As planned, Liam arrived back at the Inn by the time the sun was setting. He’d even managed to get his own shopping done, which was a bonus as far as he was concerned. That just left another day free for him to relax like the other two had been doing. Or at least, he assumed they had been doing. Both had wet hair, indicating they had just returned from the baths once more - something Liam hadn’t found the time to enjoy as of yet. He would have to find some way to get revenge for this outrage.
“Well, I see you two have had a productive day. And how were the baths?”
“Actually, we did. It wouldn’t do to turn up covered in sweat after training all day.”
Liam raised his eyebrows at Cassandra, not fully believing her. He turned his attention to Leah, who confirmed.
“Yep. Definitely training all day.”
“Well you sound convincing. But, I’m sure I’ll be able to get the truth out of the both of you later.”
“Later? Oh, right.”
Cassandra slapped Leah on the back.
“I hope you hadn’t forgotten what was going to happen today. We are going to get all of your secrets out tonight!”
Leah groaned, not looking forward to another inevitable hangover, yet not seeing any way out of her situation. It seems the both of them were dead set on living it up tonight, and nothing Leah could do or say was going to stop them from dragging her along. That didn’t mean she was going down without a fight though.
“Really guys, I get it, but I’m not exactly looking forward to the morning… I might just sit this one out.”
“Oh no, you aren’t getting out of it that easily. This is a celebration, don’t you know?”
“And a wake.”
That got Leah and Cassandra’s attention. Liam left a moments pause before continuing.
“I spoke to the bishop of the local church today. Among other things, she’s going to sort out the burials for the others when their bodies arrive.”
“But, no reason we can’t celebrate their lives now. I mean, the ale is going to be flowing anyway, and I know Marigold wouldn’t forgive us if we passed up a golden opportunity like this.”
“Cheap ale, cheap party. Yeah, that was definitely her style.”
The both of them looked at Leah again.
“And she absolutely wouldn’t let you get away from living it up with us tonight. So, are you going to chicken out and disrespect the dead.”
“Low blow guys, low blow. Fine. You’ve twisted my arm. But I am going to be grumpy at you tomorrow, and you don’t get to complain about it.”
After checking in with the admins for a guild affiliated tavern, the party set off together in the direction they were pointed. It didn’t take long for them to find it - the gathering of obvious adventurers outside gave it up pretty quick. A pair spotted their arrival, and cheered, walking over to slap Leah on the back. She glared over at Cassandra, who gave a dramatically faked shrug and smirked.
“Oh, someone, I couldn’t say who, MAY have let slip that there may be a newbie signing on today, and that anyone interested should make their way over here first.”
“And you did this, why exactly?”
“Its not exactly a party if its just the three of us. Besides, if you stop drinking, the discounts go away, so now theres plenty of people around who have a vested interest in keeping you here.”
“We wouldn’t want you slipping away without us. The streets are dangerous at night!”
Liam chipped in, nudging Leah’s back.
“Damn you guys- Wait, if you knew where we were going, why did you have to ask for directions?”
Liam whistled and turned away. Cassandra spoke up for him.
“Well, just in case there were any stragglers who didn’t know what was going on. You didn’t wonder why he spoke so loudly?”
“Monsters. The both of you are monsters.”
“Monsters who planned you an epic party. And will now proceed to get you drunk to match. Come on, lets get in there.”
The night started with a cheer, and a flood of people, once waiting, crowding the bartender. The poor man had been warned in advance that there would be a newbies party that night, but nothing could have prepared him for the tide of grizzled veterans and toughened fighters, now flocking to his establishment to drink him dry at a discount. It was just one of the negatives that came with being guild affiliated - you had to provide for these sorts of events. The consistent income certainly helped to alleviate that, though, so he couldn’t complain. Leah and company managed to force their way through eventually, once the crowd had parted enough for the three to get past. A single look from the barkeep told the three that he knew this was all their fault, but they were served all the same. As soon as tankards were in front of them and in hand, they were shoved to the side, another group not wanting to wait for one of the assistants to take their order.
The party made their way over to a table, which was vacated with a quick word from Liam. They took their seats, and Leah stared into her tankard, as if dreading what was to come. That got her another slap on the shoulder from Cassandra.
“Ah, come on! Whats the worst that can happen?”
“The worst? The worst is I create more stories that none of you are allowed to tell. Except this time, it’ll be in front of people I may have to see again.”
“Never say never. Who knows if we’ll ever go back to Kryp’s Ford?”
“Please don’t. They know my new deepest, darkest secrets.”
“And as do we. And unless you want them to accidentally slip out, well, you might just want to start drinking.”
Leah answered Cassandra’s smirk with a glare, but picked her drink up and took a big old gulp. It was rough and nasty stuff, but it was far from the worst booze Leah had ever stomached. And tasting it brought back memories. Memories of a simpler time, when the only things she had to worry about were exams, and her impending fate of being a cog in the machine of some company. Times when she wasn’t at risk of dying almost every single day. Times when things were… boring. She’d barely been in this world a week, and she had no idea what she was doing here, but things felt… better. Like she COULD do something. Like she wasn’t just drifting through life in a haze, living just to die one day. Which, now that Leah thought about it, she had. She’d gone to a party, gotten drunk, and died. She could remember everything about it. The sensations… Safe to say, alcohol did not have many good memories associated with it. But if she was going to live in this world, then she needed to live. There was nothing else for it. She would just have to create new memories to associate with beer. And if nothing else, getting drunk would certainly help purge the nastier thoughts of her wasted life.
She drank again, and drank deep, to cheers from Cassandra and Liam. This brought on cheers from the table over, and soon a small crowd had gathered to cheer her on in pounding the whole thing. She slammed the now empty tankard down on the table, metal ringing against wood, and looked between Liam and Cassandra.
“Well? You wanted me to party? Lets hope you have what it takes to keep up.”
Liam grinned, and stood up, placing one foot on the table and ignoring the resulting glare from the barkeep. He put his hands around his mouth and shouted out.
“Friends! Comrades! Today we welcome into our ranks a new adventurer! I’m sure you’re appreciative of the evening we have in store for us, so lets hear some of that appreciation for Leah…”
He trailed off in the middle of his speech, and look down to Leah.
“Uh, well. This is awkward. What IS your surname?”
“Wait, you’ve never asked?”
Leah was leaning back in her chair, not one hundred percent happy with the attention, but finding it tolerable with the warm glow suffusing her.
“It never came up in conversation! Can you blame us?”
“I’m sure I can find something to blame on you. Eppling, seeing as asked so nicely.”
He returned to shouting. A cheer rose up, though tempered with a few in the crowd shaking their heads. Liam look back down to Leah, looking sheepish.
“Don’t be sorry just yet.”
The night moved on, and with it, so did people. Some came, and some left, but the tavern remained bustling well into the night. The promise of cheap drinks to a group that faces danger on a daily basis is something that rarely goes unanswered. Contrary to their intentions, Liam and Cassandra didn’t force Leah to get blitzed. Instead, the party of three paced themselves, taking their time and nursing their drinks - after Leah’s display, of course. Nevertheless, they found themselves getting drunker and drunker as the evening wore on, especially once the drinking games began. Leah was dragged into a few of them, before she gracefully bowed out, followed by a quite tipsy elf ranger. The two of them found themselves leaning against a wall outside, taking in some fresh air and a break from the noise inside. Liam had promised he’d been right behind them, but Cassandra had some words on that topic.
“I doubt he’ll be out here any time soon. I guarantee you, he’s convinced them to place bets now, and is busy fleecing them all of their latest earnings.”
Leah shook her head, a smile on her face. The evening was cool, but not unpleasant. Absent of the wind that seemed ever present in this part of the world, the temperature was almost perfect for sitting outside. Just a hair too cold to be perfect, but not enough to warrant an extra layer. She drew her cloak in tighter regardless, the warmth inside her countered slightly by the air around her. She leaned her head back against the wall, and looked up at the stars.
“You know, I’ve not had a chance to actually look at the sky yet.”
Cassandra followed her gaze up.
“Huh. Yeah, I’d not thought of that. It must be completely different from what you’re used to, right?”
Leah tilted her head and squinted at a cluster that was maybe, probably a constellation.
“I wouldn’t, honestly, be able to tell you much about the sky from my home. I know we had constellations, and people navigated by them, but for me, they were just pretty. And these stars… Well, at least I can see these ones.”
“Yeah. I won’t get into the specifics about light pollution, but you were right about me being a city dweller. And our cities, well, they are so bright at night, that they blot out the stars. Even out in the country, you can’t see all that many. Here though, even with the lanterns and torches, you can see so many…”
Cassandra nodded, not quite understanding the specifics, but appreciating at least this was something of a new experience for Leah. The two sat in companionable silence for a few moments, both watching the stars and clouds drifting by, the raucous sounds leaking out from the tavern rising and falling as people entered and left through the door. Then, Cassandra pointed at a cluster.
“There. That cluster, do you see it? The almost square shaped one.”
Leah followed where she was pointing, scanned for a moment, then nodded.
“Those are the Yearmarks. As the months go past, you can see more or less of them. You can always tell what time of the year it is, just by looking at those stars. Well, more or less anyway.”
She moved her hand to another cluster, this one seemingly without form.
“And that ones the Longshot. Or Deera’s steed, if you aren’t from Saelong, at any rate. I don’t know about the human name, but ours is named after a master marksman. Its said she aimed for that constellation, and fired an arrow that crossed the continent to reach its mark.”
“That sounds a little ridiculous.”
“Yeah, it sure does, doesn’t it? But its a nice story.”
“Maybe you can tell me more one day.”
“Maybe I’ll do just that.”
The two sat again in silence, Leah waging an internal war on whether to make her move now. She was about to speak up, when she was silenced by a hand on her own. She turned to face Cassandra to see the elf facing her as well.
“I-I don’t want to ruin things, but… Dammit, this sounded so much better in my-”
Her doubts washed away, Leah smiled, and leaned in to kiss Cassandra. It only lasted a second, but felt like an eternity for the both of them, before Leah finally broke away.
“Took you long enough.”
“I- Uh, wait what just happened?”
“Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Yeah, it is, but I didn’t expect you-”
“To be so forward about it? Cass, you said it yourself. We’re both adults. We both find each other attractive. Why not see where this goes?”
Cass looked away slightly, blushing from her ears to her cheeks, ears quivering slightly.
“That makes sense. I just, really, I just didn’t expect you to see me like that too.”
“Cassandra, you are beautiful and strong. And smart and skilled. Of course I’d find you attractive.”
That brought a tilt of the head out of Cassandra, as if she were in deep thought over something. She paused for a moment, then continued.
“Thats… not exactly what I meant.”
“Oh. You assumed I wouldn’t bat for that team?”
“I’m just going to go ahead and chalk that one up to another cultural difference before we do that whole charade again. Yes, that.”
“Well. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure of it myself. For you, I mean.”
Leah looked up at the stars once more.
“I guess that was just my own prejudices though. This world, in some ways, is similar to my own. At a certain point in time, anyway. So…”
“So you applied that sort of thinking to this one, despite the fact that, from what you tell me, theres a whole load of differences.”
Cassandra punched Leah on the arm, gently, but hard enough to draw attention. Leah looked back down to see Cassandra smiling at her.
“For all that intelligence of yours, you can be really stupid sometimes, you know?”
Leah shrugged, and returned the smile.
“Can you blame me? I’ve clearly been struck dumb by your presence.”
They shared another moment, before Leah asked what had been on her mind since Cassandra first prompted the thought.
“So, seeing as I’m clearly applying the wrong thinking to this world, I’ll just ask. Its not considered wrong to be, you know…”
“Yeah, that. Its not wrong here is it?”
“Not exactly. For most people, its just a fact about you. Theres enough trouble in the world for things like that to be an issue, even if someone does have a problem with it.”
Looking off into the middle distance, Cassandra continued.
“Thats not to say its all easy sailing. I know in human society that nobles look down upon it, at least in public. Passing on appropriate titles to heirs, and securing strategic marriages, thats considered important to them. And that sort of thinking trickles down to the common folk. And for elvish society… well, thats complicated, and I’m far too sober to even begin to describe the clusterfuck that is our culture.”
She looked back over at Leah, who was listening intently.
“As for dwarves - relevant, because we’ll staying among them soon - we’re in luck. They give about as much of a damn about who you like as they do about anything else.”
Leah gave a half smile. This was all important information, but she wasn’t exactly pleased to hear that some things had stayed the same between worlds. Though what had prompted her smile was something else.
“No, not really. Just, it seems that some of my prejudices have prepared me for this world.”
Cassandra’s look of confusion begged for an answer, so Leah delivered.
“Dwarves. They love mining, drinking and fighting, am I right?”
Cassandra’s stare pierced into her soul, and for a moment, Leah was convinced she had said something seriously bad. Then, the moment was broken with a sigh from Cass.
“Really… You are going to be so much work, you know that? How am I going to prepare you to not get your knees blown out before we get to Ironshod?”
“Well, look on the bright side. You get to spend lots of time with me, don’t you?”
The night drew in, and so did the cold. Leah and Cassandra took that as their cue to head back inside. And from there, the night continued on without incident - almost without incident, that is. It wasn’t long before they found Liam. It didn’t take them long. He was the one busy talking someone down from starting a fight with him. Leah and Cassandra shared a look that conveyed they were both thinking the same thing. It might be time to intervene.
“I can assure you, I have no way of cheating, even if I wanted to.”
“Bullshit! You’re a- You’re a Rogue, I know your type. You snuck some cards up your sleeves!”
“I took my jacket off to show you I wasn’t doing that! I don’t have any sleeves to hide cards!”
True to his word, Liam was now jacketless, and underneath his leather armour was a vest which distinctly lacked any arm coverings. Nonetheless, the drunken adventurer persisted in his accusations.
“Then… I dunno, some rogueish card hole or something. I bet you have a skill for that!”
“Some rogueish- Cass, help me out here?”
Catching sight of the pair, Liam turned, his face awash with a plaintive expression. Until he looked down and saw their hands, and his facade of concern dropped immediately.
“Dammit! I knew I should have taken bets.”
“Oh, because of course you would know before I did.”
Cassandra frowned at the Spy.
“And there I was, about to help you, but if you are that good at working things out, I guess you can manage this on your own. Come on Leah.”
Turning away, and pulling Leah with her, Cassandra made it less than two steps before Liam’s voice caught up to them.
“Ok, ok, I’ll apologise later, but seriously, I think this is about to get out of-”
He was cut off, and Leah, who was still looking back at him, saw why. The bulky man who had been merely confrontational up until this point had decided to take a swing at the now distracted rogue. Though clearly, either rogueish skills or years of practise saved Liam, who ducked the drunken, though no less accurate, swing, and tucked into a roll away, in the direction of Leah and Cass. The commotion got Cassandra’s attention, and she whipped around with practised ease, letting go of Leah and settling into a fighting stance. Pushing off lightly with her feet, she landed next to Liam right as he got to his feet, and caught his assailant on the nose with the heel of her palm. Liam turned to her with a grin as the man reeled back from her strike.
“I guess thats another one I owe you?”
“At this point I should just consider it the price of knowing you. Must you cheat in every tavern we pass through?”
“Funny you should say that, this time I actually wasn’t trying to cheat.”
“So it just comes naturally now?”
Their conversation was interrupted by the man’s friends joining in, having kicked away their stools and waded into what was rapidly becoming a bar brawl. Leah, who was stood on the fringes of a growing circle around them, weighed up the options in her mind. Cassandra and Liam were clearly outnumbered 2 to 1, but their opponents were many skin fulls deep. Even still, they could do with an extra pair of hands. She stepped forward, right as the chanting and cheering began around them. Cass had caught a blow on her elbow, while swinging her knee into her targets crotch, while Liam had another’s arm in a complicated lock, keeping the woman in his grip between himself and another who was trying to work out how to get to him. Leah’s clumsy fingers were reaching out to the fourth assailant, who was coming up behind Cassandra, when she was noticed. The one she was reaching out to changed his aim, and swung his arm out in a wide arc towards her head. Tipsy, and her gaze focused more on Cassandra than the danger in front of her, Leah caught his hand full in the face, and went down. Stars swam in her vision, and a dull throb spread from the back of her head to the front. All the sounds around her seemed to mute for a second, slowly coming back into focus as she felt a thud beside her. A pair of hands hauled her up from her armpits, and she felt herself being dragged off. Blearily, she could see the four drunks laid out where they had been fighting, the crowd around them looking to each other in confusion and disappointment. That didn’t seem important though. She closed her eyes, letting sleep take her.
Leah awoke on a bed, sitting bolt upright within a moment of waking. She’d never woken up so fast, her mind was racing. External damage, minimal. Internal damage, statistically insignificant. Processing unit suffering minor concussion, damage control protocols in effect. 99.8% operating efficiency. She breathed a sigh of relief, even if she wasn’t exactly sure why. She had a feeling that some sort of diagnostic had been run without her input, which would explain the thoughts that flashed through her mind, though not why she woke up so quickly. She looked to her right, and saw Cass reeling back in shock. Leah reddened in realisation. It must have been Cass that woke her up.
“I, uh... Did you touch me?”
“On your forehead, yes, but… lie down, you could have a concussion!”
Leah was forced back down on the bed by Cassandra’s (Strong, soft, she noticed) hands. Not wanting to fight, she let herself be manhandled, biting back the comment that if she was concussed, giving her whiplash on top of things wasn’t the best idea. She looked up and over at Cassandra.
“How long was I out?”
“Long enough for me to worry. How many fingers am I holding up?”
“One, and thats a very rude gesture where I’m from.”
Cassandra looked at her hand, middle finger raised, and frowned.
“I’m not sure if thats a cultural difference, you are messing with me, or you really are brain addled. I knew I should have spent more time learning first aid…”
Leah rubbed the back of her head, where she could already feel a lump forming. She winced with pain from the contact, which pulled Cassandra’s attention back to her.
“Stop touching it. You’ll do more damage.”
“Its fine. Minor damage at worst. Perks of being a living computer, apparently, I get to know how badly my brain is damaged.”
“You know you aren’t doing much to allay my fears, with these odd words. Especially after you saw something rude about that gesture. Do you mind explaining?”
Leah sighed, and a small smile made its way into her expression.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older. I’m not about to die from brain damage, though, so you don’t need to worry about me. If you are that worried though…”
She shuffled over in the bed, and patted the spot beside her.
“You can sleep here tonight and keep watch over me.”
The reddening of Cassandra’s face was visible even in the gloom of their room. Leah stepped in before Cass could come up with an excuse.
“I’m tired, Cass. So I’m not really in the mood to play more games. We’re a thing now, so shut up and sleep next to me. I’m not in any condition to do anything untoward.”
Cassandra paused for a moment, then smiled, standing up from the chair she was on to sit on the bed next to Leah.
“A ‘thing’, eh? Thats going to take some getting used to.”
“Oh shut up and get into bed. We can talk about it more in the morning. And you can tell me just how you laid out 4 adventurers in a matter of seconds too, while you’re at it.”
Pulling off her boots, Cassandra looked around at Leah.
“You remember that?”
“I wasn’t that out of it. Just dazed. That was quite impressive.”
“What can I say? I’m a very impressive woman.”
“I’ll stroke your ego when I wake up. Too tired for that now.”
A comfortable silence overtook them, as Cassandra crawled under the covers beside Leah. Without any further words, Leah leaned her head on Cassandra’s shoulder, and the two fell asleep, one after the other.