When it comes to change, I may not be thoroughly comfortable with the effort, but I at least recognize it has to happen. But I also take to heart the following mantras:
All progress involves change, but not all change is progress.
Is it really progress if a cannibal uses a knife and fork?
Our current rush to embrace AI might have severe moral and ethical consequences that require human introspection.
Telling the truth can be inconvenient, particularly when an agenda has to be accomplished (paging George Santos). But what if the lack of veracity comes from a machine and not some cash-addled, morally bankrupt political system (yeah, I’m looking at you, Republicans and Democrats)? Case in point, we’re now seeing errors pop-up from using AI to inform when it is, in fact, misinforming. See the following:
It would appear that AI-generated “facts” might need to be fact-checked themselves. While AI systems aren’t necessarily trying to be disingenuous, that doesn’t mean they are always accurate. I see a future need for fact-checking/verification of AI-generated results. Something information providers might want to consider before zeroing out their budget for content writers.
There is also a moral and ethical issue with reliance on AI, particularly regarding health and the need for full disclosure.
Arianna’s heart beat faster. There were at least two dozen of the creatures lurking in the darkness just outside the cave opening. “What do we do?”
“Fight,” Rhinna said firmly. “They must not get beyond the entrance, or we’re all doomed.”
She motioned to groups of villagers near the entrance. “You, you, and you bring your spears,” she said. “Form a line. Four to the left and three to the right. Two behind. Arianna, Magnus, and I will be in the center. When we strike, do it quickly, and don’t let them get too close.”
Long clawed fingers crept over the stones lining the entrance, behind which the demons’ low forms slipped into the cave’s torchlight. Crooked and hairy, the dog-like bodies glistened. In the harsh light, their pupils contracted. Low growls and hissing echoed off the walls. A chill carried in the air.
The young woman hardly had time to think of how scared she was before a shrill screech pierced the air. The demons charged forward, and without thinking, She lunged forward with her spear.
With a sickening thunk, the spear plunged into the body of the closest creature. Black ichor oozed from the wound, and the demon grabbed the spear. But when it touched the shaft, a sizzling cut through the air and the acrid scent of brimstone cut through the air. The creature shrieked even louder as it jerked back.
“Forward,” Rhinna shouted. At her command, the villagers yelled, charging the demons. Rhinna and Arianna ran with them, thrusting spears at the beasts.
Snapping and snarling, the creatures retreated, slipping and sliding across the stone floor until they leaped back through the opening.
Arianna let out a shuddering breath and lowered her spear. Her heart still raced.
Rhinna turned and smiled at her. “You did great, young one,” she said, then clapped the young woman on the shoulder. “Now, let’s get everyone settled and get some rest. We’ll depart at dawn.”
Arianna nodded and returned to her travel bag, relieved they had survived. The villagers were safe – for the moment. But she’d gotten one step closer to escaping this world and on her way home. As she sat on the floor, Rhinna approached.
“We’re going to take turns standing watch at the entrance. We’ll let you know when it’s your turn.”
“Okay. Can I ask you some questions?”
Rhinna nodded and knelt next to her. “What do you want to know?”
“The demons. Have they always roamed around freely at night?”
“For as long as I can remember and as far back as my parents’ and grandparents’ time as well.”
“Where do they go during the day?”
“They appear to hide in the deepest and darkest areas of Aldewater, such as Shadow Valley and Graymoor Forest. No one knows, and those who have tried to find out often don’t return.”
“How do Dathon and his followers stay safe from them?”
“I presume it’s because of the Aldewater tree magic in his staff.”
Arianna yawned widely.
“Better get some sleep,” Rhinna said, patting her knee. “Your turn on watch is in a couple of hours.”
The young woman nodded as Rhinna stood. Before Rhinna went to rejoin Magnus, she’d fallen asleep.”
Magnus nodded toward Arianna. “You think she’ll take Dathon with her?”
“I just need her to get me close.” The older woman thumbed the hilt of her knife. “We’ll be rid of him, one way or another.”
“And if she tries to stop you?” he asked, pursing his lips.
Rhinna glanced at the young woman. “That would be unfortunate.”
[ Going to try AI suggestions for the journey from Great Falls to Freehold. Here’s the AI suggestions. ]
[ Continued from here. Still no AI extension associated with this, though I threw in what AI suggested for a picture at the end. Generally speaking, I find AI art to be rather horrifying mockeries of what passes for art. But that’s just me. I wanted to get the storyline into an action scene to see what the AI will suggest. Stay tuned for that in the next post. ]
The column of villagers snaked out of the ruins of their homes and up the forested trail. As hours passed, the group paused periodically for short breaks. Yet, the pace was relentless as the group moved deeper into the forested landscape. Some villagers struggled to keep up despite the warnings, lingering behind the main body. They were mainly older men and women with few exceptions, and the few villagers burdened with small children.
At one of the stops, Arianna finally spoke to Rhinna. “What are you going to do about the stragglers?”
“They know the consequences. We can’t stop for anyone.”
“That’s not fair. Can’t we have some hunters stay behind to escort them to the falls?”
“No, I will not risk losing our few hunters over those who can’t keep up.”
“But some of them are women and children. They deserve a chance.”
Rhinna set her jaw. “I know it’s not fair, but helping them means risking everyone’s chances to reach safety.”
Biting back her disgust, Arianna chose to not argue the point. No reason anyone had to be sacrificed just to make it to the falls. “Can you tell me anything about the King or Freehold?”
“Freehold is simply where King Anthirian lives. He is a good man, though not as wise as he thinks he is.” She glanced at Magnus. “It’s fair to say that is not an uncommon issue with most men.”
“I certainly agree with that,” Arianna commented. “What can he do to help me return to my world?”
“He can help you capture Dathon and release the Aldewater magic that the man has stolen. That should allow you to use the book to open a portal back to your own world.” Rhinna leaned close to her. “I want you to promise you’ll leave the book before you go and take Dathon with you.”
Leaving behind the book would mean never returning to Aldewater, which was fine with her. Taking Dathon with her sounded ideal if he wanted to come. “What if he doesn’t want to leave?”
“It would be better for everyone if he did, but if he doesn’t willingly, there might be consequences,” Rhinna said, fingering the knife’s handle in her belt.
The meaning couldn’t be more apparent. “Understood.” He’d have to listen to reason, right? Still, why did he leave her and come here? What would she say and do when they met? It was so confusing. She’d finally come to terms with him being gone, only to find him here. Did she mean nothing to him? “Wait, what about this other woman you said looks like me and is with him. What do you make of that?”
“I have no idea. You look identical, but you’re not. This other ‘Arianna’ is vicious and cruel. I don’t know if she’s a corrupted reflection of you in some way or a manifestation of Dathon’s Aldewater magic. The King knows more about Aldewater magic than anyone.”
“Whoever or whatever she is,” Arianna replied, “I don’t know how she’ll react to me or let me near Dathon.”
“We’ll deal with her once we find Dathon,” Rhinna answered.
Magnus tugged on Rhinna’s arm. “We need to get going.” She nodded. “Let’s go,” Magnus shouted. A cascading series of shouts repeated the message up and down the column.
The sun traced a path across the sky until it sank below the treetops. Despite pauses in the march, at least a dozen villagers fell off the pace, drifting so far behind they could no longer be seen. Ahead of them, rushing water could be heard. The outline of ridgelines could be seen through gaps in the trees. The air also grew noticeably colder.
“The falls must be near,” Arianna commented.
“We’re still several miles away,” Rhinna replied. She glanced at the sharply slanting rays of sunlight and increasing shadows. “We should still make it before dark.”
Darkness continued to increase as the rays of sunlight faded. After a sharp turn in the path, rushing water sounds reached thunderous levels. A broad rocky outflow of water crossed the trail from a plunge pool, fed by a waterfall plunging off a rocky projection two hundred feet above them. Long vertical lines of water roared downward in a sinuous and relentless manner. Cool droplets of water filled the air.
Arianna had never seen anything like it before and stood staring. Rhinna and Magnus, on the other hand, began shouting. “Time’s wasting. Quickly, fill your water skins, and line up behind us.” The villagers did as they were told, and soon a long line formed behind the two leaders. Picking their way carefully through the large rocks surrounding the plunge pool, Rhinna and Magnus followed a narrow trail behind the waterfall.
Following the mass of villagers, Arianna wiped moisture out of her eyes. She stepped past the rushing water to discover a wide cave opening into the rock face. Rhinna stood on one side of the entrance and Magnus on the other. Together the two pulled each village into the cave. Darkness surrounded them until a torch flared to light at the feet of a villager who stood over it with a flint and stone. In rapid succession, other torches already mounted along the walls were soon lit, casting the cavern into view. The pinkish-yellow walls of the cave rose high and deep into the rockface and flowed into a large chamber. The villagers entered the open area and found places to sit next to the walls and stalagmites protruding from the floor.
As Arianna looked about at the wonders of the cave, shouts carried from the entrance. She turned to find Magnus pulling a few more villagers inside and yelling at them, “Hurry.” Screams followed villagers running further into the cave.
“Spear carriers come to the entrance,” Magnus bellowed.
Arianna started, remembering suddenly that she had such a weapon. Dropping her travel bag, she slipped the spear out and ran toward the entrance. A deep-throated growling greeted her as she approached. Just beyond the cave opening, reddish orbs floated in the darkness. It wasn’t until she stood next to Rhinna that she could determine what they were: reptilian-like eyes with very dark irises set into faces with hairy snouts.