UNDER ANOTHER SKY
Previously: Another Tale With a Smartphone
Themesong: We Need a Hero by Bonnie Tyler
After leaving Zanac behind, we collected our reward and got Yae signed up with her very own Guild Card, though hers was Beginner’s Black, while ours were Purple. The twins sighed as we collected our seven silvers, two each, plus one for Yae just to be fair, and Linze commented how small two silvers suddenly was.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s not like we’ll be saving nobility every day. Most jobs will pay pretty mildly. Still, two silver appiece is decent enough for being given an expenses paid trip to the capital for a week, no?” Elze glanced at her sister, then nodded, and after a moment, Linze nodded as well. “Good. Good… now, we need another mission… oooh. Hunting Megaslimes is still on the board!”
The others were less than enthused. Not like the horrid things wouldn’t show up even if we didn’t go hunting them. This was a fantasy setting. There practically were always slimes, right. There’d even been Jelly-Mold monsters in Undertale, although they’d just wobbled at us in a friendly kind of way, rather than eating our clothing and trying to… anyway, we ended up on another monster hunt, and another one after that, then settled down for an afternoon snack at the Cafe Parent (Good lord, business names in this world… I tell ya… wacky furenurs.) and Aer (of course) asked me if I had any more recipes for her. I’d already passed over Froyo Parfaits and Cheesecake, plus Waffle Cookies, Madeleines, and Scones with Clotted Cream. I promised I’d think about it, but with the limited number of ingredients that I recognized, it was getting harder and harder to convert my recipes. At least for deserts. For savory meals I was still golden, though I really needed a source of good capsaicinoids.
That night I stayed up late, still fascinated by the incredible scope of spells on offer to me from God’s book. There had to be a good twenty-five thousand spells in this book, and just the breadth of individualized effects was stagger. A spell to loosen suck lids. A spell to clean brass. A spell to trim grass to exactly 3.4 centiments. A spell to count many small identical objects. A spell to mend scratches in leather. A spell to make an apple tree shake violently for a few seconds. A spell to heal cracked horse hooves. A spell to waterproof leather. A spell to… the list went on and on and on. Nineteen different spells to remove odors. Fifty three spells to remove stains. Eighty one spells to preserve food. Seven spells to tenderize meat. Whittling spells and mixing spells, refinement spells and memory spells, swimming spells and cleaning spells. Twenty-five thousand is a lot of things to be able to do with magic. It vastly outnumbered the number of all the spells from Dungeons & Dragons… though by far, most of those spells had been combat related, while most of these were utility.
Another difference was power levels. D&D, and indeed most fantasy games, had ranked magics. Spells that were more powerful and thus harder to learn. This world’s magic was nothing like that. Sure, some spells were harder to learn and harder to master… but it was mostly about how much magic you could spare to power the spell.
Linze and I could both cast [CURE HEAL] with relative ease. But where as she could cast it perhaps a dozen or fifteen times within an hour before growing too fatigued to continue, I could cast it a dozen times in a minute and not only would I barely feel any fatigue at all, my individual spells would heal more than hers did. I’d asked, and she wasn’t weak by this world’s standard… but my power level was something unheard of, just like my ability to wield all seven elements.
Many of the more useful spells I’d found in the book were potentially fun, if circumstantial, such as [DETOX] which removed toxins from food or drink, [FORBID] which, when cast on a small object, shocked anyone who tried to touch it, [UNCRACK] which refuzed to objects that used to be attached to each other, or [PILLOW] which caught falling objects harmless. But there were others, like [ENCHANT], [MODEL], [COAT], and [DRAW] which looked like they’d be incredibly useful in making things… since they could, respectively, grant an object magical properties that could be extended to the person wearing or holding it, reshape minerals and wood to my whim, cover an object with a substance, and perfectly transcribe any image I could picture onto paper, in full color, without need for any implement or pigment.
Of course, for Enchant to function, I’d have to have the spell I wanted to apply to the item in my repertoire. For Draw to be best, I had to either being looking right at something, or a picture of it, or be holding the mental imagine for as long as the image took to resolve, usually about 20 seconds. For Coat, I had to to have enough of the substance to completely cover the object, and the thickness wasn’t great… but multiple coats could be applied. And for Model, I had to be even more precise, since it would reshape the stuff I was working about into a 3D model of whatever I’d pictured. Yes, that extended to biological but non-living substances and glass… I made a couple of cute little glass unicorns for Linze with slivers of copper suspended inside, a bone and wood lucky cat for Yae, and a silver and lapis butterfly hair-clip pair for Elze. I also made each of us some sunglasses, enchanted with [WINE GUARD] which was designed to keep light from penetrating wine bottles and spoiling the wine. Of course, the locals had never heard of Ultraviolet rays, but that function was just what sunglasses needed.
But it wasn’t just mundane utility that the book contained. No, it also had spells like [SEARCH], [MAP PULSE], [WARNING ORB], [TRACTION], [SEIZE], [REPELLANT], and [UNBIND] which would be useful for adventuring. Search located anything I could define within a nearby area… like something that would taste like cayenne pepper or cinnamon at a market, or people dressed like bandits (it wouldn’t ID bandits, but it would ID people I’d be likely to think were dressed like them… it was clearly using my own senses and knowledge as a database). Map Pulse caused all edges in a chamber to become clearly defined… you know, if you were in the dark?… without actually creating light. Warning Orb was an early warning system for when you were camped out. It detected movement above a certain threshold and could, to a limited extent, detect harmful intent or aggression. Traction made my feet get much much better grip… Elze could run up the side of a three story building the grip was good enough. Seize caused mechanical objects to grip up as it increased the friction coefficient between components… not that was what the description said… it just said ‘Makes wheels and Gears stick together through unknown process’. Repellent could be set to keep small animals and vermin away. Either individually and with greater power, or in general with less powerful. For instance, [REPELLANT: HORNED WOLVES] repelled Horned Wolves as long as they weren’t angry enough or scared enough to ignore it, while [REPELLANT: VERMIN] just repelled small bugs and worms and mice and lizards and other scavenger types we wouldn’t want in out presence. Unbind just caused knots to loosen, which had all sorts of naughtiness potential built right in.
And while all of those were useful… the real combat bonus spells came in the form of spells like [SLIP], [TRIP], [PARALYZE], [REPULSE], [BOOM], [STROBE], [SICKEN], and [FASCINATE]. Slip removed friction from an area. Trip caused someone to stumble by making the ground momentarily deform under their feet and was more subtle than Slip. Paralyze prevented the target from moving. Repulse was a blast of kinetic energy enough to knock several people over. Boom caused a loud bang. Strobe caused all light sources around to go crazy. Sicken caused nausea. And Fascinate ensnared the weak willed or impaired.
Most useful of all, however, was [MULTIPLY], which I had to wonder how skilled a magician the original owner had been. It was, fundamentally, unfair, but useless if you couldn’t cast a good variety of other spells, probably combat spells at that. What it did was bone simple… it quadrupled the number of times the next spell I cast would be cast… at more than quadruple the mana cost, but only twice the casting time. Where it got ridiculous was when I cast Multiply… and then did it again. Four became sixteen, then sixty-four, then two-hundred and fifty-six… and so on. It, like many of these spells was broken… at least when cast by someone with the mana (and mana recovery ability) I had. Even casting a combat spell like [SHINING JAVELIN] (a light spell) at two-fifty-six barely caused a notable flutter in my available mana… seriously… Was this God’s doing or was it my other perks playing off each other? Regardless, even such a massive expenditure of energy only caused a three second decrease from maximum energy… and blew apart a fair amount of the rock-face I was aiming at at the time.
All in all, the book was a goldmine. There were just sooo many options… and it was probably a good thing for society that so few people had access to some of these things.
However, others, like Model, did have highly constructive uses. For instance, I’d used it to make copies of some of my favorite games and convinced Micah’s dad, Dolan, to hold a game night twice a week in the dining room of the Silver Moon. Of course, that meant I had to keep coming up with a new game every so often, but for the first two weeks I’d introduced Go (easy to make, very hard to master), Othello (easy to make, much easier to master), Mille Bornes (one of my favorite card games, though I’d had to replace the technical things… flat tire, out of gas, speed limit, stop sign, with things like broken wheel, injured horse, fatigue, and rain delay… as you could only race when the sun was shining.), Catan (wood and cards. Not hard… fairly easy rules), and Jenga (Oh god that was simple. Smooth is a great spell.). I had a few dozen more that I was making conversion notes for in my phone, but figured I’d slow down to one a week after there were six games and one every other at twelve. Once the twenty-fourth game was out I’d drop to one a month. I really wanted to mix up the styles of play, but for some reason I was resistant to introduce either Chess or Mahjong, so next week the schedule was Draughts and Pick-up-sticks, both relatively simple to produce.
The most ambitious game on my to do list right now was Pandemic, only with Slimes, Bandits, Undead, and Monsters instead of diseases and with a totally different map. The number of tokens and cards needed for that, and the size of the board, was the major stumbling block. I was thinking a cloth mat instead of a hard board would probably be the way to go.
My friend Barral, the guy who ran the local weapon shop and who looked like a Bear (his shop was called Eight Bears Weapons, so it wasn’t like he didn’t know he looked ursine) and Dolan had developed a bit of a Go Rivalry… this world was seriously lacking in entertainment… but that was pretty much par for a world without widespread publishing, radio, movies, or TV…. I was still working on that, but I had plans to invent the movable type printing press as soon as I finished working out a good ink recipe and finished all the letter dies.
I’d have had a lot more time to work on it, but my friends kept insisting that I not spend all my time puttering around and mumbling to myself and I did need exercise… probably. Also, people kept begging for copies of my games, even at the prices I was charging. Sure, they could have just had someone else make them, but even making all the Go stones would take a craftsman a couple of days and the boards would take considerable effort to smooth, shape, and cut the lines as smoothly as I could. Since I used [COAT] to apply lacquer and stain, and [MODEL] to inlay brass or flint into the lines to make them look extra crisp, and I could make a board and stones in about twenty minutes (I bought the pots from a local potter… it was simpler and she was nice), my overhead was pretty low and I could charge a pretty penny for my boards. I didn’t though. I wanted the games to spread and so I only priced them enough to make 40% profit on materials… and that was if I sold the boards at all. Most of them I gave away for cost or as presents.
Barral had introduced me to Simon, who ran a general goods shop called ‘Frontage’, and Simon had agreed to carry a selection of my games in his shop, and had been trying to convince me to set up a workshop and hire some apprentices to make the games. I’d considered it… the industry would be a good one to cultivate, but figuring out how to instruct people in my methods was… ummm… difficult? Maybe if I used Enchant I could create SMOOTHing and MODELing tools? But how did I guarantee that my tools didn’t escape into the wild and become a danger to others? I’d have to find something that limited how they were used… otherwise, a MODELing tool alone could become a nigh unstoppable thief’s tool.
I was, in fact, considering that problem as I sat in the Inn’s dining room, making notes and sketches while listening to the rain (and the banter between Dolan and Barral as they snapped their lentil shaped pieces down on the nineteen by nineteen grid), when Yae and Elze got back from Parent. I’d wanted to introduce strawberry shortcake, but it was deemed too messy, so I’d gone with my fall back, of strawberry vanilla (well, koko was the local version of vanilla, but close enough) sponge roll cake. It wasn’t as nice and damp as shortcake, but it was easier to pack up and carry, and as Parent’s bakery did a fair amount of take away, it was ultimately a better sell.
“Why were you two out in the rain?” I asked as they complained about how soaked they were and folded up their cloth and pine resin umbrellas in the entrance way.
“We were getting cakes!” Elze announced, proudly, holding up the bag of spoils of her shopping trip. Moments later, they were pulling four small white boxes of stiff white paper (the same stuff I was experimenting with using as card stock… I’d used tokens and tiles in Catan and just tiles in Milles Bornes). “One for Micah,” Elze said, handing over the box to the innkeeper’s daughter who promised to pay her back later, “And one for my darling sister.” Linze grinned at took hers.
“Who are the other two for?” I asked.
“One’s for me and Yae to share,” Elze said, sounding a little prim, “And the last is for you to deliver to the Duke.”
“Didn’t you eat any at the Cafe?” I asked, then blinked, “Wait… You didn’t get one for me? And what do you mean, deliver?”
Yae grinned, leaning into my personal space, “You could have come with us, if you wanted one.”
Elze added, “We did ask. Micah and Linze both said they wanted us to pick one up for them. You had your nose buried in your little hobby.” She peered at my notes, but since they were in Magoo, there was no way for her (and possibly anyone else on this world) to know what they said. Also, that page had sketches of a steam locomotive, a puddling forge, and a card maker.
“And who else can get to the capital in a matter of minutes?” Linze pointed out. “It’s only reasonable.”
“Why is it reasonable to get a duke cake?” I asked.
“It’s simple hospitality, is it not?” Yae said, “They were so welcoming to us, we should give them some kind of gift, yes we should.”
The other two nodded in sync, “Common sense, really.”
“Riight… Fine. Let me get my coat,” I sighed, putting my notebook back in my ring, then heading upstairs to grab my gear, sans weapons… then I took them anyway. Sure, I was dropping by for an unannounced visit, but who knew what plans prophecy might have. While I was up there, I grabbed copies of the four games. Common sense. Right. Gifts. For hospitality. Very traditional. Good thing parcel post wasn’t a thing in this world or we’d be writing thank you notes.
“Dear Constance, thanks ever so much for inviting us to your lovely home. The garden party was a treat Albert and I shall not soon forget. You must recommend your florist to us. Little Timothy, as you may remember, is graduating from the Naval Academy next month and you must join us for a little get together. Expect the invitation soon. Much love, Margaret, Countess of Ramsbottom.” Or something.
If the Duke approved of my presents, that was secondary to how much Sue and the Duchess enjoyed them. Sue had been practically drooling as I’d promised to pass the recipe on to their personal pastry chef, though I did have to point out that it was calorie rich and eating too much of it would require a commensurate amount of exercise. Then I’d had to translate what Calories and Commensurate meant and what, exactly, exercise was in this context. It seemed that, in Belfast (and most likely the rest of these lands) exercise was something that soldiers and warriors did, not wellbred ladies.
As I taught the Duke to play Go and Sue and her mother to play Othello, I explained the virtue of aerobic effort, prana-bindu muscle techniques, and tai-chi to help invigorate the body and focus the mind. I promised to return another day and begin their instruction… if they could prepare a room and appropriate attire for it. I even encouraged them to invite some of their other female friends and lady’s maids, saying that I could easily accommodate up to two dozen students at a time. I also hinted that perhaps having all the household staff do basic calisthenics every morning might improve their overall health and get the blood pumping before a day of cleaning and cooking. Even twenty minutes of tai-chi and jumping jacks could be a nice group effort.
I made my goodbyes to the Ortlindes and was about to head home, when I thought better of it and jumped to Parent instead (I’d checked the weather on my phone, the rain had stopped) then bought a scone and an individual cheesecake before stepping back outside and opening a [GATE] to God’s pad.
“Ah, young Jouya. You’re back. Come for another game of Go?” he asked, looking up from his TV which was showing what seemed to be a battle among at least two barbarian tribes. He turned off the TV and turned to face me as I laid the box on the table. “What’s this?”
“My friends tell me that this world prizes hospitality and repays it with little gifts,” I began. “I realized that I’d been remiss in thanking you for making the most of an unpleasant situation. You’ve been forthright about taking blame and have been gracious and considerate. By way of saying thank you, I have brought some treats that a friend of mine has been making to my recipes. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried scones or cheesecake… you have a TV which seems out of place for this world, so it’s possible, but,” I pushed the box forward a little. “Enjoy.”
God too, it seems, appreciates a good cheesecake. And he’s not half bad at Jenga either.
A few months later, we’d finally reached Green Rank, with Yae easily making up the difference caused by starting a bit later than we had. Elze had suggested that, to celebrate, we try some missions for Guild Offices other than the one in Reflet, as we’d essentially seen all the various climes surrounding the small town and were in danger of falling into a rut.
The others felt this was a wonderful idea, which of course meant that the obvious choice was to visit Alephis and pull a mission there. And that’s how we ended up at the ruins of the former capital city, abandoned a thousand years ago and now occupied by a Dullahan as well as several smaller monsters and beasts.
The only real threat was the headless dark spectre which was haunting the corroded and pitted black armor. In this world, Dullahan were a form of undead, and non-corporeal at that, safe for the possessed armor. Damage to the armor wouldn’t do anything to the spirit however, and we had no priest… which meant that Yae and Elze were all but useless against it, serving to do little but draw agro and kill off the other monsters who seemed to think “Oh look, Angry Headless Dave is fighting! Maybe we can eat the scraps.” What can I say? Monsters have bad decission making skills.
Apparently, we were but the latest adventurers in this cycle of cleanse and blow, as the only effort the Kingdom actually put into keeping the ruins monster-free was to hire a group of adventurers every so often to do a sweep before the monsters could get bad enough to pose a threat beyond the ruins themselves. And I could see why.
There really wasn’t much there to look at. The place had been almost completely razed, possibly by people hauling away the stones for other purposes, possibly by an endless series of boss fights, but whatever the reason, all that was left were a great many large blocks of stone, few of them stacked atop each other… at least above ground. We were walking on some fairly impressive foundation stones, massive slabs of quarried rock… but it didn’t look like actual foundations… were there levels underground?
I stood in the middle of the area and cast [SEARCH:ENTRANCES TO UNDERGROUND] and one pinged immediately, though it was mostly hidden in a big pile of rubble.
Before I could come up with a suitable solution for how to get the rocks out of the way… say, with a nice, simple Gate spell… Linze took matters into her own hands and blew up the entire pile of debris with an Explosion spell. I looked at the drifting fragments and brushed dust off myself as Elze and Yae picked themselves up. “Well… that works too, I guess. But Linze, my sweet… Let’s not use explosions to clear passages when we’re underground, shall we? We don’t need the roof falling on us… or to collapse more rubble ahead, right?”
She blushed crimson and nodded, but I patted her head. “No worries. Just excited. Hmmm… I think there’s a set of doors under there.” With a little judicious utilization of [MODEL] and [EDIT] to turn the dirt into a stack of unfired bricks, which I deposited in the clearing I used to test new spells up in the hills outside Reflect via [GATE], a pair of large steel doors were, in fact, uncovered.
“Well, that’s interesting,” I commented, bending down to examine them.
“What is it, that it is?” Yae said, hunkering down next to me to study the doors. “This metal is common steel, is it not?”
“As far as I can tell, yes… but that’s the thing, Yae… these doors have been buried for a thousand years. A thousand years of rain and snow… they should be covered in corrosion. And they’re not. They’re pristine.. And those hinges look fine too. I don’t think this is normal steel.” I stood up, brushed off my knees, then began walking the perimiter of the doors, casting [MODEL] every step.
The others watched in confusion as I reshaped the stone the doors were set into, pulling it back several centimeters until the entire door, and the stone augurs that had anchored it in place were free of the rock.
“What are you up to, Jouya?” Elze asked, poking the doors with her toe. “Can’t we just open them?”
“I’m practically certain we can,” I replied, but I am reminded of a story I once heard of some adventurers who were exploring the fabled Tomb of Horrors when they came upon doors made of the legendary material Adamantine. So rare and valuable was this substance, fabled for being the most durable of all materials, that they stole the doors and abandoned exploring the rest of the Tomb, figuring that no prize could be worth as much as the doors themselves. Now, I’m not saying these doors are those doors, but I’d like to have Barral look at these doors and see if he knows what they are. It’s possible they are simply enchanted steel, in which case… this was a good enchantment and we can sell these as Ancient Alephisian Palace Doors. But if they are some special metal, they might be worth more as raw materials.”
The others blinked at that, then Linze laughed. “That’s our Jouya, always seeing value in things other people would simply pass through without thinking about it.”
I blushed a little as Yae and Elze patted me on the back, then Gated the doors back to the small storage area that Barral had set aside for me where I could work on designs for new leaf-springs… And yes, the new wagons and carriages coming out of Reflet were incredibly popular and there was a backlog months long of people waiting for the new springs (and the custom assembly they had to be mounted on) to be ready for installation on their coaches, carriages, and wagons. Right now the price was extremely high, but only two smiths (and I) knew the secret to making spring steel of the type needed, so for now our monopoly was safe.
I’d been getting a nice little nest egg together, not that I’d told the others. We were just starting out as it was, but we couldn’t live our entire lives in an Inn, and having a place that was actually ours might be nice. I’d been shopping around, discreetly, but hadn’t found anything that had the right… hominess feeling. Of course, I was used to living in a colossal mansion, so my standards were, perhaps, a bit high, but I’d slummed it loads of times and been perfectly content as well. Maybe I’d have to build from the ground up.
Beyond the doorway was a spiral staircase that bored down deep into the bowels of, well, not The Earth, but whatever this planet was called…. Morris. To the bowels of the Morris… much better! After some time, the stairs finally opened out into a long corridor, straight and dark enough that Linze’s [LIGHT SPHERE] couldn’t even hope to light the length of it. It was damp and almost frosty down there, but the corridor was remarkably clean of molds or fungi or… any other debris. No cobwebs, no dust, just… nothing. It was like a videogame dungeon almost… but too boring and straight forward.
As we moved deeper, and Elze and Yae began to fret about ghosts or zombies… we were, of course, attacked by slimes! They boiled up out of channels that had to have been cut specifically for them in the passage, flanking us on both sides… but the joke was on them, as all our clothing was enchanted with durability and protection from acid. Of course, it didn’t make them any less gross and perverted, but that was hardly our first rodeo and we made short work of them.
Eventually, the ceiling got higher and soon enough we found ourselves in a vast chamber. The place was empty of furniture, but the back wall were decorated with a literal wall of text. It towered four meters up into the darkness and covered ten meters side to side and was covered in ideograms in the thousands. Each was approximately thirty square centimeters in area, and they were arranged in a meticulous grid with lines of blank wall separating them. A quick count confirmed that there were six-hundred and sixty from top to bottom and sixteen-hundred fifty-six from left to right. There was no way for me to know if the text was read left to right or right to left, or even if it was read top to bottom or not, but they were clearly arranged into groups six symbols across and twelve tall… pages, I guessed.
“Anyone have any idea what this text is?” I asked. It was certainly nothing like the local written language and looked fairly Mayan to me, but only in an abstract kind of way. None of them did, and Linze even confirmed that it wasn’t one of the ancient magical languages she had studied. “Right… I guess I should record it all… in case we can find someone who knows what all this is.”
My memory would have been good enough, no doubt, and I could use [DRAW] to replicate what I’d seen, but having a backup was never a bad idea, so I used the camera in my phone to capture each section… though I had to do it in batches, since there were 15,180 pages of text on the darn thing. Good thing they, like the rest of this place, were in practically perfect condition. As someone quite familiar with archeology, this was not normally the case. Even so, photographing the million plus symbols took almost an hour, as I had to make a tripod to keep the camera perfectly steady for each shot then line up the next. It was only twenty individual shots, but I took multiples of each with Linze moving her light orbs around to make certain we had all the angles for the carving.
Meanwhile, Elze had been exploring the other walls, and had found a spellstone of the Earth Attribute embedded in the wall on the right. Since I was the only one of us who could handle Earth Magic, there was much insistence that I ‘push the button’ as it were. I agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to do so… but only after the photographic preservation was complete… and it’s a darn good thing I did, because what we found beyond that innocuous looking Earth Gem was the sealed tomb of a giant blue crystal scarab beetle. It was about the size of a VW bug, had very smooth lines without a lot of the little details insects actually had, and some of the somewhat human looking limbs were broken… and unlike everything else in the ‘dungeon’ it was covered in sand and dust.
I was about to cast a wind spell to blow the covering detritus off of it, when I realized that Linze’s Light Globe was growing fainter. I’d been paying attention to the light level for nearly an hour… trust me, I noticed the difference. “Linze, you feeling okay?” I asked.
“Yes. I’m fine, why?”
“Your light is-”
At that moment, Yae yelped, “Jouya-chan!”
My gaze snapped to her face, then to where she was looking and I beheld a sullen red glow growing inside the scarab’s head. As we watched, the scarab began to shiver.
“It’s absorbing my spell!” Linze gasped.
“It’s regenerating,” Elze pointed out, backing out of the tomb.
Just then, it began making a terrible high pitched racket and I suddenly remembered just how far underground we were. “[GATE]!” I snapped, then yelled, “Run!”
Everyone scrambled through the portal, with me bringing up the rear and in the five seconds that evolution took to accomplish, the beetle-thing had managed to restore itself to the point it could move and was already launching itself across the gap. It was terribly fast and I flung myself backwards through the portal, sealing it just as the leading edge of the thing passed through. A shard of crystal fell from the thing… and stabbed right into the feldspar flagstone as if it was a hot knife through butter.
“Is it…?” Elze asked, glancing at the entrance to the underground a hundred paces away, but before I could answer, a deep rumbling came from beneath us and a gust of debris laden air surged out of the opening. The underground had probably just collapsed.
Yae breathed out in relief, but it was shortlived, as, within no more than ten seconds, the monstros thing managed to dig itself out from its rocky prison and charge at us, carving its way through the stone as if it was chalk… wet chalk.
Linze, ever the hothead, unleashed a Fire Arrow at it, but of course, the thing merely absorbed it.
“Linze, it’s a magic eater… fall back!” I called, drawing my swords and leaping between her and the creature. My blades had little effect and the creature was fast enough and strong enough that it managed to force me back, as well as shrug off attacks from both Elze and Yae. “Damn. All we’re doing is making it mad!”
Rapidly, I ran over my options in my head. I’d love to drop a big rock on its head, but it was fast enough that I doubted it would work, and I couldn’t bury it… I cast [TRIP] on it and stumbled slightly, but not enough to stop it from nearly skewering Yae. Linze hit it with a boulder made of ice, testing the theory that while it could absorb magic directly, it couldn’t absorb things created or summoned by magic, and while it certainly managed to hit it without being absorbed, it didn’t seem to do much actual damage.
Then again, when Elze used [BOOST] against it, even though she succeeded in shattering its leg with a single kick, it just regenerated… fuck, it was drawing on my mana. I felt the drain as a strong pull just as the leg began to reform. If I was shocked, Elze was caught so off guard that it managed to tag her, plunging the newly reformed leg right into her shoulder.
“Damn… Get back… Yae! Protect Linze, Linze, Heal Elze… I’ve got the beast!” I commanded… fuck… how do I… wait… the glow… that red bit had glowed when it had absorbed the spell… Ah! I cast [SLIP] on the ground in front of thing even as it charged at me, then [GATE] and jumped backwards through it again… 3… 2… 1… I snapped the gate closed just as the head of the creature slide through it, bisecting the red inner bit.
“Elze, smash the red part!” I snapped, lobbing the disembodied bug head towards her. My Gate had only carried me a couple meters and I sprung forward, summoning the biggest hammer I carried in my tool ring, and (spinning nearly full circle) brought it crashing down on the still unprotected half of the core in the main body. The material of the core was different from the rest of the body. Soft, brittle, almost malleable, and it exploded apart as it was caught between my hammer (or Elze’s gauntleted fist) and the rest of the creature’s much harder material.
The thing went still… then simply crashed to pieces, the pieces fragmenting more and more as the larger chunks lost the ability to support themselves. Linze commented “It looks like Spellstone.” then thought about it for a moment before announcing, “Jouya, can you make a Gate back to the the Duke’s place… I think we should inform the government of what we’ve found.”
“Government… oh… right. Sure!” I said, brushing myself off. “Elze, how’s the arm?”
She patted her sister on the head, “It’s good. Linze is good civilization.”
I blinked at that… that was an odd turn of phrase… I’d heard it before… somewhere? Or maybe I was just translating something innocuous in the local language into English by the power of God?
“I see. Fascinating,” Duke Alfred said, rubbing his chin, then leaned back in his chair as he thought. “I’ll arrange for a search party to be sent to investigate the ruins… and of course the monster you encountered.
“I’m pretty certain the ruins have collapsed, at least in part,” Linze said and Yae nodded in agreement. All three girls had gotten over their reticence to speak in front of the Duke and his wife by this point, of course. Familiarity breeds ease, right?
“Oh dear,” his lordship said. “I was ever so curious about what was written on that wall. I’ve always wondered why the capital was moved to Alephis… though the current location is nicer, I will admit.
“Oh, Jouya recorded it with her magic,” Linze said, explaining about the camera. “She’ll just make you copies of the images if you’re interested. Won’t you?”
I shrugged, but nodded. “Of course. Not like I can read it. It’ll take me a bit of time and quite a lot of paper.”
After getting a promise from the Duke to cover the expense, we headed home, emotionally if not physically drained by the day’s events. Over the next couple days, I did as promised, using [DRAW] to transform myself into a veritable Xerox machine. I did the pictures at broadsheet size, figuring that someone else could make the effort of transcribing all the many many characters onto actual pages. If I’d had my perks or tricorder, I could probably have translated it, but as of yet, I’d found no translation spells and if I’d had my gear and perks, I wouldn’t be in this world in the first place, so it was a bit of a trade off.
As I stepped out of the [GATE], set to deliver the pages, I found the Duke’s estate in a bit of moment, what with guards rushing about and opening the main gate to allow the Duke’s carriage to emerge. I took a couple steps to get out of the way and was all set to simply hand off the rolled pages to a servant when the carriage stopped and the Duke peered out.
“Jouya? Is that you my girl? Oh praise the heavens. Please, get in!” He looked most worried, as he flung the door open and hauled me up into the coach all in a single motion. “You have impeccable timing!” he said, sighing and then he started praying. “I give thanks to Him Above All for sending you to us at this time.”
I quirked my brow and smirked a little. No doubt God had, in fact, maneuvered either me or the event unfolding around me to make my timing this spot on. Of course, just because the Duke and God knew what was going on didn’t mean I had clue one. So I asked.
“My brother, the King… he’s been poisoned.” He looked shellshocked, and no wonder.
“Is he…” I began, hesitating to say the word. Speaking of the passing of royalty was often an incredibly bad thing to do, and if the King were alive, I didn’t want to jinks the poor man.
“Oh. No… He’s still hanging on. Treatment was delivered swiftly… but he’s not doing well.”
“Has the assassin been caught?”
“Oh… well,” he began, hands trembling as he gripped his knees hard enough to turn his knuckles white. “We have a suspect, but no proof. And I very much suspect that this crime has been perpetrated by the same fiends responsible for the attempt on my daughter.”
“Was it a foreign agent or a domestic enemy?” I asked. “This suspect, I mean?”
“We of Belfast have three neighbors. Refreese, with whom we have been on good terms for a great many years; Regulus, with whom we have had peace for twenty years since the signing of the Pact of Mictlan where my father and the father of the current Emperor pledged non aggression between our two lands; and Mismede, which had its genesis in that same war, but whose people bear us no animosity, since their lands were part of Regulus, not Belfast.”
“Non-aggression pacts are worth no more than the paper they are printed on,” I commented, “but I’d imagine that any movement from Regulus would be matched with troop movements.” He shook his head to indicate that there had been none as far as he knew, so I continued. “Mismede… how are your relations with them?”
“My brother has been trying to form an official alliance with them, partly to stave off the threat of another war with Regulus, but also to open up more trade routes,” Alfred explained. “However, there are those among our nobility who are quite…” he shrugged.
“Displeased? Unwilling to make an alliance with the Beastmen?” I asked, having done some reading up on the surrounding lands over the last few months, as well as talking to people about more recent history.
“Indeed,” he agreed. “Some of the older nobles loathe the idea of allying ourselves with, as they put it, ‘sub-humans’.”
“Ah. I know their type. Supremacists. Fearmongers and elitists. Have they begun stirring up the populace against such a union, or are they the kinds who view the common people as little more than a carpet to dry their feet upon?”
Alfred gasped, clearly not having thought about that, then considered. “Perhaps we are lucky, more than once, to have you with us. I doubt it would have occured to any of my brother’s advisors to even think of that… but we are also lucky that the old guard is, as you have said, too elitist to think of turning the people against the proposition… yet.”
“Are you your brother’s heir,” I asked, “Or is it this princess Yumina I’ve heard tell of?” I hadn’t been able to discover how the law of succession went in Belfast, but the King had no son. If he had, the question would have been simple, with the throne going to the boy, but without? Those I had spoken to had no idea.
“Ah… no. Were my brother to die, the throne would go to the Princess.”
“And the old guard would almost certainly attempt to maneuver her into marrying one of their sons?” He nodded. “Then, once she’d born her Prince-Consort a son of the body, she’d probably be quietly disposed of,” I said, voice tight with anger. I hated people who viewed others as nothing more than political pawns. Viewing them as people and political assets was normal and to be expected… but some operators forgot that the Great Game was only stable as long as everyone in power was concerned more with the health of the state than their own profit.
The Duke eyed me then, and after a long moment said, “You understand much for one of your tender years.”
“I have had a… unique education,” I allowed as we pulled up through the castle gates and rolled up to the palace itself. It was massive, as massive as only a fairytale fantasy castle really can be, and extremely clean, without a trace of soot or candles. They must have lit the place with Light Magic… and possibly cleaned it with magic as well. I’d found a number of cleaning spells in my book. They were among the most common of all magics, as it happened.
As we entered the main hall, we ran into a fat little toad of a man, the kind with a combover and rings on all his chubby fingers and a voice as unctuous as a tub of bacon grease. “Well well, if it isn’t His Highness, the Duke,” the wart in human flesh oozed, “It is good to see you again.”
“Hello, Count Balsa,” Alfred said, voice carrying with it a feel of being so fucking done with the man.
“You can rest easy,” Balsa gloated, far too cheerful for a man whose monarch was dying even now. “We’ve captured the one who tried to assassinate His Majesty.”
“Yeah. It was you,” I said without thinking. I hadn’t even had to open my third eye, but I did now, peering into the heart and soul of the Count. Black through and through.
“Wha… oh, yes, it was me who captured the assassin,” Balsa puffed up with pride, absolutely certain that I couldn’t have meant it the other way. His plan was flawless! “It was the ambassador from Mismede. His Highness collapsed after drinking a glass of wine, and we later discovered that it was the very wine the ambassador had offered as a gift.”
Before the Duke could respond, I clarified. “Uh. No. You poisoned the glass. The wine itself isn’t poisoned. Could you be any more obvious? I bet you’re trying to get back into the room to clean up the mess even now.” It wasn’t that I could read his mind per se, but I could read his expression and I’d been a detective and read approximately all the detective fiction ever written on a couple Earths. Balsa wasn’t just guilty, he was smug in the face of death. I turned to look up at the Duke, “Have your men arrest this fat fool so we can get to the king before this idiot’s plan succeeds and I have to figure out how to stop a war.”
Balsa turned pale, gaping like a fish, then turned to flee. I watched him hurry down the sweeping staircase for about three steps, then cast [TRIP] under my breath. He was lucky he had so much padding, it really helped protect him as he bounced down the remaining steps and sprawled, dazed and bruised on the gleaming marble of the Palace’s main foyer. He was promptly surrounded by Kingsmen and hauled back up the stairs.
“Hold him,” the Duke commanded, then led the way to his brother’s chambers.
“You know he probably had accomplices,” I said, having little trouble keeping up.
“Are you certain it was him? Can you prove it?” the Duke asked.
“Am I certain? Yes. His guilt cannot hide from my eyes. As for proof? Check the glasses with your poison snoopers… and question whoever prepared the King’s glass. That’s going to be an accomplice almost certainly.”
As we entered the King’s chamber, I was still flaring my third eye, scanning everyone to see how much of a threat they were. Most of the people in the room were good people, stressed, depressed, or angry. A few were harder, more seasoned. They had killed, but were not monsters, merely soldiers. The King himself was a good man, honest, forthright, and compassionate. He even had his ego in check, which is always nice to see in a monarch with absolute rule. He was under a bit of stress, and he was, indeed, dying. At his side were two women, a girl and her mother, clearly the Princess and Queen respectively, and both were, of course, absolutely wrecked.
Alfred approached the bed, motioning for me to follow, and asked for a status update, which spurred the king to open his eyes and begin the process of transferring responsibility to one he trusts. I’d seen it more than once in my many centuries of life, but saw no reason to prolong the man’s suffering and so I stepped to the King’s side, ignoring the splendidly moustached General who moved to stop me only to be blocked by the Duke’s hand.
“I seek a great boon, Come, essence of health! [RECOVERY]” I intoned, using a more complete form of the incantation that I’d managed to piece together from studying the local magic as much as I had. Yes, I could have said just the spell’s name, but using the full form more than doubled the resultant effect in most cases, though it also took more concentration and mana. Certainly, Recovery was an all or nothing spell, but the difference between all or nothing in this case was death, so I didn’t stint. Also, I had an audience. I might as well play to it. I then followed that up with a [CURE HEAL] and [RESTORE VIGOR], just to be complete about it. It wasn’t like I couldn’t spare the juice.
The King took a deep breath, then another. His complexion cleared from the deathly pallor it had had and regained the pink of health. He blinked a few times and the film that had covered his eyes faded too and was replaced with light. He sat up then, throwing off his blankets, and gasped, flexing his hands, then gave a shout of inarticulate joy and grabbed his wife and daughter in a crushing hug.
“Oh, Father! Are you truly better?” the girl asked, half sobbing in relief, half laughing.
“I feel quite grand, actually,” the King said, then turned to his brother, “Alfred, who is this boy?”
Alfred laughed as I blushed. I’m not thaaat flat… I have curves… though I was wearing my jacket and might top was pretty tight… fine… I looked a bit like a boy. “This is that same young Jouya Sochizuki who restored Ellen’s sight. Providence was with us, for no sooner had I left my gate than I spied her coming to visit us. Knowing the efficacy of her magic, I brought her along in the hopes that she could save you.”
“And indeed you have!” The King laughed, then extended a hand to me. “You have saved my life and my family much suffering. For both you have my sincerest gratitude.”
“Indeed!” General Moustachio boomed, slapping me on the back had enough to relocate my spine. Even with my strength, I staggered under the blow… that had hurt! Dude be strong! “You have done a great service to Belfast in saving our King’s life! Sir Jouya then, is it? I like the look about you!”
The capital’s High Priestess chided the General for his enthusiasm, and pointed out that I was female. I nodded up to her… she had a very nice staff, one of those jangling buddhist ones with the rings.
“Brother,” Duke Alfred said, “We have a large problem. Balsa has had the Mismedian Ambassador arrested for attempting your murder.” He held up a hand to forestall the King’s denial. “I have had Balsa arrested in turn for attempting to murder you and frame the Mismedian Ambassador. Jouya is all but certain that the Count arranged for your glass to be poisoned.” The conversation drifted into the realm of commands and the King sent the General, whose name was apparently Leon, to fetch the accused, but I wasn’t paying much attention.
Instead, I was being stared at by the pretty blonde Princess of the realm. “Ummm… Thank you very much for saving my father’s life,” she said, voice sweet and kind. She gave me a little bow. She looked much like Sue, more like sisters than cousins, with the same gorgeous blonde hair and the same wide eyes… though hers were heterochromic, one blue, one green. It probably meant something portentous. My third eye told me that she was wiser than her years, a gentle soul with an iron resolve, and she too had some strange effect as I closed my spiritual gaze. In her case, there was a golden light suffusing her, like the light of dawn. How interesting.
Ancient eyes, ethereal winds, and now a golden light. The others had come in pairs… would another golden light girl be coming along at some point in the near future? I checked her outfit for an astrological symbol and found, in the clasp of the ribbon ‘round her neck, a circle quartered by a cross. The symbol of Earth.
“You’re staring at me,” she said, blushing deeply.
“Yeah… well… ditto,” I replied, smiling at her. “But don’t worry about your dad, he’ll be fine.”
“Still, that’s thanks to you.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I consider healing others a duty. One I’m more than willing to do, but a duty nonetheless. To withhold my gifts from any, be they king or commoner, would be to cast doubt upon the grace of those who gave me such gifts.”
She smiled, then asked, somewhat shyly. “Do you dislike younger women?”
“Uh… no? Should I?” I asked, perplexed by the question. At most, she was a year younger than my current form. Was she being territorial? Or was she asking if I wanted to be friends in a very round about way.
Before I could ask for a clarification, a pretty blonde fox-girl entered the room, flanked by the General and a young man who looked to be his son. “Ambassador Strand, as requested, my Lord,” General Leon announced, and I realized I recognized her. She was the missing older sister of the little fox-girl Arma.
“Ah!” I said, intelligent. “Forgive me. I was unaware that you were an Ambassador when we met that day in the city,” I bowed and smiled. “Has Arma gained a better sense of the city sense then?”
The Ambassador, and indeed, everyone else in the room looked surprised. Possibly because I’d dared speak before the king could… I’ve never been one to stand on ceremony, but then again, I had been an Ambassador too, once upon a time. Refuge in audacity works wonders. “Jouya! What are you doing here?” Olga asked.
“You know the ambassador?” the Duke asked.
“I found her little sister lost in the shopping district that day we met, as a matter of fact,” I explained. “It was the same day I used your gracious gift to buy this coat which has served me so well… anyway, Olga, I take it that you did not attempt to poison the King?”
She humphed, “I certainly did not! I swear upon my life, upon my honor, that I have done no such thing!”
“I thought as much,” the king said, smiling, “You did not strike me as the type. You have too much love for your country to be so foolish.” He nodded, rising from the bed at last and straightened his clothing. “That still leaves us with an attempted regicide to find, however.”
What happened next was the biggest farce of a drawing room scene I’d ever witnessed. Everyone gathered in the banquet hall where the King had collapsed and a quick [SEARCH: POISON] revealed that the goblet had in fact been the vector. I conferred with the green haired lady with the staff, who turned out to be the court magician, Miss Charlotte, and not a priestess after all, then we had the Baron Harkonnen’s incompetent cousin brought in and offered him a drink… from a fresh bottle of wine, but from the goblet set at the king’s place.
He of course, tried to resist, but the General would hear nothing of it and poured the wine down the fat fuck’s throat. He immediately began wailing about how he was dying, which, of course, was true.
I knelt next to him, and said, “Now, if you don’t want to die, you’ll tell us everything. I healed the King, I can save you too… but my magic doesn’t work on liars.”
The confessions came fast and furious, and I doubt it occured to the smug idiot that he was signing his own death warrant even as he begged for his life. It turns out his accomplices were the waiter and the poison tester, and that he had hired the summoner who’d attempted to kidnap Sue… and that he’d been embezzling from the treasury and was doing some smuggling and oh god, the pain. Yada yada, RECOVERY… I didn’t toss in the other two… he could suffer a bit, the traitor.
Of course, I had to stay for tea. The King and the Duke would hear nothing of it, and they cheerfully discussed what would happen to the Count. He’d be executed, of course, his assets escheating to the state, and his family atainted, though they’d be allowed to keep their lives, though they too would be stripped of titles and banished. He had no wife or children, and his other relations were all firmly in the Old Guard camp. Those who pleaded fast enough might even safe their fortunes, but they’d be watched. Oh yes, Belfast did not look kindly upon traitors and the Count and his family would be used to set a very notable example for others who thought opposing the King was wise.
“Honestly, my girl. I am truly in your debt. I should very much like to bestow some gift upon the woman to whom I owe my life. Is there anything you desire?” He was almost pleading.
“Think nothing of it. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. As I told your daughter, having the power to heal others is a rare thing in this world and it behooves me to use that gift where and when I can. To demand recompense would be to put a value on life. I deserve nothing more than your thanks, the same as if I had dived into the lake to pull you to safety should you be drowning.”
“Are you truly so lacking in avarice, young lady?” the Duke asked, chuckling.
“Oh no. I’m as willing as any other adventurer to claim a reward I have earned, but what good is money on its own. Money is but a tool to improve the lives of others.”
“And yourself?” the King asked.
I shrugged. “As long as I have food to eat, a roof to sleep under, and good people to share my life with? I am unconcerned with riches. I have seen such treasure in my years, and know how fast the love of money can turn someone down a dark path.”
“You are a curious girl,” Miss Charlotte said. “The ability to use two Null spells, [RECOVERY] and [SEARCH]… that’s quite a rare gift.”
“Oh heavens no,” Duke Alfred said before I could respond. “Only two? Jouya here can use at least… five. Yes… Five, I think. She tripped Balsa down the stairs, she uses [GATE] to visit me all the time, and she makes the most fascinating games using… what was it? [MODEL]?”
Charlotte looked dumbfounded, and I could only shrug. “Five? Truly? Only the Faeries can use so many!”
“Ah… that is… I can actually use every spell I’ve found.”
“Yes. As far as I know. I’ve experimented with over eight hundred so far and haven’t found any that I can’t cast… once I have a handle on the limits and specific… where’s she going?” I asked as Charlotte rose to her feet and practically scampered from the room. The others merely shrugged.
“So! You were the one who made that Go game?” the King asked, “Al brought it over and we were most impressed. He says you’re unbeatable… was it really crafted by way of magic?”
I shrugged, scratching the back of my neck. I’m all for showing off, but this was getting silly. Still, he was a king, and a nice fellow, so I plucked up one of the spoons and cast [MODEL] on it. Swiftly, the silver flowed and became a little toy soldier version of the King.
“Incredible! Can you do that with other materials?”
“Oh sure… I’d have used a glass, but there aren’t any. Bone china would work too, but it seemed a shame to disfigure such a fine tea service.”
The king summoned a servant and the servant returned within moments carrying a bin full of shards of glass and china. “We keep the pieces to provide to one of our local artisans who does mosaics and such, but feel free to use anything.”
I nodded, looking through the bin and pulled out a long shard of rose glass, as red as blood and full of luster, then a chunk of crystal pitcher and some gold trimmed china. I set them down on the table in front of me and worked my magic on them. A minute later, three figurines stood there, the King, the Queen, and the Princess, all worked in find china, with hair of pure gold and clothes of crimson and gold. The king and his brother were stunned.
“This is a gift worthy of a King,” the King said, picking up the statuette of his wife and tracing the true to life features. “Such detail!”
The Duke could only nod and look at me with pleading eyes, so I had to work up another set, this time using some blue and green artisanal glass for the outfits.
“To think you could accomplish this from scraps and shards… Ah Charlotte, you’ve returned!”
Indeed, the court magicienne came rushing back in, her arms full of a great many things and her face set in a look of focus so intense that I almost too a step back as she loomed over me. “Child! Can you read this!?” she demanded, thrusting a piece of parchment towards me.
“Mmm… no? I have only just finished learning your local language… what is it?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she said “So you can’t. Good. How about this spell? Do you think you could use it?” She showed me a page from one of the tomes she was carrying, a bulky dusty thing that looked quite old. Still, it was written in the Belfastian tongue and I could read it. It described a spell called [READING] which, according to the book would allow the caster to read unfamiliar languages… as long as the name of the language was known to the caster.
“I… think so… but do you happen to know the name of the language that that sample is written in?” I asked, squinting up at her and trying not to be a little intimidated by the older woman’s height, breasts, and intensity.
“It is called ‘Ancient Spirit Script’ and there is almost nobody in the entire world who can read it.”
“Very well… [READING]: Ancient Spirit Script!” I blinked, then hmmmed. “Well… that’s as clear as mud.”
“You can’t read it?”
“Oh, I can. It’s just written entirely in jargon that I’m not familiar with. Degment, Origin Magic, Soma-arts, Edos… stuff like that.”
“You can read it!” she practically crowed, doing a little happy dance that befitted either a Jumper too old to care about such things as acting her age or a child upon being given a puppy. “That’s amazing! With this, our research will progress by leaps and bounds… read this one now!” She thrust another parchment at me. And I could tell that most of what she was carrying was a pile of books she needed translating… this could be problematical… no, wait… I had an idea.
I went over to the bin and found the clearest chunk of glass I could, and grabbed another spoon. “If you’ll forgive me, your majesty?” He nodded, intrigued by what I was doing, but Charlotte was peering at the stuff with her usual focus and getting in the way. “If you don’t mind… please move your bosom… thank you…” I pushed her gently to the side and cast [MODEL] and [ENCHANT] in rapid succession, imbuing the resultant pair of spectacles with the [READING] spell. “Here,” I said, thrusting the glasses towards her. “They go on like this.” I demonstrated with my sunglasses, then motioned for her to put them on.
“I don’t…” she began, but I thrust the original document under her nose.
“Read. I have neither the interest nor time to dedicate to being your full time translator, and from the look of what you have, that’s what I’d be.”
She nodded, engrossed in what she was reading, her body language shifting from confused to extatic in moments. “How long will they last?”
“As far as I know? It should be permanent… but if they wear out, break, or you need another language, contact me and I’ll make another pair.”
“You’re giving them to me?!”
“Rather, the King is giving them to you. They’re made from his property. All I did was shape and enchant them.”
She squealed and hugged me, her breasts threatening to smother me… and then, like the wind, she was gone.
“She is the most talented magical researcher we have,” the King said sheepishly as I wobbled back to my seat, “But one something catches her interest…” He trailed off, sighing deeply.
“You must be proud of her,” I commented. “Is she your mistress?”
The king blushed. “Oh. That is… yes. I haven’t married her because the public might think I was setting aside Yuel for not giving me a son.” Polygamy among the upper-classes was far from unknown in this world, and a King taking multiple wives was practically expected.
Yuel nodded. “We’ve been trying to give Yumina a little brother… it would be so nice to have another child. Or two.”
“What am I to do with that girl until then,” the King sighed, shaking his head. “Still, thank you for your present. It was most appreciated.”
“Eh. No worries, your majesty.”
“Tell me, are you really an adventuress? At your age?” the Queen asked.
“Aye. Me and three of my friends. Elze, Linze, and Yae.”
“Four girls? Are you all of an age?”
“Yae is two years older than I am, and Elze and Linze are a year older. They’re twins.”
“And you don’t worry about…” the Queen glanced at her daughter, then back at me. “Your safety without a man around?”
I chuckled, “I can be a man, if I want to. But no. I’m quite enough protection for them and they’re quite enough protection for me. We look after each other… and any man foolish enough to try something would find out just how sharp Yae’s sword is… right before Elze’s fist erased his memory. I suspect Linze would try and heal him up so he could face the local magistrate, but I’d probably just [GATE] him someplace far away, to be honest. Those types seldom learn.”
Yumina, who’d been silent for most of the tea, was staring at me again. STAAAAAAAARE! She was really quite good at that.
“If you keep doing that, your eyes will fall out and then you’ll have to call in servants to find them and they’ll trip on your eyes and fall and hurt themselves,” I said, poking the princess on the button nose.
She giggled, then blushed. “You’re silly.”
“Usually,” I agreed.
She stood then and faced her parents. “I have made a decision,” she announced, voice strong, no nonsense… very princesslike. I tensed. She was going to demand I become her handmaiden or bodyguard or… or tutor or something else annoying. I could just feel it. “I…” she paused, then collected herself, blushing a little. Why was she blushing?! “I would like to take Jouya as my… as my Consort.”
Consort? Like… companion?
“Consort?” the King asked, “ah… yes. You mean as in….”
“As in Husband, but of the female pursuasion,” the Queen said, spelling it out.
“Yes, Father,” Yumina said, “I would like to take Jouya as my husband of the female persuasion… she did say she could be a man if she wanted to. That’s good enough for me.”
“Oh my!” the Queen giggled “So forceful!” She took Yumina’s hands in hers and said “I support you completely in this, my darling… but are you certain of your reasons?”
“She saved father. That is, of course, a factor. But more than that, my Jouya has a charisma and charm that brings happiness to those around her.” Her Jouya? When had I become Her Jouya! I was my Jouya! “Even with Uncle Alfred and Charlotte, she has done nothing but bring joy… Her kindness and strength are a wonderful balance, her compassion and resolve make her a fitting consort, and she makes me laugh. I would be happy to live out my days by her side.”
“I see…” the King said, nodding sagely. “Well then. If this is your decision, far be it from me to stop you. I wish the two of you nothing but happiness!”
“Don’t I get a say in this?” I asked, flabergasted at the speed at which this conversation had gone from relatively normal to the lolita yuri twilight-zone.
“Ahh. My appologies, my dear girl. I trust you’ll take good care of my daughter,” King Tristwin (for that was his name) said, patting my shoulder.
“This is madness!” I commented. “You barely know anything about me! I barely know anything about the princess. We’re practically complete strangers. I’m an itinerant adventuress without a family name, fortune, or property to my name! Certainly you can’t seriously be okay with the princess marrying someone like me?”
“Oh, have no worries on that count,” Queen Yuel said, “If our Yumina has approved of you, you are of a certainty a good person. Our daughter posseses the Mystic Eyes of Soul Perception.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“My eyes allow me to see the true nature or personality of anyone I cast my gaze upon,” the little blonde princess explained.
“She’s never wrong,” the Duke explained.
“I… huh,” I grunted. A local version of the Third Eye? Interesting. Perhaps we should compare notes. No, wait. Marriage… this was madness and not Sparta… “Uh… how old is the Princess?” I asked.
“I’m twelve,” she said.
“Right… right… don’t you think it’s a little early for marriage?”
“Not at all,” the King said, “I was only fourteen when Yuel and I married, and she was only thirteen.” He took his wife’s hand and squeezed it and she smiled up at him and leaned against his side, sighing happily. It was soo sweet I wanted to gag a little.
“Jouya?” Yumina clung to my sleeve and turned on the sad puppy pout “Do you dislike me?”
“No! Of… of course not! This… It’s only… this is like…” I sighed and slumped my shoulders. “I’m not going to be able to get out of this, am I?”
“Wonderful! We’ll post the bans immediately!” the King anounced.
“Noo… ummm… no… not… can’t we take this a little slower…”
The King and queen considered, then nodded. “Perhaps you’re right. It would be sudden. You’re thirteen now… let’s give it two years. That will be plenty of time for you to get established, make a name for yourself… and to plan the wedding!” the Queen said, clapping her hands. “We’ll just have a nice little betrothal ceremony in the meantime!”
Great… I’d be fifteen and Yumina would be fourteen. Sooo much better…
“Jouya, my girl,” Tristwin said, “Why not take the next two years to get to know my Yumina better. If, after those two years are up, you still are uneasy, we can give up on the idea. How does that sound?”
Feeling pressured, and seeing no way to flat refuse without giving offense, I nodded.
“Good!” Yuel said, clapping her hands. “Now darling, you’ve got to years to steal this girl’s heart. If you fail, you’ll have to live out the rest of your days as a nun.” She was teasing… right?
Yumina snapped to attention, “Of course, Mother!” she announced. She wasn’t serious… this can’t be happening to me… “I’m in your care, darling.”
“Care?” I asked, feeling like the world was spinning. I tried to sip my tea, but it was all gone… I needed some whisky… a bottle or three.
“And that’s why the princess here will be staying with us,” I announced as I (and my new fiancee) arrived at the Silver Moon. Elze looked exasperated, Yae and Linze dumbfounded… all three of them had their gaze fixed on the little blonde clinging possessively to my arm. It’s good to see such solidarity. Clearly, my friends were as astounding by this turn of events as I was. Maybe, we could collectively disuade the Princess from this rashness.
“Sooo… Princess… whever are you doing here, pray tell?” Elze asked.
“My father has declared that I shall live with my Jouya as part of my bridal preparations… and to learn more about the outside world. I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you!”
The others blinked at the power of Yumina’s charisma attack, then Elze asked “Live together? Here? In the same room as Jouya?”
Yae humphed. “I share Jouya’s rooms, I do.” It was true. It made more sense to rent two rooms than three, and breaking up the sisters Silhouska would have been silly.”
“Oh… I’m certain we can share,” Yumina announced calmly. “I’m used to sleeping in the same room as my ladies in waiting… it will be a first for me, not be surrounded by servants all the time. I’m very much looking forward to this. ANd you needn’t be so still. I’m certain I can rely on you all to help me get used to this and I resolve that I shall do my best to ensure that I don’t slow you down or become a burden.” She fell into a cute imitation of a boxer’s pose and shadowboxed a few times. Sooo cute! No… stop that…. No hugging the adorkable princess. It’s all a fiendish plot to… to… Good lord, I was trapped in a Yuri tween fantasy.
Next, Yae and one of the sisters would pair up… or there would be a love triangle of some sort! I could feel the wheels of genre cliches trying to turn beneath me! I would be strong… no matter how cute. This would not turn into EssJay does Strawberry Panic… oh… wow… that would be a jump… it would be like tossing a chocoholic into a candy store. Even worse… MarMite… Such elemental purity… I’d turn it into Strawberry Panic in a week, wouldn’t I?
Eventually, we got Yumina settled, and convinced her to stop calling me ‘Her Jouya’ and to cling a little less. She insisted on joining the Guild so she could come on adventures with us… and turned out to be quite impossibly skillful with a bow and not half bad with magic either. While Linze knew Fire, Water, and Light; Yumina knew Fire, Air, and Darkness, which included Summoning spells. She explained that she had contracted with three different magical beast; Silver Wolves, Emerald Scarabs, and Wind Mantas… though she phrased it as ‘Only Three’ which I couldn’t quite tell if that was bragging or humility.
The room situation was complicated as the trio didn’t quite trust the princess not to get up to something and, funny as it sounds, seemed like they were trying to protect my virtue. Anyway, Yae didn’t want to give up being roommates, but Yumina said that wasn’t fair. I suggested that Yae and Yumina could pair up and I’d take the third room, but I was told quite firmly that I should go back to tinkering and let the ‘group’ settle it. Apparently I wasn’t considered part of the group. Humph. In the end, lots were drawn and a rota was set, changing up roommates for everyone for a week. The system was needlessly complex, but renting four or five rooms still seemed silly. We were only sleeping, right?
Of course, I noticed a flaw in their plan almost immediately. Each of them got one week in the single room, but I didn’t. They argued that it didn’t make sense for me to complain, since there were only four weeks in a month, but I insisted. Anyway, I slept less than they did. Anyway, it was the fourth day of the local seven day week, Waterday, so I announced their rota could start on next Godday, the local equivalent of Saturday.
As I taking a walk later that night, clearing my thoughts, my phone began to ring for the first time since I’d come to this world, my general ringtone sounding the goofy tones of The Hamster Dance. Who could be calling, I wondered… then realized who it had to be, since God was the only one with a phone I knew of.
“Hi God. How goes?”
“It goes well enough. Everyday is Godday when you’re God, after all,” he said with a little chuckle. “Anway, Congratulations on your engagement, Jouya my girl.”
“I thought you weren’t messing around with my destiny any more,” I grumbled.
“Oh. No no. Mere coincidence. I promise. I had thought to check in on you, only to discover your amusing little situation. The princess is a good girl. She’ll make an excellent wife, I’m certain.”
“Great… only I’m what, thirteen? She’s twelve. It’s cute and all, and so is she… but marriage? I’m not certain about that. Can’t we just be friends?”
“Haha… How stubborn you are. Just a reminder that polygamy is perfectly normal in this world. You should take any girl who strikes your fancy and make a wife out of her.”
“Uh… you do know that I’m female, right?” I asked, ignoring the divine teasing. “Most societies of this level usually view marriage as being all about producing an heir. And I can’t gendershift without my p…” I trailed off. I’d been about to say without my perks from Ranma, but like my Third Eye… or my Copy Cat Technique (also from Ranma), I’d used my gendershifting so much that it had become part of every one of my alts… then again, the same should have been true of my ice powers, so I’d simply assumed. I flexed my will… and nothing happened. Yeah, that was about what I’d figured…
A thought floated into my head and a word appeared in my mind. [CHANGE]. I blinked. Then I asked, “Did you do that?”
“Oh no. Not I. It must be one of your native Null Spells. You should give it a try though.”
“My outfit is fairly tight and, if history is any guide, my male forms have been bigger than my female forms and I don’t want to tear my shorts.”
“Aren’t your shorts enchanted, like all your clothing?”
“Oh. Right… Good point.” I sighed, then whispered, “I seek a Golden Gift! [CHANGE]” and with a puff of steam from nowhere, my form rippled and shifted, my clothes changing only slightly. I blinked, looking down at myself. “I’m… the same size?” I jogged back to the hotel and entered my private room, standing in front of the mirror as I undressed. Dear lord… I was a newhalf! If anything, I was even more feminine in my male form than my female form. If I wore a dress in this form, I’d be a trap! I quickly transformed back before a seme showed up to claim his uke-waifu. This was getting dangerous!
I quickly did a mental catalogue of all the bishonen fellows I’d met so far, but thankfully they were in short supply. I was safe.
“Well,” I said to God who’d been patiently on pause, “It seems to have worked… but not very profoundly.”
“Well, you’re young yet. That might change. At any rate, everyone here is looking forward to seeing how things go for you. Do your best out there, yes?”
“That’s easy for you to… wait… What? What do you mean, everyone?”
“Oh. All the gods of the Divine Realm, of course. They’re not subscriber grade, so they don’t get adventures from other Realities. This is a real treat for them! And they’ve been really enjoying those games you keep bringing over. They like Catan and Jenga most though. Do you have anything suitable for gambling?”
I grumbled something, then sighed. “Yeah. I do… I’ll whip up a Backgammon set for you. It was on my shortlist anyway. Give me a few minutes.”
Ten minutes later, dressed again and carrying a folding wooden backgammon board, I appeared in God’s room. “So… how many other gods are there?”
“Oh, a great many. I’m the God of Worlds, the highest of the high in this reality… which includes this world and the Undertale world. Besides me, there are the lower gods, gods like the God of Hunting, God of Swords, God of Agriculture… and of course, the God of Love. She’s taken a particularly keen interest in you. She and I were thinking that we could come to your wedding as your mother and grandfather, since you don’t have any family in this realm. Won’t that be fun?”
“Fun… right… sure. I… I think I’ll be going now…”
“But you haven’t shown me how to play the new game,” he said, pouring me some tea… once again, there was a cherry twig floating in it. That was supposed to signify luck, wasn’t it? Too many superstitions to keep track of, too many eras.
I sat down, “You could read the instructions,” I pointed out.
“I could. But learning hands on is better,” he replied. So that’s why I was so tired the next morning when we headed off to the guild to get Yumina (wearing clothing borrowed from the twins) her card.
“So, if Jouya marries Yumina, would that make Jouya next in line for the throne?” Elze asked.
“I’m a girl,” I pointed out.
Yumina ignored me, “Yes, that’s right. Though in order for that to happen, the nobles and citizens would have to approve him. That’s of course until my parents have a son. Then he’d supplant me as Heir Apparent. Until then, Jouya would be in line to be the King.”
“I’m a girl,” I repeated.
“But you can be a boy if you want, right?” Yumina said.
“Well, yes. I do have a spell that covers that. But that’s just physical. I still wouldn’t be a King. Why can’t you be a Queen Regnant?”
“Because I’d rather my husband be King. It’s tradition!” Yumina said, stamping her foot adorably.
“I have no intention of becoming a King. An Empress, maybe. But not a King.”
“We could have a son and then he’d be next in line to the throne,” Yumina said, stammering a little and blushing deeply.
“I… I’m not going to touch that with a three meter pole… come on, let’s get you some weapons and protective gear. That’s much more practical than an heir at the moment,” I said, wondering why the trio were blushing nearly as deeply as Yumina. For christ’s sake. Babies weren’t embarrassing! A pain in the butt, but not embarassing.
King Tristwin had wanted to make certain that the little blonde princess was taken care of, even if she wasn’t in the palace surrounded by guards and would be out monster-hunting and bandit-hunting and just hunting in general, so he’d provided her with a small stipend to pay her way and get equipment. And by small stipend I mean fifty platinum or on the order of 38 million dollars.
Yumina picked up some good defensive magic and a composite longbow, as well as a magical spear and a helmet that looked something like a hybrid of Athena’s and a Valkyrie’s… it even had a hole for her ponytail. For armor, she picked up a white leather breastplate and matching white boots, and a quiver of a hundred magical silver arrows that returned to the quiver when summoned by tapping a little rune on the buckle.
As usual, when we got to the Guild, there were several older adventurers, all men, who approached us, hinting that a group of young ladies like ourselves clearly needed a penis or two to keep us safe (and of course, if we wanted to show our appreciation, no one would complain, right?). Thankfully, they took no thank you for an answer, or at least had since the time I’d demonstrated how far I could force someone’s arm up his own rectum when he hadn’t.
We’d been planning on getting a lower ranked mission, something that Yumina could handle, but she insisted that we get a Green Ranked mission so she could show off her skills, and we ended up going after some King Apes in an area we hadn’t been to before. We took the carriage that the local carter had made us as partial payment (and moving advertising) for the new spring system, though we were still renting the horses since I had no idea how to make an artificial one yet and owning horses meant feeding horses.
It took about three hours to get from the closest [GATE] point to the general area of the South Woods, and when we arrived, my [SEARCH] spell wasn’t able to locate the Apes, thanks to the limited range of the spell, even when I cast it on my phone. “Well… this is going to take a while,” I groused.
“I could use my wolves to find the monsters,” Yumina suggested.
“Wolves?” Yae asked.
“Oh yes. I have a summoning contract with a pack of Silver Wolves. They’re very good at tracking,” the Princess explained, stepping a little away from us and calling out, “Come Forth, Darkness! I seek the proud beasts wrapped in silver! [SILVER WOLF]!” And with that, set of five circles, looking every inch like you’d imagine magic summoning circles crafted out of liquid shadows traced themselves on the ground. A moment later, rising out of the ground like submarines rising out of water, came five medium-sized wolves with silver fur. Once they were fully emerged, they started wagging their tails and barking and running round and round the small princess… these were clearly more pets than hunting beasts, but only a fool underestimated how dangerous a dog could be to its owner’s enemies.
“I’m mentally linked to them, so I’ll be able to tell immediately if they find anything,” she said, scritching the largest behind the ears.
“They look like very good boys,” I commented, wondering what the etiquette for petting someone else’s summons was.
“Oh. They are,” Yumina confirmed, but she didn’t offer to let me find out, instead saying “Alright boys, I’m counting on you!” They barked in agreement, then dashed off into the forest, spreading out for maximum coverage.
“Huh. Must be nice having puppies on tap like that,” I commented, missing Ziggy and Sophie and Alegra and the ratbears… I wondered if they were missing me.
“You could summon some of your own. I mean, not Silver Wolves, but whatever you’re contracted to.”
“I’m not contracted to anything.”
“I thought you could use Dark Magic,” Yumina said, confused.
“I am! I mean, I can… in theory. I know some Dark combat spells like Darkness and Shadow Bolt. But I’ve never tried summoning. My book doesn’t really explain it very well and Linze doesn’t know much about Dark Magic, since she can’t use it.”
“Oh.” Yumina looked thoughtful for a moment, then hugged my arm and said, “I could teach you, if you like?”
“Oh? Yeah? That would be cool… is it hard to do? Form a Contract I mean?”
“It all comes down to the individual monster. Some have fairly simple contracting conditions, like my wolves. Some require you to fight the monster to show it that you’re strong enough to be worthy… others, like Sphinxes, require solving riddles or something to prove that you’re wise enough.” She grinned, “But generally, the stronger the beast, the harsher the conditions are.”
The discussion of summoning was then put on hold as we had to kill the Apes and Yumina had to demonstrate that whatever monies her father had spent on weapons training for the Princess had not been wasted. She was, it turned out, more than skilled with the bow, and used her spear as both weapon and wand, holding off one of the Apes with the blade as she cast a [THUNDER SPEAR] through the shaft.
After the fight, she asked “So? How’d I do?”
“No problems, as far as I can see,” Elze said.
“Your magic was… impressive,” Linze added.
“And having long-ranged support is incredibly helpful, it is,” Yae finished.
“Aye,” I said, chuckling. “In fact, the only problem I foresee is that compared to the four of you, I look the most boyish.”
“That’s not a problem, is it?” Yumina asked.
“Not really… though being the only tomboy among a bunch of cute girls seems to be drawing the creeps out of the woodwork.”
“Cute?!” the trio said as one.
“Well, sure. All three of you are exceptionally good looking. You’ve got great hair, nice figures, and you’re practically bursting with that healthy vigor of youth.” I shrugged, then wondered why everyone was turning pinking and staring at me. “Did I say something weird?”
“It’s not nice to tease,” Elze muttered.
“Y… yes…” Linze agreed. “Very rude.”
“I for one, am not amused, I am not,” Yae stated, matter of factly.
Clearly I had transgressed some cultural norm… did women in this world not complement each other’s looks? Surely not. That would be… weird. I felt a tugging at my sleeve and looked to Yumina. “What’s up? Want me to tell you a story?” I teased.
“Jouya?” She asked, dimpling up at me, “What about me? Am I cute?”
“Huh?” I asked, even more confused now. “Yeah. Course you are. Cute as a bug in a rug.” She seemed inordinately pleased by that… so why the heck were the trio acting so weird!? I was clearly missing something. Shrugging, I opened a [GATE] back to Reflet and asked, “But on a more serious level, do you think you could show me how to Summon? It might come in handy.”
“Summoning is a pretty straightforward proposition,” Yumina began, wearing a little academician’s hat that I had no idea where she’d gotten since the day before. “Step One: Draw your circle. Step Two: Summon Random Creature. Step Three: Decide if you want to make a contract with what you summoned. Step Four: Either Dismiss and Try Again, or move to step five. Step Five: Negotiate a Contract with your Summons. Step Six: Seal Contract. Step Seven: Summon your Summons at need.” She’d been ticking off each item with her desert fork against her finger, totally unaware that she had a smudge of vanilla cream (well… Koko Cream) on her nose.
I sipped my tea and nodded. “Gotcha… now, how random are we talking?” We were sitting outside in the Silver Moon’s back yard, enjoying the morning breeze. There was a fairly classic picnic table out there, and a horseshoes pitch and a few nice shade trees.
“According to Charlotte,” she began, referring to her father’s mistress and soon to be junior wife… and the Court Magicienne, “Some theorize that what shows up is influenced by the caster’s magic or is some reflection upon the caster’s personality. Most Summons are fundamentally compatible with their Summoner, and those that aren’t often have Summoners who are disagreeable types.”
“Or it could just be sorting for positives,” I said. “You said that people dismiss Summons they don’t like and try again, right? So the results of just studying successful contracts would be dealing with a subset of all summons. And I suspect that even asking how many attempts were made before a success was generated would be skewed, since there are any number of reasons… hold on.” I pointed over the princess’s head and vaporized the slime edging toward the end of a branch hanging over the picnic table. As the creature’s ashes drifted away on the breeze, I continued, “Any number of reasons why a summoned creature wouldn’t be acceptable to the summoner.”
Yumina considered, then nodded. “Like if you summoned a slime!”
“Oh. Or a Roper. Or an Otyugh. Or Troglodyte. Or Catoblepas. Anything that might harm their own summoner by accident needs to be watched. Stench monsters, extremely ugly monsters, anything with a gaze attack, anything too slow to be useful, and anything socially unacceptable. Those are the big reasons, but then there is personal taste. Maybe a more formal survey would be valuable… I’ll make a list of questions and see if we can get Charlotte interested in promoting completion of it. And maybe some experimental summonings under observed conditions?” I shrugged. “Just an idea.”
“You’re kinda… cerebral,” Yumina teased. “A real plateface.”
“A… plateface?” I asked. “What does that mean?”
“You know how smart people tend to get distant… blank expressions on their faces when they’re thinking of something? And how when they’re giving information, they just give you a bunch of it? It’s like that. Blank Plate when thinking, Overloaded Plate when talking.”
“You just made that up,” I accused.
The little blonde princess grinned. “Maaaaybe.” She stood, brushing imaginary crumbs off her blouse, still unaware of the smudge of cream. “You ready to give it a try?”
I shrugged, “Sure. Soonest begun, soonest won and all that.”
She pulled a piece of heavy chalk and a small book out of her pocket and pointed to a stone slab she’d had me bring up from beneath the ground with my Earth Magic. “We’ll do it there. This chalk has ground up spellstone in it,” she explained as she traced the complex patterns of the Summoning Circle onto the stone.
It was odd. The rest of this world’s magic was so intuitive, simplistic even. Why was Summoning so complex? How had anyone ever developed it? And if Dark magic had this complex, formulaic branch, did the other elements also have such things? I’d have to ask God about it next time. I’d have texted him, but his room only had an old landline unit. And why did he have anything like technology without having more modern stuff? Even his TV was a CRT, not one of the dozen or so later imaging technologies.
“The hard part of Summoning is Step Six,” Yumina was saying.
“That’s the forming the contract itself, right? Proving to the Summons that you’re a worthy master, right?”
“Right,” she said, finishing the circle and stepping back to ruffle the ears of the lead Silver Wolf (whose name was Silva). Silva had been the princess’s first summons and it was the one she had a contract with. The others were merely Silva’s subordinates, and that wasn’t that unusual. When contracting with a powerful creature, one gained the ability to summon not only the primary, but a number of its underlings as well. “If you fail the challenge, the creature you summoned will never appear for you again. Now don’t worry. It’s not dangerous, seeing as how the summoning circle is the only thing that allows the Summoned beast to exist in this world and it absorbs longranged attacks… but if you step into the circle, you’ll be vulnerable, so bear that in mind.”
I grinned, posing like Captain Morgan. “I have a mighty brain, but it’s not nearly big enough to store a bear in it. Maybe I can ferret it in mind? My head could fit a ferret inside it.”
Yumina blinked, then giggled. “You’re silly.”
My grin grew broader. “You betcha!” I stepped up to the circle, throwing back the wings of my coat for dramatic effect and called “I seek a Dark Ally! COME FORTH from the MISTS! [SUMMON]!”
The circle pulsed with light, the runes glowing a sullen purple, and then a dark mist, a black fog as thick as ink, building up over the course of a minute or so, the drain noticeable but just barely. This would probably be taxing for a normal person I estimated, but to me it was barely more than a flutter at the high end, my regen barely covering the energy flowing into the spell.
As soon as the fog completely filled the space inside the circle, there was a veritable blast of magical energy and the mist was blown away to reveal a massive white tiger that barely fit inside the circle!
I blinked, then grinned, flinging my arms around the creature’s neck without concern for protocol or personal safety. “KITTEH!” I squealed. “Issa kitteh!”
Yumina gasped as I clambered up onto the slightly stunned mega-cat’s back. “Jouya! No! Do… too late. My apologies, your majesty. Please don’t kill my fiance.” She was crouched on the ground, half hidden behind her wolf who was likewise supine. Silly people. The kitteh was in my circle!
The big kitty rumbled, “You know of me?” I wasn’t in the way, but even from my perch, I could feel the intensity of the white beast’s regard… majesty… ah.
Before Yumina could do more than swallow her panic, I reached down and booped the kitteh on the snoot. “Hey. Don’t be mean to my friends.”
The cat growled, a rumble that thrummed up through my body in a very distracting way, “You dare!”
“OOoo! Do that again!”
The cat twisted, trying to get at me, but I was right behind its ears and had my legs round its neck. Its fur was soft and easy enough to grip. “I am the White Monarch! I am not a beast of burden!”
“Yeah yeah. You’re the Great Horned Tiger of the West, Byakko, Jian Bing, King of Beasts, Lord of the Autumn, The Qilin, The Melancholic One, The Master of Metal, Guardian of the Saline Desert Sands, Heavenly Beast, and Keeper of the Streets of the City. You’re also scaring my friends and if you don’t stop it now I’ll be very cross with you.”
“Cross with me? CROSS WITH ME? YOU DARE CLAIM YOU-” The beast gasped, mid rant, as I focused my will and magic at it, mimicking the way it was using its own aura of authority to intimidate Yumina and Silva. “Hrggg… W… wait… n… no… st… stop… please! I beg of you!!!” The titanic cat collapsed to one knee, then to the ground entirely.
“Jouya!” Yumina yelled, and I looked over to her. She wasn’t cowering any more. Instead, she was staring at the cat under me, the cat that was even now twitching violently as the pressure of my regard let up. “You’re hurting him!” she snapped, stamping her foot adorably.
“Oh… sorry. He was scaring you,” I explained, then cast a [CURE HEAL] and [REVITALIZE] on the creature. “Sorry about that, Fuzz-face.”
“You… you… wa… was that all your power?” the Monarch of Beasts asked, rising shakily to his front paws and shaking his head as if to clear it.
I considered, then shrugged. “Not really. It felt like… maybe a twenty-fourth? A thirtieth? Hard to say. I wasn’t trying to hurt you, just to make you behave. It’s not nice to overawe people you’ve just met. People don’t like that.”
“W… wha…” Byakko gulped, swallowing hard. “W… what is your name? If you’d grace me with it?”
“No big deal there,” I said, still petting that gloriously soft head. “I am called Sochizuki Jouya… or Jouya for simplicity’s sake.” I slipped from its back and stood facing it, bowing slightly, but not breaking eye contact. “Sorry I hurt you. Are you feeling better?”
That massive head dropped low and, in a voice like thunder before rain, the White Monarch rumbled, “Master Jouya. I have never crossed paths with one more suitable to be my master. I would be most humbly honored if you were to form a pact with me, as you have already given me a name. Such a bond would allow me to exist freely in this realm.”
“Of course. But you have to promise not to intimidate my friends… and the townsfolk… unless they’re being unruly…” I saw Yumina frown out of the corner of my eye, so I added, “then you can scare them a bit.” She stuck her tongue out at me and I pretended I didn’t see her.
“Of course, Master,” Byakko said, stepping through the circle to show that the contract had been offered and accepted.
“Good… by the way, I didn’t mention your name in a language known as Chinese because it has some rude connotations.”
“Oh?” the cat rumbled, chuckling, apparently having already moved passed the sulking phase of being pwned. I clambered back onto his back and scritched his ears. “Now I’m curious.”
“Course you are. You’re a cat,” I teased. “Very well… Chinese symbols have many meanings. The symbol for White, as in White Tiger, is Bai. It can mean Bright or Snowy… but it can also mean Pure, Blank, Clear, or Empty. Remember that. The symbol for Tiger is Hu. It can be read as Brave or Fierce… and when doubled ‘huhu’ can be slang for female genitalia, since the word for vulva is ‘Yinhu’. So a Baihu is a pure or blank vulva.”
The cat snorted, almost choking, and Yumina turned bright pink. “Jouya!”
“Hey!” I said. “I was being tasteful and accurate! Not perverted! Not like my hu isn’t as bai as yours is!”
“Jouya!” She was turning pinker!
“Not that I’ve looked!” I teased, waggling my eyebrows like Groucho Marx.
“I think I shouldn’t be listening to this,” Byakko grumbled.
Yumina, reminded that the beast was present, looked up at the big cat and said, “I agree with the White Monarch.”
“Young lady, I am the White Monarch no longer. Please, call me Byakko!”
Yumina gulped, then nodded, “Y… yes Byakko… Jouya… I can’t believe you actually managed to form a contract with… with… him.” Silva apparently was also having trouble, because he hid inside Yumina’s shadow.
“Master, might it be possible for me to remain in this realm permanently?”
“Yeah. Sure. No problem from me… though you might startle some people at your current size… and those horns are kinda a dead give away that you’re supernatural.”
“Ah. in that case, I shall change my form,” and before I could protest, Byakko had shrunk to the size of a white tiger cub… well, a very large white tiger cub… it was the size of badger… and if he’d been cute as a giant white death machine, he was freaking adorable as a kitten.
“KITTEH!” I squealled again and scooped him up, rubbing my face in his soft tummy fur. “Eeeee! Heehee!”
“Gufhuuuu?!” my new pet exclaimed, then eeped as Yumina some how managed to snake the fuzzy-wuzzy kitty-floof from me! Thief! Phantom Thief! “Wait! Stop! Cease this insolence immediately! You dare!” He flailed about, but my injunction seemed to actually stop him from hurting Yumina in the slightest.
“I’m Jouya’s wife. I get to pet the kitty,” the little princess said, and I sensed that she was teasing me now as my mind turned the seemingly innocent phrase into something much less… PG-13.
By the time Yumina had satisfied herself with snuggles, Elze, Linze, and Yae had appeared, summoned from inside by the sounds of Byakko’s complaints and they’d collectively proclaimed Byakko our group mascot… much to the consternation of the one being petted.
“Saaaveee meeee!” Ah… such a nice day.
To Be Continued in Part Four!
Next: Another Greater Mystery
If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’d especially like to thank Parzival, bearblue, and Ryune, but all of you who read my work and comment are wonderful.
I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in very slow progress here. Please check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.
AN: Sorry for the slowness. This was a long one and with the Holidays, I decided to unwind a bit and try to relax. And then my car decided to lose three tires at once, so now it’s time to finance a major unexpected expense… and then both microwaves died within a week of each other. On the plus side, I’ve been watching some very interesting movies and TV shows. If you haven’t checked out Limitless or Bodyguard on Netflix, you might want to! Sabrina the Chilling Witch Chronicles or whatever it’s called is silly in a teen soap opera way, and insulting to actual Witches and Satanists, but it’s entertaining and well acted. Worth a watch if you like that kind of thing. Certainly better than Charmed. And I love the new Salem. Such a cute not animatronic cat-shaped abomination. Anyway, here’s 17,000 more words for you to read, which officially makes my total for November at 53k for just Undertale Isekai, and that doesn’t count the chapters of Solace I put out as well. So I’d say I still got some writing done. Woo! NaNoWriMo Won!