A Certain Learning Curve
A few weeks into my stay at Holloway Halter saw me getting a house of my own at a slight discount since the housing around the area was especially cheap for River People. It kinda sucked that refugees couldn’t really afford even the discounted price, but the ones that came around town were usually Ponies or Gertts and Thesuvians don’t like Centurns. That, and Gertts tended to disagree with traditional Thesuvian values, so I’d seen plenty of fights break out between new faces and natives. The feeling was mutual all the way round, but Holloway was a main stop on the road to the Greater Centurn Islands to the north, the original home of the bastards. I didn’t really have anything against Centurns when I’d been in Ponydale, but in Thesuvia? They were absolute snakes, and I was glad to have my weapons more than once. Pegasi didn’t need much more than an idle warning, a mean look, or a gun in their faces to back off, but Unicorns? They tried to have Arca-battles on a daily basis to the point where a detour route was specified for those wishing to travel through town. Unicorns were not allowed in the main streets, which really went to show just how bad things were getting across the continent.
The Char War had been at a stalemate for some time with Flistis and Sotanylvannia holding strong in their own battles, but as Gerritt slowly lost more and more ground, it was getting clearer and clear that Chorell, Denos, and Mothica were all going to need to step in, even if the war wasn’t at their doorstep. There was word of Denosian Warriors and Shamans being dispatched to purify once conquered lands, but the Mothicans were said to be reluctant to fight people on fire since their people were especially flammable. Nothing good would come of them fighting in their eyes, so it was up to the rest of the continent to help out. River People were warned to, like myself, head to Thesuvia, other provinces in Stalfisk, or Teh Se Bang, but I wasn’t really feeling any sort of aster in the air while I was trying to make a life for myself. Times were tough and music was good for cheering people up, but I wasn’t making money like I used to from it. I made enough, but… I didn’t like taking cash from refugees, so I didn’t. If anything I had to use somnerre for their benefit and I was starting to get a reputation as ‘The Plucking Peacekeeper’ for the times I’d stopped fights with songs.
However, being able to put on a free concert at the Welcome Center had gotten me a certain accolade from the Onemaster of the town, who was basically the Mayor and the town’s head Armator. The prize for keeping the town peaceful for almost a full four hours was a voucher for some kind of ‘secret service’ from someone named ‘Zenku Stown’, which was pretty hard to figure out. The Armatura itself had asked me to play for them to raise morale, the local Smithy hired me to make a work song (Which I already had for them after hearing the beat they usually worked to.), and I was starting to become popular in general around town. People were usually happy to see the River Man with Choret-hair, which felt pretty damn good. A smile and a wave could even get a lost Unicorn to calm down if they’d been in town long enough to hear about the guy with the crazy-difficult instrument. Yeah, I played a lot of music for free, but... Booksy, I didn’t really care. It was good to be useful; to be liked in a place I called home.
As for Alana…? Well, she’d shown me just how bashful she could be, even if we were spending more and more time together. I could go on and on about just how paralyzingly cute she was and how she exuded an air of clumsiness and grace in turns. I’d seen her do a couple steps of a little dance when she was walking to work and she accidentally whacked some kids head, immediately apologizing to both her and the gal’s parents. She was so embarrassed that they couldn’t really hold it against her, and it had been pretty obvious that it was an accident. Alana was just a bit of a lanky long-gal which reminded me of the fact that she could probably pick my skinny ass up if she wanted to. Settling down was probably meant for someone my age, and I was enjoying the life I had, pitfalls and all. There were plenty of wrongs with the rights of my life and how it was rising from the shadows of the unknown, but it was going fuckin’ good. Yeah, there was a fuckin’ war, but it wasn’t at my heels anymore. Things were tense for everyone else, but for me? Soaking up the aster. There wasn’t a noticeable disaster anywhere in sight, and that was how I liked it.
Hell, Booksy. Life is still going pretty well. I ended up playing the Armatura’s benefit earlier this week, the smiths loved the song and the other versions I made to go along with it are usually heard throughout the day at various volumes. I still don’t know who ‘Zenku’ is. I’ve been asking around and Alana’s been using her connections, but I think it might be a trick of some sort. There’s an elderly man I like to eat dinner with in the local tavern and his name is ‘Zenu Stouno’, so I’ll probably ask him later tonight if he’s the mystical dood. It wouldn’t surprise me, but Zenu’s not really the type to ‘work’, per se. You ,kinda have to feed him booze to even get him to talk much, but once he starts he won’t stop. Helluva drinking buddy, kinda has a problem.
Anyway, I didn’t end up visiting Alana and the Gal-Pals today since there was supposed to be a pretty big influx of River People in need of displacement assistance. A lot of my fellow River Folk never thought to save up and buy anything of value and a lot of people assumed that Thesuvian Welcome Centers honored Avalesch permanent placements, which wasn’t true. The Thesuvians didn’t even do Perma-Placements, and that caused a lot of problems with people expecting free rides. Not really my problem, but Alana’s been stressed out lately and I try to do what I can to help her calm down and relieve pressure. When she invited me over to her house and needed a hug, I offered her a back rub and massaged her feet. It was apparently unheard of for Thesuvian men and wasn’t a very popular move for most of the races other than Harkans, I think. The gender roles were basically swapped in Thesuvia and were a weird mix of semi-modern and a little archaic, but I wasn’t complaining. Much. We still haven’t really even made it official, but we do try to spend the time together that we can.
Other than that, I’ve noticed something I wasn’t really paying attention to before. The only Septurns with conventional body odor were Chorets, Lasponians, and another race I can’t remember right now. Apparently they were known for smelling better than ‘even the most aromatic of River People’, and a lot of people were assuming that I was one of the three or four races that were notorious for smelling good. However, I just think we smell like sweat and grossness most of the time. Evidently it wasn’t strange for Septurns to have a specific taste as far as River People were concerned, but all Septurns thought that River People should bathe less than normal to let their natural scents be their cologne/perfume. Guess who bathed twice a day because he could? Alana told me that I smelled like kinaeman (Something like cinnamon) and caffeya (some kinda coffee), which was nice if she saw me after a hot day, but still. I didn’t and still don’t like it when I can smell myself, but Septurns don’t use deodorant! Had to get some charcoal-rub, which only Minotaurs and friggin’ Denosians used.
Right… That’s enough about the life I’ve been cobbling together. I’m gonna go talk to Zenu. See you later- Oh fuck me. I could’ve just said that name to the compass and-
Turns out I had to miss dinner with Zenu to find Zenku and that… That was a near, near miss. Turns out Zenku was a River Woman who used to be a dominatrix before she got fed up with her customers trying to use her for money and sex (I don’t even really understand it.), which led me to almost getting cuffed and having adult ‘fun time’. I did not want any of that, but Stown was also well-connected. She got me in touch with one of the elder-smiths at Astra’s Arm, the local Smithy. I went there, talked to Folger Elmer, a twitchy guy who’s tongue was always getting stuck somewhere in his mouth, and had him ‘upgrade’ my shit. Apparently he was the best Artificer in town and could prove it, so I let him hold my hunting knife, Clockly, and since he wanted me to give him something else, I asked if he had anything I could buy at a discount. He was cool with that and offered me a sword, to which I asked him if he was crazy. He then offered me some armor that had perception inhibiting runes on it. Shit would only wear off once the runes themselves got damaged, but I could either make myself very noticeable by rubbing the left pauldron-thingy or do the opposite with the right. Rubbing my left shoulder made the armor shine, but rubbing the right one made it look more like mottled cloth that hadn’t been dyed correctly. Being skeptical of the quality, I later tried piercing the armor with my knife only to find that it was pretty good shit.
I left my stuff with Elmer Folger- Er, Folger Elmer, and figured I’d ask Zenu’s forgiveness when I saw him next. Instead of heading to the tavern, I wandered around over to Holloway High-Reach, the apartment complex I got my place at. Furniture was hard to come by, but the Gal-Pals had all pitched in to help me find stuff and it had turned the place into home. Everything I actually needed was eventually found over the last two weeks, but I still went over to Alana’s for caffeya and teeya. They were basically coffee and tea respectively, but caffeya tasted pretty much the same anywhere you went if you drank it straight and teeya was different depending on the friggin’ town. Teeya was more of a nightly drink and I often shared it with Alana once I’d showered and shaved for the night. I always showered before I saw her if I could, even if she asked me not to, but I kept much the beard I’d grown for her sake. Bethany had mentioned that Alana liked a man with a bit of beard but not too much, so I asked Tara and she’d told me the same thing. It was never above Bethany to mess with someone, but she usually looked out for Alana’s best interest. As it turned out, Alana actually did like the new style and complimented me on it from time to time. After I hopped in and out of the shower in record time due to a lack of man-funk going on and my hair not needing to be washed, I went over to Alana’s and prepared myself.
Gage wouldn’t have usually just knocked and walked on Earth, even if she said he could. However all of the Gal-Pals did it one way or another and would happily walk in on you in the bathroom if they weren’t Thesuvian. Tara and Aliss would at least knock before coming in, but Bethany, Hasha, Li-Oh, and Cacoma would all stroll in freely. I’d been caught in my boxers, in a towel, and generally half naked plenty of times in two and a half weeks, but Alana and I had never walked in on each other. A fact that had been pointed out by Bethany and Hasha a few times over the past few days while hanging out with Alana. However, the girls (and Coma and Li-Oh. They’re both cool.) all agreed to go out bar-hopping, despite only having three places to get booze in town other than the stores and a soma-press. Alana liked soma, but wasn’t really a fan of booze other than the soft stuff. I wasn’t a fan of soma unless it was mild, but I had a flask full of whatever liquor I could remember and was happy to share. I wasn’t an alcoholic so much as a high-functioning drunk, but I was sure to give the sauce its due respect and didn’t abuse it too often.
The sun was giving way to Astra and Rojol with a little dilly-dallying going on, so it was probably like adding a filter to my already coffee-with-milk complexion. I hoped that it would give my haircut some extra help since it had gone silvery-white at the tips again when it had been cut, annoying the ever-loving shit out of me. It made me look old. Well, to me, at least. Otherwise, it kinda made me seem like a Choret, but that’s not important. Instead of stalling like I had been, I knocked twice, waited a second or two, and then let myself in as was considered barely acceptable by Thesuvian standards. Alana said I could do it so I did, but she also pointed out the only reason that I would in the first place was so she would know it was me. However, with the jazzy music going on in her living room, I doubted that she heard me. I let myself in anyway and saw for myself why she usually ran off to her room whenever Li-Oh, Coma or I came over. While she was dancing in a way that only a woman with the grace to match Alana’s height could, I saw a little more than I think she would have thought necessary. I wasn’t a pervert, but I am now!
No, I kid. I knocked on the wall and tried to get her attention, but she only paid me some mind when I went to go sit on my favorite loveseat. She froze when I passed in front of her, then she stared after me as I casually looked back. “You dance better than you sing by a mile, Allie. You ever gonna dance to my music?”
She just stared.
I waved and she looked at the closed door behind her, then back at me, then at her mini-mini skirt. “... Gatian…”
My face had been warm since I walked in, but I was trying to play it cool. “I knocked like usual, but I figured you were-”
Alana flapped her hands at me. “No! You can’t tell anyone you saw that!” She protested, her face bright red.
“That goofy dance!”
“... Goofy?” I furrowed my brow. “... You… You were on beat for every movement. Everything flowed together. Alana, that was magnificent,” I said dumbly.
She held her arms in front of her. “... I-It wasn’t goofy?”
“... That’s like me calling my music bad in general. I mean, I don’t know Septurn standards for dancing at all, but that was good by Earth standards.”
Alana held the hem of her skirt, smiling and she twisted from side to side. Another factor in me finding her overall appearance cute beyond the short skirt that barely covered enough to properly be called clothes were the striped knee-socks she was wearing, the casual blouse and tank-combo, and the general lack of a bra. I say all that because Alana went to say something to me with her cheeks just being a little pink, then realized what she was wearing. Her blouse was sheer, her tank strapless, and her skirt-thing rather short. She blushed, pulled her shirt down a little, then gave me the patented Allie Grimace, which was kinda like a smile of horror. Not wanting her to feel uncomfortable, I kept my eyes in decent places and walked back up to her, looping my hands around her waist and looking up at her.
“G-G-Gatian?” She stammered.
“I love the socks. Very cute.”
“And your blouse is very fetching. Green is definitely your color. One of ‘em.”
“O-Oh… I-I thought I was more of a riminice-tone…”
“Well, earth-tones are definitely your thing. Your eyes are such a beautiful shade of green, after all. I guess they’d be pretty with whites and blues too, but that dark green really goes with what you already have.”
She looked at her white tank and the striped, knife-pleated osone, I think it was called. No, olone, there we go. Everything went together. “... I… I didn’t mean to make everything match… I guess that’s the Thesuvian in me.” Chuckling awkwardly, she held her hands in front of her.
I grabbed her wrists and brought her arms around my shoulders, hearing her breathing pick up. Bethany and Aliss had both advised me to be forward with Alana in the past and I’d been trying to do so time and time again. I started small and worked my way up to doing what I was at the moment, which was the biggest leap by far. “Does the Thesuvian in you want to give me a hug?”
Alana grinned and squeezed me, giggling as I did the same. Hugging Allie was always nice because she didn’t mind if I pressed my cheek against her chest, but then again, most Thesuvian women liked hugs too if you were above five-eight. She let me go long after politeness would have dictated her doing so, but neither of us were upset. “Does the River Person in you want to do something tonight?”
If I say you, am I in trouble? “I was thinking I might show you some Earth beers, mead, and maybe an ale or two.”
She smiled and let her hands rest behind my neck as she seemed to ease up. “Are you sure you’re not just trying to get me drunk?”
“I could be, but where would the fun in that be? Besides, I was going to offer to cook something to go with our drinks just for that purpose.”
Her smile grew and before I knew it, our first kiss was in action and it was friggin’ great. Thesuvian’s usually smelled kind of minty in general whenever they sweat and Alana was a little like sweet-mint gum, if I remember right. “Oh, Gatian, you’re so sweet!”
I pulled a face. “I try to be, but now I’m beginning to think you only keep me around for your sugar addiction.”
I loved seeing her smile up until she realized what she did. “... I just… I just…”
“Kissed me? Yeah, we could do it again if you want. I would love that.” I nodded, smirking at her.
She hesitated to bend down again, so I placed a hand behind her neck and stood on my tiptoes to speed up the process. The second was just as good as the first, and it felt better since I knew that she wasn’t lost in her head at the moment. Time probably got tired of slowing down for me and my moments, but it felt like it was moving at a snail’s pace nonetheless. Feeling ‘close’ to Alana felt right more so than carnal, like I could just spend the day cuddling with her or going on a walk and I’d be happy with it. It didn’t stop me from wanting to take her from top to bottom, but c’est la vie. Alana had a job and a life, and I was willing to cull my own ambitions to meet hers. When I pulled away from her, my paramour’s kissing face was too adorable to not give another peck, practically waking her up from a smooch-induced trance.
The easy smile I wore was met with a nervous one from Alana. “Ga-Gatian... ? Can I ask you something?”
“... Why- Er, Well, I mean...“
“Why did I kiss you?”
She nodded and looked down. “A-And… Why did you let me…?”
“Because I likes ya and I was not going to turn down a kiss from the cutest Diancie on this side of Septural.”
“I am- Okay, I’m tall, but I’m not a Diancie!”
I wrapped my arms around her and beamed. “Nope, you’re Honest Allie with a heart of friggin’ platinum.”
She pouted down at me. “... You just liked my outfit, didn’t you?”
“It’s really cute, but fashion isn’t my motivator in life.”
“... How much did you see when I wasn’t paying attention…?” Her tone was soft and her eyes locked onto mine, a certain level of concern in her gaze.
Smiling was the wrong move, but I couldn’t stop. “... Enough to know you didn’t know I was here, so I walked in front of you.”
“... Sorry I hit you…”
That was a shocker. “When?”
“Wh-When you walked in front of me…”
“I didn’t even notice, but thank you for apologizing. Now, are you going to teach me how to dance or can I get started making a mess of your kitchen?”
I got a look for my words. “I didn’t mean to let you see that…”
“I did knock, but I can’t say I’m sorry. Not honestly, at least.”
She fingered the hem of her skirt some more. “... I ate right before I came home from work…”
“... Alright…” It was a bad sign. “Should I go, or…?”
“:No!” She covered her mouth. “I-I mean… I didn’t mean to make things awkward…”
“I don’t mind. It’s only as awkward as we make it, and my power to un-awkward a situation is stronger than anything.” I pulled her down for a peck on the cheek. “Grab some glasses with an extra dose of ‘pretty please’ and we can get started on sampling stuff.”
“I-I… I don’t want to be rude… But… I usually…” She muttered the rest of her words.
“If you’re going to say that you usually only drink the light stuff, then I’ve got you covered. If you want to go change, I’m never going to try to put my two cents in on that if unasked. You do you, beautiful.”
Alana lightly swatted my arm. “You just want another peek!”
“To be honest, I’m not planning on looking. I told you the truth when I said I’d keep my eyes in decent places.”
“... Well, maybe a gal likes it when men are impolite some- Yeep!” She went ramrod straight when I let my hands go from her hips to her lower back, stepping closer as I did so.
“I can be impolite. Your reactions to it are adorable!” She didn’t really answer to that, so I let her go. “I guess I’ll grab the glasses. Make yourself comfortable, which I say with a hint of irony.”
“R-Right.” She wore her goofy smile and wobbled over to her sofa-thing.
After getting the things I said I’d get, I brought them to Alana and saw for myself that she was wearing something with blue stripes under her olone, but I averted my gaze after a second or two of ‘not’ noticing her following my gaze, both of our faces warming up. Lover-Girl crossed her legs and looked away when I looked at her, but it really didn’t do her many favors. Instead of a front view I had a side-view, and the side view was a little cheeky no matter how you cut it. I didn’t know what the right move was, so I sat in the place I usually did and poured us both a half-glass of Red’s Black Cherry, which I love, to get us started. I didn't know what to add in as a compliment to it, but Allie had shot glasses laid out from her standing-bar and I filled those with some amaretto. Alana took her glass and sipped her drink a second after I downed half of mine in one go. Her eyes widened and her plump, soft lips split into a thousand watt smile.
“Wow, this is delicious! I didn’t think liquor was ever meant to be sweet! Or bubbly!”
“It’s ale, cuteness. Specifically Red’s Black Cherry, one of my favorite kinds.”
“Ale then, goobski. It’s excellent and it barely tastes like alcohol!” She tried a sip of the amaretto. “... That’s… That’s delicious…” She seemed confused. “Now, that’s liquor, but it’s pretty sweet too…”
I raised a brow. “Have you ever tried rum?”
“Is it sweet?”
“I’d love to try that too.” She cradled her glass and sipped it again, smiling more. “I should have known that a Bard would know his alcohol.”
I’m sure she meant to jab a little, but I decided to roll with it. “What can I say? Womanizer by day, drunk by night~”
Alana giggled at that. “You couldn’t be a womanizer if you tried, Gatian. The only reason you looked earlier was because I was practically flashing you! And I gave you permission to look.”
My face flushed. “Well…”
“Plus I know where your gaze usually lands. You glance. Most men stare when they’re attracted to a woman~” Her smile was pleasant and her tone was gentle.
I looked down, a little embarrassed. “Since when did you get so bold?”
She finished her shot and I did the same with mine. “It’s a Thesuvian tradition to trade jokes when the alcohol starts flowing.”
And flow did it ever. We may have started light, but before long, the giantess was outdrinking me left, right, and center. She was downing booze like it was water and I had to measure my shots before I ended up passed out on her couch. Lo’ and behold, I ended up in her lap after about twenty-seven shots and could barely keep my wits about me. There wasn’t much going through my mind other than the softness of Alana’s thighs, or the warmth of her hands. I offered her free rein of the flask and she showed me just why she didn’t drink a lot when we went out; The woman could hardly get drunk. She drank from my flask until she was a little hammered herself, both of us having decided to get a little sloshed for the first night of the weekend. After a while of playing with my new hair and talking about random things, I tried to go home as politeness dictated, but couldn’t walk a straight line. Between Drunk Alana and Drunk Gatian, we managed to convince ourselves that I lived too far away and that we should just ‘share a bed’ since we were ‘going to get married’ anyway, so that’s what we did. I remember enough to know that all we did was sleep, but I did so in my boxers and not much else while Alana slept in just her tank top and panties. Being the big spoon to someone taller than me was great and was very masculine, hoo-rah, so my night couldn’t have gone much better.
Morning saw my face buried in Alana’s chest and my arms wrapped around her. Her hands were halfway in decent places, and by that I mean she had a hand on my arm and the other was grabbing something wooden. I wasn’t really complaining since she was just grabbing and letting go which felt pretty decent, but I didn’t know how conscious Alana was of what she was doing. Kissing her awake seemed like a good idea until I licked my wrist and smelled the power of Morning Hallitosis, thus settling on kissing her cheek. Alana woke up after eight pecks and five smooches, turning her face in time to make the sixth smooch a considerably better one. I felt her freeze for a moment before the hand that was on my arm snaked through my hair and held me closer to her, starting the morning in quite a lovely fashion. Meeting each other’s gaze in the bright beams of light that shone through her curtains… I well and truly missed waking up next to someone. Missed having someone to hold and treasure. I didn’t want to pin all of my hopes on Alana, but I could see myself falling for her even harder in time. For the moment, I just wanted to enjoy the morning a little more.
We snuggled and cuddled and snuggled some more until I had to get up and go pee. While I got up and stretched, Alana giggled at me and asked, “Does this mean what I think it means?”
“You think I’m funny-lookin’?” I smirked back at her.
“No, silly! Is… Well, are we…?” She bit her lip.
“What’s the term for ‘dating’ or ‘courting’ in Thesuvia?”
Alana blushed and curled a lock of her hair. “W-Well, the flirting stage is called ‘chatting’, the outing stage is ‘dating’, the snuggle stage is Cubskil, the fooling around stage is ‘Hanskil’, and the more serious stage is ‘Neskil’...”
“... We just spent a full night cuddling. Is there like, a gender specific term for a cuddler?”
“In native Thesuvian we would call each other boski and vaski.”
“Are you my vaski?”
She blushed brightly. “... I-If… If you want…”
“I do want, but what do you want, vaski?”
“... I want my boski to come k-kiss me…” She held a finger in front of her lips, smiling to herself as I came over and gave her exactly what she asked for. The expression on her face was definitely worth the risk of morning breath, mostly because her breath smelled like creme de menthe.
I pulled away in time for her to lay a hand on my face, contentment hitting home as I saw someone who liked me for who I was, who could probably fall for me if I didn’t backslide with the progress I’d made. For all my sins, I still wanted absolution; I still wanted to perform some kind of penance for my crimes and I felt as if I would find it with Alana. Again, it was wrong for me to pin so much on the woman, but… She felt special. She wasn’t just the first that caught my eye since many women on my path had been more endowed and technically more ‘beautiful’ by some standards. It was just that Alana was the total package and just so happened to feel like home, even if we’d only spent a couple weeks together. No single one of them could ever hope to match Alana’s spirit, her grace. She was brutally bashful and reserved, but the one time someone had said something rude to me, she’d nearly bitten the guy’s head off before I could really reply. Bethany had told me that she was just really protective of the people she loved, and I appreciated the truth for what it was. I already meant something to Alana and she had a place with me too. However, I needed to get a shower and wash my mouth out because I was still a little hungover and was ready for a shower in my own home.
I took my leave from Alana and her home to cross the courtyard to my place. Getting there kinda sucked since Allie wasn’t behind the door, but I’d arrived anyway just as Li-Oh was trying my door and finding it locked, so I got a chance to spook him early in the noon hours. I put my hand on his shoulder and he practically jumped out of his skin. “Fuckwad-tickle-dick- Ah, fuck you, Gashua!”
I chuckled at him and bumped his fist when it was offered. “Sup, Li? I see you didn’t bring your plublass.”
“Yeah, I was just gonna grab you and ask if you could help me string up my Aunt’s pinan.”
I looked that man in the eye. “... Her what?”
“... Not your area of expertise, is it?” He pulled a face.
“Dude, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one. If it’s not handheld, then it’s a no-go.”
“Ah, fair enough. Fuck that old shosh anyway.” He shrugged. Shosh means something like ‘Shitty, smelly person’ in context. Otherwise, it just means ‘Smelly person’ without an expletive in the sentence. “You wanna go shoot?”
“Man, you’re filling a stereotype so hard these days.”
“Hey man, just because I’m Amanese and like guns doesn’t mean a damn thing!” He laughed at my casual racism.
“And just because I’m a River Person doesn’t mean Alana’s kinky,” I reminded, chuckling.
“Speaking of, that was you I saw coming across the courtyard, right?”
I pulled out the key to my house and unlocked my door. “Hell yeah, and speaking of, I need some fuckin’ water.”
Li-Oh followed me in. “You’re so full of shit, man. You just got done ploughing a neighbor, didn’t you?”
I rolled my eyes and looked back at him. “Why do you assume all River People are party-people? Half the ones at the Welcome Center end up asking for the Soft Hand anyway these days.”
He scoffed. “Just proves that you’re made of cooler, sha-wae type stuff, man.”
I didn’t ask what the sha-thing meant since it was probably Amanese, focusing on getting some water. “Me casa, su casa hombre. Help yourself.”
“I can slam.” He hopped over my island like the madman he was and landed in front of my icebox, digging through it to grab one of the ciclas, a popcicle. I bought them specifically for when he came over anyway, but most people were fond. “Speaking of slamming, where were you coming from?”
“After you explain sha-wae.”
“Ah, it means ‘Warrior Spirit’, if you’re into that kind of stuff.”
“Shit, I’ve never been a warrior, man.” I chugged my glass and started filling it again. “Anyway, I was coming back from Allie’s.”
“Ah, doing some gardening or something?” He asked sarcastically.
“Drinking liquor and… what do you Septurns call that shit? ‘Lip-lounging’?”
I watched his jaw drop as he grinned. “Bravo, brova! And it’s lipping-loungy, but way to go, my brova!” He offered me a congratulatory fist and I bumped it. “So you’re still taking it Thesuvian-Slow, I see.”
“It’s usually like this on Earth, man. People don’t throw themselves into relationships where I’m from.”
He raised a brow. “You River-”
“Hey man, understand where a lot of us are coming from,” I said, not willing to go down that route again. “My Partner looked like a sexier version of my abusive ex-wife and actually treated me decently. Yeah, she was ordered to, but I only found that out because I’m the one River Person that cared about that shit. Because I was suspicious of the person trying to help me out. A lot of people who killed themselves to get here are barely hanging onto a thread of sanity, Li. It doesn’t take much for us to turn to the Soft Hand if the surrounding people aren’t careful, so having someone as nice and generally attractive as a Partner being there for us? It’s helpful early on.”
“Didn’t it hurt you more than help?”
“... You know I’m a Moon Man, right?” I asked.
He furrowed his brow. “There aren’t any Moon Men River People. They all either get caught by the Watchers or kill themselves later on.”
I grabbed a lock of my hair. “You don’t think I do this shit myself, do you?”
His jaw practically hit the floor all over again. “... Brova…”
I spread my hands. “I got this far because of my relationship with Partners, man. The one that belonged to me got me going and the one that was lent to me kept me alive and taught me a lot.”
“My man, you have no idea how sha-wae-gon you are right now!” Li-Oh pointed his dripping cicla at me, getting the shit on my floor. He missed my look as he said, “You’re like Super River Man, Gatian!”
“Super River Man is about to make you clean his damn floor.”
He looked at the mess he was making. “... Don't you have an Arca just for that?”
“Yeah, and using so many Arca over the past few months have made my hands go from a twenty-six-year-old’s to a hexagenarians, Li. There isn’t a healer in town that can patch Arca-Exhaustion, so I have to be careful.”
Li-Oh ate the rest of his cold treat and grabbed some henny towels to wipe up the mess. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know I can still dig up a catalyst for you on the UC, right?” ‘UC’ meaning ‘Under-Cover’
“... Have you been looking into that crap again? You know the catalysts around town are all bogus or faulty.” And they were, by and large. A few people had ended up in the clinic after being told they had the right Arch for some.
He cleaned up and I lent a hand because I’m not a prick. “That’s just the thing. I’ve heard tell of a Mare that’s only been handing them out to people who can pay the right price, and she only gives the right one to the right guy!”
“Who’s saying she still has any?”
“They’re supposed to only work with certain kinds of Terru Archs, which is why they’ve lasted as long as they have. Most of the common ones are already gone, but if you want to try your hand…?” He gave me a look.
“... Your Aunt doesn’t even have a pinan.”
“Come on, Gatian! You know you’re already in the market for one!”
“Just because I’m Arca-inclined doesn’t mean I want to be your glorified ADC, Li. I’m trying to settle down.”
“You’d be able to enchant stuff around the house, do more Arca, and-”
I sighed, making him beam. “If I say yes, will you test it for me?”
“I can’t. It’s only for Tempest Archs.” I gave him the look of the day and he had the good grace to blush. “So I had her hold onto it, just in case! So what?”
“... Fine, but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And I’m not spending over a two-hundred holli on it.”
“Zenku said two-hundred was good for an adequate catalyst. I don’t need one that bad.”
Li-Oh gave me a look. “Fine, but if I pitch in, then I want you to at least enchant my gear, man.”
“I’d do it for you anyway, Foo-Li.”
“... That’s my sis- Ah shit. Stop with your puns,” He grunted.
“Foolie, Foo-li. Modern classic.” I sighed, draining my water. “Are we gonna get a move on?”
“Yeah, and you can tell me all about how Alana lips it.”
“Nah, but I can tell you that the woman has some fuckin’ soft lips. I mean, I had to get another kiss before I left.”
I shoved him on my way past him. “Just one. She’s timid, man.”
“And so are you! You barely held her hand when we were out and about!”
“We’re taking it slow.”
“You don’t even kiss her! Not even at work!”
“That’s because I’m trying to get hired on as a tutor for Grata-non-Aquix and music, man.”
He raised a brow. “You don’t know one of the Gratonid.”
“I’m fluent in Aquix and I figured out a good bit of Longinus.”
“... Seriously?” Li-Oh asked, looking at me in a new light.
“... Yeah? It was pretty standard according to my mentor. Longinus was a hobby, but I got some more of the dance down with help from a cat-lady.”
“... Yeah, no man… River People don’t learn the Firearm-Flounce. Any style…”
“Their Partners usually... Well, your Partner kinda sucked, didn’t-”
I jammed a finger in his chest. “Stellara Inova was a good Partner, but she was a free woman at heart. I don’t blame her for taking her freedom and running with it. I’ll be damned if I let someone who doesn’t know a fuckin’ thing about that situation talk shit.”
He raised his hands. “Sorry, brova, no offense meant… Figured you’d be mad at her…”
“Why would I? I understand her choice and I support it.”
“Yeah but… If you know one of the Grantonid Forms… Doesn’t that mean you’ve used it...?”
I leveled a calm look at him. “Li-Oh, I’ve killed people. I didn’t need the Grantonid to do it.”
“Holy shit, man!” His face lit up. “Then why won’t you join my party!?”
“Because killing people hurts you more than them in the long run. It takes seconds, maybe hours to die from bleeding out. It takes decades to die from guilt.”
The expression he wore told me I’d hit him hard. “... Oh.”
I shook my head. “I’ve seen my fair share, Li. It’s not all it was cracked up to be, the life of a Seeker.”
“Well… Can you still teach me Arca?”
I grinned at him, feeling bad for shooting him in the foot metaphorically. “Of course, man. I’m not gonna hold out on you, but you’re gonna need a catalyst of some kind.”
Li picked up the pace. “Then let’s hurry, dude! She said I might be able to get one if I align with one!”
I rolled my eyes, convinced the woman was already a charlatan like the last two Li-Oh had taken me to. He talked excitedly the entire way to the Centurn’s part of town where relatives and fellow Centurns opened up homes and businesses to let people have a place to stay. I would’ve opened up my own home to a family, but HHR (Holloway-High-Reach) had implemented a strict ‘one family, one home’ policy to stop their apartments from becoming tenements as some of the city had already. Speaking of, the further and further we went into Pony territory, the fewer Humans we saw. Naga slithered around in pairs from time to time, acting as the guards of that part of town since they were magically-resistant and were too heavy to be picked up by Pegasi. Li-Oh eventually pulled me through Red Light and Faet Light, both districts that were generally to be avoided. Alana would’ve beaten his ass black and blue if she’d known he’d taken me through them, so he asked that I keep it quiet. I told him if we got into trouble, that he’d better not expect me to handle everything as we landed in a part of town that seemed… Untouched, I guess, by the struggles of the people who were passing through.
The estate I saw was a little worn down to be sure, but by time rather than by Terru as with parts of Holloway Halter. There were tents and temporary lodgings all around the gates, but nothing from the refugees themselves seemed to have made it in. Li-Oh brought me to the Intra-Com-Box and said that we were customers for ‘The Full Moon of the Castle’, thus signalling for the gates to open. We slipped inside and only then did I notice that we were walking into a place I didn’t really want to be. The Unicorns that had all been sitting down, looking downtrodden in general, had all stood up and were now watching us enter. More Unicorns came out of the estate and a few Pegasi swooped down, relieving me of my knife since I’d neglected to bring Clockly with me. The guy who took my knife walked with us and grabbed Li-Oh’s gun as well, taking off onto the porch and setting them in a lockbox.
While we were being escorted inside, I rammed Li in the ribs with my elbow and got a pained squeak for my trouble. “The fuck did you just take me, Li-Oh!?”
“It’s cool! We’re with the Center, remember?” He whispered back rubbing his side.
“I’m not yet, fool.”
“We’re fine! Just play it cool, man.”
We were walked up to the front doors where a secondary weapons check was performed and I got molested by a gay guy with jacked-up teeth. His smile made me feel dirty inside and reminded me of the fact that Li-Oh liked to mess around with really shady characters for some reason. Speaking of reasons, the one I had for coming with Li in the first place was fading until I could barely see it anymore, even as we were led through the house. My dumbass homie tried to keep the mood from getting too grim. However, when we were taken into the parlor, I couldn’t have been much less enthused.
I locked eyes with Rudy Rhubarb and Lumo Sheldrake themselves, though only one of them seemed to recognize me at all. “... Goner? Gatle Goner?”
Panic flooded my veins. “Um… Gaitan?”
Rudy sat back in her chair, eyeing me carefully while Lumo huffed. “Why have you come, Gatian?”
I looked at Li-Oh and saw him beaming. “We came for-”
“He wasn’t talking to you, Human.” Rudy spat. She nodded toward me. “What have you come for, Gatian?”
“... A catalyst. One for a Tempestian.”
Lumo rolled his eyes. “You Humans always think you can handle a catalyst without proper training. If we sell one to you, what would you do with it?”
I raised a brow at him. “Do Kings really care what peasants do?”
Lumo smiled. “That. That was a very good answer.” He snapped his fingers, his horn lit up, and from beneath him and came an ornate box inlaid with silver or platinum and chased in gold or some kind of polished vronia. Both existed on Septural, but vronia was more useful for containing magical items.
Rudy studied me carefully. “... You recognize me, don’t you Gatian?”
I shrugged. “You look familiar.”
“So do you.”
Lumo gave her a jealous look. “Dear cousin, we’re in no position to be taking consorts or the like.”
He opened the box and said, “That aside, stick your hand in here. Whatever sticks to you is most likely to work for you.”
I came over and tentatively stuck my hand inside. “... So…?”
“You can pull it out now.”
I pulled it out and two stuck to me. One was a short wand that was partially made of metal and partially made of wood, the two materials seeming to have been melted together. Then there was a ring with a large black jewel and a grey cut in the center that seemed to billow as it stuck to my finger. “... Okay then.”
“Tempestian, as he said.” Rudy made an approving face. “Smart for a Choret.”
Lumo raised a brow. “That’s no Choret, cousin. Listen to him speak.”
She smiled at me. “Then why does he have moon-hair?”
The former King looked to me, rolling his eyes. “The wand I understand, but the ring makes no sense.”
“If you stuck to the wand, then you lean towards the Storm Tempest. If it was just the ring, you’d be Wind.”
I looked to Li and he seemed kinda jealous. “Double fuckin’ pooled. Not fair.”
“Watch the language, man,” I said quietly.
The Centurn King and the leader of the Centurn Mob both chuckled at that. “Spent some time in the Dale, have you?”
I looked back to Lumo. “I have, but it was a short visit and it was before the War. Which one can I buy?”
He looked at me. “... You don’t seriously think you can pass up the Storm Wand, do you?”
“It would be unwise for yourself and inconvenient for us.” Rudy droned, inspecting her nails. “Storm-Tempest Archs are rare anyway, and Tempestians are usually Wind.”
I pulled the ring off of my finger and put it back in the box, taking the wand for myself. After a moment to cast one of the few typeless Arca I was comfortable with these days, I let out a low whistle. “Two hundred holli and a seventy-five bits.”
Rudy raised a brow, Lumo having turned to her in the first place. “You would-”
“It’s a B Rank flat. It’s only worth two hundred holli here. The bits are for the trouble you had in getting here.”
Lumo frowned but Rudy grinned. “So you know your stuff. How about we up the ante?”
“The catalyst for your named price, but you enchant something for me. How does that sound? I even know the incantation.”
I waved the wand. “The named price and the enchantment, but I want a catalyst for my adventuresome friend here.”
Lumo picked one out and tossed it at him. “Earth catalysts are a dime a dozen. That one’s aligned with his rank, so take pleasure in making my wife happy.” And yes, Lumo was talking about his cousin.
Li-Oh held the bracelet with awe in his eyes, so I looked back to see Rudy clapping her hands. Without a word being spoken, a white-metal sword was brought to us and presented to me. “This the thing?”
“It is,” she said, her voice silky smooth. “The enchantment is ‘ma hol weeke’.”
“... Ma hol weeke.” I said, catching her inflections and mimicking them perfectly.
Li-Oh almost cracked up before I thumped him a good one, the enchantment coming to life as I waved the wand over the sword. I didn't know if that was exactly what I was supposed to do, but it worked nonetheless. Rudy smiled. “For future reference, you only have to point at the object you want to enchant.”
I nodded. “Are we free to leave?”
“Tell me, Gatian… Did you think I wouldn’t see you for who you are?”
“I kinda hoped that you wouldn’t, but that’s because who I am is an idiot.”
She stopped smiling. “... I believe I must be mistaken, then. Take care, and do not leave without paying.”
I took out two credit cards (pieces of metal worth money at a bank.) and three twenty-five bit coins. “It was a pleasure.”
“Likewise.” Lumo said haughtily. “Do let us know how your endeavors turn out.”
I shrugged. “If our paths cross again, then of course. People always need more friends.”
Lumo didn’t take the news too well, but we were dismissed nonetheless and I narrowly avoided getting captured by the Pony Royalty for a second time. We collected our weapons, got off property, and Li-Oh started bombarding me with questions and I only answered the last one. “Yo, Gatian, that was brilliant! It’s like you knew everything to say, how to say it, and how!? How in the world did you come up with that King line!? Pure genius!”
We were nearly out of the Pony quarter by the time he shut up long enough for me to hit him in the arm harder than I’d ever hit a person. “You fuckin’ asswipe.”
“Yeow! What was that for!?”
“Li, that was King Lumo and Rudy fuckin’ Rhubarb.”
“I was in Ponydale when the Char Army ran through. Equinaire, or whatever the capital was had fallen hours before I got there.” I explained, thoroughly unamused.
“If Rudy figured out who I was, there’s no guarantee your connections would’ve done a damned thing.”
“That’s so sha-wae! A Warrior with connections like that!?”
“Li, you ass, they would’ve kidnapped me. Again.”
“Oh, holy shit! Brova, you are so cool! How did you escape them and the Char? Were they as fearsome as they’re said to be? What was it like?”
I paused, memories I didn’t want spending far too long in my head. “Li… I barely made it out of their castle and... The Char killed my mentor in front of me. Destroyed a place I called home for a couple months. Pushed a lot of people out of their own homes… How can you glorify any of this, man?”
He stared at me. “... Because it’s the best opportunity for adventure and glory since like, ever!?”
I shook my head. “Don’t get yourself killed, Li-Oh. And next time? I need names.”
“Ah, you don’t have any faith, man! I’ll show you and all the nonbelievers that Li-Oh Noto was made to slay Char!” And he ignored ninety-percent of the fact that he’d almost gotten me captured. Li was an actual idiot, but his heart’s still mostly golden.
I rubbed my temple, the ache building rapidly in my noggin. “Right. In the meantime, how about I read up on some enchantments and we figure out what’s best for your gear?”
Li beamed. “Sounds good to me. I think I’m gonna try a few Arca with this catalyst!”
“Don’t overdo it. You know you’re not a very high rank.”
“Yeah, but I can still fling rocks pretty well!”
What he left out was that he could only do it three times before needing to quit, and without a catalyst it was only a party trick good for sport or hunting. I warned him again and ended up going home, wondering what all I could do with my wand now that I had it. The thing was weighty and seemed like it would be as good as an awl as a wand, but that would probably ruin it or something. I decided to try casting Fuldis with some oomph behind it and pushed myself bak a bit, a pulse of steam and electricity flying from the wand. It stopped after a good while but I was glad that I’d aimed it upward. Shit probably could’ve killed someone if I’m not mistaken, so I stowed my wand and hurried home, not very sure if I should’ve listened to Li-Oh this time.
Looking back on the events of the past couple days, it’s been good, Booksy. I finally spent the night alone with Alana. Nothing really happened, but so much happened at the same time. We got to talk, dance, sing. And I got to see the flirty side of Alana that so rarely shows its face. Then there was the fact that she was just so heart-stoppingly adorable already, which didn’t help or hurt anything really. If anything it just makes me want to spend more time with her, but I can’t help but see the folly in that idea.
As for finding a suitable catalyst that apparently makes my Arca more… Lethal… I can’t help but wonder if Rudy really did see me… See the Bard. There was a light in her eyes I didn’t like when I left with Li, and I think trouble might be brewing if I ever go further north… I think it’d be best to calm down on the music for a little while… What do you think, Booksy? I don’t want to get kidnapped again, and I don’t want Alana to be in danger… Here’s hoping the Rhubarb Ranch doesn’t do any poking around. I honestly thought I left those fucks behind in Ponydale. Gotta hit Li again for damn near ending the life I’m living. I’m sure Alana might do it for me.
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