The Claw Monster smashed through another crystal agave, spilling black blood and crystal shards across the brown soil. Aside from the occasional crash into shrubbery, the constant thump-shunking of the monster’s heavy tread had been the predominant noise for the last two hours. That, and the heavy breathing of two worried humans.
“I’m at half mana! This is not sustainable!”
Erick joked, “But we’re making such good time!”
“How are you judging that?” Jane poked him with another [Rejuvenation] for another 26 HP. “You see something new out here? Anything besides desert and crystal?” She poked herself with a [Rejuvenation]. “’Cause I don’t!”
She was right. This was not sustainable. But Erick had ability points and an idea for a way out of this endless run. Hopefully it would work, because with as much damage as that thing was doing to itself, there was no way that a damage spell was the answer.
[Cleanse 1], instant, short range, 10 mana.
Purge an area equal to the level of the spell in meters of all Toxins, Disease, Filth, and Corruption.
Purchase [Cleanse 1] for 1 ability point? Yes/No
A flex of air pulsed directly on top of Erick, lingering against his skin as it went to work. Sweat, blood, dirt, dead skin. All of that turned into nothing, or maybe something else was happening. Erick wasn’t sure of the specifics, but he felt a heck of a lot cleaner.
He focused on Jane’s back.
Watching the spell act on another person gave him a bit more information. The air flexed around Jane like heat rolling up from a hot road, only to linger on her body and clothes, turning dirt and dried gore into a scentless breeze that held thick in the air as it flowed away into nothing.
“What did you do, Dad!”
The thumping-shunking of Spiker changed.
“Ha!” Jane laughed.
Neither of them stopped running.
The monster roared in the distance, softer, almost forlorn. The humans did not stop running away. The monster mewed as it lurched forward, then it turned left and thump-shunked out of sight. Still, Erick and Jane ran. Legs pumping, arms swinging. Breathing heavy. Full on HP but not out of danger yet.
Half an hour later, Jane finally said, “That’s far enough.”
She slowed. Neither stopped. Erick kept right beside her, smiling. Running like that was kinda fun. “I haven’t felt this good since I was a teenager.”
Jane smiled. “It’s a good look on you, Dad.” She pointed forward. “That’s a welcome sight, too.”
Something had changed on the horizon! A crystal agave straight ahead was different than all the rest! It was smaller. All the other ones were rather similar in size, and if Erick had to put a bet on it, he’d bet all the rest were exactly the same size. This one was only five feet tall instead of the usual ten.
And then he frowned. “I don’t know if that means anything. Spiker back there destroyed more than a few agaves in the chase. This one might be the fresh growth of a similar historical event.”
Jane pointed forward, slightly higher. “Look again.”
Far, far ahead was something a bit taller than the flat horizon. Whatever it was, it was too far away and past too many crystal agaves to make out through the heat mirage of the desert, but it might have been a wall of some sort. It stuck up from the ground a bit higher than the rest. He wasn’t exactly sure if it was an actual difference, but Jane was sure it was. And she might have been right.
They were almost headed in that direction anyway. With a bit of course correction, they were.
But there was a problem. Honestly, Erick knew this was coming. This problem had already been explained to Erick as to why Jane did not want to purchase or use [Cleanse] until they were out of the desert. The Darkness had obviously marked them somehow. It seemed to piss off, or possibly alert, the Spiker, but that marker was also the only thing keeping the rest of the wildlife of this crystal desert in hiding.
Now that [Cleanse] had worked its magic, it was clear that this desert was not nearly as dead as it seemed. Small motes of long lights, like living streamers, danced in the air, floating on the breeze around the crystal agaves, their glow barely visible in the sun. Scarce bees, or maybe something that filled the same biological niche as the bee, buzzed around, into, and out of the surrounding agaves. A trio of small mammals with crystal spines dashed from one plant to the next. A rolling ball of translucent goo nestled against the base of an agave, among the smaller crystalline growths. There was even life in the desolate spaces between the crystal giants. Thin brown tendrils wafted from the ground here and there, flinching in time to Erick and Jane’s footfalls before vanishing completely as the two of them neared. If those were the sum total of their encounters, this desert marathon might have been a magical experience.
“Holy— What is that?”
Glad to know Jane had no idea what it was either.
Directly ahead of them, on the path to whatever-it-was in the distance, there was a monster. What it looked like was a crystal agave, but when the trio of crystal porcupines neared, the agave’s stiff leaves whipped out, spearing the largest porcupine, dragging the body inside while the other two porcupines fled. The not-plant munched and crunched, and then it was still.
Jane whispered, “We probably walked close to multiples of that and we never noticed.”
“No small growths around the base, though. Easy to see through the disguise if you know what to look for, and now we do.”
Jane gave an affirmative grunt, then retook point, walking toward the maybe-wall in the distance, keeping their path well clear of the hidden monster. Erick followed, eyes darting between agave and not-agave, studying the differences between the real plant, and the faker. No bees on the fake one, no smaller growths around the base. Glow worm streamers didn’t seem to mind the monster.
They walked in silence, eyes peeled for disruptions to the ecosystem. They spotted two more agave mimics, as Jane called them, on their journey toward the rise on the horizon. After even a little bit of walking in this direction Erick had to admit that Jane was right about there being something there. It was not a mirage.
Five hours later, they found out what it was. It was a wall.
A really, really, really big wall, with sides that bulged thick at the base and a mostly level top. The whole extraordinary thing was more mountain-sized than city-sized.
“How the hell can you call that a ‘settlement’? That’s metropolis sized! Multi-metropolis sized.”
Jane said, “No outward obvious signs of life. No markings on the wall. There’s a few blocks or bricks missing in a few spaces near the top, like right there. See that? Maybe it’s abandoned. Oh. Or maybe it’s a brand new wall? They have magic. I bet someone could raise a wall like that, no problem.”
“I’m not taking that bet.”
“… Or. The big wall is not our destination.” Jane pointed to the left. “That looks more like a settlement… and I just got quest completion.”
While the large wall dominated the land, to the left there stood another wall, much more reasonably sized. It was still far away, but even from this distance the smaller wall was nothing compared to the larger one. It was an ant to a human, a grape to a grove.
Registrar Quest Complete!
“Quest Completed. That’s the settlement.” Erick drank the last drop from his canteen. “Good timing.”
Jane finished off her canteen. Whatever came next, they needed to be in top form.
Well. As ‘top form’ as two very hungry, very thirsty fresh-to-this-world people could be. Erick wasn’t expecting a cheeseburger and a soda, but bread and water might be in the realm of possibilities.
… Hopefully the settlement was friendly.
- - - -
The approach to the settlement took longer than Erick thought it would. As they walked, the reason for that became abundantly clear: The ‘settlement’ wall was frickin’ huge, too. Maybe sixty or a hundred feet tall, with towers that poked out from the main structure here and there, probably to provide vantage points for people defending the wall from ground forces. Erick didn’t know much about castle defense, and even less about city wall defense. It might have been a good design?
But the landscape changed well before they got anywhere near the settlement wall.
They had left the crystal agaves a mile behind and passed some sort of unseen border on their way to the city. Green grass and weeds grew from the brown soil, but those were just the preamble to some of the densest farmland Erick had ever seen. Trees and flowers! Orchards and groves! Rows of carrots, maybe. Trellises of tomatoes, probably. Fields of wheat, oh yes that was definitely wheat, for sure. Apple trees and other fruiting plants, wading ponds of what was probably rice or fish and maybe both. And chickens everywhere. So many chickens. Roosting in the trees, flying onto and off of a warehouse, pecking at the ground between what might have been spicy chilies.
A pair of forty pound cats caught and killed one chicken right in front of Erick and Jane, but the cats rushed off as soon as they appeared, carrying their prize with them into the wheat fields. Was that supposed to happen? Neither of them had any idea, but they hoped that the cats did not attack people.
And there were lot of people. Not humans, but definitely people. If it weren’t for them, Erick would have launched himself right into those pond-farms and drank himself into a stupor.
… And gotten immediately arrested and full of dysentery.
As it was, Erick and Jane held themselves back, sticking to the middle of the road, cautiously watching the various people as they walked toward town. Most people ignored them. And then there was a pair of redscaled people in armor, each of them with two long spears. Erick and Jane froze on the road. The armored people took note of Erick and Jane, but besides a semi-concerned eyebrow raise, they kept talking and walking to themselves. There was some clear draconian heritage there, if Erick’s knowledge of popular Earth fantasy wasn’t wrong. With their obvious disinterest, Erick and Jane both breathed a bit easier. That’s when they started people-watching in earnest. Some of the people even stared at Erick and Jane, but all of them seemed to have work to do.
There were more types of people than the dragon types, but the dragon types were the most prevalent. There were a few purple people with horns here and there. As they walked, there was an orchard tended to by very tall mostly human-looking people. Or at least they looked human from this distance. They might have had green skin. Erick couldn’t really tell. But one thing he could tell was that the different types of people did not mix on the individual farming plots. Was this family style farming? Serfdom? Or something else?
They were closer to the wall, now, but it was still a bit away. That’s when they came to the first real disturbance to their plan of ‘walking up to the town and hoping for the best’.
Four shirtless scaled people, each a different color, waded in a pond, working in sync to take green shoots from floating rafts and plant them under the water’s surface in clear lines. A shorter pink scaled person in shorts and a tight tank top moved in and out of the water, replacing empty plant rafts with fresh baby plants off of a pallet sitting to the side of the pond. She saw Erick and Jane and stopped fast in her tracks. She squealed, spiting out words that caused the farmers to look up. All but one of them didn’t care. That one yelled at the pink girl something that was probably the equivalent of ‘get back to work!’ It certainly wasn’t English. Or any language Erick had ever heard.
The pink girl didn’t get back to work. She dropped the pallet she was carrying and rushed over to Erick and Jane.
“Here we go,” whispered Jane.
“Hellothere! Whoareyou? WhatbringsyoutoSpur? You’rehumans,right?”
“Oh no.” Erick said, “I hope that was her speaking really fast. I didn’t catch a single word.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand your language,” Jane said in her most calming voice. “We’re not from around here. Is there a registrar we could talk to?”
“Fudge!” The girl yelled back to her people, “They can’t speak! What do I do?”
“You do nothing. You get back to work.”
“No! Young lady, we’ve got ten fields left to do. If you want to skip out and help them, you’re skipping that party tonight, too.”
The girl tsk’d, then pointed to the open city gates, saying, “Go that way. Ask a guard. Sorry I can’t help you right now.” She pointed up. Huh. There were clouds in the sky. That’s a first. “Weatherwitch says it’s gonna rain and we gotta—”
“Now!” The man in the water stood without any baby plants in his raft, and both his hands on his hips. He wasn’t the only one annoyed at the girl. One of the other farmers was already wading through the water to get to the pallet of baby plants.
The girl pointed toward the town, waving them off as she rushed back to work. She muttered something and the other worker muttered something else. Voices were raised, but quickly turned silent as the machine of farm life resumed operation.
Jane said, “We go to town.”
“I’m ready to help them plant if they’d give us food. Think that would work?”
Jane looked at him for a moment, then started walking toward town, muttering, “I’m not becoming a fucking farmer.”
Erick almost muttered ‘well maybe I am’.
The entrance to the city stood open ahead of them, a thirty foot tall purpose-built hole in the sixty foot stone wall, a pair of iron-bar portcullises rolled halfway up to allow egress. People walked in and out, past two guards that looked bored of their jobs. One of the guards was a blue dragon person, but the other was the most gorgeous man Erick had ever seen. And also the tallest. And also the most slightly green, which wasn’t as offputting as Erick thought it would be.
The man was eight foot tall, muscular, with a jaw that could cut steel and piercing blue eyes. Black hair and strong arms. Those breeches were too tight, and that open flap in his shirt? Exquisite. Erick certainly wasn’t complaining. And Oh My God, there was another beautiful giant in the shadows behind the first one. A woman this time, darker green than the man, with large assets and flowing, sun-kissed hair.
“Jaw off the floor, Dad. They’ve seen us.”
Erick schooled his face as the Most Beautiful Woman walked toward them, a spear in her hand and a swagger in her steps. Oh, wow, those green eyes. Wow.
“What’s a pair of humans coming from the wrong direction want in Spur?”
Erick smiled. “I have no idea what you said, but it sounded lovely.”
“We’re looking for the registrar for a translation spell and some guidance, if possible.” Jane said, “We’re not sure how this all works, but I couldn’t find a translation spell in the Script.”
Beautiful Woman shook her head. As she spoke, tiny lower fangs sometimes appeared. “Ach. What language is that, Ghemm?”
“Fuck if I know.” Gorgeous Man said, “I’m not a polyglot.”
“You’re close, though!”
“Not anything I’ve ever heard, but the sentence structure sounds like it might be similar to ours.” The man shrugged and frowned, revealing larger lower fangs than the woman’s. “What’s more important is that those those canteens look like the work of that Incani Registrar on the other side of the forest. I don’t see any magic on them, and I get the feeling that they’re rather low level, so my recommendation is to just send them to Irogh.”
"Does this sound good to you, Jane?”
Jane calmly said, “No idea, but their body language looks fine.”
“I don’t like how the guy is looking at me.” Beautiful Woman said, “You do it.”
“He’s eyeing me, too.” Gorgeous Man spoke to the blue scaled dragon person, “You’re up, Rookie.”
The blue scaled man rose to his feet. Beautiful Woman said something, pointing from Erick and Jane to Bluescale. She repeated her words and Bluescale waved them forward as he began walking into the city. He turned around after a few steps, waving them in again. Message received. Jane and Erick followed Bluescale into the noisy city.
Too many unknown words filled the air, like a school cafeteria. It was disorienting. It was wonderful. A thousand conversations were going on everywhere at once, because this was the marketplace that serviced the farmlands. The crowds! The noises! The smells! The smells alone would have driven Erick crazy, if this was a marketplace on Earth and he had money to spend, but this was somewhere on Veird, and here, for now, the people were the main attraction.
Scaled people of every color of the rainbow and stone, though shades of red were the most common. People with horns and skin from red to blue, though mostly they were shades of purple, like that first registrar. Beautiful giants. So many beautiful giants. What the heck was up with these giants? How was every one of them so perfect? Okay, maybe he shouldn’t stare like that. They noticed the staring. Let’s look at something else. Oh. People made of metal, but shaped like the other types of people, though wearing what looked like clothes made out of their same-color metal skin. There’s a steel dragon person. A dark black, beautiful giant man. A silverish dragon person. What’s up with that?
Erick supposed the city was pretty great, too. But it was standard stuff, really. Here, in the marketplace, there were covered stalls and crowded roads. Past those he saw stone buildings, wide roads, and glass windows. Deeper into the city, past this market stalls part of the marketplace, were people hawking wares on blankets, some with artful three foot tall stacks of fruit, some with piles and piles of melons, or grains. Most of the goods he had seen were fruits and grains. There weren’t many meats, but there were definitely some. Those were dried sausages over there. Lots and lots of headless chicken bodies hung up in that stall. They didn’t look prepared in any way. Maybe they were magically preserved? Oh man. Erick was hungry. He was thirsty, too. He would have loved to have an apple. His mouth would have been watering if he had any water to spare. Man, was he thirsty.
Like a gift from god, they rounded a corner and suddenly there was a communal water fountain. Attached to the wall in a shaded alcove, just outside the marketplace, the large fountain poured three streams of perfectly cylindrical water from an upper level basin to a lower basin on the ground. The calm-looking streams of falling water made no noise as then plunged into the lower level of the fountain. Two people were in line, three people were filling containers, but with three streams the line emptied as Erick was watching.
“Excuse me.” Erick caught Bluescales attention, then pointed to the fountain, holding his canteen upside down to show it was empty. “May we?”
Bluescale waved them to the water fountain.
“I didn’t know what I was gonna do if he said no.” Jane rushed to the fountain, immediately filling her canteen. “Yeeeeesssss.”
It took four seconds to fill up his canteen. He drank down half of that, then felt like he could lie down and sleep, right there on the street. But he didn’t, of course. He refilled his canteen, then rejoined Bluescale and Jane. She had kept herself more composed through the whole experience than he had.
“Good water?” Bluescale said, “I know how you feel. I’ve had to go on forest walks, too.”
“Ah. Yes? Maybe.” Erick gestured enthusiastically at the water, smiling and saying, “Very good water.”
The buildings were larger now that they were further from the gate. Grander, too. Most of them had carved pillars, or fresco facades. Some of the outsides even had ‘neon signs’ that were more holograms than visibly connected to any surface, like standard neon would have to be. Though these signs weren’t like the mostly-gaudy nature of neon signage back home. All of the floating, glowing letters here were muted white with black outlines, and had images to go along with the words. That place was obviously a restaurant, with two utensils crossed over a simple plate. Over there was a sword and some variation of what was probably an anvil. Food place again. Clothes. Clothes. Clothes. Food again.
Everyone was wearing really nice clothes the further they got down this street. Three people so far had scanned Erick and Jane up and down in obvious judgment. There were some jewelry shops. Another jewelry shop. That corner storefront was covered in gold, or maybe it was an illusion. If it was an illusion it was a very good illusion.
“I think this is the really nice district.”
Jane silently nodded. Bluescale looked backward, smiling.
They rounded the gold store and walked down a different street. The buildings here were even taller, but the people were few and far between. Trees occupied what was likely incredibly expensive land, creating small parks here and there. Water flowed in bubbling fountains, adding much needed moisture to the air. The desert was far away from this place.
Apartment buildings. Apartment buildings. Some sort of guildhouse. Merchant guildhouse, probably, what with the floating images of coins hovering on the outside of the second floor. Legal businesses over there, for sure. There’s a courthouse, maybe, redscale guard lounging on the big steps. Do all courthouses have huge steps leading up to the building—
We’re going up the courthouse steps.
Erick spoke with awe in his voice. “This is a hundred times nicer than what I expected out of a settlement.”
“Yeah,” said Jane, simply. “But those buildings over there… They’re empty.”
“What?” Erick looked backward. “Oh? That one’s even missing the top few floors, now that I can see it from this angle. And you know? There aren’t that many people. Not enough to account for a courthouse this big.”
Jane whispered, “There’s no one here except for that guard laying on the steps.”
Bluescale guard led them past the redscale guard relaxing on the courthouse steps. The two of them spoke in passing, Redscale waving Bluescale off, Redscale only sparing a momentary glance at Erick and Jane. Up the stairs, between massive pillars holding up the front of the courthouse, they walked into the building. Past a pair of massive stone doors, there was an empty guard station. Bluescale walked right past the empty station. The inside of the building was grey granite floors with black and white inlay, grey marble pillars and arched stone ceilings. Sunlight fell through skylights here and there, but the courthouse would have been dark if not for floating yellow-white light orbs hanging in the archways. Bluescale led them past the center dome. A massive yellow-white light orb hung in the center of this central space. It was obviously a globe. One shining dot on its surface glowed brighter than the rest. Erick wanted to study it, but Bluescale was already moving on.
Jane glanced at the globe, too, but she made sense of it with just that tiny look. “We’re almost in the middle of a continent, but there’s water to the south. Maybe a way to the ocean. We might have ended up there if we took a right perpendicular to our path to this place.”
A flat-grey metal dragonperson was suddenly there, walking forward but with his face down, reading papers. He stopped and looked up, startled at the appearance of three people in his path. Greymetal looked at Erick and Jane, his face twisting. He shouted at Bluescale. Bluescale shouted back. Greymetal said something calmer. Bluescale pointed down the hall to an office with a blue door, very similar in color to the blue boxes of the Script.
Greymetal lit into Bluescale, pointing at Erick and Jane’s canteens. Bluescale lit right back into Greymetal, saying something else, looking pointedly at Erick and Jane. He repeated his words, miming them to drink from their canteens.
Erick and Jane readily complied.
Greymetal frowned. He said something else, then exaggeratedly looked away. He walked away, saying something that was probably unkind, because Bluescale clacked the claws of his left hand together once, like he was trying to make the sound of one hand clapping. Greymetal whipped around at the tiny sound, glaring daggers. Bluescale made the gesture and sound again, right at Greymetal. Greymetal huffed, but walked away.
Those two did not like each other, at all.
Erick and Jane followed Bluescale to the blue door. He knocked. They waited. There was a response from the other side. Bluescale opened the door, saying something to someone, maybe to them, maybe to the person inside the room. A deep voice called out from inside the room, and Bluescale ushered them inside, past the blue door.
Understated opulence was the inspiration for this room. Smooth lines, comfortable furniture, bright lighting. One wall was entirely of three large waist to ceiling glass windows, with the central one open. The room was nice. Then they crossed the threshold of the room, and suddenly it was even nicer because they had stepped into air conditioning.
Erick let out a groan of happiness.
A small laugh escaped from the eight foot tall new Most Handsome Man in the world. He was obviously the registrar, being that he was the only person in this room and he was sitting in a large white chair behind a large white desk. He said something to Bluescale. Bluescale responded. There was an exchange, then Bluescale left the room and closed the door behind him. Erick tried not to stare at the registrar, but that would be asking for too much.
Seriously. What were these people eating? This guy was stacked, and his greying hair only made him look better. Unless there were immortal shenanigans afoot Erick and him might have been of a similar age. If not for the man’s inhuman perfection, Erick would have definitely hit on this dude. Maybe he would anyway. And yet, he was hesitant. Erick was happy with his body. His various lovers over the years had always been happy with him, too, and those that weren’t didn’t leave any lasting impression. Feeling intimidated like this was new.
At least these beautiful people weren’t human.
They probably weren’t human.
Frick. What if they were human? Was Erick ugly as sin?
The man spoke, and even his voice was perfect, though his words did not match his lips. “So you’re the two humans from that crash in the desert that my counterpart warned me about. Mind telling me what’s up… Hmm.”
The man stared at Erick. Then he looked away and typed at the air. He glanced at Erick before returning to whatever invisible screen floated in front of him. He glanced at Erick again.
Now Jane was looking at him, silently demanding to understand what he had done.
He hadn’t done anything! What’s with all these judgmental stares!
“Hmm.” The Most Handsome Man cleared his throat, moving right along. “The leading theory is that you two are outsiders from some part of the Planes that the Script never touched. That happens. Rarely, but it does. If you’d like, we can go ahead and make that your official story.”
“… That’s it?” Jane said, “No. No no. I would like some answers, please, since this is such a common occurrence. We were in the desert for two days— Correction: we were in some dark tunnel, where some dark dragon—”
The man typed at his invisible screen.
“—where some dark dragon decided against eating us only to teleport us way up in the sky, dropping us into the desert. The desert wasn’t so bad, but then a monster with obvious ties to the dark dragon chased us until my dad here cast a pair of [Cleanse] spells. All that was fucking crazy, but what I really want to know is why is your magic system so unbalanced!” She pulled out the D&D book scrap and shoved it at Erick. “[Mend] that more.”
Seeing no reason not to comply…
[Mend], [Mend], [Mend], [Mend], [Mend],—
Damn this was taking a lot of [Mend]s.
[Mend], [Mend], [Mend], [Mend], [Mend].
Okay. A little light headed now. Let’s not faint in the handsome man’s office, please.
While he was [Mend]ing, Jane was going off. “How are we in a world with magic that is so close, yet so far from the game I play in my world?” She took the completed book from Erick’s hands and put it on the registrar’s desk. “How did we get here! How is this system I play games with related to everything?”
The registrar picked up the book. He flipped through a few pages. His eyes went wide, but then he frowned. The air flashed around the book and suddenly there was another copy. He pushed the original back toward Jane who grabbed it and held it against her chest. The man flipped through his copy.
Eventually, the registrar came to a conclusion, “The Script attempts to control all magic entering Veird, and those people who wholly refuse to be controlled are sent back to where they come from, or deleted if return is not possible. There are problems, of course. The only major disruption to the Script is Melemizargo. The Darkness Dragon you claim to have met. A word of warning: don’t mention Melemizargo outside the office of a registrar. People will think you’re tainted. And you probably both were, and still are in some way. Now the real question is how did you think to spend a point on [Cleanse], Mister Flatt?” The man eyed Erick, and it was not a comfortable stare.
“Uh. She though of that. She’s the gamer, not me. I think magic is kinda ridiculous.”
The man nodded once, slowly.
Jane said, “When that other guy unlocked leveling and menus I started looking up everything I could think of in order to powergame your Script. The games I’ve played before. The usual ways to break a system. I think your healing is way powerful. More so than I thought healing had any right to be.”
The man nodded, assuredly this time. “The Script was designed to stop the abuses of magic which tore Veird apart fourteen hundred years ago in the Sundering. As magic settled down from that catastrophe, the human gods, the dragon lords, and the demon kings, worked together for the first and only time in history in order to change the very nature of magic. The resulting Script removed three specific categories of spells from magic, restricted many more, and empowered the common person to stand up to the abuses of the Old Wizards. One of the many changes was to take healing out of the hands of the gods and give it to everyone.”
“… Okay. So. Lore is helpful to know.” Jane said, “Makes sense, too. Gotta kill the slavers. Easier to do that when everyone can heal themselves.”
The registrar laughed. “Healing isn’t the half of it. You rarely personally hear of this, but everyone has a story about how a relative knows a guy who knows a guy who got the Class: Slave and was automatically teleported to safety out of some ship’s hold, or some asshole’s mage tower, who then led a Kill Quest against the slaver.” He added, “Except for demons. Those guys have a whole culture surrounding slavery. Demon slaves don’t get the automatic teleport or issued a Kill Quest.”
“Demons?” Erick paled. “Those are real? As in walking around and killing people, kinda real?”
The registrar smiled. “Of course they are! But you’re as likely to see a demon as you would an angel, so I wouldn’t worry too much about those people.”
Erick blanked. Eventually he said, “I’m not really the religious type.”
The man laughed again. “Okay. That seals it.” He typed away at the invisible air, then put both his hands on his desk. “Rozeta’s personal Deep Scan shows you as real humans, but with so many odd things in your bodies that there’s no way you’re not from some other fragment of reality. Your complete lack of knowledge, decorum, and anything approaching the sensibilities of the common veirdling, is what convinced me that you really are outsiders.”
“You’ve been scanning us?” Jane deflated a bit. “Okay?”
“That and a lot more. Well. Not me, personally. Rozeta. Dragon goddess of the Script. She says memories of your caliber are impossible to fake and she wishes you well on Veird.” The registrar frowned, reading from the air. He focused on Jane. “Rozeta would like you to know that you should not pledge yourself to a god until you have lived on Veird for a number of years and seen for yourself who the gods truly are. You are too naive. Hopefully, in a few years, you would have seen her good works, and the works of others, and she would have proven herself as the best choice. If you can prove yourself worthy to receive her favor, she will prove herself more than worthy of your devotion.”
“… I’m going to need time to think about that.”
Erick asked, “Are we stuck here? Is there a way to get home?”
“You are very stuck. Dimensional magic was locked out by the Script, therefore research into the phenomenon which brought you here is functionally impossible. No one is really sure how outsiders end up on Veird. Maybe a planetary alignment thing. Maybe something more esoteric. Probably something on your end, to be honest. But it’s not like you walked through a portal, right? All the outsider stories are the same: You were gradually pulled here, like crossing a thousand small steps, only to find that you’ve gone the distance of a galaxy before you knew what was happening. It’s the same story for every outsider that manages to live this long.”
Erick deflated at the same time a chill raced down his spine.
‘Live this long’?
Jane spoke before he could. “Live this long?”
“You probably didn’t feel your body shutting down because Jane kept healing you, but as outsiders you’re biologically unfit for life on Veird. But don’t worry. The Script has a standardized outsider care package and the spells have already been cast. [Language Acquisition] and [Bacteria Ecology Transmutation] are the main buffs. They’ll both last for about a month and will make acclimation to Veird much easier. You’re really lucky you didn’t eat anything before you got to me. If you had, you probably wouldn’t have made it. You should be fine now. Maybe don’t try Wrought cuisine. Beyond that, you’ve also—”
+3 Ability Points
“—gotten a small boost to starting your life on Veird, on account of not getting a proper Matriculation from a non-excitable registrar. That guy didn’t even give you a reward for his mandatory quest. Very unprofessional. Hopefully the extra points takes the sting out of having to spend two points on abilities you might not have wanted.” He leaned back in his chair. “And that brings us to this: I would like to have a real Matriculation with you both, right now, if there are no objections.”
Erick didn’t even know what he would be objecting to, so he just waited for the man to continue.
Jane seemed to have a similar thought process, though according to her focused face she was a lot more invested in this whole experience.
“Congratulations on Matriculation into the Script, Jane and Erick Flatt.” The man smiled, and everything seemed like it was going to be okay. “My name is Irogh. I’m the registrar for this town of Spur, which is the primary adventurer town for the Dead City, Ar’Kendrithyst. Anything you say to me inside or outside of this room is always under the Holy Seal of the Silent Script. This room is also warded in various ways to prevent spying of all kinds, so if you have something important you want to talk to me about and you don’t want others listening in, talk to me here; my door is usually open. With your Matriculation into the Script today, I will assist you in planning your builds to the best of my ability, be you plotting the downfall of a nation, god, demon king, or dragon lord, or if you want to become the best darn farmer on Veird. I am here for you, and your needs.” He looked from Jane to Erick. “Would you two like to Matriculate together, or separately?”
“Together,” Jane said at the same time Erick said, “Downfall of a god?”
Erick quickly added, “Together. Yes.”
“I know you’ve all been in the desert for a while. So—” Irogh waved his hand and simple food appeared. Crackers, cheese, and sliced fruits, piled high and artfully arranged on multiple plates. Three glasses and three large water pitchers also materialized, one pair next to each person. “Please enjoy. We can continue when you are feeling better.”
Not only was Irogh the Most Handsome Man in the world, he was also a joy to listen to and those tiny fangs of his were pretty cool. And there was food! Erick immediately took a plate, moving only slightly slower than Jane. Irogh poured himself some water, waiting for one of them to talk.
Jane spoke first. It was an exhaustive conversation. Most of it went over Erick’s head except the part where Jane decided that she wanted to explore the Dead City with an adventuring squad. Apparently, ‘adventuring’ was going to be a heavy part of her ‘teleporting paladin’ plan. That was worrying, but she was grown and could make her own decision, even if those decisions were about crazy magic...
But now that he was listening to Irogh discuss the finer points of Jane’s plan… If Jane focused on the teleporting side of her build first, she should be able to teleport in a few months. She would probably be safer on Veird than she would have been in the CIA! She would be able to teleport out of danger at will!
She could come home whenever she wanted!
A tear of happiness fell. He brushed it away before Jane noticed, but not before Irogh saw. The Most Handsome Man just smiled, not hinting at what he had seen to Jane.
Erick had no real idea of what he wanted to do on Veird, but he knew he needed money and to be a part of a community again. This town, Spur, seemed nice. It was certainly full of beautiful, helpful people.
And Jane was making plans to live here for the foreseeable future.
With a bit of a back and forth, Jane and Erick decided that both of them would stay in Spur. Irogh assured them that there was plenty of space for them, and that though Spur wasn’t a human town, it would certainly be more welcoming to other worlders than the nearest human city, Frontier.
And then it was Erick’s turn to talk with Irogh.
A lot of what Jane had said stuck with Erick. He really liked Jane’s ideas about auras, but they didn’t seem workable for her. Auras used too much mana. Auras were not a common build for anyone, but if Erick was going to try and make a living in the city, which he was, everyone was always in need of high level [Cleanse]ing and [Mend]ing, and if he could support an actual aura, he could easily find a place for himself in the city.
Not many people built for mage jobs, but Erick could see himself as a mage of some sort, now that it had all been properly explained to him. He didn’t really care to ‘exploit the system’ like Jane seemed to want, or kill things like adventuring demanded, but cleaning and fixing everything around him? He could do that. He already had most of the base stats necessary. 20 Focus was important for future plans, but that could come in as little as a few days.
But needing to cast spells for five to ten hours a day left little room for the stats necessary to survive on Veird. At 8 strength, Erick was already well below the recommended safe level of HP. If he had [Ward] he could make a skin-tight shield for an extra 50 HP per day. He almost bought [Ward] right then, but Irogh kept talking, and other ideas took precedence. Despite the proximity of Ar’Kendrithyst, Spur was a safe city. Monsters rarely got inside the walls and almost everyone had ‘adventurer experience’. Even the most intrepid ‘shadowling’ rarely survived a moment of public exposure.
Three hours after they began their Matriculation, Erick and Jane had individualized plans.
Erick might even have a job! It was supposed to be an easy money maker that would dovetail nicely into his future plans. There was only one problem. Well… One major problem. The job was [Cleanse]ing the sewers of Spur. Monsters lived in the dark. Supposedly, Erick wouldn't need to go into the actual sewers for the specific job that Irogh had recommended, but that didn’t make Erick feel any better about his chances. He bought [Ward].
Jane called him short sighted.