My mood was superb, after a short nap, I prepared to go out. It was warm outside so I replaced the coat with a similar thinner jacket, I didn't want to get as sweaty as before. I also replaced the boots for ones that reached my knees, with much softer soles.
Harder soles were better suited for the soft earth while softer ones were better for harder surfaces, this extended for both grip and comfort. I paid so much attention to my boots not only for comfort sake, I simply didn't want to damage my feet.
Yes, that was the reason and it was a very important one.
I threw the postman bag over my arm and headed out. There were many beautiful buildings, small groves of trees added greenery to the gray and white landscape of Balera, all of it spread out under the blue sky.
High pitched chirps from birds sometimes managed to pierce through the sound of busy streets below. I could hear an occasional clacking of horse hooves or a creak of a wagon, there was even a street performer somewhere in the distance.
The upper part of the city which I was walking through had a refreshing air, only sometimes a gust of wind would sneak its way below and carry up the mustiness of the overcrowded lower streets. I could feel how alive this world was.
My world wasn't like this, at least I felt it was not like this. It was gray and lifeless with washed out masses rushing to their jobs and back. This was how I remembered it, it couldn't be that I was wrong or that I misremembered.
Maybe, just maybe, I simply never tried to peek out of my daily routine to see what my world had to offer.
I looked at my palm, or was it Marie's palm? I didn't know if there was a difference anymore, I was still me even if Marie's persona was not. I squeezed my fist hard enough for my fingernails to dig into my flesh.
The pain I felt was real, so was everything around me. It would be arrogant to think that I was more human than the people around me. At first, I thought of them as nothing more than NPC's but now I felt that they were just as real as I was.
I shook my head and looked at a tall building in front of me, I pulled out my spectacles and read the sign; "Adventurer's Finest, Weapons, Armors, Special Deals." Adventurers, eh? I wondered what difference there was between an adventurer and a Contemporary.
Interestingly enough, there was a stairway that connected this building with the lower streets. It was possible that the adventurers came from the masses while contemporaries were a part of the nobility, it was just my conjecture though.
I pushed the creaky doors open, it collided with a small chime suspended above. Adventurer's Finest was a pretty grim looking shop, at least this floor was. It was dimly lit and there were no treasures in sight at all, some regular weapons were displayed on the walls; all of them locked up in small wire cages.
A group of three questionable looking men was currently negotiating something with a person who I assumed was the vendor. I say assumed because he looked like someone who wrestled bears every other Tuesday.
He had a barrel-shaped body but I could see his enormous muscles bulge under his clothes with every movement. He was completely bald and cleanly shaven with a blocky face and droopy eyes. With looks like that, you could paint him green and he would make a decent ogre.
My arrival must have interrupted a crucial point in their conversation because they all stopped talking and turned their heads to stare at me. The vendor's stern expression softened but the three thugs didn't hide their hostility.
One of them with an ugly gash across his face smiled wryly, his face twisting around his scar. He scrutinized me from eyes to toes and whistled, "I never did a noble bitch before, why don't you wait for us adults to finish the business so we can have some fun, eh?" He chuckled but it sounded more like coughing.
Now then, what should I do when faced with such a situation. Obviously; reply in a mature way instead of typical internet slang.
With a bored voice, I said, "Subhuman, why don't you hang yourself with your own intestines? I am sure your buddies wouldn't let a warm hole go to waste."
I hate myself sometimes.
It took everyone a second to understand what just came out of my mouth. Instant feeling of regret washed over me as I stared at the slack-jawed thugs. I cursed my edginess and took a deep breath, preparing myself for whatever would come.
The vendor was the first one to break the silence, in a booming voice, he said, "So it's Miss Marie! Really, I should have known after the first glance, forgive my tardiness! Brasjo mentioned Miss would come, please, allow me to walk Miss upstairs." Despite the loudness of his voice, he sounded like a jolly fellow. He turned to the thugs and growled, "We are closing for today, get lost."
"Hey, hey! We are not done yet!" One of the men complained and his buddy joined it.
With the ogre vendor occupied, the scarface jumped at me. I saw a silver glint in his hand, there was no time to pull out my own weapon. Feeling my entire body pulsing with each heartbeat I focused on his movements.
Slow, he was moving sluggishly from my perspective. I wasn't sure if it the difference in speed was three times or less, but I knew there was nothing to worry about. I timed my step with his lunge and walked straight into him.
Now, I know nothing about martial arts but being a medical student (even if no longer) I knew quite a lot about the human body. I slapped him with an open palm, straight over the ear, he stood no chance.
Swept off his legs, he tumbled onto the ground with a loud thud followed by the clanking of a dropped dragger. Everything went deathly silent, even the creaking of a wooden floor when someone shifted their weight sounded deafening.
I looked at his face and my heart skipped a beat, I was almost sure he was dead until his body started shaking. There was blood coming out of the orifices on his head and one of his eyes even popped out of the socket.
"Get him and get lost!" The ogre vendor bellowed.
This time the thugs didn't object, they grabbed scarface and dragged him out, making a big detour around me.
The ogre vendor hurriedly approached me and presented me a shockingly white clean handkerchief, "I am terribly sorry, Miss. These rats always try to stir trouble. Please, wipe your hand with this." He said.
I thanked him and shakily took the handkerchief, my legs were twitching and I was having a hard time calming down. The realization that I almost killed someone was like a bucket of cold water extinguishing my excitement.
This was a shocking reminder that I was no longer in a game. I couldn't help but think of Ash whom I killed earlier, he was a sentient being as well. No, that was different, he wasn't human and he must have been prepared for death.
Yes, that was a good explanation, I wanted to believe it but there was a question circling around my head; was the worth of their lives any different? I have been learning to save lives in college, even if involuntarily.
I didn't dare to answer my own question.
"Miss?" The ogre vendor sounded worried.
Only then I realized that I spent at least a minute shaking and erratically wiping my hand. Feeling stupid, I returned the handkerchief.
"Were they adventurers?" I asked, my voice cracking up a little.
He shook his head. "Just some goons. Please," He said and invited me upstairs.
Imagine my surprise when I saw not only Brasjo who helped with appraisal in the city hall but also another person who was present at that time, the young nobleman Philip. I gave Philip a side eye, I didn't believe it was a coincidence.
They were sitting at a large square table and there was only a single empty chair, evidently prepared for me. This floor was completely different from the first one, there were big windows that let through a lot of light and it was pristinely clean.
There were still no treasures displayed anywhere.
Brasjo was excited to see me, "Miss Marie! Please, be seated. Baldur, what was that noise just now?"
The ogre vendor said, "Some thugs, Miss Marie dealt with the trouble."
Sighing Brasjo turned to me and embarrassedly said, "I am so terribly sorry for this," He turned to Baldur and said, "Clean up the bodies, or whatever was left of them. Don't open until we are done."
"Aye," Baldur said and went back downstairs.
Doing my best to calm down I sat down, my chair was facing Philip. Brasjo asked us if we want anything to drink or eat but both of us refused, he looked disappointed but quickly returned to his cheerful self.
Clapping his hands, Brasjo said, "Now then, let's talk business!"
"I would like to go first," Philip said, stealing me a glance. Without waiting for our opinions he asked, "Miss Marie, may I inspect that bag?" He pointed at the postman bag.
Feeling suspicious, I said, "It's not for sale."
"I do not wish to buy it, I only want to inspect it." He said.
Brasjo remained silent, he didn't look too happy with his business being interrupted. After a moment of hesitation, I pulled Silver Espada out and put it on the table before sliding the bag over to Philip, his eyes constricted at the sight of my sword.
He took the bag and raised the flap, I was about to intervene but he didn't try to reach inside, instead, he showed us the inside of the flap.
"Please tell me, what is written there?" He asked us.
"J.G." I and Brasjo said.
Philip heaved a sigh and said, "Indeed, J.G. Janus Godward, my brother."
I didn't like where this was going, not at all.
"Are you implying something, Mister Philip?" I asked him, my tone probably sounded hostile because Philip shook his head.
"Please, don't misunderstand me. My brother, why, he went to challenge Ash. He was missing ever since." He took a deep breath to compose himself and asked, "May I know where Miss got this bag?"
I tapped the table, "Southeast of Balera I came across mounds of ash filled with skeletons. This is where I found it." I said truthfully.
Philip crossed eyes with Brasjo and asked the crucial question; "What about Ash?"
I shot him a quizzical look, hoping that my acting was good enough. "There was indeed a lot of ash in that area, could Mister Philip mean something else?"
Philips was on the edge of his seat, his hand slightly shaking. "Was there no one around? Really?" He asked in a small voice.
"Really," I lied, doing my best to sound natural.
Both Philip and Brasjo stood up, I looked at them quizzically but my inquiry was ignored.
"Ash is gone, Thunder will come," Philips muttered, he was quivering uncontrollably.
This was getting out of control, now there were two of them.
Brasjo asked him, "Which Contemporary could have bested Ash? Not even the Seven Lions working together could finish the challenge."
"No matter, Thunder will come. He will come for Balera." Philip looked at me and asked, "Miss Marie, have you heard of Phasians?"
I shook my head. "I am not from Espain, nor any of the neighboring kingdoms. Truth be told, I came from a very remote island."
"That explains Miss' exotic looks," Brasjo said and took a deep breath before continuing, "In short, Phasians can enter our world only under certain limitations. Ash appeared twenty years ago in that exact place where Miss' found Sir Janus' bag."
"What about that Thunder?" I asked with bated breath.
Philip looked at me as if he had just woken up. He said, "Thunder, he will come to challenge Ash's killer. Ash is always followed by Thunder. If it was a traveling Contemporary then he will level Balera."
The temperature of the room must have dropped by a few degrees. I killed Ash, I really did not want to fight another demon, or Phasian or whatever it was. The thought of having to undo CoM's effect and fighting a life and death battle scared me out of my mind.
Yes, I admit it; I was scared, scared of pain and scared of dying, and now I was even scared of killing. I am a goddamn layman who hasn't had a single real fight in my life before arriving in this world.
"Why would he do such a thing? Shouldn't he just search for that Contemporary?" I asked shakily.
"He won't. Something like this already happened in the past and the Imperial Capital of Larn was razed to the ground." Brasjo said to me, he looked at Philip and said, "We need to inform his Lordship, he needs to summon the Lions."
Philip snapped out of his stupor and agreed, he looked at me and said, "I beg Miss to serve as the witness, we can't let the tragedy repeat itself!"
I felt that I had no other choice but to agree, I nodded my head and stood up. Philip gave me back the bag and dashed off without another word. I exchanged glances with Brasjo and we followed closely behind.
I really hoped that these Lions or whatever would be enough to stop Thunder, no matter how slim was the chance of that happening. I didn't want to be forced to chose between my life and the life of Balera's citizens.
I knew better than anyone that I lacked the strength to make this choice.