playoffs as wildcard teams.


What other scenarios would you like to see me do? Was this even remotely interesting? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.