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Sam Martone is spending his summer in Putney, Vermont, where all technology use is carefully regulated, or outright outlawed. This means his Dragon Quest V cartridge is gathering dust somewhere in the Southwest, it means the demon lord Nimzo is still terrorizing that pixelated world with no pixelated version of Sam Martone to stop him. When Sam Martone returns to Tempe, he will level up his party, equip his monsters with new weapons and traverse again to Nadiria, to Nimzo’s castle to begin the final fight.

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The Town of Roundbeck

Sam Martone

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You go with your father to a town where he is needed, though why he is needed is unclear to you. His medicine, his sword, maybe his words. On the way, he tells you stories of your mother, the stories she never had the chance to tell you: the nights she drank until she was laughing and sick, the poems she wrote about you before there was a you to write about. You are still too young to understand what it was that took her from you. You want to believe it was an unearthly darkness extending its grip into this world, you want to believe it was nothing you did. But in your dreams you are in a castle, in your dreams you are a crying newborn bundle in her motionless arms. Everyone in this town knows your father’s name, has been anticipating his arrival. When he goes to heal or slash or speak, he leaves you with an old family friend, someone else you don’t remember because all you remember before this is dreaming. This man has a daughter, about your age, and he tells you how you played together as toddlers, but you look at her face and suddenly you remember something else: you remember growing up, you remember marrying her. You listen as she tells you her name but you hear another. She speaks to you as if you could speak back, and you find a voice in your throat that wasn’t there before. She asks you questions, one after another, and though you can only answer Yes or No, you wonder if you are choosing the correct answer, or if one Yes or No in the wrong sequence could change everything, could alter your fate. Maybe there is no choice at all, maybe the wrong answer would cause the question to be repeated endlessly until you answered the way you must answer, the only way to move forward. There is a Yes. There is a No. But really, you are fated to choose one, or answer wrong for the rest of time, and you do not have time for the rest of time. Perhaps the world would make time for you, if you wanted to sit here hearing the same question from this same girl’s mouth over and over again, children forever, with no future where your father is murdered, no future where you are turned to stone and auctioned off, no future where you must confront the unearthly darkness extending its grip into this world. But then you remember growing up, you remember marrying this girl, and even though it might not happen, even if there might be another choice to make, all you can say is yes, yes, yes, and she says, Let’s go. She follows you around, or you follow her. You move together through the town, that familiar tapping tangled in your hair now bouncing the ribbon tied in hers, too. Together, you look to the sky, searching for something avian, for something looking down at you from above. You bother the man who runs the weapon shop, buy a shield too big for your small arms to hold up in front of your heart. You rescue a stray cat that has teeth like daggers, name it like you would a child. In the pub, before you both are asked to leave, too young to be in here, the waitress in the bunny costume tells you that girl will be a right looker in a few years time—a few years that will pass like a dark screen between scenes. We’ll meet up later, the girl says, the girl with the name that reminds you of another, and she runs off, leaving you with no choice to make, no voice to be found, no chance of taking the wrong path. You press your thumb to your shirt’s top button, silently answer a question that wasn’t asked.

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