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A note from Shirtaloon

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Jason regained consciousness on a cushioned table, like an examination table in a doctor’s office. He’d been stripped down to his boxer shorts and his skin was covered in healing unguent.

“I think I’m weirdly getting used to this.”

“To getting knocked out?” Jory asked. He was at a sink, washing out empty potion vials and placing them on a drying rack.

“It’s been a rough couple of weeks,” Jason said.

“Two acolytes of the god of healing, beating someone unconscious, though,” Jory said. “That’s unusual.”

“Not for me,” Jason said. “It’s mostly been cultists, but generally religious figures of one stripe or another.”

Jason groaned as he shoved his legs off the table, pushing himself up to a sitting position. He looked around what he assumed was the inside of Jory’s clinic, which was surprisingly similar to a medical exam room from his own world. Tiles and cabinets; clean, white surfaces. There was a plain chair next to the exam table, with his clothes folded neatly on it, along with a towel.

“Is that for me?” he asked.

“I put the ointment on you,” Jory said. “You can wipe it off yourself. You know, goading those two into kicking the snot out of you was the single dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. But what really impressed me was that you immediately topped it by standing up and doing it again. They weren’t mucking about that second time, either. The one you dumped paint on kicked you square in the head.”

“I don’t remember that,” Jason said.

“It was kind of a passing shot as they left,” Jory said. “I think you were already out.”

“Harsh,” Jason said. “I’ve been knocked out a lot this last week.”

“I believe you,” Jory told him. “You owe me for the healing potion I tipped down your throat, by the way. And two tins of healing ointment I used for the bruising.”

“No worries,” Jason said. “That’s actually why it wasn’t a stupid thing to do.”

Jory placed the last potion vial on a drying rack.

“This I want to hear,” he said, turning around to face Jason.

“Well, if someone beats you up, there’s healing potions,” Jason said.

“If you have the money,” Jory said.

“Valid point,” Jason acknowledged, “but in my case I do. Which means I can take a beating and the repercussions don’t last so long.”

“I don’t know about the rest of it,” Jory said, “but I will admit you can take a beating.”

“If you stay quiet when you wished you’d said something,” Jason said, “that regret builds up. Starts eating you from the inside, and there’s no potion for that.”

“Sure there is,” Jory said. “It’s called liquor. Another alchemist friend of mine has a distillery not too far from here.”

“That’s not a cure,” Jason said. “That’s setting yourself on fire to ward off the cold.”

“I’m not sure you're the guy I’m going to for advice about consequences,” Jory said.

“Probably for the best,” Jason said with a laugh. “Are you going to catch any blowback because I took those blokes on?”

“It’ll be fine,” Jory said. “I’m a member of the Adventure Society and the Alchemist Association. They’re only low-level acolytes making trouble, so there’s only so far they’ll take things. If you’d actually given them a beating instead of the other way around, though, their higher-ups might have gotten involved. I don’t have the influence to push back against that. I’m just glad you weren’t stupid enough to use your essence abilities.”

“I figured it was bar fight rules,” Jason said. “It’s all fun and games until someone pulls a knife.”

“I’ve never been in a bar fight,” Jory said.

“Me either,” Jason admitted. “I just heard that somewhere.”

Jory shook his head.

“You’re a crazy person,” he said.

“The odds are pretty good, yeah.”

“Luckily, they got to stomp you into the ground, which should make them feel like they’ve accomplished something. Hopefully, they won’t be back for a while.”

“That’s why you didn’t step in to help me?”

“Help you? I almost stepped in to help them.”

Jason chuckled.

“Lovely. Those two both had iron-rank auras. Were they part of the Adventure Society?”

“Maybe,” Jory said. “The Adventure Society doesn’t put restrictions against membership in any other legitimate organisation.”

“Religions count as legitimate?” Jason asked.

“What is wrong with your head?” Jory asked.

“The bit on the front is too handsome,” Jason said. “I don’t suppose you could point me in the direction of the Adventure Society? I came here to sign up, after all.”

***

Jason wandered through the streets of Old City, stopping every now and again to buy something from a street stall.


  • Special attack [Chittle Kebab] has inflicted [Food Poisoning] on you.
  • You have resisted [Food Poisoning].
  • [Food Poisoning] does not take effect.
  • You have gained an instance of [Resistant].

“Food poisoning?”


Combat Log

  • You have been afflicted with normal-rank poison [Food Poisoning].
  • Iron rank gives you increased resistance to normal-rank afflictions.
  • Ability [Sin Eater] gives you increased resistance to all afflictions.
  • You have resisted [Food poisoning].
  • Resisting an affliction has triggered ability [Sin Eater], granting you an instance of [Resistant].

“Sin eater. I’m really starting to like this ability.”

Jason looked at the food in his hand, then at the resistant buff icon, then back at the kebab.

“You are pretty tasty.”

His gaze drifted back to the resistant buff.

“Why not? It’s kind of like training the power.”

He bit into the kebab again.


  • Special attack [Chittle Kebab] has inflicted [Food Poisoning] on you.
  • You have resisted [Food poisoning].
  • [Food Poisoning] does not take effect.
  • You have gained an instance of [Resistant].

There was now the number two next to his resistance buff indicator.

“Loving this power.”

Eventually, he passed through a busy warehouse district that gave way to the city ports and he caught sight of the water. After the desolation of the desert, even the dark green lushness of the delta didn’t compare to a grand stretch of cerulean. It was not the open sea, however, as there was a far shore some two kilometres distant, making it seem more like a lake.

The ports were a bustle of activity, forcing him to step carefully or get run down by a wagon. He finally reached a bridge that reached up and over the water in a gentle arc. Constructed entirely from green marble, it exuded wealth compared to the sandy yellow stone of Old City.

There were three lanes across the bridge, managed by an inspection point with armed guards, high metal gates and a large guard station. These guards wore the same uniform as the ones at the city gate, but he could see at a glance these were more fastidious in their duties. There were eight of them, and Jason could feel from their auras that some had essences. Only one had a full set of essences, the one who looked to be in charge.

Passage to the Island was clearly more regimented than that to Old City. Of the three lanes, the two smaller ones were for goods and service transport to and from the Island. They were intensely busy, with rigorous inspections slowing progress. The wider third lane was for a privileged class, with space to spare. Most of the traffic was wealthy-looking carriages, which caught Jason's attention by not being drawn by animals. Their wheels had the glow of engraved magical symbols.

Jory had been kind enough to explain the basics to Jason. Travel to the Island was restricted without a valid reason for entry. Trade and work permits would get someone into the trade lanes. Aristocrats, adventurers and residents were free to come and go using the wide lane. Members of the various guilds, societies and associations headquartered on the Island were likewise free to enter. Anyone else with valid business on the Island could buy a permit for entry for one day's entry, daylight hours only. What constituted valid business was at the discretion of the guards, who were town constables under the city's ruler, Duke Greenstone.

A day’s entry to the Island cost an iron-rank spirit coin. Fortunately, anyone willing to pay up had access to the privilege lane. Jason had been around enough to get a handle on the currency, of which the lesser spirit coin was the basic unit. It was a full hundred lesser coins to one iron-rank coin, after which denominations went up in multiples of ten. It was ten iron to the bronze, ten bronze to the silver and so on, all the way up to diamond. The gold-rank coins in Jason’s possession were each worth a hundred thousand lesser coins.

At the entry gate, Jason didn’t have to queue for long. There were long lines for the trade lane, where every person and vehicle was thoroughly checked. In the privileged lane, most of the carriages were waved straight through, while others went through after simply showing a permit. Most of the people in front of Jason were given permits after a short chat with the guard and handing over a coin. Jason noticed each person needing to touch their thumb to a stone the guard took from his pocket.

The bored, but still-diligent guard looked Jason up and down.

“Reason for permit application?”

“Applying to the Adventure Society,” Jason said.

The constable looked Jason over again, then nodded.

“Wait here.”

He went to exchange a quiet word with the one Jason pegged as being in charge. That man looked Jason over and gave a brief nod to the guard, who came back.

“Looks like you’re all good. Just hand over your coin and put your thumb on the tracking stone.”

“Tracking stone?” Jason asked.

The guard raised a suspicious eyebrow.

“You don’t know what a tracking stone is?”

The officer in charge wandered over.

“Is there a problem?” he asked.

“This guy doesn’t know what a tracking stone is,” the guard said.

“Where are you from?” the officer asked Jason.

“Casselton Beach, originally,” Jason said. “It’s a small town, a long way from any real magic. Melbourne, the last couple of years, but I doubt you’ve heard of it. I’ve come a long way, and there’s still a lot I don’t know.”

The officer looked Jason over for a few moments, then fished a stone from his pocket. The palm-sized, glassy object looked similar to an awakening stone, except faceted instead of smooth. It had a dark blue-green colouration.

“This is a tracking stone,” the officer said. “This lets us find you, wherever you are on the Island.”

Jason had an ability that prevented him from being tracked. He couldn’t be sure if that would have an affect on the stone, and he decided to not mention it.

“If you make us come looking,” the guard continued, “it won’t be us coming for you, understand?”

“It’ll be someone much worse,” Jason said.

“Smart,” the officer said. “Smart is good.”

“I think your bar for smart might be a little low,” Jason said.

“Too smart is maybe not so good,” the officer said. “If you want to stay on the Island past sunset, find lodgings. That’ll qualify you for a temporary residence permit. Find good lodgings and they’ll register it for you, instead of making you come back and do it yourself.”

“Thanks,” Jason said. He handed over his coin and pressed his thumb to the stone. Either the stone was stronger than his ability, or the stone gave no warning that it couldn’t track him. Shortly after, Jason was through the gate and walking across the bridge.

The main thoroughfare was for carriages, with those on foot like Jason following a path at the edge of the bridge. That was fine by Jason as the rising arc of the bridge gave him an increasingly good view of the city.

Back the way he had come was the yellow sprawl of Old City. Below the bridge, the sun reflected off the deep blue water, busy with water traffic. The Old City shoreline was a massive port, the full length of the city. The ships were large, crammed into docks that seemed strangely high. He wondered if that was something to do with what two moons did to the tides.

There were three other bridges like the one Jason was on. Engineering marvels that spanned kilometres of water, they were the equal of anything from his own world.

Ahead was the Island, seeming opulent even at a distance. Compared to the clustered Old City, it indulged in the luxury of space. Where the Old City ports were occupied with large trade ships, the Island’s widely spaced marinas were occupied entirely by what looked like pleasure craft. Many of them didn’t have sails, presumably being propelled by magic.

The marina buildings all looked like yacht clubs, and beyond that were large houses with expansive grounds. Trees and grass abounded, and the streets he could see were wide and sealed. The buildings were all combinations of green marble and variously coloured tiles.

Eagerly heading along the bridge, Jason got a better look at the wide boulevard at the end of the bridge. Colourful plant beds separated carriageways and footpaths. Trees lined the streets, shading them with a leafy canopy.

The inspection station at the end of the bridge was just a small booth with no gates. The security was fastidious with those entering the Island, while disinterested in those leaving. The security guard looked a lot more relaxed, in his middle years with thinning hair and a paunch his uniform did not flatter. He came out of the booth, giving Jason a friendly smile as he checked his permit.

Although the guard looked casual, he took his time to check the permit thoroughly. As he did, Jason took a deep satisfying breath. The air was clean and fresh, without the wet mugginess of the delta, the dry aridity of the desert or the crowded scents battling it out in Old City.

“I think I’m going to enjoy wealth inequality.”

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Shirtaloon

  • Australia

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