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Liquin

Human Peasant

Healthy

Wearied

Pure

Unbound

Melchagar Rauch

Elf Explorer

Healthy

Invigorated

Infused

Unbound

Larali Dahlquist

Human Peasant

Healthy

Wearied

Pure

Unbound

Ketra Zutis

Elf Peasant

Healthy

Fatigued

Pure

Unbound

Phoenixia Fireheart

Elf Peasant

Healthy

Fatigued

Cloudy

Unbound

 

  Skyldr wasn't a particularly large village, but it was surprisingly dense. Surrounded by farms in every direction that extended all the way up to the edge of the Haalfwood, the village itself was a loose disorderly connection of huts, cottages, markets, and merchants. At the far east end, a few ramshackle wooden piers extended out over the lake, and small fishing boats bumped up against the docks from the gentle waves drawn out by the twin moons hanging in the sky.

  To Lily's surprise, the town seemed wide awake as they trudged through the street. Her legs were really start to give in after such a long day walking, which bothered her more than a little. "Hey, Michael?"

  "Yeah?"

  "I wouldn't be this tired in real life," she grumbled. "Why am I so tired?"

  He shrugged. "Maybe the system wasn't tuned very well. I think it did okay though. How much muscle and fat did you select on your character designer?"

  Lily frowned. "Uhh… no fat at all?"

  Michael rolled his eyes. "Well, no fat means you've got nowhere to store energy."

  "Well, yeah, but why did you include that?"

  "Immersion, Lily."

  She groaned. "What happened to balancing that with fun?"

  "It's an incentive to try and get less people to run around in insanely skinny supermodel builds," said Michael. "Some fat and muscle together make for a way better depiction of people. You can still be way more strong and have tons of stamina, if you do it right."

  "So how do I fix it?"

  "Make a new character?" He grinned. "Nah, there's some magic spells that can change your body. Or you can just start eating tons of fatty foods."

  "Seriously?" Lily frowned. "I thought food didn't matter."

  "It's still got an effect on you. You just don't need it to survive."

  As if on cue, they walked by a merchant packing up his little food cart for the night. His cart was packed to the brim with so many delicacies that Lily had never seen before—at least, never outside of TV or movies. She reached out and plucked a juicy-looking green apple from the top of the pile, taking a careful bite.

  The sheer sensation in her mouth nearly overwhelmed her. "...Holy crap," she moaned. The apple tasted as good as it looked—just the right mix of sweet and a hint of sour.

  "You gonna pay for that?" asked the merchant, glaring at her.

  "Oh!" Lily gulped. She dug into her waist pouch, feeling around for the little coins she'd picked up. She glanced at the sign, which was helpfully written in English. "One silver, right?"

  The guy nodded. Lily handed over the coin, and his face brightened up immediately. "Thank you so much, kind stranger!"

  Lily savored every single bite of the apple as they kept walking. Michael couldn't stop grinning, and Ketra looked a little jealous. Lily hesitated. It's so good… but she really wants some, and she's never actually gonna ask, is she? Reluctantly, Lily held out the apple. "Want a bite?"

  Ketra shook her head. "You paid for it. Keep it."

  "Oh, come on. Just take a bite. You don't want to miss this."

  After a moment's hesitation, Ketra nodded. As soon as she'd taken a bite, her beautiful face glowed with sheer contentment. "How did you do this?" she asked, glancing at Michael.

  "Somebody mailed us a crate of apples," he grinned.

  "Where the hell did they get apples?" asked Lily, shocked. "Nobody gets real apples anymore."

  "I think they were from Cascadia. Somebody managed to sneak them over the border somehow."

  "And you didn't tell me?"

  Michael shrugged. "We needed them for research."

  "And to eat," said Ketra, smirking.

  "...Yeah."

  Lily shook her head in disgust. Ketra cheered her up a moment later by handing the apple back. They alternated taking bites all the way to the faint sounds of laughter and revelry issuing from a wide wooden structure down near the docks—the tavern, no doubt. Ketra handed Lily the nearly-spent apple, giving her the last bite.

  "Thanks," said Lily, practically shivering at the last delicious bite. "Wait, how do you say 'thanks'?"

  "Vannen," said Ketra. "Though, I'd be very careful about speaking it as a human. If you're in the wrong company, you may provoke… unwanted attention."

  She sighed. "Well, isn't that just great." As they approached the door, Ketra pulled her hood up over her hair and drew her cloak up tight. Lily glanced at her, surprised. "What's up?"

  Ketra pulled back the side of her hood, revealing the sharp dagger-point where her ears tapered off at the ends. "These might also provoke unwanted attention."

  Lily gaped at her. "From who?"

  "Anyone, unbound or fated—fated meaning the NPCs," she added helpfully. Ketra shrugged. "We aren't particularly welcome in places like this."

  "But—" Lily started, but her question was answered before she could even ask, by a hollow growl that echoed through the whole tavern just as Ketra pushed open the doors.

  "Get out, knife-ear. Your kind ain't welcome."

  
  

***

  
  

  Lily burst into the tavern, pushing past Ketra, who'd stopped in the doorway. Inside, exactly as she'd expected, Phoenixia cowered against the far wall, covering her face with her hands. Larali stood in front of her, fists up and fuming mad. Lily half-expected smoke to start pouring out of her ears. Surrounding them was a small group of humans. None of them had drawn weapons, but all five had swords at their belts.

  The rest of the tavern fell silent at the pronouncement, from the barman polishing glasses to the maid carrying drinks out to the tables. To Lily's relief, most of the tavern didn't seem eager to get involved. Just five guys facing down Larali and Phoenixia.

  Still… that little girl doesn't deserve this crap. "Hey!" Lily shouted. The five guys turned around. Turned on their heads, Lily realized. Everything else followed the head movement, and their legs didn't track. Players, probably. "Leave her alone."

  "Or what?" snarled the man in the center, the same man who'd first spoken.

  "Or we beat the crap out of you."

  "And have fun doing it," added Larali, cracking her knuckles. She was a good half-foot taller than most of them, but even so, they weren't exactly weak. Ketra was still waiting outside the building, and Michael was nowhere to be found. Nobody had drawn weapons yet, and Lily knew that to pull her own sword was probably a mistake. If this were anything like the real world—and so far, it really was—pulling a weapon would get the whole crowd against them, instead of just five racist assholes.

  The leader sized Lily up from head to toe. He smirked. "You really want to go five-on-two in a fistfight? You crazy?"

  "No, she's crazy," said Lily, nodding at Larali.

  The woman grinned. "Hell yeah I am!"

  "And she can probably pound all five of you into the floor." Lily shrugged. "So make up your mind."

  "Why the hell are you siding with an elf?" asked one of the guy's sidekicks. "You should be joining us."

  "Nixie's my friend," said Lily. Phoenixia looked up, eyes wide. She looked surprised. "Well, you are," Lily added, rolling her eyes. The girl giggled.

  "I don't want no trouble," called the barkeep. Lily glanced over, surprised. NPCs understood all that and figured out when to jump in? Okay, Michael, props. Better than I expected. "Just let 'em eat in peace and leave."

  "You want to serve a filthy tree-hugger like that?" asked the leader.

  The barkeep shrugged. "I serve anyone, as long as they got coin."

  One of the guys dropped a hand on the hilt of his sword. The entire room stiffened and seemed to take a collective breath. A few chairs scooted out, patrons ready to leap into the fight. Even Larali looked surprised—and a little concerned.

  "You really want to break the tavern truce over this?" Larali asked, as her own hand inched toward the broadsword strapped to her back.

  The leader shot a glance at his companion. "Cool it, dude."

  "But—"

  "Look at their necks," said Ketra, suddenly emerging from the doorway. Again, the room took another breath. Three more of the five clutched at their swords, though none had yet drawn a blade. "At the emblem there."

  Lily peered close, but couldn't make it out. She didn't have to though, as Phoenixia helpfully piped up from the corner. "It's a red horse. It's the sigil of the Knights of Felnir."

  "The same Felnir who signed a non-aggression pact with the Syldarei Kingdom three months ago," Ketra went on. She still wore her hood low, but her lavender eyes flashed in the torchlight. "It would provoke a terrible response if they learned you had assaulted a citizen of their nation unprovoked."

  "You wouldn't—"

  Ketra shrugged. "Felnir's diplomat is just a simple message away."

  The room was as tense as a tightrope. Lily let her hand rest on the hilt of her dagger, ready to move in an instant, but she felt like the stalemate wouldn't break. The quintet of racist assholes was wavering. Even the gung-ho guy on the side looked far less certain. Finally, just as Lily thought they might change their minds, the leader of the group put his hands up, nodding. "Okay, got it. We'll leave."

  They trooped out one by one, the whole tavern swivelling to watch them go. Larali looked about to shout after them—gloating, most likely—but Ketra quickly shook her head, and her friend fell silent.

  Phoenixia breathed a huge sigh of relief. "Okay, can we eat now?"

  Larali grabbed her up in a bear hug. "Nixie, you can eat whatever you want."

  "I want a steak."

  Larali glanced up at the barkeep, obviously hanging onto every word. "Eighty silver," he said promptly.

  Phoenixia's mouth fell open. Lily winced. None of us have that kind of money…

  "...Okay, how about we just get a few drinks?" said Larali. Phoenixia nodded, crestfallen.

  "Don't worry, Nixie," said Michael, finally entering the tavern. He, too, had drawn a hood up over his ears. "The steak here sucks. Save it for a real city that knows how to cook 'em right."

  "But—"

  "Around here, fruit's the best option." Michael reached into his robe and pulled out a whole basket of apples—at least twenty of them. He set it down on an empty table, grinning like mad. Lily raised an eyebrow, and he shrugged. "I went back to the vendor while you guys were fighting." Michael glanced around the tavern. "Or… not fighting, I guess."

  Larali grabbed up an apple and bit into it. Her reaction was even more exaggerated than Lily's had been. She let out the heaviest sigh Lily had ever heard—so loud, she could practically feel it in her bones. Lily grinned. "Good, huh?"

  The woman nodded, but she was too consumed with the apple to say anything else. Phoenixia nervously took a bite out of another one—and her face lit up just as much. Before long, the four of them were munching through the pile, while Michael simply looked on and laughed. After a few minutes, he wandered away to look for the other group, leaving them to finish their feast.

  "This was fun," Lily sighed, closing her eyes with a smile. She stretched out and rested her feet on a rickety tavern chair. Just being able to sit down at all was doing worlds for her legs and her back. "I can see why you guys like this place so much."

  Larali burped. Her face lit up red, and she quickly wiped away a bit of apple juice on her chin with a cloth. "Yeah."

  "So what's the tavern truce?" she asked, recalling the phrase Larali used first.

  "Oh." Larali cleared her throat. "There's a longstanding unspoken agreement. Nobody gets into real fights in taverns. Fists only, no weapons, no serious injury. As far as I know, that's been true for four years now."

  "The last person to break it received five years worth of contracts paid in advance," said Ketra.

  "Contracts… meaning?" asked Lily.

  Ketra nodded. "They didn't last long."

  Lily whistled. "You guys don't screw around."

  "Liquin," said Ketra, "where did you learn to fight like that?"

  Lily shrugged. "Riposte."

  "Well, yes," said Ketra, "but I've still never seen anyone fight like you do. Not in Riposte, and definitely not here." She sighed. "None of us are very good fighters, if you haven't noticed. I try to stay back. Larali doesn't have the first idea what tactics are."

  "Don't need 'em," said Larali promptly, giving a good-natured elbow to her friend's side. "What do you mean, though?" she asked. "About her fighting weird?"

  "It's weird?" Lily asked, wincing.

  Ketra shook her head. "There's no such thing as fighting weird. Either your fighting style works… or it doesn't."

  "And hers definitely works," said Phoenixia cheerfully. "Those bandits couldn't even get close to her."

  "How does it work?" asked Ketra.

  Lily shrugged. "It's just how I learned." She glanced around the nearly-empty tavern. Most of the patrons had gone back to their homes—or wherever else, Lily didn't actually know—and the place was silent except for the barkeep drying off a few glasses. "I could show you, if you want?"

  "Yes, please," said Ketra eagerly.

  Lily got to her feet, and to her relief, she didn't feel quite so exhausted anymore. She still needed some actual sleep, for sure, but the food had put a bit of energy back into her body. She glanced over at the barkeep. "You don't mind if we spar a bit, do you?"

  The man shook his head. "As long as you don't break anything or hurt anyone."

  "Can't promise the second one," Lily grinned. He shrugged again and turned back to his glasses. Lily glanced over the trio. "So who wants to fight?"

  
  

***

  
  

  To no one's surprise, Larali was the first one out of her seat. Ketra pointed out that her bow simply wouldn't make for a very helpful demonstration, and the quiet elf carried no other weapons. Phoenixia did have her daggers, but she readily passed on the offer. Larali was the only one who hadn't seen Lily fighting the bandits in the forest, and thus the most obvious choice.

  Lily left her spare sword and her bag of loot at the table. Ketra and Phoenixia cleared out a space for them in the middle of the tavern, while the barkeep watched with a worried look. Lily's fingers twiddled above the hilts of her blades, smirking at the suddenly-nervous Larali.

  "Okay, you're seriously scary when you do that," Larali muttered. Her own hand gripped her broadsword, but she hadn't drawn it yet either. "So what're the rules?"

  "First blood?" suggested Ketra.

  "Yeah, but that actually hurts now," Larali pointed out.

  "We could just do flat-of-the-blade," said Lily. "You know, a point system."

  "What are the scores?"

  "I dunno. In Riposte it just decides for us." She grinned. "...If we don't straight up kill the opponent, that is."

  "We'll just let them decide who wins," said Larali, nodding at the spectators.

  Lily shrugged. "Works for me."

  "What's going on in here?" called a new voice. Lily turned around, surprised. Shirogane had just wandered in.

  "We're closed," said the irritated barkeep.

  "I'm not looking to order anything, don't you worry," said Shirogane. "Just lookin' for these folks." He rubbed at sleepy eyes, taking in the room. "You two about to duel?" he asked excitedly.

  Lily nodded. "Wanna watch?"

  "You know it."

  Now I can't lose. I've got my good luck charm in the crowd. Lily turned to Larali. "Whenever you're ready," she said, still smiling.

  Larali shook her head. "You're evil, you know that?"

  Lily didn't respond, but she drew her blades nonetheless. As fun as an old-west-style quickdraw was, she wasn't the type to give her opponent such a pointless advantage. Even in a simple practice fight like this, Lily didn't do stupid for the sake of a handicap.

  The broadsword twirled in her hands. Larali took a cautious step forward, while Lily simply waited on her half of the improvised arena. She took another step forward, and then another. Almost there… One more and she swings.

  On cue, Larali took the last step, and she put real weight into it. Her broadsword swung out wide, but Lily judged it perfectly. The huge flat of the blade passed centimeters in front of her, as Lily took a single step back. It didn't blow as much air as she expected though. She's going easy on me.

  She frowned. "You were never gonna hit me with a weak slash like that, you know."

  Larali's eyes narrowed. "I'm trying not to kill you here."

  Lily shrugged. "Go all out. Trust me."

  "All out, huh?" Larali spun on the spot, and her sword came in surprisingly fast—and surprisingly low. Lily had to jump it, but Larali was ready for her. A fist met Lily in the shoulder, sending her sprawling to the ground.

  Ow. Her shoulder stung from the punch. Larali was strong. She rushed forward, sword leading the way, but Lily was already on the move. She rolled away, with a back-spring that launched her up to her feet again. As Larali swung, Lily got back into the proper rhythm again.

  Step back, step back, step-step back and left!

  Lily dove left, just as Larali made a huge overhead chop. As she did, the dagger in Lily's right hand slapped the inside of Larali's thigh. "Point," she called out.

  Larali roared with frustration. She slashed out in a huge arc, with such an insane reach that Lily could easily have been sliced in half. Luckily, her new body was just as flexible as her real one.

  She bent full-over-backwards, letting the blade slice right above her head. As soon as the metal had left her sight, Lily was back up again, and the flat of her dagger slapped onto Larali's over-extended arm.

  "Point," she said again.

  "Okay, you're gonna get it now," Larali growled.

  Lily grinned, but Larali wasn't about to make the same mistake twice. She stepped back, keeping her broadsword close. Lily waited, but she didn't seem to be approaching again. Oh, so it's my turn. Okay.

  She took a step forward, and Larali tensed up. Out of the corner of her eye, Lily saw that both Phoenixia and Ketra were holding their breath, eyes wide and tracing her every movement. Shirogane, no stranger to her fights, looked as smug as could be. He gave her a brief nod, and Lily winked back at him.

  Let's be flashy. Lily took a double-step forward, right into the path of Larali's guard. To her credit, the woman didn't hold back, taking a slice that should have chopped off her legs—except Lily wasn't there anymore. She twirled around to the side, and her sword tapped the woman not once, but twice as she went by.

  Larali roared and twisted around, but Lily had already danced away, step-stepping straight behind her and around to the front again as she twisted. She raised her sword to strike again, but Larali had a surprise for her.

  The broadsword clattered to the floor. Lily's eyes widened, but she only had a split-second to react as the huge woman pounced on top of her. They crashed to the soot-covered floor of the tavern with a painful thump. Lily's arms were splayed out flat to the ground, totally helpless.

  Larali pinned her down, one hand on each arm and her knees pressing into Lily's stomach. She smirked. "Now what?"

  Lily coughed, as one knee pressed down a bit too hard. "...You got me."

  She laughed, a full-belly sound that rumbled through the two of them. Lily squirmed, trying to get away, but Larali had her nice and well-pinned. "Nuh-uh. You're staying right there for a bit."

  "Good fight," called Ketra from the sidelines. "It's a shame you lost, Liquin. I was rooting for you."

  "Oh, come on!" said Lily. "I got her way more!"

  "I dunno," said Phoenixia with a giggle. "You look pretty beaten down there."

  Just to rub it in, Larali shifted a leg and began to tap at Lily's thigh with the tip of her foot. "Point, point, point, point, point," she added, smirking.

  "All right now," said Shirogane, clearly holding back his own laugh. Simon, you're fired as my lucky charm. "Isn't it time we started headin' to the inn?"

  "You guys got us rooms already?" asked Larali.

  "Dunno, but that's where they were going."

  Lily pulled again, and Larali looked back, as if she'd forgotten Lily were there. She scrambled off her, offering a hand. After a moment's reluctance, Lily took it. Larali pulled her back to her feet, and even brushed off the soot from Lily's shirt. Ketra stepped in to help, and between the two of them, Lily's clothes were reasonably cleaned of dirt in just a few moments.

  "You definitely won," added Larali, without any malice. "If that was a real fight, you already got like eight fatal stabs. Plus you could've just poked me to death when I tackled you."

  "Still," said Ketra thoughtfully, "good thing to keep in mind with an armored foe. You can't stab through vktrel armor."

  "What's a vktrel again?" asked Lily, raising an eyebrow. The four of them looked at her, dumbfounded. She rolled her eyes. "Never played this before, guys. Remember?"

  Ketra sighed. "...Let's get some sleep. I'll give you a crash course on the world tomorrow."

 

 

 

 

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About the author

Etzoli

  • Oregon
  • Amateur Technological Thaumaturge
  • https://etzo.li

Bio: Sysadmin, student, wordsmith, TV obsessive, pretzel addict.
Many keyboards have perished in my pursuit of wordcounts.

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Kazumi Ilya @Kazumi Ilya ago

Lol. Nice touch with the fat vs flesh ratio.
And the truce seems to promise faction-based intrigue in the future. Will read on.

Killashard
Premium

Killashard @Killashard ago

Thanks for the chapter!

I'm enjoying the story, but I think you have far too many names that start with the letter "L". It gets confusing at times when 3 or 4 different people with similar sound L names are all talking.

    Etzoli
    Premium
    Author

    Etzoli @Etzoli ago

    Yeah, that might be a mistake... Ah well. There's something that could help coming up, and definitely something to consider altering on a re-edit.

    I would point out though: there's actually only two characters with "L" names =P (Lily/Liquin and Larali). None of their real names (which you don't know yet) start with "L" either. Still, "Lily" and "Larali" are similar enough that the overlap is noticeable, so I do apologize.