ANOTHER TALE WITH A SMARTPHONE?
Previously: Juvenile Apocalyptica
Themesong: Move Along by The All-American Rejects
I woke up under a tree on a small rise. It was early and the grass was still slightly damp with morning dew, but for the first time in several years, there was a sky overhead and the breeze was fresh and clean. Standing up, I brushed myself off and took stock of myself and my surroundings.
In the distance, I could see the faint smoke of a town or city, though I could not see any of the buildings from my vantage point. I could faintly make out the walls of that town and that meant they were probably between eight and twelve meters tall, assuming the curvature of this world was similar to that of Earth’s. At the base of the not-quite-a-hill, a dirt road ran by, heading in the general direction of the town.
As for myself, I’d changed a bit as well. I guess that was because my previous body was currently non-functional, but the new form seemed healthy enough, and about thirteen or so, so the same age I had been in Undertale… was I still in Undertale? Was this the surface world? Probably not, but I had no idea if this was the same reality or not. I tried to access my Warehouse, but it was blocked, just as God had said it would be. Oh well.
Still, I felt around in my pockets… I had pockets… that was a good sign… the outfit looked like something out of a german boy’s school… like a really fancy version of a japanese school uniform maybe… something like a Utena uniform maybe… ah… my phone. I pulled it out and snapped a selfie, then looked at it. Blue eyes, button nose, cute face… red heart shaped tattoo under my right eye… I wondered if that was a reference to DETERMINATION… It was a nice form, a little boyish perhaps, but cute. I needed a change of clothing badly though, these were definitely not my style.
Curious, I exited the camera app and checked out what I had on app page. Appyrus (a restaurant and inn finder / review program), AskSans (a mapping program), MonsterBook (a matchmaking / odd job posting program), Alphyspedia (a browser / encyclopedia), and NannyGoat (a calendar app that offered personal advise, recipes, and peptalks) were all still there, and each had the little icon to show they’d been recently updated. Undmail was the only major app besides the phone and text functions that had a big red X over the app symbol.
I brought up AskSans and said, “Okay Sans, where am I?”
The screen flickered and then displayed a map of the continent, with an area marked ‘Belfast Kingdom’ illuminated. At a guess, I’d say it was about the same size as France, and occupied much the same position. To the south-east of Belfast was the Kingdom of Mismede, while to the north-west was the Rifurisu Empire, both of them approximately a third the size of Belfast and sharing relatively short land borders, but significant sea borders, with Rifurisu and Belfast sharing use of two massive bays and Mismede and Belfast sharing use of a third. To the east of Belfast, and clearly its most significant land border, was the Regulus Empire, though most of that border was a fairly massive mountain range. I’d compare it to the Urals, at a guess. There were more than a dozen more nations, Kingdoms and Holy Kingdoms and even a Federated States that shared the unnamed landmass, and even a few large island nations and a Great Sea of Trees.
“Okay Sans, zoom to local level,” I ordered and the perspective zoomed in, showing far more accuracy than I’d programmed into the system, considering that I hadn’t exactly had GPS for the vast cave system, though I had mapped the entire Underground using drones. Still, it was strange looking down on the tree I was standing under as I was standing under it.
Taking manual control, I adjusted the zoom level, pulling back until I could see the name of the local town… “Reflet… huh.” Shrugging, and figuring that it would do, I closed AskSans and brought up Appryus. “Lodging and dining in Reflect,” I ordered. There was a small but decent list of choices. Good enough.
As twilight ended, I stretched and jumped down the rise to the road, easily clearing the six meters between in a single bound. Good, my physical stats seemed to be largely intact. Or at least good enough to be going on with.
And it’s a good thing too, as the next moment, I was very nearly run down by a passing horsedrawn coach. I jumped back and glared at it… and, wonder of wonders, it skidded to a stop no more than twenty meters ahead of me.
The door flew open and a somewhat portly little man lept out. “My dear sir, I’m so sorry. Are you hurt?” he asked as he rushed over to me, then stopped and looked at me. “My apologies, miss. I mistook… wherever did you get those fascinating clothes?”
“From a little old man who was nice enough to replace my old attire. It had become somewhat… damaged… is it not what people wear round these parts?”
“Oh my, no. Could I perhaps persuade you to sell me those garments… not right now, obviously,” he hastened to clarify. “I propose that you ride with me to the town and I will provide top notch replacements for your garb as well as pay you handsomely for your attire.”
“Well,” I said, “since you put it that way, sure. Why not.” My third eye told me that this man was entirely harmless, though perhaps a little overly enthusiastic.
And that was how I met Fashion King Zanac, who owned a show of the same name and who insisted on buying everything I was wearing, right down to the tank top and boxers… yes, boxers… very odd. In exchange, I got some nicely gender neutral gear, not that this form had much going on in the chest region… which was good, because (from the tech level, which looked like medieval europe only muuuch cleaner) I doubted that underwire bras existed yet. Hell, Zanac’s coach hadn’t even had carriage springs… and yes, the ride had been as bumpy as you might imagine. This nation needed some serious roadwork… and the invention of suspension. Thankfully, the seats had been quite well padded.
I took the money he’d paid me, ten shiny gold coins, bigger and cleaner than they should have been in an actual medieval nation, and bounced the coins in my hand. I had no idea how much they were actually worth, but if this was a typical fantasy world, it wouldn’t be a huge amount. If they were worth what a roman gold coin was worth, they were probably between 500 and a thousand dollars each… which seemed ridiculous, even in a world where clothing was all hand made. But maybe God had provided those clothes specifically because he wanted to give me a nest egg.
The easiest way to find out how much they were worth, however, was to go to either an inn or a food vendor and buy something… I settled on an inn, since such a location would be more likely to accept a large payment, say if I was buying food and board for a month or more. I used AskSans to find the nearest inn, figuring that something close to Zanac’s shop, which was clearly in the nicer part of town, would be decently upscale as well.
It directed me to the Silver Moon Inn, which offered room and board for the extremely reasonable two copper a day… and yes, D&D coinage did seem to be law of the land, with ten copper to a silver, ten silver to a gold, ten gold to a platinum. Above platinum was something the innkeeper (a pretty young woman named Micah) said was called a ‘Royal’ and below copper was a brass penny and half penny. I paid for a month up front, and adjusted my valuation of a gold up by a factor of 75. In D&D, staying at a comfortable inn like this would have cost roughly 8 silver a day with meals costing another 5 silver. Two copper couldn’t have bought squalid accommodations and food. Ten gold was thus on the order of 750,000 dollars. I could live on that for more than a year… assuming the local years were the same as Earth’s. I’d check later.
“Your change, miss,” Micah said, and if she found it at all odd that a thirteen year old girl was renting a room in her inn alone, she didn’t show it. Instead, she brought out a hotel register from behind the counter and handed me a feather pen. “If you could just sign here?”
That presented a little bit of a problem. I could understand the local language as if it were English (standard practice in jumps), but I’d been relying on my phone to do all the translating of local text. I certainly couldn’t write the local language yet. Not without my Shard given ability to learn almost anything in a matter of minutes… just how universal was literacy in this world, I wondered. Blushing a little, I said, “I’m afraid I can’t write your language yet… could you fill it in for me? If it’s not too much trouble?”
“Oh. No, not at all. I figured you were from someplace far away. You have a lovely accent,” she said, taking the pen back. I was going to have to invent the biro, wasn’t I? Wait, I had an accent? And here I was thinking everyone around me sounded Irish. I wondered what I sounded like… probably a Yankee. “What name should I write?”
Yankee… heh… I guess I looked Japanese… kinda… well, I had before I’d sold the uniform. “Sochizuki. Sochizuki Jouya,” I said, the name just coming to me.
“Sochizuki? What an unusual name.”
“Ah. Sorry. Sochizuki is my patronymic… my clan. My given name is Jouya.”
“Aaah. I see. Reversed order. Are you from Eashen?”
I considered. Eashen was an island nation roughly the same shape as japan… and all the way on the far side of the continent. “Somewhere around those parts. Sure,” I said.
After checking out my room and grabbing a bite to eat… really excellent food, soup, salad, and sandwich, with lovely hard bread… it was a treat after eating Monster Food for half a decade. Lovely people, Monsters… but their food has as much substance as they themselves do. Figuring that a lovely meal deserved a nice walk, I took my leave, deciding to more completely explore this new town as a first step to getting to know my new world. It was also a good idea to see if I could find some work, since I didn’t exactly have more clothes to sell. Maybe I could do what I did back in Undertale, pick up odd jobs and run deliveries… if only there were some kind of adventurer’s guild.
On a hunch, I was about to bring up AskSans to search for it, when I heard the sound of an argument coming from one of the nearby alleys. It sounded like a girl arguing with a man, and they didn’t sound like friendly bantering words either.
Heading into the alley, which turned out to be longer and more narrow than I’d at first expected, I found four people, two men having cornered two girls, both of whom looked about my age. The men looked… scruffy is the word I’d used. The girls, on the other hand were very pretty and clearly twins, though not perfectly identical. The more timid one had bigger breasts than her more tomboyish sister, who was doing the lion’s share of the arguing. They had pretty silver hair… and I don’t mean white or grey… it was clearly almost metallically silver.
“This isn’t what we agreed on! You said you’d give us a gold piece for the antler!”
I slipped into third-eye mode and gave the situation a once over. The girls were innocents, the men were low level scum, cheats and bullies, not slavers, rapists, or murderers. As I closed down the mode, the green eyes of the two girls shimmered for a second and I could have sworn another, older pair of beings were looking out at me, familiar in some way… but it was gone before I could process it and nothing I did could replicate it.
Grinning arrogantly, the man holding what looked like a glass antler said, “We said we’d buy it for one gold if it was in perfect condition. But it ain’t, now is it?” he said, indicating a tiny scratch that was barely a scuffmark. He tossed a silver coin onto the ground and said “Go on, take yer one silver and scra-”
His words cut off then as I took the antler from him and examined it. “M… pretty. And this isn’t a scratch, it’s just your fingerprints.” I buffed it on my sleeve. “There, all better.” I flipped a gold coin at the tough girl and said, “If these two louts won’t pay full price, I will.”
“Oy! Give that back!” the lout in chief demanded, drawing a knife on me. He swung it, but the swing was painfully, almost lethargically slow… ah, good old physical combat. He gaped at me as I blocked the blow with my hand, allowing the knife to plunge right through my palm.
“Aaaah, physical pain. I’d missed you, old friend,” I said, then tossed the antler into the air and backhanded my attacker hard enough to crack his jaw and send him spinning to the ground, unconscious and with what would prove, no doubt, to be a killer case of whiplash. I caught the antler and snapped a kick out to catch Thing Two in the hip as he tried to rush me, the blow spinning him into the wall. “Sorry about that, ladies,” I said.
“Oh my! You poor thing! Your hand!” the girl with short hair said, rushing over and looking at where the knife had punched clean through and out the back.
“AH. yes… Sorry. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a physical fight. I completely forgot that weapons do that. It does, in fact, rather smart. I should probably scream or something, yes?”
“Are you okay?” the long haired tomboy in culottes asked.
“Right as rain. Sorry to get involved, but I don’t like bullies or cheats.”
“Well, thank you for that… I’m Elze Silhouseka… and this is my baby sister, Linze,” the tomboy said.
“Thank you very much… I can heal you… if you take the knife out…” Linze said, looking a little green.
“That would be lovely. Though, if you don’t mind me asking…. Exactly what is this that I’ve just bought from you?” I asked, holding up the antler.
“You needn’t buy it. We’ll give you your money back,” Elze said, wincing as I pulled the knife out. Thankfully, none of my blood had stained my new (and only) outfit.
I shrugged. “No worries. I said I’d buy it and I will. I’m no cheat.”
I sighed as the pain faded when Linze said, “Come forth light, become a gentle solace, [CURE HEAL]!” Well, that was interesting. I’d heard the entire incantation in English, but clearly, the last two words were not in the same language as the rest of it. That must be the spell name. Interesting indeed.
Clenching and unclenching my hand, I said, “Well, that feels much better. My name is Jouya, Souchizuki Jouya…”
“Oh! You must be from Eshen!” Linze said… yeah, that wasn’t going to get old fast.
And that was how I picked up the first of my new friends in this new world. Over the next week, Linze would teach me to read the local language, being astounded at how fast I was picking it up (I’ve learned a lot of languages in my time. Even without perks, you develop tricks to help… being incredibly intelligent helps a great deal.). She also introduced me to the local magic system.
There were six basic elements; Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Light, and Darkness, plus a non-elemental catchall group called Null. Elements were not combined as they had been in Familiar of Zero, but stood alone, each having their own list of spells. If one had an aptitude in a given element, one could, in theory, learn any spell in that element. If one lacked that aptitude, one could never learn to use that element’s spells. Null however was different. Instead of having spells that anyone with the aptitude could learn, most people who had Null aptitude simply had between one and three non-elemental spells that they could use almost instinctively.
Linze could use Fire, Water, and Light, but had no Null magics. Elze had no elements, but did have a single Null spell, [BOOST]. It gave her superhuman strength and agility when she used it, but burned a fair amount of her magical energy when she did so, so she only used it in relatively short bursts.
Magic was typically focused through small crystals called spellstones, each attuned to a specific element (or Null), but the crystals were not absolutely needed. Still, they were quite useful for testing someone’s aptitude, as holding a crystal and willing it to respond would produce a small amount of the element it was attuned to ex-nihilo. At least that was the theory.
When I held the wind crystal, I very nearly blew out the windows of the Inn… we moved outside then. Each of the elements were similar. Instead of a candle flame, I got an explosion of fire big enough to knock the girls over (they were more startled than damaged). Earth buried my boots in sand in moments. Water frosted the entire courtyard in rime. By the time we got to light, everyone had their eyes closed. It was still nearly blinding. Darkness was… well, dark.
And then we started experimenting with Null… but before I get there, I should explain that the girls had confirmed that this world, or at least this continent, had an Adventurer’s Guild, complete with questboards, monsters, and formalized payments and ranking. The day after we’d partnered up, we’d gone to the Guild Hall and signed up, getting ID cards that were personalized with magic that made them useless to anyone who might steal them. Ours were Black, the lowest rank. Gold was the highest and between the two were Purple, Green, Blue, Red, and Silver. Rank could be increased with quest points or recommendations from temporal authority figures such as kings and emperors. At the current time, there was only one Gold ranked adventurer in the entire world, a quasi-legendary figure named Galen Yunas Restia.
We’d taken several low level quests to fill the days, and I cannot tell you how nervous I’d been on that first mission. It had been to hunt some One-Horned Wolves, monsters that were more a nuisance than a real threat, at least to anyone who knew what they were doing. I’d been worried that they would prove to be like the Monsters of Undertale, fundamentally good and merely misunderstood. I was picturing trying to save the Monsters of this unnamed world from the mean old Humans and Demi-Humans… but no. They were beasts. Brutal, savage, and not at all afraid to attack Humans. If they weren’t man-killers, that was only because the opportunity hadn’t arrisen.
We cleared them out with ease… though to be honest I let the girls do most of the work, just to see how well they handled themselves. They were good. Very good. Too good to be stuck at Black (for Beginner). The extermination or ‘Subjugation’ quest for the wolves had gotten us 18 copper for 5 wolves, which wasn’t bad for a morning’s work, but it could be better. And so I decided we should get to at least Red (First Class) as fast as we could. Not only were the quests more interesting, the payoffs were suitably large, enough to support a group in comfort or luxury, depending on how often they were taken.
The reason I segued into that short aside is because, on the day Linze was to teach me about Null Magic, Elze took a solo quest to gather herbs in the same area where we’d fought the Wolves, since she’d had enough magical excitement the previous day.
Normally, to use Null Magic, one merely held the Null Spellstone and focused internally until a spell manifested itself. The crystal responded when you focused if you had the aptitude, it was simply a matter of figuring out what your specific spell or spells did. Except that when I focused, nothing manifested. The day before, just to test, I’d managed to use Elze’s [BOOST] spell, greatly startling both girls in the process.
There were three reasons for their amazement, as it turns out. First, the amount of power I was able to summon up without apparent effort was ridiculous. Until Linze mentioned it, I didn’t even realize that I was feeling any drain at all from the casting. It seemed that I had a mana pool that was so large and had such incredible regen rate that only the most extreme spells would even register as a drain. Granted, it wasn’t as much power as I could call upon with my full suite of powers, but it went a good way towards filling the gap that they’d left.
Second, having an aptitude for four elements was astoundingly rare. Having all seven? Unheard of. And third? Null spells were personal. Even if two people had similar Null spells, they almost never had ones that were identical. I’d just replicated Elze’s signature spell. And that was why Linze and I were dedicating a morning to seeing what else I could do.
That turned out to include a very nice little spell called [GATE], which allowed me to open a door of light between where we were in the courtyard of the Silver Moon Inn and the forest where we’d fought the Wolves… which ended up startling Elze as her sister and I stepped through. Okay… now I knew someone was manipulating my fate in some way. The forest was not small, but my [GATE] had opened right in front of where Elze was standing. I’ve been at this game too long to believe in coincidence.
Still, it seemed harmless, so I was willing to go along… for now.
When we came back to the inn for lunch, Micah and another woman of a similar age to the innlady (mid twenties) were sitting at a table with a dozen dishes of varied foodstuffs in front of them and they were in the midst of sampling them. I gravitated over, looking at the foods. The dishes all looked like deserts, a subject near and dear to my heart.
“Jouya! Perfect timing,” Micah exclaimed.
“Having a tasting?” I asked.
“Indeed! This is Aer,” she said, indicating her friend. “She runs a local cafe called Parent.”
“Ah!? We were there yesterday. Very serviceable food,” I replied, nodding to the proprietress. “Thinking of expanding your menu?”
“Yes. That’s correct,” Aer said, bowing slightly. “We’d be ever so grateful if you have any suggestions. Micah says you’re from far away, and we thought you might know of an exotic dish or two we might incorporate.”
“Desserts mostly?” I asked.
“Not necessarily, but lighter dishes to appeal to a female clientele,” Micah explained.
“I think I can come up with something,” I said, reviewing the menus of all the local eateries that I’d been to. “But I’m not exactly familiar with the local ingredients and measurements. I’d say your simplest bet would be a froyo parfait, if you know anyone with ice magic?”
“My younger sister can handle that… but what is froyoparfae?” Aer asked, looking confused.
Which meant that there was other choice but to make one. The local yogurt was in the greek style, which meant it had to be smoothed and mixed with sugar to make it smoother, and getting the measurements was as easy as borrowing Micah’s measuring tools. This world didn’t have wafer cookies, nor waffle irons, but making up a filo-dough variation was’t too hard. Getting the fresh fruit wasn’t too hard, though the local citrus wasn’t as sweet as a mandarin orange. Still, sugar wasn’t scarce here, thanks to the prevalence of something like a sugar beet that looked more like a parsnip.
The result was everything I could have hoped for. The eyes of all four (Elze had returned from turning in her quest to the guild by the time I was done) bugged out as they gazed upon the icy confection. “Dig in… but slowly. Eating too much cold too fast can cause a blinding but short lived headache called a brain-freeze. It’s harmless, but similar to the chest-burn you get from drinking hot soup too fast.”
“How did you learn to cook like this?” Aer asked. “Do your parents own a restaurant?”
“Cooking is a hobby of mine. Give me a couple days and I’ll try and figure out more ingredients. Maybe I can make a cheesecake or lemonbars or baklava. If I can find the right type of flour, maybe a souffle or a chiffon cake. And I might be able to offer some advice to help smooth your operation… if you don’t mind?”
“No no,” Aer hastened to assure me, “Come over any time and have a look.”
“Excellent. I’m certain you have much to teach me as well,” I bowed slightly.
The next day I went over to Eight Bears Weapon Shop, the place I’d bought my shortswords before that first wolf hunt, and spoke to the owner, a mountain of a man named Barral. “I have an idea, but I don’t know any local blacksmiths.”
“An idea?” Barral asked, his voice a pleasant rumble. I could tell he thought I was a cute kid… I am a cute kid, it’s okay.
“Have you ever ridden in a coach or carriage?” I asked.
“I have,” he agreed.
“And the ride is bumpy, right?”
He shrugged, grunting in that particularly manly way that says “I am uncomfortable but I’m too tough to complain.”
“Right. Well, what if I told you that there’s a way to drastically improve the ride, and all it takes is a pair of curved pieces of steel?”
“You’re kidding!” he exclaimed.
“Not at all… I thought you might know craftsmen in town who are willing to experiment… perhaps a carriage maker and a blacksmith?” I slid across the table the plans for a basic carriage spring. “It can actually be made better and better with refinement,” I explained, showing him the drawings I’d made for elliptical leaf-springs of greater and greater complexity, trying not to giggle as his eyes widened. “And your blacksmith friends will need to experiment with various alloys of steel to get something that can return to its original form after being flexed. I have some suggestions there too.”
“You… you came up with all this?”
I shrugged. “Merely adapted the idea from something I’d read about once upon a time. Think we could do business?” I asked.
In the end, I sold Barral the plans for eight gold and a 2% stake in the eventual combine. My third eye told me that he was fundamentally trustworthy, so we shook on it and that was that. He agreed to get me in touch with a few blacksmiths to discuss the material side but said it would probably take at least a week or two to get everything even to that level.
A few days after our rank had increased from Beginner Black to Apprentice Adventurer Purple, Elze preempted my attempts to go on a slimehunt (I had no idea why, but both Elze and Linze seemed very nervous about the idea of hunting slimes. Slimes are basic adventurer fodder!) by pointing out a request to deliver a letter to the capital… travel expenses covered, and the reward was seven silver. The client was Zanac Zenfield… and yes, it did turn out to be my old friend the Fashion King.
It would be a five day trip, if we rented a carriage, and there wasn’t really any reason not to, since our expenses would be covered. I was astounded to learn that there was a carriage rental business… how did they function in a world without credit cards or insurance? Ah well, fantasy. Regardless, we could use [GATE] to return from the capital, and yes, I could easily make the portal big enough to drive a carriage through. Couldn’t use [GATE] to get there, of course, since I’d never been there in the first place.
After meeting with Zanac to get the letter and learn the identity of the recipient (one Viscount Swordrick… who would, of course, later turn out to be a master swordsman… because reasons!) we did indeed rent a cart (two horses, no roof, no padding). At least it was faster than walking, right?
As we travelled the long main road north, I thought of other things I could introduce to make lives here a bit more pleasant… flush toilets for one… paving for another. Still, Belfast was a nice little kingdom and the people mostly welcoming and polite. I say mostly because, as the sun began to set, we arrived in our second new town (Reflet to Nolan, Nolan to Amanesque) of the day… and just as we were looking around for a place to eat (we’d already stabled our horses and secured our cart in the stables attached to a nice little inn called The Old Brown Boot), we noticed a bit of a commotion in the middle of the street up ahead of us.
Pushing our way through the crowd of onlookers and lookers-on, we found a japanese looking girl, complete with pink kimono, dark blue hakama, white split-toe socks, and a pair of geta on her feet, facing off against a group of no less than ten dangerous looking men. All the men were armed, mostly with swords and long daggers, and some of them had already drawn their weapons. The japanese-looking girl was cute, almost spunky even, and armed with a wakizashi-katana pair, worn in the traditional fashion. She was a real samurai-ko… and she talked like it.
“Whatever might ye mean? I’ve no recollection of any such thing, I don’t.” It was like watching a Kurosawa film… if Kurosawa was into cute girls instead of grizzled old men.
More banter transpired, but not much more before the group of thugs decided to prove just how manly they were by attacking the girl ten on one. Of course, I moved to help her, but even before I got there, Samurai-Chan had already managed to dodge every single attack aimed her way, then grabbed one of the goons and used a very nice seoi otoshi throw on him. He practically bounced off the cobble street, fainting from the agony as his entire spine lit up from the impact.
By the time I reached her, a matter of no more than three seconds, she’d already downed three of the thugs but I could tell that the effort was taking its toll on her as she had staggered slightly with the effort of tossing the third. None of the others had a chance to attack her.
I took out numbers four through seven, she took down number eight, and my compatriots took down the last two, one each, though Elze did grumble a bit at me sticking my nose in where it didn’t belong… I mean, sure, I did that all the time, but when had I done that in her experience, I wondered. Then I mentally palmed my forehead. Doi. I’d done almost exactly the same thing with her and her sister.
After turning over the ruffians to the town guard, we introduced ourselves to the young warrior-woman (though technically she looked about two years older than I did at the time. When you’re over fifteen thousand years old, all mortals are youngsters, I guess.). Her name, Kokonoe Yae, was (unsurprisingly) reversed, and (even less surprisingly) she turned out to be Eashen… from Oedo… as in the old name of Tokyo. Also, she was very hungry, which explained nearly fainting in the middle of a fight.
Of course, she assumed I too was from Eashen, but I explained I was more a traveler and that my true home was farther away than I could easily explain and that, though I missed it dearly, I had no means of returning there at the moment. This revelation lead, over food (a great deal of food in Yae’s case… my word she had a healthy appetite, of the pasts of my travelling companions.
Elze and Linze told of how their parents had died several years ago and how they’d lived with the uncle Joseph and his wife Rana in a small Refressian town called Collete near the Refreese-Belfast border. To spare their relatives the cost of keeping them, the two had, upon reaching the age of twelve, started doing freelance quest work, but hadn’t thought to join the Guild until I suggested it.
Yae, was fourteen, a year older than the rest of us, and she been raised by her parents (Nana and Jubei) and had studied the way of the sword with her elder brother, Jutaro. She was landed gentry, of course, a true Samurai-ko, and had crossed most of the continent in a journey to improve her skills and test herself against all that the world had to offer. Of course, in one of those turns of fate that surprises absolutely no one, she too was headed to Belfast’s capital, Alephis (not Alphys, though the similarity of the names had given me a start the first time I’d heard it) to meet someone who had done her father some service in the past.
I grinned, leaning forward, elbows on the table and chin on the backs of my hands and asked, “Your father’s friend… he wouldn’t happen to be the Viscount Swordrick, would he now?”
Yae gaped, the beef skewer she was eating (her fifth) falling back onto her plate. It was priceless, the look of surprise on her face. “However are you knowing this, I am asking?!”
“She does that sometimes,” Elze said. “It’s very frustrating. It’s like she can see inside you.”
“She’s just good at guessing,” Linze said.
“I’m genre savvy,” I explained. “I can spot a trope at six-hundred paces.”
“She also says things like that that don’t make any sense,” Elze pointed out.
“I do!” I agreed, then, just to be certain, I took a look at this new girl with my third eye, tapping the bow of my lips as if considering. She too was pure of heart, trustworthy, and good natured. And again, as I shut off my gift, there was a flicker of something other about her, this time a swirl of wind that came from nowhere and disappeared without touching anything besides her hair. No one else noticed it. “Well then, it would be churlish of us not to invite you to join us on our trip.”
“This is okay? You don’t mind, do you?” Yae asked.
I shook my head, “Of course not. Four can travel almost as economically as three, and an extra sword on the road is always welcome, at least if that sword is in the hand of a friend. Plus, I’d love to test myself against your sword skill, and I couldn’t do that if I were to leave you stranded in Amanesque, now could I?” I turned to Linze and Elze. “You two don’t mind, do you?”
“Oh no! Course not!” Elze said, “We were actually gonna suggest it ourselves, but ya beat us to it!” Linze nodded.
“Excellent then. You can share our room at the inn. I’m afraid we only have the two beds, but they’re large enough for two… you don’t toss and turn, do you?”
Yae blushed and Elze knuckled my head. “You don’t ask someone that!”
“Hey! I didn’t ask if she snored!” I said, sticking my tongue out at the silverhaired brawler.
In the end, we dragged Yae off to the inn despite her protests that she could just as easily sleep outdoors. “There are laws against vagrancy,” I said, utterly uncertain there were any such thing in Belfast, but I hadn’t specified a jurisdiction, now had I?
Once the girls were asleep, I wandered out onto the roof of the inn and looked up at the sky. So clear, so bright. Only the occasional puffs of smoke from hearthfires hazing out a star or two. Quite idyllic almost. Just enough danger and assholes to keep it from getting boring, really. I pulled out my phone and dialed the only number in it.
“Hey! How’s it going?” God asked.
“Oh. Not bad. It goes. You wouldn’t have rigged it so that I ran into some new friends, would you have?” I got right down to business.
“Well, I didn’t want you to be lonely. Seemed the least I could do… and they’re nice girls. I just had some strings pulled.”
“No one had their destiny rerouted for this, did they?” I asked.
“Oh no. Nothing like that. I figured they could use your friendship even more than you could use theirs.”
“Ah. Well. I guess that’s fine. But you don’t need to pull any more strings.”
“I promise. I shall pull no more strings to get you companionship.”
“Good… Good… Tell me, God… do you play Go?”
“Go? What might Go be?”
“A game… hold on.” I focused on God’s sky room and cast [GATE], then stepped through. “I do hope you don’t mind you dropping by?” I asked.
He didn’t, and (being God) it was simple enough for him to create a Go Board and stones. It’s not like the concept is hard. It’s a nineteen by nineteen grid, with 181 black stones and 180 white stones (the total of 361 being 19 squared) and the rules are fairly easy to relate as well. God turned out to be quite good at the game, though I did win four of our five matches before dawn came. I wasn’t even a little tired, and thanks to the excellent tea and crackers, I wasn’t even famished… though I did have to pee. I think it reminds me of my mortality.
As way of thanks for introducing him to the highly enjoyable Stones Game, God presented me with a book before I took my leave. “Now that you understand a little better how the magic of this world works and know how to read the local language, I thought you might like this. It’s a compendium that one of my priests put together, a record of many of the Magical Spells of this world.”
I took the book and thanked him, promising to use it wisely and well.
The next day we set off bright and early, with Yae insisting on taking the first stint as driver by way of paying for her lodgings. Elze tried to brush it off, but the samurai-ko wouldn’t hear of it. The land between Amanesque and Alephis was far emptier than the land between Reflet and Amanesque had been, and as the day wore on, villages gave way to rolling hills and forests and passers-by became less and less frequent. I guess the number of monsters caused a greater concentration of people in cities and towns than was normal, for this land looked easily as fertile as medieval france, and the population should have been dense enough that there was a village every ten kilometers or so, even in hill country.
As we rode along, I continued my education in magic, reading from the book God had given men (I claimed I’d just happened to find it in a shop). It turns out that it was nothing more or less than a codex of the names and descriptions of every Null Magic spell the editor had managed to learn of. The vast majority of them were, as to be expected, bloody fucking useless, or so spectacularly limited in utility that I’d have to actually go out of my way to find a use. Like the spell that made seaweed dry faster, or the one that polished apples, or the one that removed redstone mud stains… not any other color of mud, just red.
Still, some of the ones in the book were nice. [SMOOTH] was like sandpaper, but non-abrasive, in that it made wooden surfaces super smooth. [GEL] turned watery substances into a type of aspic without need of gelatin. [EDIT] could pull substances apart, as long as they weren’t chemically bonded. So literally, it could pull salt out of soup, or a needle out of a haystack. It could only do one substance at a time, but that was bound to come in handy.
I’d found all of those on previous days, but as we rode along, I discovered a nifty little spell called [APPORT] (and no, this book did not appear to know what ‘alphabetical order’ meant… not even in the local alphabet, or rather the local abugida, since every symbol represented a consonant base and a vowel modifier… not to be confused with a syllabilary like Japanese where every symbol or almost every symbol represented a consonant and a vowel.. In an abugida, the sounds could and often were separated, as in Belfast, which was written with the B, L, F, and ST consonants, with the B modified with the eh vowel modifier, and the F modified with the ah modifier.) Apport was like teleport crossed with Accio, in that it teleported things to me… small things.
I pointed my finger at Elze’s boot and said “[APPORT]!” and suddenly I had a very nice purple boot in my hand.
“What in the…” Elze exclaimed, then looked around for her shoe. She’d been watching the countryside pass and mostly ignoring the bookworms, but now she glowered at me. “What’cha do that for?”
“Better than me stealing your panties, right?”
“You wouldn’t dare,” she said, glowering more.
I waggled my fingers, “I really should find out if I can use this spell on something I can’t see.”
“Not on me you’re not!” she snapped.
“No… no… you’re right,” I agreed, then used it on Linze instead. “Mmm… purple.” I said, then ducked as she threw her book at my head. I caught it and set it on the bench next to me.
“Wh… why did you do that?!” she demanded as I handed them back to her.
“An experiment. I had to know if things I couldn’t see are valid targets. Also, Elze and Yae are wearing pants… as am I. well, shorts for your sister. You have a skirt, you can put them back on without disrobing.”
She took them back, glaring at me. “You could have aimed for a sock,” she pointed out.
“I could have… but this was more fun. Anyway, you have cute panties,” I teased.
Linze just blushed… in fact, so did Elze… and Yae was extremely quiet, but her ears were a little pink.
“Y.. you shouldn’t do that again,” Linze said.
“Or use it to steal money!” Elze agreed.
“True… hmmm…” I pointed my hand at Yae’s Katana and cast the spell a third time. No luck. “Apparently a sword is too big. Alas.”
We managed to find a nice little town called Petallo to stop in for the second night, and one called Mince for the third night, and as we set out on the fourth day, I checked my map and verified that we were just over halfway to Alephis. Right on schedule, and more wagons and carts had been passing our way, carrying manufactured goods back from the city to the towns or farmers heading home having sold their loads.
I was back in my book, reading up on something called [LONG SENSE] when my phone chimed. Pulling it out, I saw a traffic update on the screen. How odd. Traffic? Out here? There was nothing ahead that I could see. I pulled up the info tab. “Route ahead blocked by combat. Recommend alternative route.” Ah. That’s right! When I’d checked the distance remaining, I’d had it go into navigation mode. Of course that had said “Follow King’s Highway for 126 kilometers, until you reach the Gate of Lions.” But I hadn’t switched off navigation mode, and so it had generated a travel advisory. I guess in this world, combat was more likely than a traffic jam or accident that blocked the road.
“Hold on,” I said, standing up and casting [LONG SENSE]. Now seemed as good a time as any to cast it. I peered off towards the edge of the woods about a kilometer away and smelled… blood? Yes, Blood. And tucked just inside the edge of the trees, a fancy carriage surrounded by soldiers being attacked by Lizardmen and a black robed chap who smelled of… unwashed undergarments and dandruff. Ewww. It was clear the carriage was being ambushed.
“[GATE]!” I commanded, then lept through, landing right behind the bozo in the robe. Always attack the mage first. So I did, driving a donkey punch right into his kidney, then a chop to the back of his neck as he doubled over. I might have hit him a bit too hard… hard to say, since I hadn’t meant to kill him, but I certainly wasn’t bothered by the fact that I felt his neck snap under the force of my blow… need to watch my strength a bit more… I’d forgotten that I was currently without the perks that allowed me to strike with full force and not kill if that was my desire.
As it turned out, that was the right thing to do though, since the Lizardmen faded away as soon as robeboy was dead. “Huh?!” I asked, looking around somewhat startled.
Linze, who’d followed me through the Gate, said, “He must have been a summoner and those his summons.”
Yae agreed as she joined us a moment later, “If you dispatch the mage, the summons are banished, they are. Everyone knows this, they do.”
“Ah. Sorry. Everyone but me. Good to know… I say, soldiers… are you alive?”
One of them limped towards us, but I waved for him to stop. “You… you saved us.” He gasped.
“Did I? You seemed to be holding your own,” I allowed generously. “How badly hit are you?
“There were ten of us, five are down, and I’m not long for the…” he stopped as Linze cast [CURE HEAL] on him and his leg stopped bleeding. He’d still need rest to regain the blood he’d lost, and the leg would hurt for a while, but he wasn’t bleeding out any more.
I was about to look at the fallen to see if any of them could be saved… if only I’d found a [REZ] spell, but I hadn’t. It might not even be a Null spell… or a spell at all in this world, when a young girl called out “Oh… oh please. Please… if you can cure… please help!” We looked over and saw a blonde girl in a white dress, her face soaked in tears, “Grampy was hit by an… an arrow!” she said, gesturing at a gray-haired old man in a fancy penguin suit. She looked about ten and he looked half dead. She knelt by his side and looked as if she were going to pull the arrow out of his wound.
I took her hand and put it in her lap. “Don’t. The arrow is keeping him alive even as it kills him. If you pull it out, it will cause him to bleed to death.” I grabbed one of the other arrows from the wagon… good thing the Lizardmen’s arrows hadn’t faded with them, or Grampy would be toast… the arrow was fluttering, it was clearly right against his thoracic aorta. I looked at the arrow in my hand and guessed that the head was flint. “[EDIT:FLINT]!” I commanded, and two arrowheads landed in my hand. Without pausing, I cast [CURE HEAL] as I yanked the now naked shaft out of the old man, relying on the glue to hold the sinew to the shaft and not leave it inside the wound. Still, just to be certain, I cast [EDIT] again.
The little girl broke down into tears as the old man sat up somewhat shakily, letting out all her fear and terror and relief as she sobbed into his bloody shirt. He simply held her close for a time until her sobbing drained away and left her hiccuping and looking miserable and bloody. Meanwhile, I checked on the other soldiers.
Four of them were, in fact, dead, including the elder brother of the one Linze had healed. The remaining one had a concussion and had lost an eye. The concussion I could fix, the eye I couldn’t. “Might I suggest we load your dead in our cart and we press on? Night will fall soon enough and the scent of blood might attract scavengers or monsters,” I suggested.
“Maybe we should bury them?” the young man, William, said. “We can’t bring dead bodies with us.”
The others agreed with him. “They’d draw flies and crows,” Elze said.
“Ah. Good point. But valiant souls deserve a proper burial… I propose that you allow me to transport them back to the last town and there we can get the young miss and her grandfather cleaned up?”
“Oh, we must press on!” William said.
I was about to get cross with the young man, but the old man said, “Pardon, miss, but I am not the young miss’s grandfather. She merely calls me that. My name is Leim, and I am but a humble servant to his grace, the Duke Ortlinde.”
“And I’m Sushie Urnea Ortlinde! It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance… what’s your name?”
“Oh. My apologies. My name is Jouya, and these are my travelling companions, Elze, Linze, and Yae.” I motioned to the trio, then looked at them… “Why do you three look like you’ve been gazed by a cockatrice?” They did… they all three were as stiff and still as if they’d turned to stone. “You act as if you’ve never met a duke’s daughter before.”
“How can you be so casual like that!” Linze insisted.
“I dunno… probably because I’m a…” I was about to say God, but settled for, “Princess. In my own land.” It was technically true… kinda. As Skadi I’d been ex-queen of Asgard (before that hussy Freya stole my man). As God-King of the Maegi, several of my incarnations had held the title of Princess by birth before becoming the Manifest at age sixteen. Plus, I had that weird perk from A Song of Ice and Fire, ‘Prince in Exile’ which meant people always treated me like a foreign prince… Hell, as Dr. Silence Jumper I’d been part of a Noble Starter Lineage. I’d been a queen, an empress, a messiah, a prime minister. Dukes were a dime a dozen.
“W… well she is a princess too!” Linze pointed out. “Dukedoms are only usually given to members of the royal family!”
“Yes indeed!” Sushie (and boy did that name make me hungry… Reflet is not by the sea and so there is no fresh ocean fish to be had usually… and there were no sushi chefs around besides me. Well, probably some in Eashen… I hoped.) “My father is Duke Alfred Urnes Ortlinde, young brother of His Royal Majesty, King Tristwin Ernes Belfast.” Thankfully, she didn’t go off on all his other titles… or maybe royalty in this world didn’t have lists of lesser titles that went on and on and on for days.
“Oh. Cool. Nice to meet you, your cuteness,” I said, grinning at her and ruffled her hat. It was a very nice hat, one that looked like a beanbag was camped on her head… like a marshmallow and a chinese red army hat had a big pudgy blue baby. “Now, let’s get you to a town so you can get cleaned up and changed.”
“But my parents will be expecting me as soon as possible… I do owe you my life, so I shan’t demand you bow or speak formally, but I must press on.” She bowed to me then, just a little, “Thank you for my life and the lives of my men-at-arms and for Grampy’s life too.”
“Well, you’re mostly welcome, and you must tell me what the King’s Neice is doing out here, but really, it will take much less time to get back to town than you suspect.” I cast [GATE]. “If you step through this, you will find yourself in a lovely little town called Amanesque. It’s about two days ride from here, and away from the capital, but I promise that I shall bring you all right back here once we’ve left the bodies to be properly taken care of and gotten you all cleaned up… why are you staring at me?”
Once I’d gotten the girls to be less outraged at how casually I ignored the orders of royalty, and convinced the guards that it wasn’t a trap or something, and explained that no, I couldn’t make the gate to Alephis because I had never been there, we took a detour to Amanesque and did what needed to be done. I promised the priest that we’d return in a few days to collect the bodies so they could be returned to their families, stole Sushie’s hat while she was bathing, and even nipped back to Reflet for some dundleberry scones with clotted cream. A dundleberry is something like a yellow blueberry, but much more tart and firm. Candied, they were absolutely delicious. Uncandied, they could pucker your face off.
Once we’d all snacked and cleaned up and changed… and Sushie had pouted adorably until I’d returned her hat, we returned to the site of the ambush and proceeded onward. It turned out that Sue, she insisted I call her that, well, me and rest of the girls, had spent a month with her maternal grandmother and had been heading home, only to attacked by the summoner and his lizardthugs.
“Is it normal for a summoner to be in the business of brigandage?” I asked. It was entirely possible that it was… or that this had been a kidnapping attempt.
The others shrugged. “The assailant is dead, so we have no way of knowing what his motive was,” Leim said. “Not that we regret his death, of course.”
“It was very nice of you to pay his funeral costs,” Sue commented.
“Enemy or not, I killed him. It’s the least I can do,” I said, shrugging. This little mission had already cost me more than the two silver Zanac was going to pay us for delivering the message, but experiences are worth more than money and I did not begrudge the dead man any more than I begrudged Yae her meals. When the enemy is defeated, one can afford to be magnanimous.
“That is true,” Leim said, but I have a proposition for you. Half our guards are dead or injured. If we are attacked again, I very much fear for our ability to keep the young miss safe… would you be willing to sign on as bodyguards? His grace will be more than willing to pay you for your services, of course.”
I looked to the trio, quirking an eyebrow and the each nodded without reservation. “Seeing as how we’re already heading that way, I don’t see how we can refuse. Payment is, of course, welcome, but not needed. I shall not turn it down if offered, but demanding payment for a simple act of compassion and camaraderie is beneath me. If it were not for the need to eat and have a roof over my head, I would never take payment at all.”
“You talk a lot,” Sushie said, giggling.
“Just for that, I’m stealing your hat again,” I said, then ran around the clearing just slowly enough that Sue could catch up if she tried.
Two of the soldiers, the injured pair, both mounted up and rode off to deliver a letter to Sue’s father, while the other three rode up ahead. Yae, Elze, and Linze brought up the rear in our cart, and I was forced to ride with Sue and Leim, who sat facing me the entire time as I regaled them with manifold stories of the redoubtable Sir Ziggy, Knight of Ferrets and his lady love, the wicked and tricksome M’Lady d’Winter, who was always plotting against him despite how faithfully he served her every whim. Of course, he was good and didn’t realize she was wicked, so he always did the right thing, which inevitably thwarted her cunning and clever plans… which was especially true because Sir Ziggy was as bumbling and inept as he was forthright and brave. And that is how we spent the two days that remained of our voyage.
The capital city was as gorgeous as only a fantasy town can really be. Situated on the shore of a pristine lake, blessed with a moderate climate, and crowned by a massive white castle complete with high towers and minarets, the city was astonishingly clean for a pre-industrial culture lacking such refinements as flush toilets and horseless-carriages. Most of the buildings had tile roofs and those that didn’t had wooden ones, narry a thatch roof in sight, and the avenues were broad, paved, and full of mostly friendly people, just like all the other places I’d been so far.
The land was relatively peaceful, barring monsters and the occasional bandit, ruled by a just and kind monarch, and shorn up by a monopoly on the best quality silk in the world that made the kingdom quite wealthy, but not absolutely dependant on a single product or market.
Of course, this wasn’t a fairytale. The city walls and the walls surrounding the castle were a clear reminder of that. They were huge, functional, and could probably stop anything short of a dragon attack and they’d slow that as well. There were soldiers everywhere, not in large numbers, but manning the gates and patrolling the streets.
The guards at the gate didn’t even slow us however, allowing us through on the strength of seeing the crest and catching sight of Leim and Sue, who they had to know on sight. We also had our vanguard, who the watch must be familiar with.
Inside the city, we crossed a large river and entered what Leim called the ‘Noble Residential District’, and soon enough we arrived at the walled and gated compound of a truly impressive mansion. While not nearly as defensable as the Castle, the compound’s gate alone took six strong men to open… maybe I could help counterweight it? Down girl. Get to know the owners first.
If the outside of the estate was impressive, the inside was ludicrus. A veritable wall of maids (complete with french style uniforms) had gathered to welcome Sue home. There must have been thirty of them! And there was a sweeping staircase (complete with crimson carpet) beyond them in the grand foyer, a room large enough to play futsal in!
A blonde gentleman who had to be Sue’s father can rushing down the stairs and, like something out of a movie, Sue flung herself into his arms and there was much touching and expression of relief at being reunited. Sue’s super polite speech pattern, out of place in such an energetic and youthful girl, slipped as she assured her father that she was in the best of health.
Eventually, the two parted and the Duke set his daughter down, then, taking her by the hand, approached us and bowed his head to us. “You have saved the life of my daughter. Truly, you have my sincerest gratitude.”
I waved it away. “Nonsense. No gratitude is needed. It was not only our duty to step in, but our privilege to be of service. To save one innocent life is to save the world entire.”
The others blinked at that, not just my host and his daughter, but the girls I was travelling with. They hadn’t seen me at my most formal, nor had they ever heard the expression I’d used, a line from the Talmud (and Schindler’s List). Finally the duke said, “Then I thank you for saving my world,” and chuckled softly. He took my hand in both of his and shook it firmly. “Anyway, I welcome you to my home.”
While Sue settled herself from the journey (and no doubt bathed and changed), the Duke invited us to join him for tea on the garden terrace, where we explained our reasons for visiting the capital and discussed who might have wanted to kidnap or assassinate his daughter… not that he had anyone in specific, but knew that there were some individuals among the kingdom’s nobility who would not be above kidnapping Sue in order to use her as leverage against the king.
Such dark thoughts were banished as Sue returned, dressed all in Pink and looking just as adorable as she could. She also smelled like rose petals, but not too strongly. She was also, I realized, wearing a choker that I’d glimpsed before, but hadn’t been able to see as clearly under her travel clothes as I could now that she was wearing a gown. At first glance, it looked like a simple metal disk suspended between two metal chevrons.
It was, or should have been utterly unremarkable. And it would have been, were it not for the fact that it represented a theme. See, Elze and Linze both wore these cute little purple uniform jackets that were tiny and entirely for style, and each of them wore little teal neckties to hold the collars of those jackets in place. The neckties were not knotted, however, but rather held in place with golden tie-clips, but not the simple bars a man would wear. No, the twins wore a matching pair of forks with a cross bar beneath. In the center of Elze’s was a circle. In the center of Linze’s was a third tine. In short, they were the astrological symbols for Pluto and Neptune respectively.
Putting those together with this new neck-related symbol, if one squinted, one would realize that Sue’s pendant was the astrological symbol for Uranus (Oo-ran-os, you juvenile perverts). Huh. It can’t be their ruling house… I wasn’t even certain those planets existed in this world… but it couldn’t be the same thing as in the world of my origin, since the twins wore different symbols but had been born the same day.
“I’m sorry, I was distract, who’s Ellen?” I asked, realizing I’d missed something while I was considering the implications of the symbols… Yae wasn’t wearing anything on her neck, but her kimono had a crescent moon on it over her heart. I went into third eye mode and found, once again, innocence and good will… and sadness. That was new. Again, as I closed my extra awareness, I saw wind from beyond this place and time ruffle the girl’s ribbons and hair. Huh.
“Ah,” the Duke said, “That would be my wife, you see. She would like to extend her thanks to you as well, though she seldom leaves her rooms.”
“Oh my,” I asked, looking between the Duke and his daughter. Something was… “I gather her health isn’t good?” I asked, sensing the worry in his voice and linking it to the spiritual sadness they both felt. “If it isn’t impolite to ask,” I hastened to add.
The Duke nodded, retaking his seat and motioning for us to do likewise. “About five years gone, my wife contracted a terrible illness. The healers managed to save her life, but not her vision, I’m afraid.”
“Ah,” I said, echoing his tone. “You have my sympathies.”
Linze asked, “Did you attempt to have it treated magically?”
“We did,” Sue said, “Papa and Uncle Tristwin brought in practitioners from all across the land, but since it wasn’t caused by a physical injury, they said they couldn’t do anything.” She sighed, “If only grandfather were still alive…” she trailed off and I could all but sense a moment of destiny clicking over. Everything hinged on this instant in time.
I was being played. Played by God? I didn’t think so. Played by something though. Maybe just Fate? I considered, then rejected the idea. I was being manipulated by Prophecy. The dead hand of some ancient seer had seen some terrible fate and had set something in motion, something that required a unique set of skills… like having the ability to use all forms of local magic perhaps? That seer had seen that such a one would come, and God had, probably without knowing it… he seemed like that kind of entity, the kind that didn’t micromanage very much… dropped me into the pot, so to speak… My vacation wasn’t going to stay very vacation-like, I guessed. Eh. What’s saving the world? I’d already saved one life.
“Your grandfather? Did he happen to have a Null magic spell that could reverse blindness?” I asked. Duke and Daughter both started, and my trio looked at me as if I’d just started speaking in tongues.
After a moment of shock, the Duke said, “Er… yes, actually. My wife’s father was able to cure any abnormality within the body, to restore a body to its proper function. That was part of the reason Sue went to visit Ellen’s mother, to see if she could learn more about the nature of that magic.”
Linze ahhed, “I see! Even though non-elemental magic is primarily personalized effects, if you know what one person can do, it becomes easier to find others with similar effects, right?”
The Duke nodded. “Indeed. We were hoping to find someone with a similar spell.”
I nodded, of course. A royal ally, travelling companions… no doubt I’d begin running into others who could assist me in whatever act of salvation was unfolding around me. Ah well, resisting prophecy is pointless, so I might as well ride it out until I could find out the nature of the threat. As long as I remained myself, hopefully things would turn out alright. “Do you happen to know the name of your grandfather’s spell?” I asked.
They did, of course, and twenty minutes later, there was much happy crying as the Duchess Ellen laid eyes upon her husband and daughter for the first time in half a decade. My new friends and I left the Ortlindes to their rejoicing, and exited, though all three of my girls were also sniffling. I sighed and handed out handkerchiefs. One can seldom have enough, I’ve found.
In the end, the Duke (beside himself with gratitude no matter how much I insisted that it would have been the most churlish action possible for me to not have helped) insisted upon rewarding us. Leim handed over a bag of some forty platinum, which was, of course, worth 400 gold or approximately thirty million dollars, give or take. I’d had more money, to be certain, but it was easily enough to live on for decades… or enough to get better equipment? Yeah, that sounded more likely.
I nodded and said, “If I say that this is too much, it insults the value of Sue’s life and Ellen’s sight, so instead, I will simply say that these funds will be put to good use.” I bowed my head just enough to be respectful to his lordship and the Duke smiled warmly back at me.
Leim nodded. “Of course. And his lordship’s wish is that you use it in aid of your adventuring career. He is sanguine that you will find others in need of your aid and feels that it would be a shame if you were unable to assist due to lack of proper equipment or tools.”
We all bowed again, though the girls bowed deeper than I did. After that, his lordship gave each of us a medallion, a five centimeter disk with a crest supported by lions rampant on either side, the symbol of the house of Ortlinde, on the front, and our names and a single word carved into the obverse. “These are a kind of identification, showing that you have the support of my family. Any checkpoint in Belfast should recognize them instantly, and they’ll allow you to make use of those facilities normally exclusive to nobles of the realm.”
Again, we thanked him. Elze’s word was ‘Courage’, Linze’s was ‘Compassion’, Yae’s was ‘Serenity’, and mine was ‘Sagacity’. Interesting choices.
As we took our leave, we divided the funds equally, though Yae tried to say she had not earned them. We tutted at the idea and would hear nothing of her attempts to return them as we made our way to the home of the Viscount Swordrick. Compared to the Duke’s it was almost cozy, but not in a bad way. It had a feel of much history about it and though small, it was no doubt sufficient to the Viscount’s city needs.
We turned over the letter, collected a response, and allowed Yae to make her introductions. She’d never met the man, as his sojourn in the lands to the far east had been some twenty years ago, but he was more than happy to hear word of his old fencing master, and practically eager to accept Yae’s offer to test herself against the veteran swordsmaster.
He showed us to his practice hall, which was (naturally) a dojo so Japanese it practically screamed ‘KARATE!’ like Ross from FRIENDS. Before the duel began, the Viscount asked if any of us knew healing magic, and once assured that both Linze and I could repair wounds, declared that this meant that there was little need to hold back, though they were using boken rather than live blades.
Figuring that Yae would never have seen herself fight before, and knowing how invaluable that could be I showed Linze how to hold my phone and set it to record. I stood a little way away, watching the two swordsmen limber up, and knew for a certainty that Yae was going to go down hard. She did, thanks to being too forthright to see through a shadow-ki move that the Viscount used, one that cracked a couple of her ribs, though I could tell that, even after the blow, she wasn’t really certain what had happened. The problem was that, although Yae was technically gifted… practically flawless, and while she certainly could kill, she lacked the force of will that came with killing intent. If she killed, it was because it was the needed thing. It was almost emotionless, without any fire to push beyond the forms. It was safe, and as long as it remained safe, she wouldn’t grow.
After healing the samurai-ko, I took off my jacket and cracked my neck once to each side before asking, “Swordrick-dono, will you do me the honor of allowing me to try myself against you?”
“You are a student of the sword?” he asked, noting that I wasn’t carrying one. Indeed, I had only two curved shortswords fixed in crossed dropsheaths on my back, not that he could see them. His tone was polite, but doubtful.
“I am a student of life,” I explained. “Though I have spent a few years studying a variety of bladed weapons.”
“If you step into the ring with me, I will not go easy on you,” He informed me, not a threat, merely a warning.
“If you allow me to step into the ring with you, I shall return the favor,” I said, voice carrying the same tone.
“Very well,” he said, holding his arms wide in welcome and stepping back to the far side of the mat.
I stepped across the divide from wood to cloth, my stockinged feet sliding into the stance known as Unicorn Defiant, and waited.
“You intend to face me without a sword?” he asked, incredulously. “Are you mocking me, girl?”
“Indeed, I am not. I am most sincere,” I said, “Please, do not hesitate to attack.
He shrugged, rolled his shoulders, and moved, lightning quick, a snap blow at the crown of my head… his oof as he hit the floor was most profound.
“It is unwise to underestimate an unarmed opponent,” I said, helping him up. “Shall we go again?”
He nodded, brow creasing in concentration. “I have a feeling I have invited a tiger to dance with me,” he said, chuckling. “I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?”
“You inflicted a small amount of pain upon my friend in order to teach her that she had limits she did not know about,” I said, confirming his suspicion. “It would be unworthy of me not to return the favor.”
Ninety minutes later, the Viscount finally called it quits. He was panting hard, moving a little stiffly, but he stood straight and bowed. “I thank you for the lesson, Sensei. It was… illuminating. You… are an interesting girl. I suspect you will do great… and possibly terrible things.”
I healed him of his aches and pains before we took our leave, and (pulling him aside) whispered to him, “Truthfully, your level of skill is no small thing, Carlossa (for that was his given name). I would rank you as, perhaps, among the top five percent of swordsmen I’ve ever encountered in all my many lives. My respect for your skill is why I tell you this thing that I have not shared with my travelling companions. I have lived many lives. Lives I remember perfectly. I have spent millenia honing my skill with blades of all kinds, and a host of unarmed martial arts as vast as the number of sword styles I know. Do not feel yourself shamed that you could not strike me. Feel, rather, that you have earned the respect of one who has seen nations rise and fall by picking yourself up off the mat time and time again, and strive until you reached your limit. Additionally, in one hundred and fifty four passes, you never once repeated yourself. In the end, you gave great face to your teachers and proved yourself a worthy opponent.”
He bowed deeply, as deep as one can go without kowtowing, and said, “I am honored to be so instructed. Please, if you ever decide to take on a pupil, consider me.”
“Perhaps,” I agreed, “but if I do, you will have pass my final test of worthiness.”
His eyes opened wide as he straightened. “What might that test be, oh Sage of Many Lives?”
“You will have to show me something that I have never seen in all my lifetimes,” I said, bowing slightly and returning to where the girls were gathered, ready to leave. I left him to contemplate the unknowable, feeling suitably buddhalike.
Once outside, Yae sagged. “I have so much too learn, I do! And you,” she pointed an accusatory finger at me. “You were most mean to the Viscount, you were! In his own home, it was!”
“He felt inflicting a little pain upon a friend of mine was warranted. I merely returned the favor. Such is the nature of the warrior’s path, is it not?” I asked, grinning up at the taller girl.
She blushed and turned away. “I… I should…” she trailed off, looking at a loss for what to do next.
I mentally kicked myself. ~Jouya, you idiot. You totally just assumed she was going to join your little band. Ask her, you moron.~ I sighed, rolled my eyes, then took Yae’s hands in my own. “Kokonoe-chan, it has been a great pleasure travelling with you, and I know I speak for all three of us when I say, we would very much like for you come stay with us in Reflet.”
Elze nodded, “Of course! You can join our guild, if you feel like becoming an adventurer, and perhaps even train with us. We have had so much fun together, it would be a shame if we had to part now.” Yae and Elze high fived… I guess that was a thing in this world.
“That’s not a bad idea at all,” Linze agreed. “Though Jouya is, as always, too rash and not delicate enough.”
“Humph!” I said. “I am a budding rose!”
“You are a great big Sunflower,” Elze said, “Always sticking your face into other people’s business.”
“Ooo… oooh… do me,” Linze said.
Unable to resist, I turned to face her and waggled my eyebrows, “Is that an invitation? I do know how to get you out of your panties.”
“Jouya!” all three gasped at that, and glowered at me. “A lady shouldn’t… shouldn’t say such things, she shouldn’t,” Yae muttered.
“Good thing I can turn into a boy if I want to, then isn’t it?” I said, smirking.
“You can!?” Linze and Elze said as one. Yae just gulped.
“Oh sure. I shouldn’t though, not here… I don’t know how big I’ll be in my male form.”
“Big?!” Yae squeaked.
“Not that way!” I laughed. “I meant about, you know-” I patted the top of my head.
“Oooh… That’s what I meant, it is!” Yae lied and the twins giggled.
“Sure it is, Yae!” Elze said, hugging the samurai-ko.
As we pulled away from the Swordrick manse, I showed Yae the film Linze had taken, much to the amazement of Elze and Yae (Linze was driving at the moment, and was pretending not to be impressed, but of course, she’d seen the magic of the ‘Smawtforn’ when she’d taken the shots.
We’d decided that, as we were flush with cash and in the largest city in the land, we might as well avail ourselves of the opportunity and do a little shopping. Yae and Elze headed off in one direction, while Linze and I headed off in search of a magical item shop. By asking around, we were directed to a shop called ‘Luca’, though we were warned that it only served nobles.
Linze and I were in no real hurry, and we’d agreed to meet up with the others in three hours time, long enough to shop, but not so late that we’d arrive back at Reflet after the gates closed for the night. We chatted as we walked, and I took in the large variety of non-human races that roamed the streets of the Capital. There hadn’t been any back in Reflet, but Alephis was ten times the size and far more cosmopolitan.
There were many varieties, from elves and dwarves and ogres to animal-men like minotaurs and lizardmen, but by far, the largest block of the non-humans were the beastmen. Unlike the animalmen, who had the heads and often other features of an animal, the beastmen were much more human, with only the ears and tails (and claws and canines) of their animal type.
I was somewhat surprised to notice, as I looked at the head of the little fox girl (blonde with yellow ears ending in black tips and a large fluffy tail ending in a white tip) walking right in front of us, that she had both sets of ears. “Is she a half-human?” I asked Linze, pitching my voice low.
“Oh no. All beastmen have four ears. The human ears are used for primary hearing and the animal ears for higher frequency and targeted hearing… according to the book I read,” she stammered, blushing.
“You don’t think I’ll like you less if you sound smart, do you?” I teased.
“N… no… I just don’t like showing off… is she lost?”
I looked at the girl, studying her behaviour, and indeed, it seemed as if she was casting about as if troubled. I stepped up to her and placed my hand on her shoulder, startling her a little as I asked, “Are you looking for someone or someplace?”
“Ahh… umm… I can’t find my sister,” she said, looking close to tears.
I groaned inside. Was she another lost lamb for me to save? No… no ungenerous thoughts. “Do you know where she might be?”
“We were supposed to meet up at a magic shop named Luca,” the girl (she was very small of stature, but she seemed like she was at least ten, maybe twelve, if I had to guess.) said.
Of course. It would be. “Ah, well, as it turns out, that’s exactly where we’re going!” I informed her. “You may accompany us if you like?” I offered her my hand. “I am called Jouya, and this is my teacher, Linze.”
“T-teacher?” squeaked Linze, elbowing me. “We… we’re not.. I’m not… I just taught her to read. We’re travelling companions.”
~What a weird reaction,~ I thought, but said nothing. Instead, I simply made small talk with Arma as we walked and indeed, a taller, more adult beastgirl was standing outside the shop when we arrived. Escort Mission Success!
Olga, the older sister, tried to pay us, but I refused. “We were literally coming here anyway, so it’s not like this took us out of our way.”
“Oh? Were you looking to buy some magical items?”
I shrugged. “I wanted to look at their selection, maybe find something like a pack of holding?”
“A pack of holding?” Olga asked. “Like a bag that immobilizes a captive?” she sounded a little worried, and I understood, since apparently slavery was a thing in some parts of this continent, and cute beastgirls were (obviously) much prized.
“Oh no,” I chuckled, shaking my head emphatically, “No. I mean a pouch or backpack that can store a great deal more inside it that it should be able to… hopefully while also reducing the weight. Sometimes almost found in the form of a ring.”
“Oooh. I see. I’ve heard of such items. Good luck,” she said, relaxing and the duo walked off, though Arma turned around to wave baibai to me and Linze.
“Cute kid,” I said.
“I… is that what you like, Jouya?” Linze asked.
“Cute? I do like cute,” I said, “but smart is even better. Although I do like foxes… and kittens… and ferrets. Ferrets are the best.” As we entered the shop, I launched into a short, passionate explanation of why, in fact, ferrets were the best, beginning with tiny button noses and ending with sharp pointy teef, but venturing into the deeper waters of adorkably bumbly, endlessly enthusiastic, and occasionally prone to savaging their own butts for no reason.
“You’re very weird sometimes,” Linze commented.
“Daaaling,” I drawled, “I’m very weird all the time. I just don’t normally demonstrate it.”
“Excuse me, please,” said a young man in a finely tailored suit and white gloves. Ah, a salesperson. “Welcome to Luca. Might you have something that proves your social standing? Or an invitation permitting you to shop here?”
Ah. So that’s how that worked. Reserved for the aristocracy indeed. That was a first for me. I’d been a few places with actual feudalism and nobility and class distinctions, but only in DUNE had there been much enforcement of it and there it was all but absolute. Nobles didn’t even shop in stores. They sent servants to do so… or often times owned the business, the employees, and the planet. When they said “I want to buy new shoes.” new shoes were brought to them. Tenchi had been much the same, at least back on Jurai and its galaxy wide holdings, but the class system wasn’t as restrictive to commoners. Anyone could shop anywhere, and sometimes the nobility did show up to shop places… at which point the shop went into OMG NOBLES mode and everyone else was kindly asked to stand in the street and gawp like good little non-immortal godbeings.
Most of the other feudal settings I’d been too: Demon’s Souls, Bleach, Redwall, Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Codex Alera, Dragon’s Crown, Mistborn, Princess Bride, Dishonored, Treasure Planet, Tortall, Familiar of Zero… even Elder Scrolls (from what little I remember of my actual stay there… perfect memory does not hold up well to that much booze)… all of them had been so low social distinction that the concept of noble just meant the guy with the bigger house (LoTR, Tortall, Elder Scrolls, Redwall), totally dysfunctional (Mistborn, Demon’s Souls, Familiar of Zero, Bleach), or fairly egalitarian (Dishonored, Treasure Planet, Codex Alera, Dragon’s Crown, Avatar, Princess Bride). Those places where there were hard class divides (Mistborn, FoZ, Bleach, Princess Bride, Codex Alera), those divides had either been marginal or absolute. In Mistborn and Bleach, the nobles couldn’t shop in the commoner shops any more than the commoners could shop in the noble district, thanks to incredibly rigid cast systems. In FoZ and Princess Bride, both fantasy Europe, the class distinction hadn’t been so absolute, but shops served everyone. In Codex Alera, Citizens were treated better than Commoners, but a Noble wasn’t guaranteed to be a Citizen, so the situation was far more complex… and like Rome before it, money was ultimately the only limit to what you could or couldn’t buy.
In fact, the only setting which was more restrictive about who could buy what than this one was Warhammer 40K. But there, it wasn’t so much that you had to be a noble to shop in some stores (there were stores like that on most worlds, yes), but there were levels above noble where you just bought and sold entire nations and a single starship could have a population larger than Alephis.
Still, just as I had in the grim darkness of the future, I had a quasi-mystical object that opened the doors of unlimited shopping to me and I showed the ‘just doing my job’ man the medallion given to me by the Duke and he nodded as if this was all mundane to him. And it probably was. He probably saw a few dozen servants or guards or noble cousins a day. “All is well then. Thank you for your patronage, young ladies. My name is Bryce, how can I help you today?”
“Well, Bryce, I was hoping-” I began, but Linze squealed and tugged my arm.
“Look! Isn’t that the prettiest coat?”
I blinked. It was, indeed, very nice. In fact, it was awesome. It was black and silver, crushed silk, covered in ebony buttons and silver knotwork bands on the cuffs and shoulders, with silver buckles on the best. It had a high neck and a wide hood. It had a gorgeous waistline and a removable tail. I wanted it more than I’d wanted any piece of clothing in the last… I don’t know how long, since I had no idea how long I’d spent in the Honorverse, but certainly a while. Unfortunately, I was barely five feet tall, and that coat, gorgeous as it was, was sized for someone considerably taller than me… and certainly bustier than I was. “It’s lovely… but it’s too big.”
“Never fear, young miss,” Bryce said, “like all our clothing and jewelry items, that coat is self-sizing. It will always fit the wearer perfectly. It is merely sized for the mannequin at the moment, since we only have one size of those.”
“Oh… well then… can I try it on?”
“Of course!” he said, then moved to pull it off the dressmaker’s form it was displayed on.
As I pulled it on, Linze asked, “What properties does it have, please?”
“It is enchanted with blade, heat, cold, and strike resistances. It also has a notably high resistance to offensive magic… though there is a small problem with that…” He looked nervous, as if he was afraid of losing the commission on the sale.
“Does it not have pockets?” I asked.
“Pockets? Oh no, of course not!” Bryce looked apalled at the idea. “It would ruin the lines!” Typical really… then I looked at the mens coats and considered that they probably didn’t have pockets either. This was a pouch kind of culture. “See, the problem is that the magic resistance depends on the magical affinities the wearer has.”
“Ah, so a fire user would have resistance to fire!” Linze said as I smoothed the lines of the coat. It was sooo nice, not too tight, not too loose, just the right sleeve and hem length… gods, I hadn’t considered buying an outfit this nice since back in YuGiOh!
“Er, yes,” Bryce said, “and that’s where the problem comes in. You see, the enchantment makes one doubly vulnerable to magics one lacks the affinity for.” He was almost sweating now. Poor dear.
“I dunno,” I said, “That seems like a pretty big problem… how much are you asking for this beauty? I mean, the magic isn’t so great,” I elbowed Linze before she could do more than open her mouth to mention that I could use all the elements. “But I guess it’s fashionable enough to wear about town.”
“I… well, we could make it cheap and sell it to you for… eight?” Bryce suggested.
“Eight silver? That’s quite reasonable,” I said, being deliberately obtuse.
“Ah, no. Gold,” the salesman corrected. “Eight gold.”
“Ah…” I frowned, “Oh well. I could see going as high as three gold, but eight? With such a glaring vulnerability?”
Linze opened her mouth to ask what I was doing… it was like she’d never heard of haggling… is this what happens in a world without Jews? No one knows about haggling? No, clearly Bryce did. Linze didn’t. Soo innocent. I accidentally on purpose stepped on her foot.
“I could speak to the owner,” Bryce suggested. “Maybe he would be willing to go down to seven?”
“Not a copper over five,” I came back.
“Six and a half?”
“Five and seven.”
“Six two, and that’s cutting out my commission.”
“We both know you’ll settle for six, and we both know you’re still getting a commission at that price,” I said, eyes bright with the thrill of the deal.
He grunted, then grinned, sticking out his hand. “Sold!” We shook and he smirked, shaking his head slowly, “You’re good. I’d have gone down to five eight, you know?”
“I know. But you deserve the commission, and weakness or not, this is a very nice coat. Tell you want, if you have any rings that can act as storage, I’ll take one, if we can reach a mutually acceptable price.”
I ended up spending eleven gold, and considered it money well spent. In addition to my coat and a ring capable of holding seven and a third cubic meters of material (and recalling anything stored either to my hand if I summoned it palm up, or onto the ground in front of me if I summoned it palm down), I also got a wonderful pair of boots that would allow me to jump up to nine and a quarter meters straight up (that was apparently the gravitational constant of this world… be interesting to see how well it worked in other worlds) and further lengthwise. They were also guaranteed to keep my feet nice and dry even if I was wading through a swamp. I fucking love magic. They were also extremely nice looking, all black leather and silver threadwork and buckles. They came up to my mid calves and had a heavy sole with a centimeter and a half heel, and (wonder of wonders) actual treads that had been hand carved into the leather before they were enchanted for extra durability. I loved my new boots… and I was very much looking forward to smashing some bandit’s face with them. Got to break them in somehow.
Linze ended up getting a new wand with her money… it was very pretty too, more macelike than wandlike, with three large magic crystals in the head (one each for Fire, Water, and Light). Before we hooked up with the others, I stopped in to a local bakery and bought up a box of assorted cookies, sticking them in my ring. We got back to the inn we’d stashed the cart at just as the sun was about to hit the horizon.
“Oooo! Nice coat!” Elze cooed, running her hand along the sleeve. “And those boots… all the black is a little much, but it suits you!”
“And they’re enchanted,” I said, waggling my eyebrows. “Defense against all offensive magic for the coat as well as blade and blunt attacks, and the boots are guaranteed to stay dry inside.”
“Resistance to all offensive magic? How much did that cost!”
“Not nearly as much as the store wanted to charge,” Linze said, ratting me out. “She tricked that poor salesman!”
“It’s called haggling, Linze,” I said. “He claimed the coat was cheap at eight… that means it’s not cheap and he’s expecting you to dicker.”
“But you made it seem like the coat would make you vulnerable, when it won’t!” Linze protested.
“Yes!” I agreed. “I did. It’s called knowing something he didn’t know. If he knew how good a deal the coat was for me, he’d have raised the price… that’s how business works. Supply and demand. As long as he assumed no one would have universal affinity, he believed that the coat was as much a liability as it was a benefit for most people. They were expecting a low margin of profit on the coat.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “Imagine you rush in to a shop and say ‘I must have that wand, cost is no object!’ Do you think they’ll charge you what they’d charge someone who is interested but clearly unwilling to pay full price?”
“They could wait until someone is willing to pay full price, could they not?” Yae asked. Ah, poor lambs.
“Look, I’ll be perfectly happy to explain the intricacies of deal making to you all, but we should get back to Reflet sooner than later. Unless we want to be gone another day?” Linze and Elze shook their heads, so we rolled out of town just as the sun well and truly vanished beneath the horizon. The girls weren’t sold on my explanation that even though the sun had set at Alephis, it would still be another eight minutes before the sun finished setting at Reflect, 254 kilometers to the west and 31 kilometers closer to the equator. Since the gates of the city closed as soon as the last light of day was gone, that gave us just enough time.
Of course, I was right. Magic is magical and all, but science… ah… science… science is good too! Of course, what I failed to anticipate was that we’d be gating right into the middle of a dozen slimes trying to get into the town. The screams we released were loud enough to bring the guards from the gate running, but the cart was a total loss as Linze and I had to burn the accursed things before they could… well… they were probably trying to eat our clothing, but they weren’t exactly discriminating when it came to crawling all over us. Apparently I need magical pants too, because my shirt and pants were mostly gone by the time we led the horse through the gate (the guards were nice enough to hold it open past dark due to the fight and were polite enough to avert their eyes.) but the magical gear we wore was unscathed.
Micah wasn’t behind the counter when we got to the Silver Moon, figuring we’d settle the matter of the cart in the morning… you know, when we had clothing that wasn’t falling apart on us. Instead, there was a red beard attached to the face of a tough-looking man. “Welcome! Ya stayin’?” he asked.
“Ah. Actually, yes. We’re already registered. We just got back from a job,” Elze explained, seeming less concerned that her sister to be flashing panty.
“Ahh, so ya were here before, eh? Sorry, first time seein’ ya an’ all.”
“Where’s Micah?” I asked.
“She’s in the back,” redbeard said, then bellowed, “Oy! Micah! Customers lookin’ fer ya!”
She peered out from the kitchen and grinned, “Back already? You girls work fast… oh dear… Slimes?”
We nodded, then Elze asked, “Who’s the beard with the muscles?”
“Oh. Right! This is my dad! He just got back from a long-distance restocking trip!”
Micah’s Dad extended a hand roughly the size of a small ham and said, “Name’s Dolan! Nice to meet ya!”
I shook it and grinned. “Jouya. And these are my girls, Yae, Linze, and Elze.”
“Y… your girls, is it?” Yae asked, sounding confused.
“Yeah!” I said, “Like, we’re the gang! And you’re my girls, right?”
There was much blushing at that… what the hell? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m totally not above flirting, but didn’t women in this world call their friends that? That would be a first. I shook my head in bemusement, then turned back to Dolan, “Yae’s joining us. She eats a fair amount, so you’ll probably want to charge her like, four copper a day?”
Dolan chuckled. “Can’t be that bad! Tiny thing like her!”
I grinned, “Betcha. Betcha she can eat more than you can. Yae wins, she stays for three copper, you and your beard win, Yae stays for five copper.”
Yae blushed at being put on the spot like that, but the other two encouraged her. We needed the morale boost after the slime assault on our wardrobe. Dolan took the bet, and we went upstairs to change into less sanctified (Holey) clothing. Of course, Yae and her truly extraordinary metabolism won. Micah and Dolan were at a complete loss for words. Micah did like her gift though, which was nice.
The next morning, we reported back to Zanac to inform him of the job’s completion, and to inform him that, although the trip had been shorter than planned thanks to my [GATE] spell, we were going to need to use the last of the funds he’d provided for travel expenses to pay for the destroyed cart and to replace our clothing.
To say he was surprised was an understatement, but he thanked us for our speed and honesty. “But you must let me replace your clothing for you. You lost them in my service, after all… and I must say that that robe your pink friend is wearing is most interesting… would she sell it to me?”
Yae, who’d been driving the cart as we came through was the only one of us with intact clothing… which was good, because she only had that one kimono, though she had several changes of pants and under garments. She wasn’t willing to sell it, but she did agree to allow Zanac to exam the garment as long as he didn’t damage it.
We left Zanac’s shop with a new outfit apiece, and headed to the carter’s shop, Wagon Forward, to report the loss of the vehicle and to return the horses (whose names were Pepper and Stormy). The owner was, of course, glad to have his horses back unharmed, but said he couldn’t possibly take money for the bucka, since we’d gone and saved the horses from those horrid monsters. Anyway, the bucka was old and rumor said there was a new kind of wagon coming out soon.
We insisted, he resisted. Finally, he allowed us to give him five silver for his loss, though he claimed he’d be able to salvage three of the wheels and both axles and the leadpost (the thing the horses are attached too. The front seat was a little charred, but the owner said he could use it as a bench.
So then we had to trek back to Zanac and explain that, as it turns out, we didn’t have to pay for the bucka, and he could have the rest of his travel expenses back, but that just amused the man so much that he too refused to take the coins. WHAT IS WITH PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD!?
To Be Continued in Part Three!
Next: Under Another Sky
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: I hope people are enjoying the two divergent storylines enough to justify this switching back and forth. Don’t worry, I’ve also got a Solace bit coming out this week. Good lord, this is 17,000 words and that’s… hah. NaNoWriMo? I write 40,000 words almost every month. Sometimes more. In some ways it’s liberating, in others it’s like AAAAAhhh, there’s just soo much there!
Oh, and for you fashion kings and queens out there… The Coat (Because Touya’s coat is lame and boring)