Follow TV Tropes


Fanfic / The Keys Stand Alone

Go To
Cover art by Donna Barr.

"Y'know what we'd prefer?" John put his hands on the little man's shoulders, gently turned him around, and gave him a small shove. "If you just got your IRS outta here. We've better things to do than stand about talkin' nonsense with you."

With a very sad look, the little man turned back to him. "Are you gentlemen intimating that you aren't going to pay your rightful tax? I must warn you that on confirmation of nonpayment, I am authorized to employ penalty methods."

"Penalty methods! Oh, no!" John slapped his hands to his face in an exaggerated show of fear.

The little man said sternly, "Your feeble attempt at levity is noted. I will give you one more chance to pay your entry tax. Otherwise I will implement the penalty methods."

They smirked among themselves. "Go to it," said Paul, folding his arms over his chest.

"As you wish." He dropped his briefcase and backed up.

Then he started to grow. And as he grew, his shape bulged outward, turned purple, sprouted horns and fangs and claws, developed a scaly hide, and grew and grew and GREW—

—and seconds later the no-longer-laughing four were staring up in shock at a giant, slavering purple monster that grabbed John in a hand the size of a phone booth and lifted him towards its mouth!

The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World is the first half of the long-promised sequel to With Strings Attached, or The Big Pink Job, perhaps the most noteworthy Beatles fanfic out there. Keys is equally as long, as funny, as original, and as epic as Strings, and is just as much of a noncompliant fantasy to boot.

Ten weeks have gone by on Earth, so it's now June 1980. The four have had varying reactions to coming home; as we learn throughout the book, two of them handled the transition better than the other two. But for now, Keys starts superficially like Strings did: the four unexpectedly wake up again on the planet C'hou, though this time they (think they) know what's going on. And they're all delighted to have their magic restored to them.

But nearly six years have passed on C'hou since they left, and the Pyar gods have changed the place almost beyond recognition. The Ketafans and tirin are gone, replaced by a short, pale race of people called the G'heddi'onians. The skahs delight in a world now full of monsters to fight. And there are thousands of outworlders running around, because a tragic mistake on the part of the Pyars allowed a great evil into C'hou, and they've been importing warriors from other worlds to fight it. Unfortunately, many outworlders have arranged themselves in entities called Power Groups, several of which are fierce rivals that spend more time attacking each other than fighting the Black Tower and rescuing the gods from looming extinction.

The Actual Pacifist four are by no means thrilled to have been dropped into this suddenly ultraviolent setting, especially since they're attacked five times the first day they're there. And, like in Strings, they don't know why they're there. One thing they do know, however, is that they need money, and quickly, because the pouch of coins and gems that Ringo still had is now almost worthless. They also learn that they damn well better mask their magic, because everyone is scanning them and finding out just how powerful they are... and reacting accordingly.

Alternating between trying to figure out what's expected of them and earning enough money to survive, they endure various annoying encounters until they finally manage to meet with the much-enfeebled Pyar gods, who tell them they've been brought over to lend their formidable magic to one of the Power Groups and help them defeat the Black Tower. The four really don't want to do this, but they have no choice — if the gods die, they're stuck there forever. Though their distaste is tempered by their promised reward: if they do support the successful Power Group, they'll be given a way to take their magic home with them.

And then things get worse. Much worse.

Read the first chapter on the Rational Magic website, or the whole thing via Amazon Kindle Edition Normalized Pages.

Keys is just as Troperiffic as Strings was, possibly more so. There is, of course, trope overlap between the two books. Here are some of the more important ones in regards to The Soft World (and there will be many, many more in the individual trope pages).

The Tropes Stand Alone:

  • Actual Pacifist: The four's stance as the sole pacifists on the now war-torn, adventure-riddled C'hou makes everyone else think they're nuts, or worse. Luckily for them, being the most powerful people around means they can maintain their philosophy despite everything.
  • Adventure-Friendly World: C'hou has been turned into one of these, complete with new geography, Monsters Everywhere, and ruins that make no sense, as the four constantly lampshade. They're told that the Pyar gods made the world to be more like the G'heddi'onian homeworld, which leads them to the conclusion that the gods are crazy.
  • Anachronism Stew: The updated C'hou has everything from cavemen to superheroes to spacemen, and all levels of technology.
  • Arc Words: "Speak the problem and it will be solved." The entire world seems to be swimming in Arc Words (labeled Gods Chat by George after he hears that the Pyar gods might be providing them) in graffiti, on message boards, etc, but this particular phrase comes up most frequently, and the four lampshade it on occasion.
  • Auto-Kitchen: The Infinity chain of restaurants serves as a fast-food Auto Kitchen wherever one appears; you can literally go in and order anything you want and get it in minutes. The Anything store is an "Auto Kitchen" for ordinary items.
  • Badass Pacifist: The four, especially Paul, essentially define this trope. They manage to solve most of their problems, and their quests, without resorting to violence; and early on, simply by walking around and having stuff bounce off them (as well as being power-scanned by all and sundry), they earn the nickname "Awesome Foursome". They also destroy as many weapons as they can.
  • Blatant Lies: Many instances of the four telling these about their background because they have no intention of telling the truth to people they distrust/dislike (which is pretty much everyone). And it's all taken completely seriously, because there are so many outworlders with odd backgrounds on C'hou that everything is plausible.
  • Bullying a Dragon: The four are known to be some of the most powerful individuals on C'hou — at least powerful enough to be able to get a white key on their own, an operation that usually takes dozens of people (and they'd be more freaked out if they knew that Paul did it mostly by himself). While most people are waaay too sensible to cross them, they tend to get attacked a lot anyway. Being Actual Pacifists, they school their attackers in creative and often humiliating ways.
  • The Call Has Bad Reception: This is as annoying as all hell to the four when it turns out that instead of being "nice and straightforward" about what they want the four to do, as was the case in With Strings Attached, the Pyar gods usually just throw riddles and (crappy) poems and mysterious statements at them and expect them to figure out what's required.
  • Catchphrase: "Don't fuck with Nine Thousands!"
  • Chaos Architecture: Not only is every building, city, town, and ruin different when the four return to C'hou after roughly six years, but even the geography is different. (According to Ringo, the only things that remain the same are the shapes of the two continents and the four moons.) And the mines, citadels, etc. they visit are all classic examples of Chaos Architecture.
  • City Guards: An important part of the cities and towns of C'hou. They're very friendly and informative if you're not a miscreant, and they can beat the crap out of you if you are. They're the first level of governance in the Pyar cities and have the power to hand out instant justice, or to witness, and render official, justice pronounced by people who have been wronged. The functions of the guards in the various Power Group-controlled cities are less clear.
  • Conflict Ball: The Keys Stand Alone is a desperate attempt by four Actual Pacifist characters to avoid the Conflict Ball that everyone else is carrying and tossing back and forth. The four never once initiate conflict, even when they know that the people they're trying to talk to are going to start pounding on them.
  • Courier: Paul and George get thrust into this role by the Guardians. After the "debacle" by George and John the previous day, the only mission that the Guardians will give them is a boring courier mission to a distant coastal town. Though things get a lot livelier when the recipient of their delivery turns out to have been missing for several days.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Since the four pretty much viewed C'hou as a Crapsack World in With Strings Attached, they are initially pleased by the changes wrought by the Pyar gods when they return. The new city Tevri'ed is beautiful and full of interesting things, money is easy to make, and the guards are friendly and helpful. In particular they like the new inhabitants, the G'heddi'onians, who are pleasant and civilized. Less than a day later, they've been jumped five times by both outworlders and inhabitants, and within a few more days they thoroughly hate the "Geddies", who viciously turn on the four when they don't act heroic in the proper way.
  • Deer in the Headlights: Played with. Paul, both awed by Lord Equus and trashed out of his mind, simply stares at the approaching horse mecha until it kicks him over the valley. Also, when Paul is grabbed by the Octo-Bot and slammed around in the cave, George and John can do nothing except fall over laughing.
  • Demihuman: There are plenty, though not the standard ones, though there are some of those amongst the outworlders. Among many others, C'hou is now home to demihumans such as Brillymen, Gashans, and Svenjaya. Most humans take a dim view of these folks (e.g., the Svenjaya are indentured servants on the flying island of Tipaan).
  • Destructive Savior: The four get something of a reputation for this. Example: To create a diversion, John backs up all the toilets in the Border Crossroads Inn. While he's careful to prevent them from overflowing, the stench lingers. Also, the escaping guests cause a lot of damage by puking and so forth.
  • Deteriorates Into Gibberish: When the four use the white key to visit the entrapped Pyar gods, they're told that the key endowed the gods with temporary coherence. After a brief and mostly unhelpful conversation, the three gods sink into gibberish before fading away. Later, when John is powering their boat through the Hungry Sea, he starts to spout gibberish as well. This is actually an important plot point, since it points to the curse of incoherence that was placed upon the Last Wizard centuries ago. When they encounter her, they figure out that the ubiquitous saying "Speak the problem and it will be solved" is finally relevant in this situation, and George breaks the curse on her by telling her that she's cursed not to be able to speak.
  • Dirty Mind-Reading: Inverted. Any time the four think their minds are being read, they deliberately think things like "Fuck you!" to see if the supposed telepath reacts. Most of the time nothing results, so either their minds are not being read, or the telepaths are inured to that kind of thing. Except when the unfortunate John has an extremely one-sided telepathic conversation with Trelayna, where she first chides him for using profanity in his thoughts, then yells at him for slandering her with half-formed ideas.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: In The Soft World, Paul is distracted long enough by the supermodel-esque, super-strong Lieyla for her to come up and paste him one on the jaw, sending him flying back about 20 feet. Not that it does much besides snap him out of his distraction.
  • Drama Bomb: In The Keys Stand Alone, there's a doozy. John has just rescued Ringo and himself from a roomful of nasty psionics, and they're currently lying on their "default" mesa, with John laughing hysterically at his triumph. But Ringo is still under the psionics' mental influence and demands to be taken back. When John tries to snap him out of it, Ringo throws him over the side of the mesa. While John is still wearing his cloak and, hence, his wings are bound. Which does snap Ringo out of it. This little event causes a seismic shift in the way the four deal with the Power Groups from then on.
  • The Dreaded:
    • The Black Tower and its minions the Tayhil. Both are synonymous with death and destruction.
    • The Animals, especially among the Geddies.
    • Trelayna of the Rock, who is ''very good'', and who is the only other individual in C'hou that the four consider a Nine Thousand and are afraid to meet again. (Or at least John is.)
  • Dreadful Musician: Terb the bard is a Dreadful Musician with a magical lute. Only professional musicians are immune to it and can hear the music for what it really is — and George is so annoyed by the pub crowd's approval of the lousy music that he gets up on stage with his guitar to show everyone what real playing is.
  • Elective Mute: Rajotel; he took a vow of public silence several years ago and communicates via sign language in public, or will whisper in his partner Quill's ear if he absolutely must.
  • Enemy Scan: Everyone seems to have this, so that one of the very first things a newcomer needs to get is a masking amulet. Because the four initially lack such protection, their extreme power is on display for the whole world to see, which causes them no end of problems (and almost immediately gets them nicknamed the Awesome Foursome). On the other hand, the reaction of one woman as they pass in front of her scanning device provides them with a personal Catchphrase for the rest of the book.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Sort of, if you accept that the four are the only "good goods" on C'hou. Everyone else is baffled by their refusal to kill or even harm things.
  • Flaw Exploitation: Happens a lot. Some examples:
    • The Guardians exploit Ringo's addiction to his mindsight in an attempt to make him turn against the others. It works well, but John manages to get him away from their influence, albeit not before a near-tragedy.
    • Knowing that outworlders have a tendency to attack other outworlders, and that people who are unjustly attacked and win get to keep their opponents' stuff, Paul successfully gets the mine-robbers to attack him — literally just by standing there and politely asking them questions — after which the four mop the floor with them and get a bunch of useful stuff as well as more than enough money to pay off their library fine.
  • Funetik Aksent: Played for some ironic effect, when different outworlders have different weird accents that are visually depicted — and where people are always commenting on the four as having weird accents. (At one point they're referred to as "those four guys with the funny accents.")
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Theecat Stefnable. He describes himself as a "genius tinkerer and rogue for hire".
  • Genre Savvy: The four are quite aware that just because they're insanely powerful doesn't mean they're good at adventuring. In particular, George and Ringo make lousy disguised spies because they're always accidentally revealing things about themselves. And Ringo finds during the incident at Boidan Valley that he's terrible at nonmagical surveillance.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: The Nine-part Key. Also the set of instructions as to how to put the Key together and use it.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Ringo has one after he throws John over a cliff (he was still suffering the effects of being very subtly mind controlled).
    • Paul has a BSOD after he goes to high strength and throws his captor through several trees.
  • Heroic Neutral: The Keys Stand Alone really shores up the four as Heroic Neutral; they make it quite plain that they're not interested in heroics, and that they're only helping to bring the Black Tower down because it means they'll be able to go home. Not that they'll stand by and just watch if someone's in trouble in front of them... but they won't go on any quests to save anyone.
  • Humongous Mecha: The "Lord Equus" form of Theecat's equibots.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Or, in the case of the four, "I shall make myself an easy target so you will attack me, I will defeat you, and I will take all your stuff".
  • I'm Not a Hero, I'm...: In a case of Exactly What It Says on the Tin, George says this several times, and the others agree with him. All four hate being singled out to go on quests and perform heroic acts, especially when there are lots of other powerful, competent outworlders around to do these things — not to mention the city guards, who never do anything in these situations despite being the local cops. As John puts it, "We can't solve everyone's problems."
  • Impossible Task: The Tipaan arc is centered around an impossible task given by the Circle — the four have to somehow retrieve an extremely well-protected musical instrument.
    Paul: We'll have a bash. We're a bit good at the impossible.
    John: Especially the impossible at a luxury resort.
  • Infallible Babble: Averted. The four are bombarded with sayings, poems, rumors, and suchlike. Only a tiny handful of them prove crucial to their success.
  • Inn Security: Nearly every time the four stay at an inn or hotel, they get attacked. Repeatedly. Despite major security. It gets so bad that they accept an invitation to visit the Guardians partly because they won't be attacked inside the Guardians' city.
  • Invisibility: In sort of an inversion, nearly everyone is invisible to Ringo when he uses his mindsight because everyone is masked. He does manage to compensate somewhat by focusing on the dust people stir up in the air and the skin flakes and hairs they shed.
  • Iron Butt-Monkey: Paul unhappily finds himself in this role several times, with the others cracking up when he gets attacked in a particularly weird way.
  • Irrelevant Sidequest: This trope defines the life of the four, much to their increasing annoyance. When they're not with a Power Group, they're constantly being asked to do things like rescue babies, deliver scrolls, and fetch nine cockatrice feathers. When they're with the Guardians, the two quests they're sent on have no relevance to anything in the grand scheme of things (i.e., bringing down the Black Tower/putting together the Nine-part Key). Soon they get so sick of quests that they refuse anything that doesn't have anything to do with the Key, even turning down a request to rescue a kidnapped 8-year-old.
  • It's Up to You: This trope appears several times and makes the four crazy. Example: Paul and George (accompanied by the Guardian Spectrem) travel to the village of Chandalla to deliver some supplies to a botanist. Upon arriving, they're told the botanist has been missing for two days, and the mayor begs them to find him. To which George says, "Wait, we're just here to give him some stuff. We're not detectives." But Spectrem firmly pledges their help. George asks him why the guards haven't already gone looking for the guy, or why they would expect these delivery men to suddenly become part of a search party. Spectrem's answer is an irritated, "How should I know?"
  • Jerkass: You don't want to know how many Jerkasses there are in C'hou now. It's basically a World of Jerkass.
  • Lampshade Hanging: A major part of the story. The four, especially John and George, almost constantly lampshade the craziness they discover after returning to C'hou after almost six years.
  • Little People: Although With Strings Attached averted the trope by having no race of small folk, The Keys Stand Alone rectifies this lapse by having any number of small folk races running around the rebooted C'hou. Some outworlders are small folk as well, such as Theecat.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: The four openly reject this trope. They're always being asked to do things like locate missing people and save dying children. George and John in particular make a point of asking "Why do we have to do this when there are guards around, or other outworlders around, who could do it?"
  • Mugging the Monster: Oh, do the four love this trope. It comes into play every time someone attacks them, and they make quite a bit of money this way, thanks to the Blameless Victim Revenge Law — if you're attacked for no reason and you win, you legally get to keep anything you want off the attackers. And since the four never once initiate an attack or do anything to encourage one besides walking around.... they call it "fishing".
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Actually sort of Paul's powerset, though hints of it were given in With Strings Attached. He develops so many new powers that Ringo describes it as gaining a new power every time he blows his nose.
  • News Travels Fast: To their extreme dismay, news about the four and how powerful they are is on everyone's lips a day and a half after they arrive. And they didn't even do much!
  • Nice Guy: Played with. Whereas the four are Actual Pacifists and fiercely cling to that status despite the semi-war waging around them, and they're not depraved or anything, they aren't portrayed as "Nice Guys", even Ringo, who, despite having that status in real life, in the book is having major addiction problems that screw with his overall Nice-Guyness. However, compared to everyone else there, they come off as the Nice Guys, particularly Paul, who takes care to be polite to everyone who isn't actually attacking him. (It must be noted, however, that underneath the veneer of politeness Paul is often seething with anger or jealousy and needs his "Background noise" to keep himself on an even keel.)
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The four practically live this trope, getting chased by mobs or fined because they didn't save the day in the right way. Things get to the point where they simply refuse to help anyone out any more (also partially because they neither want to be considered heroes nor want to do anything except take down the Big Bad so they can go home — and if they could get home some other way they'd gladly do that and leave the world to rot).
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: The four do not want to join the struggle against the Black Tower and the Tayhil, but they have to in order to get home. Getting home is their one and only goal; saving the world is incidental, especially after they come to detest the people they're saving.
  • The Notable Numeral: The Awesome Foursome.
  • The Only One: The four get so sick of this trope that they basically end up saying, "No, we're not the only ones who can do this. Fuck off."
  • Only Sane Man: Actually, the only sane men are the four, who seem to be the only ones on C'hou who notice the sheer insanity of how the world works; for example, they explore a monster-infested ruin and and ask reasonable questions, like "Why don't the monsters eat each other? What do they live on? Why did they design the place so crazily? Why are treasure chests just lying around?" It later turns out that there are plenty of other sane people; it's just that they have a reason for pretending not to notice the insanity.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: George frequently becomes a centaur, both to carry Ringo and to trot along with serious stamina and still be able to talk. In that shape he's extremely hairy, he's terrified of things that smell like predators, and he has good hearing and night vision. He defaults to a heavy warmblood horse-half rather than a sleek Arabian, so he's not very fast (though he could certainly do a sleeker one if he wanted).
  • Over Nine Thousand: John overhears some vaguely supervillain-ish people scanning the other three, at which point they scream the exact lines from Dragon Ball Z. From then on, the four ironically refer to themselves as being "Nine Thousands" whenever they talk about going up against someone, or they need to complete a difficult task. They even gain a Catchphrase:
    "No, wait," John said, a note of weary but evil craft in his mental voice. "They should know what hit 'em. Teach 'em not to fuck with Nine Thousands."
  • The Perils of Being the Best: Experienced by the four after a trio of baddies scan them and discover how outrageously powerful they are. This leads one of the baddies, the super-strong but quite stupid Lieyla, to immediately stalk after Paul and hit him, since she'd been spoiling for a fight and didn't think he could take her punch. (Boy, is she surprised when he bounces back up and asks why she did that.) Anyway, from then on the four worry that they're going to be targeted by "every prat with something to prove."
  • Poke in the Third Eye: In a rare example of a hero poking a villain, Ringo turns out to do this naturally to unshielded telepaths who try to read his mind while he's using his mindsight. Besides giving them the mental equivalent of a sunburn, he also instantly addicts them to his mindsight! He's also so "loud" and pervasive that if he's looking at someone that mental scanners are trying to locate, they have to raise their shields so strongly to protect themselves that they can perceive only him.
  • Politeness Judo: Works intermittently. Paul gets quite a bit of information from Geddies and guards by being polite... but it backfires when he tries to be nice to a band of adventurers, and they almost immediately attempt to beat the shit out of him.
  • Power High:
    • While all of the four experienced Power Highs in With Strings Attached, by The Keys Stand Alone only Paul and Ringo still do in significant ways. Paul gets high off the "background noise" of his magic. He is not, however, addicted to it. Ringo, on the other hand, is so thoroughly addicted to his mindsight that he goes into withdrawal when he's blocked and thinks he'll kill himself if he has to go back to Earth without it again.
    • Paul also discovers that absorbing energy gives him a rush as well — and, when he was hit by two lightning bolts in rapid succession, he also got drunk and had an orgasm.
  • Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: Lampshaded to hellangone. Right from the start the four encounter a poem carved in a wall. John immediately sneers at how bad it is, and complains that if it's meant for them, he does not want to be communicated to that way. They soon run into more poems and lines of poetry, all bad ("Hooray, more shitty poetry!" John cries at one point). When they find out that the gods wrote some of this stuff, John sniffs, "Well, now we know they ain't the gods of poetry.")
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Lots of people, including the muggers, Lieyla of the "Terrible Trio", Spectrem of the Guardians, and the mine-robbers at Boidan Mine, find out what a waste of time it is to try and hurt Paul.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Averted. For example, George's stubborn refusal to participate in a battle even as a courier really horks off Bayr.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: The four return to C'hou after about six years have passed there, to find that not only has their existing C'hovite money been vastly reduced in value, but that things have gotten a lot more expensive.
  • Schizo Tech: C'hou is loaded with this, as the G'heddi'onians use both magic and technology, and the outworlders have brought in a huge variety of stuff.
  • Second-Hand Storytelling: Happens several times to emphasize just how superior the four are to most of their opponents, and how meaningless most of the fights are; the fights are so one-sided and trivial that there's no point in depicting them directly. Like, for example, when John and Ringo effortlessly take out four ninjas about to ambush them in their hotel room; the reader sees only the Funny aftermath.
  • Sense Loss Sadness: Exaggerated with Ringo. Quite often he is unable to use his mindsight thanks to nearly everyone and everything being masked, and he becomes so depressed (and Wangsty) when he's blocked that, among other things, he's easily manipulated by the Guardians. Conversely, when he gets it back, he becomes intoxicated with joy.
  • Sequel Escalation: The four return to a C'hou now loaded with monsters and threatened by an all-encompassing evil; they have to help defeat it and save the planet and the lives of three gods. Rather a bit bigger than "Find the three pieces of the Vasyn to remove a curse from the continent of Ketafa"!
  • Sequel Non-Entity: None of the secondary characters from With Strings Attached return, though Brox and Grunnel are briefly mentioned as not having been seen in over a year (the implication is that they're out adventuring).
  • Shady Lady of the Night: Played With in The Soft World. At the Border Crossroads Inn, George and John need to get some information from a waitress. While she's not willing to go up to their room with them to have sex, she agrees to come when they explain they just want information and will even pay her. However, for a complicated reason, another woman is sent along with her, and the woman is a known tattler who will immediately report any shenanigans to the persons currently running the inn. So George has to have sex with the tattler to distract her, while John, who can't have sex with human women any more, has to fake it while he telepathically interrogates the waitress. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Share Phrase: After John talks about teaching muggers not to fuck with Nine Thousands, all four end up using the phrase "Don't fuck with Nine Thousands" on multiple occasions.
  • Sheathe Your Sword: This is pretty much how Paul wins — er, ends battles. Since he's both an Actual Pacifist and Nigh-Invulnerable, he just stands there or walks along and lets people pound on him until they give up, get distracted, or get captured by one of the others.
  • Showy Invincible Hero: All four to a point, but particularly John and Paul. Because they're Actual Pacifists, the point of the story isn't that they always overwhelm their opponents. In fact, they're trying not to fight and very much resent it when they have to engage in combat, so they do their best to make every battle a showy Curb-Stomp Battle (albeit a non-harmful one) in an effort to discourage people from attacking them. It doesn't work.
  • Signature Move:
    • John has two: dehydrating people and binding them up with warm ice. Both are nonlethal and carefully calculated to do no real harm.
    • Paul might have a Signature Move, if standing there and getting hit until one of the others thinks of something to do is a "move".
  • Small Steps Hero: Various takes on this trope. Although the overarching task is to defeat the Black Tower, both the Guardians and the Circle spent an awful lot of time doing the small stuff, like rescuing kidnapped babies, looking for missing people, and intervening in disputes, which is drastically drawing out the conflict. By contrast, the Focus sneers at this "dust work" and is committed to the larger task only, reasoning that all the bad stuff will stop when the Black Tower goes down. Although the four are not normally so callous as to ignore pleas for aid, they're terribly burned out from being begged for help, which seems to happen every five minutes. Thus, they find themselves agreeing with the Focus and joining them.
  • Someday This Will Come in Handy: The four are advised to collect the sayings, poem lines, and other bits of graffiti and trivia found just about everywhere. They're told that these strange things are the feeble attempts of the gods to communicate with the outworlders and have meanings that might not become evident for a long time. George dubs them Gods Chat and keeps a list of sayings. As it turns out, one specific phrase is crucial to everything.
  • Somebody Else's Problem: The G'heddi'onians and their guards appear to feel that the marauding hordes of the Black Tower and the impending death of the Pyar gods are Somebody Else's Problem — that is, these problems are there for the outworlders to fix.
  • Stupid Good: Played with/averted. A lot of people think the four are Stupid Good because they won't harm monsters and evil creatures (and actually save them once in a while), but there's a big difference between Stupid Good and Actual Pacifism, especially since they're the Only Sane Men in the world and don't want to be there and can't support genocide on either side. Besides, they're perfectly willing to restrain, knock out, mind control, and otherwise find creative nonlethal solutions to the problem of evil.
  • Swiss-Cheese Security: The four unhappily run into this twice. They take a penthouse suite at one of the most expensive inns in Tevri'ed, and the management promises them complete security. Of course they're attacked by ninjas who come ghosting through the walls. The next night they stay in the same room at half price, with the management swearing it won't happen again... and they're attacked twice (though not by ninjas, so technically management was correct). After that they give up on inns entirely.
  • Telepathy:
    • John proves unable to do anything except talk with his water-telepathy; he can't even take information from an unwilling mind.
    • Also, John has to contend with a roomful of telepaths who are primed to mentally beat him up the second he tries to do anything. That he manages to evade them is partially due to the Kansael and partially to his own bad temper.
    • George occasionally becomes a telepathic creature but never does figure out how to use telepathy.
  • Terse Talker: L'le. Speaks that way because big scar on throat makes speaking painful. Mostly a put-on; part of personal myth (can speak normally if need be).
    • Also the Svenjaya, though some of that is contractually required of them.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: The problem is far more acute in Keys than it was in With Strings Attached, as the four are thrown into an exceptionally violent situation and have to almost literally fight to find nonlethal solutions to serious problems.
  • Underestimating Badassery: The four are simultaneously recognized as four of the most powerful people in the world and underestimated because of their (apparent) youth and pacifism.
  • We Do the Impossible: The four quite rightly get this reputation when they achieve some highly improbable successes. To the point where the following dialogue with the Circle takes place:
    Suddenly the Scheme-Maker thumped her fist on the table and grinned. "So! Seems impossible to touch Cloud Horn. Recalcitrant owners. Deadly consequences if caught stealing. Can't give much in way of resources, since seems like a waste. Have to use own gear. Still, only Key mission now. Welcome to try. Want?"
    The four looked at one another, knowing they were all of the same mind. "I reckon we'll have a bash," said Paul. "We're a bit good at the impossible."
    "Especially the impossible at a luxury resort," murmured John.
  • Wham Episode:
    • Chapter 14, when Ringo throws John over the side of the mesa, backwards, while still wearing his cloak.
    • Chapter 22, when the Circle betray the four.
    • Chapter 24, when the boat that three of them are in falls apart in rough water — and George's ring chooses that moment to stick, and he drowns.
    • Chapter 25, when the four wake up wearing headsets and can't figure out if they've been dreaming, because the world under the headsets is completely real to them; and later, when they remove the curse from Durothé, and she reveals that they've been in a giant computerized telepathic MMORPG designed by none other than Jeft Indle.
  • What Is Evil?:
    • The four have several discussions about the new presence of good and evil in C'hou, classifying things as "good good", "good evil", "evil good" and "evil evil". They come to the conclusion that they're the only good goods in the world (even classifying the gods as evil good), and they struggle with the ethical implications of supporting an evil good or good evil Power Group.
    • Ironically, a lot of people end up defining them as evil because they will not kill monsters and the Tayhil.
    • The skahs (aka the Natives), who have no concepts for "good" and "evil", sneer at people who tell them when they're behaving in a good or evil fashion. "We don't listen when they say those stupid things."
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: An important theme for the four, inasmuch as they pretty much regard everything with a brain and a face, and even large plants, as Things Not To Be Harmed. To the point where they get into trouble because they refuse to harm monsters that everyone else gladly slaughters.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Played for laughs, where people often make note of the accents of the four as being really weird — when every single outworlder on C'hou has a weird accent! Even other characters recognize this as ridiculous; when Terb mentions that John and George have funny accents, Folse brushes him off with "So does everyone."
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: John complains a lot about the rotten poetry clues they keep getting. When someone tells him the gods wrote the stuff, he says, "Well, now we know they ain't the gods of poetry."
  • Wild Card: Although in their own minds the four are the only true "good goods" in the rebooted C'hou, they are True Neutral to everyone else, and they spend some time trying to figure out which Power Group to join in order to further their own goals, which are to get home and bring their magic with them. They do not want to be on C'hou, especially in such a violent situation, and they do not care about the Black Tower and its evil; as George puts it, "These aren't my fights... get it?" But everyone views them as the keys to victory/winning the Black Tower quest, and there is considerable infighting between the Power Groups (at first) to gain control of them — until everyone gets pissed off at the four (and vice versa) for various reasons.
  • World of Badass: Probably the revamped C'hou qualifies, given that there are over 20,000 outworlders who have been selected by the gods to help them overcome the Black Tower; 50,000 live-for-combat skahs; city guards who are tougher than a good percentage of the previous two groups; and some of the G'heddi'onians, like the wizards who rule the city of Daarthayu. Ironically, the four most powerful people on the planet are Badass Pacifists who only occasionally slide into (resolutely nonlethal) Martial Pacifist territory.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Almost six years have gone by on C'hou during the intervening ten weeks on Earth, and when the four are sent back they're stunned by all the changes. Mindful of the time, they vow to do whatever it is they're supposed to do in no more than a month so only a day goes by at home. They're pretty dismayed to learn that things are likely to take six months to a year to accomplish.
  • You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With: The entire reason the four adopt the Share Phrase "Don't fuck with Nine Thousands". Though they almost always end up saying it after schooling someone in why they should be left alone.
  • Zombie Advocate: Being Actual Pacifists, the four strongly oppose killing — well, everything, but most specifically for trope purposes, the Tayhil, the murderous snakemen who are the chief minions of the Black Tower and the #1 enemy of all other humans on C'hou. Indeed, the four are so concerned that all the baddies will be wiped out when the Black Tower falls that they're willing to use the wishes the Pyar gods promised them to save the creatures.