"Here," she took out the dagger and cut the rope tying my arms.
"Are you alright?", after getting my affirmative nod, she pointed at the body behind me, "I don't suppose he'll be in need of his pants anytime soon."
Looting the corpse turned out to be surprisingly easy. I've expected myself to be much more queasy at the notion of wearing someone else's clothes, especially if the person they belonged to now lies in a puddle of his own blood, but the perspective of spending the night out in the field naked forced me to swallow any arising complaints.
I took his jacket, pants and boots. The chestplate would've been a good addition as well, but to my shame I couldn't figure out how to strip him down off it.
Is it too much to ask a girl you've just met to help you undress a man?
While I was busy contemplating that and dressing up, the girl took interest in captor's bag.
"Not much here," she said, rummaging through the contents, "light travel supplies. A wood-to-fire and wood-to-meat exchange scrolls, a smeller, a map. Didn't anticipate more than a day out in the wilds, then."
She threw me the bag.
"I'm Lyn, by the way. You?"
"Vell. The hell is a smeller?"
"Most monsters hunt at night. It's easier to ambush the prey when it can barely see, and the, let's say, ambient magic is weaker at night. A smeller is a pack of herbs you burn so that they stay away," she explained.
"But how does it repel the monsters? Is it toxic? Won't we be affected too, if that's the case?"
"Oh, don't worry, it's completely safe. Although, the smell is pungent enough you'd want to run away too," she smiled ruefully, "It won't work out in the open like that, the wind will undo it. We need to get in the woods for a night."
I took a moment to look at the sun. It was still exactly halfway through the horizon, which didn't make any sense, since the sky clearly went darker already.
As good of a potential small talk topic as any, I suppose.
Barely being able to see your own feet and getting through the woods proved to be fairly challenging. The trees formed a canopy almost impossible for light to penetrate. Taking a closer look at a particularly low-hanging branch, I noticed all of the leaves were turned in the direction of the sun. The other side of every leaf was completely white.
"I just want you to know that you'll be hearing a lot of dumb questions tonight," I said, maneuvering between the trees.
"That's fine," Lyn chuckled, "You probably are dying to know why you were ambushed like that, but to explain it, I need to take the biggest elephant out of the room first - people from another worlds are somewhat common here, common enough so that people have a special word for them - phasers. They take about a month to fully appear, first as a ghostly silhouette that gets more and more... real, for a lack of a better word."
I let her expository voice wash over me, taking only the important bits to heart: me = phaser, phasers = common.
"The thing with phasers is," she took a pause to find the correct words, "well, they have no ties to anyone, no knowledge of anything and no abilities or tools to defend themselves, at least not until the process of screening and getting them into the system is complete, so there's a lot of potential for slave trafficking as they're hard to identify and easy to collect. Prejudice against phasers is commonplace, and it assures no one is going to look for a missing phaser too hard. Believe me, I've got a lot of experience with all of that."
She went silent, which I took as a clue that she expected me to ask something. I had no idea what she wanted from me, though. Was she implying she faced some of that prejudice herself?
"So... I take it you are a phaser too, Lyn?", I asked, not to let the awkward silence settle.
"Yeah. I'm from Aethernia. It's a world with a sun so bright no one could come out during the day, they'd be fried alive. Most people lived under the ground, and..."
I completely tuned her out.
We walked through the forest as she babbled about her homeworld, with me nodding and mhming where it was appropriate.
"... so the segregation was insane. Only the higher casts had magic and... Oh! That reminds me."
Narrowly avoiding collision with a branch, she continued, "That's a biggie for some of the phasers - the magic is real here. The short of it is there is ambient magic flow that gets weaker at night. It's useful for all sorts of things, like the scrolls there," she pointed at the bag I was carrying, "or soldier-grade equipment. The magic can be manipulated more directly as well, and most animals or plants have innate magic as a defense or attack mechanism."
I perked up from exposition-induced coma at the mention of night, remembering what I wanted to ask.
"Say, how does the day cycle here work? I haven't noticed the sun moving at all."
She gave me a glance that almost cost her tripping over a root, "The sun in your world moves? Interesting. The day here is defined by the phases of the moon. Evening starts as the moon touches the sun. Eclipse is midnight. When the moon reveals the sun fully, it's morning."
"How do people measure the time during the day, though?" I asked, "How do you tell apart a bit after the morning and a bit before the evening, for example? Clearly there's no way to do it by the moon."
"Without a clock, you don't," she shrugged, "or, I guess, you could measure the magic flow and eyeball a bit. It's the strongest at noon."
We found ourselves at the small clearing.
"This will do," Lyn said, "give me the bag, please, and gather some firewood. If you don't find enough on the ground, the branches opposite to the sun are easy enough to break."
While I went around, she took out one of the scrolls, unrolled it and fixed it to the ground with four nails that came with it. It was getting dark enough I couldn't see the writings reliably, but it looked like two circles within one another, the larger one incomplete, with something written in-between. Following Lyn's instructions, I arranged the firewood around the scroll and placed one of the larger pieces inside the smaller circle.
I've expected the wood to burst in flames, but nothing happened until she's completed the circle with some kind of brown piece of chalk. The better description for what happened then is that rather than the piece catching fire it turned into fire itself, and then spread to the rest of the firewood.
The light bonfire provided gave me a first good chance to really look at Lyn.
She had short brown hair with a forelock tucked in to the side. A sleeveless jacket she wore had an insignia - a half circle, a vertical line crossing it, and another circular arc on top. A dagger she cut the rope with hanged from her belt, and her bow was set aside to the nearby tree for a time. A slight frown settled on her face as she reached into the bag for another scroll.
"This one doesn't have nails. Press it to the ground like that," she gestured.
The activation of the scroll went pretty much the same as the last time, but the piece of wood turned into an unidentifiable piece of meat.
"Handy," I noted.
"Yeah. It comes at a cost, though. Not literal, those scrolls are dirt cheap, but... I guess you'll see anyway."
She punctured the meat with a stick and fixed it over the bonfire.
"While we wait... did you figure out your Gimmick yet?" she stressed the word in a way, "Every phaser has a good one."
I quizzically raised a brow, mentally bracing for another round of exposition.
"Gimmick is an ability everyone has. You kinda need to focus on who you are, and it will become apparent to you. They can be pretty much anything, and they're stronger for the people with stronger identities. No one really knows why it works like that, some theorize it arose naturally as a way for sentient beings to protect themselves over the thousands of years, but that doesn't fit too well," she turned the meat on a stick around, "Humans have it. Fels have it. Dwarfs have it. Elves probably had it, before they went extinct, and other races, demons, heaters, whoever else too. Why did it arise naturally in the same way in all of them, no one can answer."
"What's your gimmick, Lyn?"
"It works so-so at night, but here," she raised an index finger. A small sliver of flame appeared at its top. "At noon I could've lit this bonfire myself. Right now it's not enough to even light a cigarette."
She vanished the flame and took the meat off the bonfire.
"Try it," she handled me the stick.
I took a bite.
"It... has no taste whatsoever," I said with my mouth full.
"Yep. A food for poor and for those who travel light. It's enough to get you through the day, but you'll probably go mad eating it every day."
With my stomach full and the warmth of the bonfire cuddling me, I closed my eyes, trying to find the essence of myself.
I am Vell Brown. I'm 24 years old. I used to live in a small town of the most generic country of them all. If you'd meet me on the street, you wouldn't be able to tell me apart from any other passerby. In my whole life I've done nothing I'd call notable. The school and college years went by, and the only thing I really took out of it was a bunch of shitty friends. I wasn't doing anything with my life, and all the time I didn't spend on a nine-to-five accountant job, drinking with those so-called friends or lying in bed having vaguely sexual fantasies I wasted consuming media.
In the darkness behind the eyelids the rusty red words appeared.
Gimmick unlocked: The Consumer
If a person is unconscious, touching them will reveal their Gimmick and make a weaker version of it available to use. You can only maintain 3 weaker gimmicks at once. Touching another person will replace the oldest one in a first-in-first-out fashion.