Chapter two: A road less traveled by
Alexander walked the cobble streets with his sword bouncing off his hip with every step and a bag that was making him hunch from the weight, but this mild annoyance was worth it as now his journey was finally beginning. No longer would he be some mere farmer, he would soon be a dragon-slaying badass. It’s only been around thirty minutes since getting this sword, Alex was feeling pretty great. It turns out all you need to feel good is to be better than others, who would have guessed? But Alex had more pressing issues than his dragon fighting fantasies. He looked before him as in the village square illuminated by hand-sized gems was his target. Admittedly this could go south very quickly, and Alex put his hand in his pockets because it was just cold, he definitely wasn’t trying to hide his shaking.
“What do you want, kid?” The man before him said. Alex had approached a group of people armed with knives most likely for utility more than actual combat and crossbows. They were the group who organised and getting paid for this travel company? Would you call it a company? There were also two argonauts though, you could tell by their absolutely ridiculous weaponry. One of them had a sword their size, and the other had four different staffs. Who could possibly need that many staffs? Why would you ever need that many staffs? The final little party to this group was regular people, no overcompensating swords nor three staffs more than necessary.
“Are you travelling south to the town of Foundation?” Alex asked already knowing the answer; he knew the exact route of the transport after a little bit of stalk- researching. But he found that a question was a good conversation starter.
“That is one of our stops. Why? Do you have the coin to pay for such a trip though?” The man questioned. A lone child trying to go somewhere wasn’t uncommon in his line of work, what was unusual was if they actually could pay.
“Well, of course, I can pay silly. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.” Alex said to the rather unimpressed looking man.
“Fine whatever, it’ll be 100 bronze.”
“Well, I would pay you the 100 bronze. Small problem though, I don’t have that much. However, I do have something worth much more.”
“No, my body.”
“I’m sorry your what?”
“My body, what am I not for enough for you? Cause that guy has been basically stripping me down with his eyes. Yeah that’s right I see you, my eyes are up here, buddy.”
“Are you done?”
“No, I’m Alex.”
“Okay, clearly you can’t pay. So, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Or nothing, your welcome to stand there and do nothing for the rest of what little of the day we have left.”
“Well, you drive a hard bargain. I must say you are quite the negotiator, and in fact, this reminds of a story I once heard. Would you care to hear it?”
While Alexander and the man were engrossed in heroic tales of danger sacrifice and utter bullshit, the real Alex was sneaking around the back. The other Alex stalling for time was a result of Alex’s only spell doppelgänger. Spells were rewarded via levels. The higher the level generally resulted in more spells. Another way to attain spells was through the use of equipment or by absorbing a book of knowledge. However, equipment was expensive, and a book of knowledge costed not just money but also required reputation.
Alex was only level 4 and only had one spell. Doppelgänger, it created a double of the user. When he first got the spell all, it was just a stationary image of him. Fortunately, 15 years was a long, long time to practice, Alex could make his doppelgänger produce sound, create shadows and interact with objects providing that the force applied was minimal or else the spell would shatter.
Hiding in one of the shadows of the dark alley, he watched as the workers started to stop loading the cargo and beginning to focus on making sure the horses were ready and loading customers. There were four carriages in total. One would be for food and storage, and the others would be for passengers. Fortunately, the storage carriage was all alone.
Keeping himself low, he did a weird crouch run towards for his target. Whether he ducked or stood up straight wouldn’t have mattered if someone looked in his general direction, but inexperience often makes a person make small mistakes like so. Although despite his lack of talent and skill, Alex reached the carriage and his next mistake.
With haste, he dived inside, causing the of creaking wood to echo. Fear etched itself on his face as he silently swore to himself. Shooting to the back of the carriage Alex hid behind a crate created a symphony creaks and cracks.
“What the hell was that?” The man who was trying hard not to hit Alex’s doppelgänger said.
“I’ll check out what it is.” A deep voice bellowed. It reminded Alex of a captain of the military that once passed through his town with powerful charisma dripping off it.
Alex hugged the crate with his back letting silent curse out one after another that often involved himself, the gods and the carriage people’s mothers.
Alex heard a heavy boot slam into the entrance of his carriage. “Okay stowaway, show yourself, and I promise that you won’t be injured.” Hearing his voice, Alex felt compelled to follow his orders. Most likely from a class like a knight or a paladin that had heavy charisma. Alex’s abysmal charisma and low level would be his bane as despite knowing the consequences this would have he showed himself.
Looking at the man, Alex realised that it was the argonaut with the massive sword from before. “Oh my god thank god your here! I was tracking the stowaway, but it appears that he escaped, don’t worry I’ll lock down this um... area while you search for the scumbag.” Alex said, causing the man to raise an eyebrow.
“Relax kid I’m not kicking you off. You didn’t think you could sneak on an argonaut without being one yourself, or in your case so low level. You really think I’d fall for that parlour trick you pulled before.”
Unlike argonauts, most of the normal classes wouldn’t reach a sense stat of 50 until late in their lives to grant them the ability to sense magic. A regular non-argonaut class would start to peak at around level 50 as the task they would usually do would not provide the experience required to level up at an acceptable rate. Classes like enchanter and other special non-argonaut classes would have a higher cap but still lower than an argonaut class.
“Would you be offended if I said yes?”
“Oh, that’s unfortunate.” Alex said, slightly embarrassed, as demonstrated by the hue of pink in his cheeks. So far, this perfect plan of his kept on being more flaw than less.
“However, today is your lucky day. After all, I heard you couldn’t pay, and you seemed quite dedicated, and that trick you pulled on that pathetic mercenary was entertaining. What are you? An assassin? A mystic? Whatever, doesn’t matter.” The argonaut spoke with cheer. Alex however, forced a smile. He didn’t miss the comment about the mercenaries. It could have been that they were incompetent but most likely that this man was prejudice of non-argonaut classes.
Being grown up as one, he realised how discriminatory argonauts could be against them. It was either downright disrespect or the more common unintentional comment, it always was found. Argonauts fights monsters and they would be the one to fetch them drinks and listen to there orders. Most argonauts wouldn’t judge, but subconsciously they would never see us as there equals.
“Why thank you, sir. I appreciate it.” Alex said, hiding a clenched fist.
The man just looked confused at Alex realising that something about him was causing him to feel something other than absolute joy at being in his presence. Shrugging, he jumped out of the carriage.
“It was just a large rat, don’t worry all taken care of.” The man announced to the group of passengers and mercenaries.
“Thank you,” the man who was talking to the doppelgänger said, turning away from the fake Alex. Turning back to the kid, he found nothing of the annoyance he was speaking to before. “Where the hell did that kid disappear too?”
3 hours later
“I’m so bored. If boredom had boredom, then I would be that boredom’s boredom. Ultra boredom? Mega boredom? Super ultra mega alpha boredom?” Alex said to himself, feeling the slowly approaching insanity dig into the depths of his mind. The hard floor and the insistent bouncing of the carriage made Alex contemplate whether to kill every single carriage or himself.
Foundation was a city on the other side of the forest from his town. It was larger and had a guild. A guild was a place where argonaut classes could register to become an argonaut and take missions to earn money. Odd, how even if you have an argonaut class you have to register to become an argonaut.
Thing is the forest Alex was passing through was filled with monsters. Not powerful levels, even a none-argonaut class could kill one or two of them. Problem was it wasn’t the level of the monsters, it was the amount which is why two argonauts were required.
Already in the trip two attacks had already occurred, and when someone came to check the cargo, Alex was unfortunately put in the situation of hopping into a magic crate with fish stored in it.
It didn’t help that for the past five minutes there was that god dammed screaming. Alex wanted to yell shut up! But that would give away his current status of stowaway. They wouldn’t leave Alex out in the wild by himself, but it still wouldn’t be pleasant. Suddenly the carriage came to a stop.
“Oh good, we are stopping again. Thank god, I mean I would hate to go to fast and overtake a snail.” Alex sighed swearing that when he finds the person who made carriages that he would push them under one. Die by your own creation. Heh, ironic. Wait is that ironic?
Bang! A loud sound hollowed through the carriage as the large sword argonaut kicked the carriage.
“Hey what the hell man!”
“We have to get out of here now!” He yelled at Alex. Before he could ask why he needed to leave or the need for such rude treatment, the argonaut left.
“Oh, that’s cool friend. Just leave I have tons of other friends, and we didn’t like you anyway. Isn’t that right crate of fish... fuck you fish.” Alex started to slowly walk over to the exit/entrance with numb legs and boredom.
“I’m getting real sick of adults in these past two days.” Alex murmured to himself as he reached the exit. As he was about to jump down, he felt negative intent from behind and something had grasped at his shirt's collar.
Alex turned to face whatever was touch his back. Strange though. He could have sworn he was the only living thing in the carriage. Wait. He was the only thing alive in the carriage, and what was that mountain of murderous negative intent? “Oh, fuck.”
When he turned, he was greeted with breath as cold as snow and a hand around his throat. Before him was a banshee. It looked like a noble lady with its unblemished skin, gorgeous pale blue dress that even when torn and ripped looked ten times better than his clothes. She was slightly transparent and glowing a pale blues s her eyes were glowing white. The only thing that could be considered unpleasant with the women was that her jaw was reminiscent of a shark and her cheeks were ripped apart by how large her mouth was opened revealing row after row of sharp teeth. Cause you know, being ironically hot for something so cold and able to go through solid objects at will wasn’t enough.
Alex gripped at the hand coiled around his throat, the banshee found displeasure in this and like a hot knife through butter her long nails dug deep into his throat causing blood to leak out of it’s home.
“Guh gur uh” Alex gurgled as more and more blood left his body. The banshee smiled with its rows and rows of teeth. The smile was so large it literally almost reached her eyes which was more creepy than beautiful.
A tremendous force sliced the carriage in two splitting the banshee’s arm from Alex’s throat along with the carriage. The banshee squealed in pain and left through a wall leaving Alex bleeding out by himself.
“What did I tell you!” The argonaut who apparently returned from leaving confused boys alone yelled rhetorically with the unnecessary large sword in hand and all. The was a large cut in the ground from where he stood that extended past the carriage.
“Guh uhhhh.” Alexander gasped from his still bleeding neck in response.
“Dumb kids,” The Argonaut ran over leaping inside the destroyed carriages in a leap and taking out a gel substance from a bottle. Kneeling next to Alex he said, “Now this is going to hurt. Troll fat burns when used on a wound, I would say try not to scream, but you know. You got the whole neck thing going on.”
Placing the gel on Alex’s neck, his eyes went wide. Gasps and curdled screams escaped his lips. Growing up as a farmer wasn’t perfect, Alex was once stung by a hornet's nest after being in the wrong place at the wrong time and was polka-dotted for ages much to the enjoyment of his sister.
But this. He would rather swallow hornets then feel what felt like a miniature sun being pressed against his throat. Soon the holes caused by the banshee began to close, and Alex was close to unconsciousness. This was not toughing out the pain or being strong or powerful; he simply couldn’t do anything like the sensation of burning healed his neck.
“K-kill me.” Alex moaned through his teeth and pain.
“Okay crybaby, but your situation called for more than the regular health potion. You were drowning on your blood, and your throat was not going to last. Now if you can excuse me, I have people to save.” With that, my ‘hero’ left with his big sword and all.
Letting out a hoarse groan Alex crawled himself out of the wreckage. Seeing outside was exactly why he preferred staying at home. What could be described as a hornet nest of banshees were in a frenzy above the carriages. Now dealing with both he could tell the similarities. Numerous and a pain in the ass.
“Why the hell are banshees here this place is too low level for them to spawn!” The many staff person screamed, shooting lightning and fire out of the two staffs in his hands.
Constantly banshees were swooping my down and momentary becoming intangible to grab people. Wait no, looking closer they weren’t taking people, just women? Since when were monsters gender specific?
Alex looked around and saw the mercenaries spreading everyone out, and it seems they realised they were only taking the women and killing the men, so they tried grouping everyone and firing bolts from there crossbows. The staff guy was busy killing banshees, but where was sword guy? The sound of clashing metal through the noise of lightning caught Alex’s attention by some miracle.
Running towards the sound, Alex saw the sword guy fight another man in a lab coat? He looked like steampunk mixed with a doctor with his white coat and goggles on his head. He had a name tag on his coat saying ‘hello my name is DEATH’. Well, that just isn’t necessary. Now Alex wasn’t an expert at fighting, but it appeared that sword guy was losing. Being an argonaut in such a low-level area tends to hold a person back for the sake of money. The doctor of death had two short swords that looked that had a blade like a scalpel. Strange, duel welding is often thought as impractical but the doctor seemed to be kicking the argonauts’ ass. The thing that Alex found the worst part was that his simile never left his face the whole time.
Alex’s hand trembled on the hilt of his undrawn blade. Now would be a time for a hero to rise and fight the forces of evil. Yet Alex’s feet only stepped back in fear. How was he supposed to fight what an argonaut couldn’t at level 4!
“Hey, you get over here! A mercenary yelled from the large group at Alex. It looked like the mercenaries decided to let the Argonauts fight while they guard the customers. Not sure whether if grouping up was the best idea, Alex shrugged.
Not seeing any better option he sprinted over. But it turns out that during a monster attack they aren’t going to let you have a moment of peace. A banshee swooped down nails sharper then any arrowhead Alex had seen. His passive told it was coming, but he did not have the skill to dodge or the courage to move. Just as the banshee was to impale him, the banshee was tackled by a something covered in black mist. After the hit occurred, Alex got a look at his new hero. He was getting sick of being saved, but he found being saved more appealing than death. When the mist dispersed a girl around his age was revealed. She was an elf demonstrated by her long and pointy ears, her eyes seemed to made of emeralds, and her hair weaved out of the night sky itself. Her black hair was long and tied to the back. Alex thought that he would get frostbite by touching her snow-white skin and her beautiful pink lips look- No, no, no! Not now!
Alex saw that she had a mix of black and brown battle clothing around her body and a katana. But it appeared whatever she did to the banshee was ineffective as the banshee got back up with only a small cut on its back as a reminder of its battle. Unfortunately for the girl, it seemed she had been dealing with the banshees before demonstrated by the cuts upon cuts on her.
“Are you just gonna stand there or do I need to walk for you?” She scowled. Alex was not only getting sick of being saved but by the attitude they all these ‘heroes’ seemed to have.
“I’m on it!” Alex yelled, running over to the group with elf katana girl passing him with her much much faster speed.
“Great now we can all die together,” one of the crossbow people wined, so far the whole keeping the populous calm and saying everything was fine didn’t apply here.
“We will all be okay if we stick together.” Mr together person said. At least this one had the right idea.
Everything was working out just fine, no banshees no problem- “Fuck!” Alex held his head in pain. His passive was going off even worse than with the banshees. Something was creating a lot of negative intent, and it was coming from where the sword guy and the doctor was fighting.
“We need to move now!” Alex screamed, pushing himself out of the group. Turning around, he saw that no one heeded his warning.
“What the hell! We need to go no-”
Alex was cut off by a column of light shooting down from the sky that swallowed where he just was along with all the people. The light was blinding and burning. Okay, Alex sick of being saved! Other people! And burning! Especially burning.
Eventually, the blind light stopped, and not even bones remained, just scorched earth. The worst part is Alex didn’t really care. Death was normal. Monsters, disease other people tended to desensitise the death of a nameless face. He had to kill farm animals himself and while it wasn’t correct to say he didn’t care it was more that he knew it was sad but no felt grief or despair.
“Damn that girl was super pretty as well.” Alex said. “Oh god I’m still in puberty why hasn’t this ended yet!”
“What?” A feminine voice spoke from behind
Turning his head, Alex saw the katana elf girl with a very unimpressed expression.
“So, you aren’t dead. Silver lining right?” Alex spoke, trying desperately to make sure that the previous statement was not brought up to question.
“Right... so, you wanna tell me how you knew about the whole holy judgment thing or what?”
“Birth trait,” The girl merely raised an eyebrow mostly going through all classes that would have a precognition birth trait.
“How did you survive the column of light?” He asked.
“When someone yells about dying and getting out of the way, it usually means you should.” Yet despite that, her white skin looked a little red and steamy? She mist of been closer to the death ray then Alex to get that crispy look she had.
“Yeah, that makes sense I guess? So um. What now?” Alex asked the girl who he didn’t think was hot at all whatsoever.
“What do you mean?”
“Like do we wait here or what? I mean because the two people who should be protecting us aren’t doing that fantastic of a job. I’ve basically already died once and not feeling keen to try my luck a second time,” Alex said, remembering his past experience with a banshee.
“Mmm,” She hummed in thought. “Do you know how to use that sword?” She asked, taking a look at Alex’s sword dangling by his side.
“Stabby part goes in enemies, non-stabby but goes in hand,” Alex said, explaining the deep secrets and knowledge that only a true warrior could provide on the elegant but dangerous path of the blade.
“Good enough, I guess. Okay, the plan is that we walk the rest of the journey. If we secure a map and a compass from the wreckages then we should be able to cut through the forest and get to Foundation at most in two days.” She explained.
“Okay, you do that I’ll check out what was in the storage carriage that is worth steali- borrowing. I mean borrowing.”
“Whatever,” she rolled her eyes. “Also, do you smell fish?”